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Dog Vision: 21 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About How Dogs See The World

dog vision do you see what i see

Visual enrichment is very important to your dog and there are many toys in an array of colours that we love to play with, but what colours can your dog actually see?

Dogs have dichromatic vision, which means they see violet-blue, yellow and shades of grey. This is similar to a human being red-green colour blind. Dogs are typically nearsighted with a wider field of view than a human giving them better motion detection.

Seeing is part of how dogs enjoy their environment and we can help stimulate their senses through visual enrichment. Choosing toys, playing games and training our dog with visual cues that they can perceive and understand plays a big part in how happy and fulfilling their lives can be. Here’s how you can choose the things around you to help your dog see the world in a better light.

Dogs eyes are structured differently

We know that a dog’s eye is different to a humans. The retina, which is the light sensitive part of the eye, contains rods and cones. Cones for colour and detail and rods for motion and vision in dim light.

Dogs retina’s are predominantly rods so they can see really well at night as well as enabling them to be much better at detecting motion. Squirrel! 

Unfortunately, this means that your dog does not have many cones, so we do not see the same colour spectrum.

colours dogs can see compared to humans
Colours dogs can see compared to humans

Dogs are colour blind

Dogs’ retinas can only interpret two colours. A blue-violet and yellow. Everything else is a shade of grey.  Your dog uses other indicators to help them identify objects, such as sense of smell, textures, brightness and position. 

This is how a guide dog knows when to cross the road. They can’t see the colour of the red and green traffic light, but they have learnt the context of the traffic noise and motion to allow them to help their owners safely cross the road.

However a recent study in 2019 showed that although dogs can not see more colours, they are able to discriminate using luminance levels.

what dog toy colours look like to dogs side by side comparison 1
What toy colours look like to your dog. You can see why they are drawn to the yellow and blue toys.

Dogs have a wider field of view than a human

Predators, like humans and dogs, have their eyes located in the front of their head so they perceive depth. Whilst human eyes are set close together and straight forward, your dog’s eyes are at about a 20 degree angle ( depending on breed). This gives your dog amazing peripheral vision. 

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dogs field of view compared to humans
Dog’s field of view compared to humans. Only a small area is in focus.

However, the pay off for this is that their binocular vision is not so great and it depends on how far apart their eyes are set, and whether their nose gets in the way, as to how good their depth perception is. 

Your dog’s ability to judge distance is at its best when looking straight ahead. This is why some dogs are better at catching than others.

A dog’s world is up close and personal

Remember your eye tests? If you have perfect eyesight, known as 20/20 vision, you can distinguish objects at 20 feet. Your dog however, typically has much poorer vision. This means that your dog needs to get much closer to see something that you can see from a distance. 

visual acuity in dog compared to human simulation side by side
Visual Acuity in dogs compared to humans

Dogs can also be nearsighted (like Rotties and German Shepherds) and farsighted (Retrievers and Spaniels). Some dogs, such as Labradors have been bred for their vision and it is as close to humans as it can get.  

Dog’s night vision and motion detection is excellent

Your dog can detect motion at a distance much better than you. This is why when we are out in a field I stand in a ‘T’ shape and move my arms up and down as a recall signal. Dolly can see this easily and so knows to come back.

Because of your dog’s ability to see better in low light, motion detection and wider field of view a dog is perfectly suited to hunting at dawn and dusk.  This is why Dolly stares out of the patio doors at night to watch for hedgehogs.

Choosing dog-friendly colours improves agility ability

Dogs will do better at agility training when the weave poles, tunnels, jumps and boards are painted in blue and yellow so they can see them clearly. It helps them navigate and judge distances between objects.

dog agility poles in yellow and blue improve your dogs abilities
Choosing yellow and blue weave poles for agility will improve your dog’s ability as they can see them better.

What does dog’s vision actually look like?

Well by now you must be curious as to how your dog actually sees the world around them? And so was this Australian guy, Liam, who used an app on his phone and a VR headset to simulate a dog’s view of the world.

How to test your dog’s vision at home

As your dog ages their vision will deteriorate naturally.  You might not notice at home because your dog has learnt how to navigate your furniture, walls and doors.  But there are signs that you can look for that might indicate they are having some trouble seeing as well as they once did.

  • Bumping into things in a new environment, like a cafe, or if you move your furniture
  • Not reacting to movement outside on walks that they usually would, like chasing a squirrel
  • When playing fetch, they can’t find the ball anymore
  • Squinting, light sensitivity or could pupils
Dog Vision: 21 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About How Dogs See The World Click To Tweet

Dog Vision FAQS

What colours do dogs see well?

Dogs see two colours: violet-blues and yellow, the best due to the reduced number of cones in their retinas.

Are dogs colour blind?

Dogs have dichromatic vision which means they see violet-blue, yellow and shades of grey.  This is similar to a human being red-green colour blind.

What colours can dogs not see?

Dogs can not see the colours Red, Green, nor Orange, Purple or Brown. These colours appear as a shade of grey in a dog’s vision.

Can dogs see the colour red?

Dogs can not see the colour red as the cones in their retina only detect blue-violet and yellow. 

Can dogs see the colour purple?

Dogs can not see the colour purple as the cones in their retina only detect blue-violet and yellow. 

What colours do dogs hate?

As a dog can not perceive colour the same way as a human they do not hate colours unless they have been specifically trained to avoid certain colours.

What colours are calming to dogs?

Any colour other than blue-violet or yellow will be perceived as grey to your dog and therefore not as interesting or stimulating.

What colours do dogs see humans?

To your dog, you are shades of grey, unless you are wearing a blue or yellow item of clothing.

How do dogs see at night?

The tapetum is in the back of the eye which behaves like a mirror to reflect light and allows the retina to better register the image. 

What colour do dogs see in the dark?

Dogs see violet-blue and yellow in the dark. Other colours are shades of grey. Your dog usesbrightness to distinguish other colours.

Can dogs see in total darkness pitch black?

Although a dog has superior low light vision to a human, it can not see in pitch black.  A dog does not have night vision.

Do dogs need a light on at night?

A dog will sleep better without a light on at night so they are not visually disturbed or over stimulated. 

Top 5 Dog Toys in Colours your Dog Can See

We thought we would share with your our favourite toys that Dolly loves.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

References

  • Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere, Philippe A. Chouinard, Tiffani J. Howell, Pauleen C. Bennett,(2019) The effects of physical luminance on colour discrimination in dogs: A cautionary tale, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 212,Pages 58-65, ISSN 0168-1591
  • Neitz, J., Geist, T., & Jacobs, G. (1989). Color vision in the dog. Visual Neuroscience, 3(2), 119-125. doi:10.1017/S0952523800004430
  • Jacobs, G., Deegan, J., Crognale, M., & Fenwick, J. (1993). Photopigments of dogs and foxes and their implications for canid vision. Visual Neuroscience, 10(1), 173-180. doi:10.1017/S0952523800003291
  • Kelber, A., Vorobyev, M. and Osorio, D. (2003), Animal colour vision — behavioural tests and physiological concepts. Biological Reviews, 78: 81-118. doi: 10.1017/S1464793102005985
  • Miller PE, Murphy CJ. Vision in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1995 Dec 15;207(12):1623-34. PMID: 7493905.