It’s only natural for a dog owner to wonder exactly what their highly adored companion sees when he glances toward a field of freshly cut grass or curls up in front of the television. Do dogs see the same colors as humans? It turns out that canine reality is very different from human reality when it comes to the hues we see.
Why should humans be curious about the colors that dogs see? Many dog owners like to “get inside the mind” of a dog to be able to pick out toys and other items that appeal to a dog’s color vision. Understanding the color vision of dogs can also be useful when training dogs to respond to or retrieve objects.
Take a look at what we know about which colors dogs see best, which colors dogs like and what owners can do to maximize that knowledge.
The First Order of Business: Debunking the Biggest Myth About How Dogs See Color
For years, people have been repeating the myth that dogs are color blind. If that were true, it would mean that dogs could only see the world represented in black, white and some gray tones. However, it’s actually not the case at all. Dogs absolutely do see in color. However, that doesn’t mean that they see in the same colors as humans.
What Colors Can Dogs See?
While dogs aren’t color blind, they do have a much more limited scope of perceivable colors than humans. This is simply the case because human eyes and dog eyes are composed in different ways. As you may know, the human eye has three different color receptors located inside the retina. For dogs, only two color receptors are located in the retina. As a result, dogs see fewer colors than humans.
Which colors do dogs actually see? As far as we know, dogs can only perceive shades of blue, yellow and gray. There’s also pretty strong speculation that the colors dogs do see actually appear far less intense than they do to the human eye. Of course, nobody can actually confirm that without asking a dog. Here’s a breakdown of what a human sees versus what a dog sees:
|Human Sees||Dog Sees|
As you can see, a dog’s color perception creates something of a parallel world compared to what the human eye sees. However, a dog’s ability to see a tapestry of colors makes them far from color blind. This still leaves the question open regarding which specific colors dogs are most attracted to in their daily lives.
The Big Surprise: Dogs Don’t Love Red as Much as We Think They Do
Owners often gravitate toward red toys and objects when shopping for dogs because they assume that red will pique the interest of a playful canine. They also assume that it will be easier for a dog to find a red object that has been tossed in the grass. The reality is that dogs actually have a very hard time seeing red. A red toy that appears very vibrant to a human will come across as a shade of brown, gray or black to a dog.
It’s a similar situation for the very bright shade of orange used for many dog toys. Designed to create a high-alert, high-contrast look, orange toys come across as being a shade of dull or brownish gold. The irony is that choosing objects that are red or orange may actually make it harder for your dog to distinguish between the grass and the toy you are tossing back and forth.
Of course, red and orange toys offer the human involved a benefit because they are very easily detected by the human eye. That means that you may not have to walk away from red and orange completely if you simply want to choose toys that you won’t lose in the grass.
The Colors Dogs Do Like: Blue and Yellow
Blue and yellow are the two colors that dogs tend to gravitate toward. The simple reason why is that these are the two colors that dogs can distinguish easily.
The benefit of focusing on blue and yellow toys for dogs is that your dog will have an easier time identifying these objects. That means that a dog can enjoy retrieving objects because they will be able to spot these easily identifiable colors against backgrounds that consist of other colors that are “muted” by a dog’s vision.
In fact, switching to blue and yellow toys and objects is a good idea if you’ve always had the impression that your dog is simply bad at retrieving objects that are “right in front of his eyes.”
The Secret About Dogs and Color That All Dog Owners Should Know
This final tidbit regarding dogs and color vision is something that dog trainers have known for years. In fact, this tip is actually a common practice in the world of professional dog agility, which I used to compete in.
The key to getting your dog to follow your lead when playing or learning tricks is to wear clothing with contrasting patterns. The reason for this is that “solid” colors can actually cause you to blend in with all of the background colors that surround you from a dog’s perspective. Contrasting colors allow the movements and signals you’re making to really stand out.
In conclusion, it’s really quite incorrect to say that dogs are color blind. However, their two-cone retinas see fewer colors than the three-cone retina of the human eye.
We can also pretty safely say that the colors that dogs do see are actually less vivid when compared to what the human eye sees.
Ultimately, going against the instinct to use red and orange objects with dogs is the first step to correcting color misconceptions when training or playing with dogs.
The last word is that blue and yellow are the two colors that dogs are attracted to the most simply because these are the two colors that are easily identified.