What Colors Can Dogs See? The Truth About Dog Vision

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While many dog owners delight in selecting colorful toys and accessories for their pets, one might wonder how much of this spectrum their furry friends can actually perceive. It’s a common misconception that dogs are color blind or only see in black and white.

In reality, their color vision is simply different from ours, with a more limited range of colors. This means those vivid hues on their toys and beds appear more subdued through their eyes.

But exactly which colors can dogs see, and how do they experience the world visually? Unraveling the truth about canine color vision not only unveils a fascinating aspect of their world but also deepens our understanding and appreciation of how dogs perceive their surroundings.

What is Color Blindness?

In the late 18th century, English scientist John Dalton, who himself had trouble telling some colors apart, studied color blindness. He and his brother often mixed up colors like red with green and pink with blue.

The most common type of color blindness in humans affects red-green perception. It’s especially common in men of Northern European descent. This condition happens because of issues with certain molecules in the eye’s retina, which help detect color. The retina turns light into signals sent to the brain to create images.

People with this color blindness can’t see certain colors correctly because they’re missing some of these molecules. They can usually see yellow and blue, but red might look gray or brown to them.

What Colors Can Dogs See?

To understand what colors dogs can see, we need to look at how their eyes work. It’s not true that dogs only see in black, white, and gray. They do see colors, but differently from humans.

Here’s the explanation: Both humans and dogs have two main types of cells in their retinas that help with vision. Rods help detect light and motion, and cones help distinguish colors. Humans have three types of cones that let us see red, blue, and green colors.

Dogs, however, have only two types of cones. This means they can see blue and yellow, but they can’t differentiate between red and green, making them red-green color blind.

Can Dogs See Colors?

The common belief that dogs are entirely color-blind isn’t accurate. They can see some colors but are similar to humans who are red-green color blind. This means they can’t distinguish between red and green. Dogs, similar to humans with this kind of color blindness, are unable to distinguish between red and green. If they see a green light, they wouldn’t be able to identify it as green.

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Dogs are born with a form of color blindness where they’re unable to see red and green. This is because they have fewer types of cones in their eyes than humans, limiting their color perception to blue, yellow, brown, and gray.

In terms of color vision, dogs can perceive blue, yellow, and various grays. Humans, on the other hand, can see around 1 million different colors. This wider range is due to the presence of three types of cones in human eyes, each capable of detecting about a million different color shades.

Are Dogs Color Blind or Have Spectrum Issues?

Recent studies on the structure of dog eyes have shown how they differ from human eyes, mainly due to evolution and their roles as nocturnal hunters. Their eyes evolved to excel in the dark and detect motion.

Dr. Jerry Klein from the AKC notes, “Canine eyes have adaptations for night hunting, like a larger lens and corneal surface, plus a reflective layer called a tapetum for better night vision. They also have more rods in the retina, aiding in low-light vision.”

The retina, crucial in color perception, contains millions of light-sensitive cells. These are:

1. Rods, which are sensitive and good for spotting movement in dim light.

2. Cones, which function in bright light and are responsible for color perception.

Dogs have more rods than cones, while humans have more cones, leading to differences in color perception. Humans and some primates are trichromatic with three types of cones. Dogs are dichromatic, having only two types.

Different cones detect different light wavelengths. Humans’ red-green cones let us appreciate colors like red roses or green apples. Dogs, lacking these cones, miss out on these colors, similar to some color-blind people.

In contrast, certain fish and birds are tetrachromatic, with a fourth type of cone allowing them to see ultraviolet light.

Can Dogs See Like Humans Do?

can dogs see all colors

Humans, with more cones in our eyes, can see all colors of the rainbow vividly. Dogs, however, have more rods, which gives them superior vision in low light and makes them better at spotting moving objects quickly. This is why your dog might notice a bird flying far away or bark at a small animal at night that you can’t see.

Due to having fewer cones, dogs don’t see the same range of colors as we do, nor do they see them as brightly. Just like people who are red-green color blind and can’t tell those colors apart, dogs have the same limitation.

For dogs, red might look like dark brownish gray or even black. Shades of yellow, orange, and green all appear as a kind of yellowish color to them. So, while we enjoy a world full of different colors, our canine companions experience a more limited but still fascinating color palette.

Choosing the Best Color for Your Dog’s Favorite Toy

what colors do dogs see

The color blue is the most distinguishable for your dog, and interestingly, purple also looks blue to them. This is why your dog might struggle to spot a red or green ball on green grass, as these colors appear similar to them. However, a blue toy will stand out, making games like fetch more enjoyable!

When selecting dog toys for your pet, opt for blue and yellow ones, as these are the colors your dog can see best. Choose a blue ball for outdoor play; it will stand out against the green grass, making it easier for your dog to see.

For indoor play, any toy color that your dog can see, such as blue, yellow, or even purple, will be a good choice. This way, you can ensure your furry friend has the most fun during playtime.


Understanding your dog’s vision, especially their red-green color blindness, can greatly enhance how you interact and play with them. This insight explains why dogs often prefer yellow toys, like tennis balls, and may seem uninterested in the same toys in pink or red.

When comparing a dog’s vision to ours, it’s clear that their ability to detect light levels and motion differs. So, when selecting toys for activities like fetch, whether in grassy fields or lakes, avoid red objects, as they might be hard for your dog to locate.

Instead, opt for toys in blue or yellow, which are more visible to them. This approach is particularly helpful in training exercises or when teaching your dog to distinguish between different items.

By aligning with your dog’s visual capabilities, you can make playtime and training both more enjoyable and effective for your furry friend.

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