While it stands true that dogs are colour-blind, did you know that they actually do not see in black and white? Their limited ability to see colour is one of the reasons they depend so heavily on their sense of smell, and why they perceive the world so much differently than us.
What Your Dog Doesn’t See
The human vision spectrum of colour goes from red to violet, with a rich variety of hues in between. Most of us can distinguish a pale robin’s egg blue from a cheery spring green.
As for dogs, that visual spectrum is much more limited. They can only distinguish yellow and blue-violet. Green, yellow, orange and red are all indistinguishable to your dog. That means they could not tell the difference between a red light and a green light. This also means that if you throw a bright red ball into the green grass, it won’t be easy for your dog to find by sight.
What Your Dog Does See
The retina, located at the back of the eyeball, consists of light-sensitive cells called cones and rods. The cones allow you to see colours, while rods help you see in dim light, as well as detect motion. As you may have guessed, you have more cones than your dog.
On the flipside, your dog has more rods, plus tapetums, mirror-like structures at the back of the eye that reflect light, allowing your dog to see well in dimly lit areas.
Your dog may be terrible at distinguishing colour, but they’re great at detecting even subtle movements. That’s why they’ll go nuts at the barely-noticeable motion of squirrel rustle a leaf up in a tree. They also have humans beat at seeing in the dark.
A dog’s eyes are set apart in a way that gives them a wider field of vision than a human. A human’s relatively flat face and close-set eyes make it more difficult for us to see objects around us. A breed with a flat face, like a Pug or Pekingese, will have a narrower field of vision than, for example, a Greyhound.
You may have noticed that it’s nearly impossible to sneak up behind your dog. They may see you coming in their peripheral vision, if your smell and sounds do not give you away.
Accommodating Your Dog’s Vision
It’s easiest for your dog to spot blue or purple toys whether they’re outdoors or inside. Try a blue ball for playing fetch in the grass. This Purple Chrome Bubble Bowl stands out so your dog will always know where to find their food or water.
Also keep this in mind when purchasing agility or training equipment. A bright yellow target stick is easy for your dog even though it’s within the broad, yellow end of their visual spectrum, simply because it is more vibrant than other colors. Red would be a less preferable choice.
Remember, your dog can see better at night than you can. It’s fun to experiment with this by hiding toys in the dark, or playing hide and seek.
Even though your dog is not able to enjoy rainbows, sunsets and colorful collars, they have plenty of acute senses like smell and hearing that allow them to enjoy things that we can never imagine. Take this into consideration on your next walk – sniffing a tree is as important to your dog as it is for you to enjoy the view.