Are dogs colour blind?
We’ve all heard the age-old theory that dogs can only see in black and white. This view has been widely accepted by countless dog owners, but is it just a myth or is there actually some truth behind it?
Realistically, it is true that our dogs are colour blind, not having such a wide spectrum of colour like we humans do, but they aren’t living in an old black and white film.
So, we’re going to explore what our dogs can see, why they can’t see all the colours of the rainbow and how it impacts their everyday life.
How does a dog’s colour vision differ from humans?
Luckily, our dogs have more range than just a colourless world of black and white, but their scope of colour is limited compared to the human eye.
Both humans and dogs have little tools in their eyes called rods and cones. These both aid vision. The rods detect movement and ensure we can see in differing levels of light, whereas cones are responsible for distinguishing different colours.
Humans generally have three of these colour receptors (cones) which allow us to have a broad spectrum for seeing various colours.
Each cone perceives light in different colours that represent red, green and blue. In our vision, the colours that these three cones recognize blend, providing us with the ability to see all shades of the rainbow.
If one of these cones doesn’t function properly, many people are left with only two working cones, typically causing either red-green or blue-yellow colour blindness. This is defined as dichromatic colour blindness.
Our pooches unfortunately only have two cones in their eyes, allowing them to detect the colours yellow and blue. Therefore, their spectrum of colour is almost identical to the people who experience red-green colour blindness.
What colours can dogs see?
Dogs can definitely see yellow, blue, black, grey and white. So, if you bought your dog a toy that was a vibrant red colour, your pooch would only see a dull, dingy brown ball.
Could this be why loads of dogs go absolutely bonkers over a simple yellow tennis ball?
Truthfully, it’s likely that the colour of your dog’s toy won’t make much difference to how much they love it. Despite this, it’s definitely possible that they may be more partial to a yellow or blue toy over a red or green one.
In the pet shop, most people will choose a brightly coloured toy over a dull one, even though dogs really don’t care that much.
However, if you do buy a yellow or blue ball, your pooch is less likely to lose it in the park, as they’ll be able to distinguish the colour from the green grass.
Does being colour blind hinder our dogs?
Although dogs might not have a wide spectrum of colour, their sense of vision is still top notch. As stated, both ours and our dog’s eyes are comprised of cones and rods.
Dogs have considerably more rods in their eyes than humans, allowing our pooches to have superior vision in the dark and the ability to detect even the slightest movement. This provides our pups with the perfect skills for hunting.
Sighthounds, such as Greyhounds and Whippets, as their name would suggest, have impeccable sight that is much superior to humans. Breeding over time made these dogs perfect for hunting, spotting any kind of movement from their prey and using their unrivalled speed to catch their target.
Alongside this, even though dogs have a muted colour spectrum, their other senses make up for this tenfold. Dogs have much greater senses than humans, with the ability to hear frequencies we couldn’t dream of and having a sense of smell that can sniff out almost anything.
Overall, we might think it’s unfortunate that our pooches can’t see all the wonderful colours of the world like we can. However, their vision, and all their other senses for that matter, are much superior to ours and are definitely nothing to be sniffed at.
Why did we believe dogs only see in black and white?
As much as we wish they could, our dogs can’t talk to us, so a lot of theory surrounding dogs is mainly up to speculation and word of mouth. As a result, countless myths about the canine world are believed with little questioning, such as dogs only being able to see in black and white.
The origin of this myth is credited to Will Judy, a dog enthusiast and founder of National Dog Week, who wrote a training guide in the 1930s stating how it was very likely that dogs could only see in grey and black. The myth spread quickly from there.
In the 1960s, this myth was perpetuated by researchers who theorised that only primates could see colour. There was little evidence to back this up, but the myth became more widely accepted.
Experiments in more recent times were conducted to see if our canines can see colour and the myth was eventually dispelled.
All in all, dogs can actually see more than just a dull world of black and white, with the ability to definitely see colours like blue and yellow. However, they are technically colour blind to some extent, with their sight being comparable to red-green colour blindness in humans.
If you were to see the world through your dog’s eyes, you might start to feel sorry for them since they can’t see the world as colourful as you do.
Despite this, your pooch has never known any different, and is equipped with a remarkable sense of smell and hearing to navigate the world, which will enrich their lives much more than a few extra colours could ever provide.
- Are dogs red-green colour blind? Royal Society Open Science, 4, (11), Nov 2017, doi.org/10.1098/rsos.170869