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Are Dogs Color-Blind?

Wellness

Dog in very thick glasses

If you thought that dogs saw the world in black and white (like a 1950s sitcom) you’re not alone. There’s a pretty big misconception about dogs and their ability to see colors. We've been conditioned to believe that our pups are literally color-blind - that they can’t see any color at all. However, there are various studies that have been conducted and can help separate fact from fiction when it comes to Fido’s eyesight.

So what's the truth? Are dogs color-blind and, if so, what does that mean exactly?

Recommended: Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

What Is Color Blindness?

Humans and dogs can both have color blindness. This is a condition that affects the ability to make a visual distinction between certain colors, sometimes affecting the ability to see specific colors at all. These capabilities (or lack thereof) are caused by flaws in the receptors of the eye that recognize and distinguish color. 

If someone is color-blind they generally have one of the two common forms of color blindness: blue-yellow or red-green. If someone has blue-yellow color blindness, it’s likely that they struggle to separate blue and yellow from one another as they will appear the same. The same principles apply to red-green color blindness.

So for someone with red-green color blindness, the colors on this dog tag might all look the same. This is due to abnormal receptors in the eye which have trouble sensing the difference between the two colors in each type.

These two images would look pretty similar to your pup.

Are Dogs Color Blind?

Before we answer that question, there’s a little bit of science that needs to be explained.

The receptors of the eye that see color come in two types: cones and rods. Each type of receptor has different purposes and is intended for use in daytime or night-time vision. Cones are used in the daytime and assist with the perception of color and wavelengths of light. Rods are for use during the night and they allow for peripheral vision. 

Humans have three cones that allow them to see the entire spectrum of light, while dogs have just two cones. This limits a dog’s ability to detect color and changes its perception of the world. Viewing the world with only two cones is referred to as dichromacy.

That does NOT mean they can't see color at all. Dogs do not look at the world in black and white, they just can't see as many colors as we do. Dichromacy in humans is an abnormality, but for dogs, this is perfectly normal. 

What Colors Can Your Dog See?

Dichromatic vision in dogs gives them red-green color blindness. So while they can differentiate between shades of blue and yellow quite well, red and green will look similar to a dog (and brown or gray, at that). A red ball is probably just a round, beige thing. A green front yard is no different than gray turf.

With this limited ability to recognize color, you might assume that your beloved pup is at a disadvantage. In reality, your dog probably doesn't realize that you see the world differently to them. To them, this is just the way the world looks.

That's not to suggest color doesn't have an impact on your dog's life. A good example is when you’re choosing dog toys or accessories. If you’re choosing a new ball for a game a fetch, it makes sense to select a blue or yellow ball. This will make it easier for your dog to chase that ball down when you toss it. Remember, to them the green grass is a colorless field of flora. A bright blue ball rolling across that bland colorless turf is going to stand out much better than a red ball blending in with the surroundings. Take into account where and how your dog’s toys are being used and try to purchase by color accordingly.

Looking for more dog fun facts? Be sure to visit the Two Tails Blog!


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