Can Dogs See Color?


This has to be one of the most commonly asked questions at pet stores and vets worldwide.  The most prominent myth about dogs is that they are color blind, and can only see in shades of gray.  This is totally false.  Although dogs cannot see the full-color spectrum that we can as humans, or as rich color as we do, they can most certainly see colors.  The primary difference in their vision is that they see color in two spectrum’s, and we see color in three.

Eyes in both dogs and humans are composed of special cells that can reflect and interpret light patterns for color and depth, these cells are called cones.  There are many different types of cones in the eyes, designed to catch all different wavelengths of the light color spectrum.  A human has 3 different types of cones, whereas a dog only has 2. Dogs also do not have as many cones in their eyes as humans do, which means they do not see the world with the intensity that we do, and are also missing our strong sense of depth perception.  The cone they are missing corresponds to the green-red color spectrum, so their eyes only mix colors using 4 shades of color, instead of six.  It looks like this:

Dog Vision

Because a dog’s eyes do not have as many cones as ours do, their vision is less vivid and reactive to colors and light.  When a human is considered color blind, they are usually missing one of the three types of cone cells that humans carry in their eyes.  This may mean they can only see shades of gray, or that they can only see a certain spectrum of color, just like a dog.  Can dogs see color?  Yes, but their eyes do not mix colors as well as ours do, so it is not as effective of a tool for navigating the world to them.  Having two cone receptors means that dogs see light in a gray-blue-yellow spectrum.  So something that is green, yellow, or orange to our eye will be grayish yellow to their eye.  Dogs cannot see the color red, which makes it very odd that many dog toys are red or orange, as dogs find it very difficult to see these colors.  So if your dog runs right past that red ball you’ve thrown into your green grass, they aren’t being stupid, it is just hard for them to find a gray ball in the gray grass.  This is why dogs rely more on motion, sound, and smell to feel out and navigate their world; they do not see the world with the vivid intensity that we do.  A dog’s nose has compensated for their color vision through their evolution, and a dog literally sees the world through its nose.  This is why they will sniff you before they look at you to say hello.