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Why Dogs Aren't Exactly Color Blind

Kelly Roper
Color spectrum
Which colors can dogs really see?

Are dogs color blind? That's a question dog enthusiasts often wonder about. Learn more about how your dog views the world.

How Sight Differs Between Dogs and Humans

The eye is an amazing organ whether it is a dog's eye or a person's eye. While there are many similarities in how both types of eyes are constructed, there are a few crucial differences that affect the way dogs see things as compared to people.

Rods and Cones

The eyes contain two different types of photoreceptor cells that affect the way everyone sees things, and this is true of both dogs and people. The name of each type of these cells refers to its actual shape.

  • Rods - These photoreceptor cells are rod-shaped as their name implies, and they are very sensitive to light.
  • Cones - Cone-shaped photoreceptor cells come in three different types. They detect colors and shapes, but they are less sensitive to light than rod cells.

This is where the major differences between dog eyes and human eyes come into play. Rod cells and cone cells are both found within each species' retinas, but a dog's eyes contain mostly rod cells. Due to this abundance of rod cells, dogs can see far better in the dark than people can. At the same time, dogs also have fewer cone cells than human eyes contain, and they only have two of the three different types of cone cells. This naturally limits their ability to see color, but the question remains, are dogs color blind?

So, Are Dogs Color Blind?

The fact that dogs have fewer cone cells in their retinas definitely affects how they perceive colors. However, the term "color blind" seems to mean different things to different people.

Dichromatic Versus Trichromatic Vision

The light spectrum contains a full range of colors, and dogs and people differ in how many of those colors each species can see. According to scientists, dogs have dichromatic vision. This means that they can only see certain parts of the color spectrum since they only have two types of cone cells.

People, on the other hand, are trichromatic. This is because they normally have all three types of cone cells. When this is the case, they have the ability to see the entire color spectrum. However, some individuals do not have all three types of cones in their retinas. This means that these people experience some measure of color blindness.

Which Colors Dogs Actually See

Due to a dog's lower number and fewer types of cone cells, it's safe to assume that canines see fewer colors than people do. Additionally, the colors that they do see may very well appear more washed out when compared to the way people perceive color.

So, which colors do dogs most likely see? There's a false notion that canines only see in varying shades of gray. Based on the types of cone photoreceptor cells dogs have, it's more likely that they see colors that range from brown through yellow, shades of gray and just a few shades of blue. Since the red and green portions of the spectrum aren't distinguishable to them, dogs likely perceive those colors as muddy shades of gray.

The Importance of Color to Dogs

Since it's impossible for people to truly view the world through a dog's eyes, scientists can only create logical theories based on their research. In the big scheme of things, color doesn't appear to play a significant role in a dog's vision, at least not the way it does to a human. You need only look back at the dog's ancestors to understand that the ability to see in the dark and detect movement was most important for their protection, ability to hunt and ultimate survival, and this is likely why their eyes developed with an emphasis on light rather than color.

Why Dogs Aren't Exactly Color Blind