What Colors Do Dogs See?

What Colors Do Dogs See?


Have you ever tossed a bright red ball in the park, only for your dog to lose it amongst the long green grass? If so, you may be wondering, what colors do dogs actually see? 

For decades, no one really knew. Thankfully, science has come a long way and can now shed some light on this topic. Myriam Doré, an animal health technician, explains that dogs cannot see all the same colors that humans can, but their world is not entirely black and white either!

In this article we’ll take a closer look at canine vision, exploring the colors dogs can see, and provide practical tips to enhance your bond with your dog. 

The Science Behind Canine Vision

Humans and dogs have a similar eye structure. Vision comes down to two main cells in the eye called rods and cones. 

Rods detect light. They can see shapes and movement, but they don’t detect color. It’s just an on/off sort of thing. Cones, on the other hand, can detect a rich spectrum of color. 

“We, humans, have three types of cones that can identify combinations of red, blue, and green,” explains Myriam. “Dogs, on the other hand, possess only two types of cones and can only fully detect blue and yellow.”

This sort of vision is called dichromatic, which translates to “two colors.” Simply put, dogs see primarily in shades of blue and yellow, along with the full spectrum of greys. They do not see reds and oranges. 

This is likely due to the ancestral roles of dogs. Humans are primarily active during the day, but many ancient wolves were crepuscular, meaning they were most active at dawn and dusk. (This is the sleep pattern most predatory animals follow.)

Dogs' cones do not work as well because they are not active for most of the day. As a result, they developed superior night vision over the ability to see a wide range of colors. In fact, they can see in the dark far better than humans. They can also detect higher levels of light better than humans too. 

Additionally, a dog's sense of smell is highly developed and likely plays a more important role in hunting and social interactions, which negated the need for highly developed color vision.


Understanding What Colors Dogs See

Unlike our vibrant world of sunshine, butterflies, and rainbows, a dog’s visual experience is much more muted and cooler-toned. They cannot appreciate the fiery hues of a sunset, but they do have some capacity to see blues and yellows. 

They cannot see reds, which also means they cannot see colors made of red, like orange and purple. 

This limited color vision can influence your dog’s behavior in surprising ways. According to Myriam, if “you throw a red, pink, or orange toy, it may be difficult for the dog to spot it in the grass.” 

For this reason, Earth Rated made sure their in-motion toys like this Fetch Toy is bright yellow so your dog can see it more easily when playing outside! Check out this review of the Earth Rated Fetch Toy here: An Expert’s Breakdown.

Debunking Myths About Dog Vision

Raise your paw if you've ever believed the myth that dogs see the world like a dull, black-and-white movie. Guilty paw raise here, too! That’s what science even thought until only a couple of decades ago!

It’s time to ditch this misconception. While dogs don’t see in full Technicolor like us, their world isn’t a monotonous black-and-white film, either. They just see things a little differently

For instance, instead of seeing a bright purple frisbee whizzing through the air, they might see a muted brownish-grey blur. Not that exciting, but still not black-and-white! 

As we’ve already discussed, dogs only have two types of cones - compared to humans, who have three. This translates to them seeing the world largely dominated by shades of blue and yellow, along with a spectrum of greys. 

So, next time you’re picking out a new stimulating dog toy, you probably want to lean towards the yellows and blues!


Beyond Blues and Yellows

We’ve established that dogs primarily see in blues and yellows, but they may also see slightly in other colors. For instance, dogs may see in a brownish-red. It’s not vibrant red like we see, but it is a murky, brown color—not grey!

These small variations do seem to exist, but it seems the experts are still trying to understand the extent to which dogs can see other colors. It is thought that dogs view green as a more yellowish color.

Dogs also see ultraviolet (UV) light, which humans cannot! This special type of light isn’t visible to us naturally, but many different species of animals see it. For instance, birds can see UV light, too. Some birds look plain to us, but they may actually be very colorful in UV! Our dogs can see these UV colors, which makes their world a bit more colorful. 

Our dogs may even pick up on things like urine markings through sight, thanks to their UV receptors. 

That said, it is important to remember that research into UV light is still very early. We don’t understand exactly how much UV light dogs can see. Once again, studying what we cannot see ourselves is hard. 

Can Dogs See in the Dark?

Dogs do see in low-light conditions better than humans. But, we don’t know exactly how much better they see. 

Their ability to see in the dark is largely due to their higher concentration of rods than cones. Rods excel at detecting movement and shapes in low-light conditions, but they do not detect colors. Dogs have a much higher concentration of rods compared to cones. 

This difference helps them see better in the dark, but it also makes them less able to see colors. It’s a sacrifice that was made sometime during their evolution. 

Practical Considerations for Dog Owners

Great, dogs can see yellow and blue but why does this matter for you and your dog?

Well, it can change their behaviors somewhat. Here are some situations where you need to keep your dog’s ability to see color in mind: 

  • Toy Shopping: Yes, red and orange balls are very bright—to us! But our dogs cannot see these colors well at all. Now that you know your dog's favorite colors are blues and yellows, stock up on toys that pop in those colors. 
  • Training: If you’re teaching your dog any sort of trick that requires sight, you need to consider if they can actually see what’s going on. For instance, if you’re training your dog to target with their nose, using red sticky notes probably isn’t the best option! Opt for the traditional yellow or even blue! For agility training, use clear yellow and blue obstacles, too. 
  • Environmental Enrichment: When purchasing beds, bowls, and other items for your dog, consider purchasing them in a color they can see! Blues and yellows are the most vibrant options. If you’re a new dog owner purchasing your doggie supplies for the first time, we recommend choosing as many things in blues and yellows as you can! Check out our new dog owner guide to help you figure out exactly what to purchase. 
  • Get Creative! If you’re making any DIY toys or have dull-colored toys, consider getting creative with blues and yellows! You can use blue and yellow fleece fabric to make a snuffle mat, for instance. 

  • While it may seem like a small thing to consider what colors your dog can see, it can make playtime more enjoyable and training easier. By incorporating these colorful tips into your everyday routine, you can make your dog's world a bit brighter (well, bluer and yellower)! 

    So, there it is!

    The mystery of dog vision is unveiled. While your dog may not appreciate fine art the way you do, they experience the world in blues, yellows, and a lot of grey. And that's ok!

    Understanding exactly how your dog sees these colors allows you to make their life a bit easier. You can choose blue and yellow toys, making it easier for them to play games of fetch. You can also select blue or yellow training aids that your dog can see clearly instead of oranges and reds they may struggle to see!

    Consider looking at your home through your dog’s eyes, especially when it comes to your dog’s things! A blue or yellow bed will pop far more to your pup than something purple or orange.

    See the difference in play when your pup interacts with toys they can see!

    Shop Dog Toys


    What colors do dogs see best?

    Dogs see the colors blue and yellow best. Their vision is dichromatic, meaning two-colored. In addition to seeing blue and yellow, dogs can also see the full spectrum of greys. Dogs see the color red the worst, they cannot see colors made of red either, like orange and purple.

    What colors attract dogs the most?

    The colors blue and yellow are the most attractive to dogs because they stand out the most. These two colors are the most prominent in a dog’s vision so items with these colors will attract the most attention.

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