Can Dogs Really Only See in Black and White?

Can Dogs Really Only See in Black and White?

We as humans are pretty limited in how well we, even among the best of us, can smell. When it comes to getting an extra boost on sniffing, we tend to turn to man’s best friend and professional nose, the loyal dog.

Just because they may have a nostril up on us in the olfactory department doesn’t mean that all of their senses beat ours.

Like us, you may be familiar with the idea that dogs can only see in black and white. However, it turns out that may not actually be true. So how do our fur babies actually perceive the world?

How Dog Vision Works

Color and sight comes down to the cones, and not the ones your pup wears when they aren’t feeling well.

Firstly, this idea that dogs only can see in black, white, and gray tones goes back to 1937 when a writer, former publisher of Dog Week magazine, and lifelong pup fan, Will Judy, wrote in his book “Training the Dog” that “it’s likely that all the external world appears to them as varying highlights of black and gray.”

It didn’t help this common belief that in the 1960s several other animal researchers claimed, despite having done little actual research, that the only mammals who could tell colors apart were primates.

In the time since then, thankfully we’ve come a long way in scientific studies. Some of those studies have taken a look at what’s really going on with our fur babies’ eyes.

To understand how their eyes work, it’s helpful to understand how eyes, on the whole, work.

Closeup image of dog's eye.

One of the main parts of the eye is the retina, or the thin tissue that lining the back. The retina itself is made up of millions of light sensing cells, including rods and cones. The rods work in low light and sense motion, while the cones work in brighter light and pick up on colors.

We humans have three kinds of cones, meaning we see better in brighter light and more colors. Dogs only have two kinds of cones but more rods than we do, meaning they don’t see as many colors but they do see better in low light.

A chart of a dog vs human color vision spectrum

It makes sense, if you think about it, since wolves and wild dogs primarily hunted at dusk and dawn when the light was low and they could get the jump on their meals.

What this ultimately means, though, is that dogs definitely can see more than just blacks, whites, and grays. Their vision is thought to be much more similar to a person who is colorblind to red and green.

If you’re curious, there are even apps and websites that will let you take a peek at the world as your fur baby might be seeing it.

Woman kissing dog

Why It’s Important

Knowing how your fur baby sees the world can be super helpful in allowing you to make the best choices in gear and toys!

For all of us who have gone into a pet store and marvelled at the sheer variety of toys that our pup might like, this could help make that selection a lot easier. While a lot of companies tend to make toys in reds and oranges, it turns out our fur babies can’t really see those colors well. Blues and yellows tend to be much easier to spot.

Likewise if you do have a red or orange toy that you throw into tall grass, your pup may have a harder time finding it due to their color-blindness.

Another way that knowing how dogs see the world is helpful is in training. If you are training your pup using tools they need to be able to quickly see and identify, go for items that are, again, blue or yellow. It will make it much easier on your fur baby and, in turn, you!

Additionally, this knowledge can help when you take your pup out on a walk. If you want your fur baby to be more visible to other dogs you can give them a blue or yellow bandana or dog harness. It can also help knowing what they may see more easily if you have a pup who is easily startled or shy.

Man hugging dog

Understanding the way our pups see the world is just one more way that we can understand them. And the more we understand our fur babies, the more we can connect with them and create a partnership that is really something special.

For more doggie photos and pup-related fun, follow us on Instagram at @joyrideharness. And for a more detailed blog post about finding the best size dog harness for your pup, check out this blog post!
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