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Are dogs color blind? Find out if your dog can see in color

Are dogs color blind
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are dogs color blind? For a long time, it was believed to be the case. But recently, new research has suggested that while dogs can't see the same colors as humans, they aren't completely colorblind. Don't worry, that means the best dog toys you by for them don't just register as grey blobs.

According to the AKC (opens in new tab), the idea that dogs could only see in greyscale first came up in the 1930s, and was attributed to Will Judy, a dog enthusiast and publisher of Dog Week magazine, who claimed he was the first person to state that dogs had poor vision and could only see outlines and shapes in single shades of black and grey. 

And in the 1960s, scientists wrote that only primates could see in color. But within the last few decades, scientists have done extensive research on canine eye structure, noting the differences between dog's eyes and human's eyes while also learning about what dogs can see. However, they are technically color blind. Color blindness does not mean an inability to see color, but more often refers to a specific range of color that cannot be seen. For instance, researchers believe dogs' vision are similar to those humans who have red-green color blindness. 

Let's get more into understanding dogs' vision.

Are dogs color blind: Can dogs see color? 

A labrador running away with a toy in his mouth

(Image credit: Getty)

Dogs' eyes are very different from humans' - but they can still see color. “For the purpose of hunting in the dark, canine eyes have a larger lens and corneal surface and a reflective membrane, known as a tapetum, that enhances night vision,” says AKC’s chief vet, Dr. Jerry Klein. “They also have more rods, which improves low-light vision, in the retina.”

Dogs have more rods and less cones than people do, with the latter helping with bright light and color perception. Dogs are only dichromatic, which means they have two kinds of cones whereas humans and other primates have three. The Neitz Color Vision Lab (opens in new tab), run by Jay Neitz, has contributed to our understanding of dogs' vision, suggesting that research shows a dog's color vision is similar to someone who has red-green color blindness. This means they can make out yellow and blue and combinations of those colors, so much of the world looks muddy and brown. Green grass looks more like brown, dry grass, and bright red toys probably look brownish. 

If you're curious about how a dog sees the world, you can download an app like Dog Vision (opens in new tab) on your phone, which will show you what your dog is seeing. 

 What colors can dogs see? 

Dogs can see yellow and blue colors the best, which is funny considering most dog toys are a shade of red. If you're training your dog to fetch toys, you may want to use toys that are in the yellow and blue families - especially if you're trying to train your dog to differentiate between objects. 

If you've ever tossed a red ball around for your dog to fetch in the yard and noticed they kept missing it in the grass, it's because they see the ball and the grass as similar colors! Use a tennis ball instead, something that dogs universally love and can see much easier - it is yellow, after all.

What is a dog's vision like? 

collie with toy

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dogs' eyes have evolved to help hunt in the dark, so they have a larger lens and corneal surface, as well as more rods, which help with low-light vision. As mentioned above, dogs have fewer cones than primates, so they see fewer colors. That's because cones register light wavelengths, which is how you perceive color. PetsDoc.org (opens in new tab) details even more about the wonder of canine eyes, writing that dogs can see blue-violet and yellow and can discern between different shades of grey.

So, dogs have better night-time vision than humans do, but with one less set of cones, they cannot see such a wide variety of colors that we can. However, they have a much wider field of vision than humans. A dog's eyes are set at a 20-degree angle on their head, with certain breeds like Greyhounds having an even more extreme angle. This means that they have increased peripheral vision, with depth perception that is best when they look straight ahead. Humans can see in a 180 degree radius, while Greyhounds can see in a 270 degree radius. 

PetsDoc also writes that dogs have about 20/75 vision, whereas humans have 20/20.

 What colors do dogs hate?

Dogs don't hate a specific color, but they may have trouble finding objects that are red, red-purple, or orange-toned. That may be why they avoid the red-colored toy lying in the grass, or miss an orange ball lying amongst similarly hued fabric. Stick to blues and yellows when buying dog toys and accessories if you want to make sure they stand out for your pup. 

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