Mythbuster: Are dogs colourblind?
The myth that dogs can only see the world in shades of black, white and grey has been long accepted as fact. But it turns out that your dog’s perspective isn’t quite as simple as that and like humans, dogs can in fact see (some) colours. Before we start painting the world through your pup’s eyes, let’s flash back to how this monochromatic myth came to be.
The notion that dogs are unable to see colours dates to 1937 and can be credited to William Lewis Judy, a fellow dog lover and the founder of National Dog Week in America. In his manual titled Training the Dog, he stated that ‘It is likely that all the external world appears to [dogs] as varying highlights of black and gray’. While we are completely onboard with Judy’s plans to spend a whole week celebrating our furry friends, unfortunately his theory on our dogs sight wasn’t quite right.
So what can my dog see?
Your dog’s (and indeed your own) ability to see colour comes from special photoreceptor’s in the retina called cones. Dogs are dichromatic, which means that they have two types cones (blue and green) in their retina. In contrast, we humans are trichromatic with three types of cones (blue, green and red). As a result of being dichromatic, our dogs can make our shades of yellow and blue (and combinations) however are unable to perceive the colour red and any combinations. Scientists believe that a dog’s colour vision is akin to that of a someone with red-green colour blindness.
Optimising for your doggie’s colour-impaired life
Now that we have established that your dog can see certain colours – what does this mean for their day-to-day life? When choosing a toy for your dog, opt for a green toy rather than a red one – the first option will look much brighter in their eyes! Similarly, if you like to play fetch with your pup on grass, use a contrasting blue ball. And if you ever get stuck with toy colour choices, there are now apps out there that can help you see the world through your doggo’s eyes that can help you make a decision.
It is also helpful to keep in mind that what your pup lacks in their ability to see colours, they more than make up for with their other senses. Compared to humans, dogs have a keen sense of smell (they have approximately 50 times as many receptors in their nose as we do) and can hear a much wider range of frequency. So while they can’t quite see those beautiful bright red roses in your garden, rest assured that they will certainly be able to smell them!