Can dogs see color?

New York, New York - Are dogs color blind? And if dogs can see color, are they the same as humans? Are our four-legged friends happy about a bright red ball toy?

Dog owners often wonder if their pet can see colors (stock image).
Dog owners often wonder if their pet can see colors (stock image).  © 123RF: seregraff, Jakub Gojda

The myth that dogs can only see in black, white, or gray shades may not be accurate, recent studies reported by the American Kennel Club confirm.

Through documenting behavioral experiments, it is now believed that a dog's color spectrum includes the ranges of yellow and blue.

With more details emerging of the eye's anatomy, it appears that humans perceive a broader technicolor spectrum, but dogs can see a hazy version of most shades.

Woman selling puppies from sack charged with animal torture in New York City
Dogs Woman selling puppies from sack charged with animal torture in New York City

Although a dog's world is not as colorful as their owner's, it may not be as dull as is commonly believed.

What colors can dogs see?

A dog can see a blue ball better than most others!
A dog can see a blue ball better than most others!  © Unsplash: Jay Wennington

Researchers believe that evolution and basic instincts have led to differences in the eye's development. Dogs in the wild needed their senses as hunters, mostly preying on their food at night. As a result, canines' eyes became more apt to see darker colors and to track movement.

Many now believe that dogs still cannot see red at all but can see yellow and blue extremely well. They may also perceive greens as yellow – making it challenging for Fifi to chase a green or yellow tennis ball in the green grass.

Comparisons to red-green color blindness in humans have been used to help people better imagine what a dog can see. This is the most common combination in people with color deficiency, with some struggling to see one of the colors or differentiate between the two.

Another exciting discovery is that it seems dogs can distinguish different shades of blue better than humans can. They may even be able to recognize small nuances in light blue shades and differentiate between dark blue and purple.

If you want to give your four-legged friend a treat, science now shows it may be better to buy blue toys.

How does a dog see colors?

Understanding how dogs see certain colors can help owners choose better toys.
Understanding how dogs see certain colors can help owners choose better toys.  © Unsplash: Andrew Pons

A dog is a so-called dichromat (di means two and chroma means color in Greek), meaning that it only has two receptor cells, or cones, in the retina of its eye. Therefore, canines can only perceive two different spectral ranges – yellow and blue – while humans have three.

Together, these sensory receptors on the eye's retina divide light ranges into color and send images to the brain.

While dogs can't see bright colors as well as humans and are thought to be short-sighted, a light-reflecting layer they posses allows them to see much better in the dark.

Next time you're walking at night, be sure to bring your color-seeing canine companion with you!

Cover photo: 123RF: seregraff, Jakub Gojda

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