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Can dogs see color?

Updated on June 28, 2010

Poor dog! You will not see the bright red color of your new blanket. Some people say that dogs only see black and white. Others believe that their canine friends are color blind. Actually, both ideas are true. Yes, dogs see in black in white but human’s best friend can also see some colors.

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Dogs can see color

Studies conducted on canine vision have proven wrong the notion that dogs can see only in black in white. A dog’s world is colorful as well although the colors are less intense and less detailed. Hundreds of years ago studies made on canine vision have proclaimed that the dog’s vision is not colored. Later researches have proven otherwise. In 1989, the studies conducted by Neitz, Geist and Jacobs have shown that dogs have the ability to see some colors.

The eyes of a dog

The eyes of a dog similar to the eyes of humans, have color receptors or cones that catch the light and respond to color. The difference though is that while humans have three types of receptors, dogs only have two.  Because of fewer cones the combined activities of the cones will result to a vision that is less rich and less detailed. This type of vision that involves two different color receptors is called dichromat. As dogs cannot see the full spectrum of colors they are distinguished as color blind. Additionally, a dog’s eye does not have the fovea, the part of the eye responsible for detailed and sharp vision.

A dog’s rainbow

As mentioned, dogs see color but the colors our furry friends see are fewer than what we humans can see. Humans would see the colors of the rainbow as red, orange, yellow, green, blue green, blue and violet. In a dog’s eye, the arch in the sky will be dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, a dark yellow that is nearly brown and very dark gray. Basically, the dog’s world is colored in yellow, blue and gray given that green, orange and yellow will be seen by the dog as yellowish; violet and blue will be seen as blue and blue green will be perceived as gray.

Advantages of the dog’s vision

A dog’s world may not be as colorful as ours. A dog owner may be kind of frustrated if the new red toy was not appreciated by the pet. The dogs may not be able to distinguish some colors but the dog is certainly a pro at distinguishing subtle shades. This is one of the advantages of canine vision over human vision. Dogs can see the smallest difference in hues because the lens of their eyes does not have the yellow pigment that blocks blue and violet wavelengths. This yellow pigment that is present in human eyes reduces the sensitivity to blue and violet lights making humans unable to see the slightest difference in shades in the violet and blue colors. The larger pupils of dogs enable them to have a wider field of vision. A dog can see flickering light much better than humans can. Dogs have Tapetum Lucidum, the reflective surface in the dog’s eyes that reflects back the light allowing the dog to have better vision in the dark.

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