Are dogs color blind? While you may think dogs cannot see color, the truth may surprise you. Find out what colors dogs can actually see (and not see).

By Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, RBT
November 12, 2020
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Not everything is black and white, especially if you’re a dog! Despite a very long-held myth that dogs see the world through a gray lens, researchers now know that although our canine companions don’t see the vast rainbow of colors we humans do, dogs don’t see the world as though it’s a vintage movie.

Dogs can see some colors, just not as many as we can. But just because you are lucky enough to see the beautiful changing leaves each fall doesn’t mean your sight is superior. Dogs have excellent vision and have even evolved to see clearly in the dark.

What is Color Blindness in Dogs?

In the human sense of the word, dogs are color blind but in a very specific way. You might have heard that sometimes a person may have issues distinguishing red colors from green ones or perceiving shades of blue. This is due to color blindness and is commonly caused by a genetic issue within the eye or, later in life, an injury or illness. However, the way dogs see isn’t because of any deficiency in the eye itself.

Humans and dogs both have two types of color receptors: cones and rods. The cones handle vision during the day and color perception. Rods tackle what can be seen at night and the ability to see from side to side and all around (peripheral vision). Each cone detects the wavelengths of light. Humans have three cones and so can generally detect the whole spectrum of light. Dogs have just two cones.

What Colors Do Dogs See?

A dog’s two color-detecting cones help them to perceive blue and yellow light but not red or green. So, in a dog’s world view they likely see everything as muted shades of yellow, brown, gray, and tinges of blues. “Dogs can indeed see colors—it just looks a little different than us,” says Alicen Tracey, a small animal veterinarian at Den Herder Veterinary Hospital in Waterloo, Iowa.

Those bright red dog toys you always pick out? Well, your dog doesn’t really see that bright red color. To them, that appears as one big hunk of brown.

“Dogs' vision of color most closely resembles people who have red-green color vision deficiencies,” Tracey says. “For those with red-green color deficiency it is difficult to distinguish between the colors red and green.”

Wanna see what your dog sees? You can experiment with Dog Vision!

Credit: Myriel Kimble / EyeEm/ Getty

What Does This Mean for Your Dog?

It’s really fun to pick out brightly colored dog toys, beds, and collars. But while they are pleasing to us, their color likely makes no difference to your dog. Your dog doesn’t need toys in rainbow hues, and those intense shades will not impact his toy preference—but it does seem to impact yours! Marketers and graphic designers know that humans prefer toys and pet gear in bright colors like red and orange but dogs don’t perceive those colors at all.

Some smart dog trainers and dog sport enthusiasts have picked up on the color scheme dogs perceive. For instance, you may have noticed that dog agility equipment tends to be blue and yellow. In your own backyard, selecting Frisbees and balls that are yellow or blue could help your dog find them faster amongst the green grass.

Have you ever found your dog barking in the dark, at what appears to be nothing, giving you just the right amount of creeps? Well, don’t just dismiss the bark. Although dogs won’t notice the bright red eye color of what you are positive is something menacing, they can see quite well in the dark. Their eyes may have fewer color-detecting cones than humans’ eyes, but dogs have more light-sensitive rods. This means they can see creatures moving in the deep of the night. Which might be a handier skill for them than being able to appreciate the color of that fun new toy you just bought.