Perhaps one of the most common questions asked regarding a dog’s eyesight is, “Can dogs see in color?”
The belief that dogs are only able to see in black and white has been espoused for so long, that most people don’t even question it. But dogs can see color, though not as well as humans do.
The spectrum of colors dogs are able to discern is not as robust as what humans are accustomed to seeing, nor can they see the colors as brightly as we do.
HOW WE SEE IN COLOR
Both human and dog eyes have cones which are unique light capturing cells that allow us to see in color.
Human eyes have approximately 6-7 million cones. Dog eyes have significantly less, so dogs are at a disadvantage with regard to the quantity of light receptor cells.
Your dog’s second disadvantage with regard to seeing in color is that they only have two types of cones in their eyes—blue and yellow.
Humans have three types of cones (red, blue, and green). So dogs see colors kind of like a person who is red-green color blind.
Basically your dog sees green, red, and yellow as varying shades of yellow. Blue and purple are seen by your pet as varying shades of blue.
Light blue and pinkish-purple are perceived by your pup as a neutral color (kind of like gray).
A study was conducted at the University of California to test dogs’ ability to see color. Dogs were shown three lights. Two of the lights were the same hue and one was different.
The dogs were encouraged to point out which light was different. If they were correct, they got treats.
The study concluded that dogs are able to discern color, albeit a lesser spectrum of color than humans can see.
An interesting note is that red and orange are very mainstream colors for dog’s playthings. But red is a color that dogs can’t easily distinguish.
So if you notice your pet sometimes struggles to find a ball or toy you threw, consider trying a different color and see if it makes a difference!
OTHER SIGHT FACTORS
Your dog has other sight variations that make how he sees different from how you see. It is thought that a dog’s near vision is not as good as ours, though their far vision is fantastic.
Dogs are also able to see better in lower light than in bright light. And while canines have less cones in their eyes than humans, they have more rods (which are the receptor cells that allow you to see in the dark).
Dogs also have larger pupils which let in more light, and a mirror-like structure (tapetum) that gives their retinas another opportunity to catalogue images in the light that penetrates the eye.
The tapetum is what makes their eyes look like they’re shining at night when light reflects off them.
A dog’s lens is also closer to the retina than ours is, which creates a brighter image on the retina.
So if your pet seems to be watching something far away when it’s dark outside, don’t dismiss it. That’s a great environment for dogs to use their vision.