Do Dogs See in Color or Black and White? Myth Busting Time

Long ago, it used to be a fact that dogs could not see colors. Their weak eyes could not process the beauty and vibrant colors of this world. Sure they have excellent smell and vision, but at first glance, they couldn’t tell the difference between an orange and a tomato. If you were one of these believers, then I hate to be the one to say this to you…but you were wrong. Dogs do, in fact, see color. Actually, their vision is not that different from ours.

So where did all this colorblindness talk start? When did we figure out the truth about dogs and their unique vision? How do we test dogs to know what they see? It’s not like they can just tell us what’s going on. In the article below, we will cover all of this.

The Myths about Color Blindness

This age-old myth stood as fact for a long, long time. It all started back in 1937 with Will Rudy. Will, the founder of National Dog Week, jotted down a few notes in his manual titled Training the Dog that would give life to this myth for decades. He wrote about how it was likely that dogs could only see the world through shades of black and white…and the rest is history.

Rumors traveled and word spread. Before we knew it, dogs’ inability to see color was common knowledge and thought of as a scientific fact. Some researchers believed that apes or monkeys were the only part of the mammal family that could see color. Fortunately, studies now show the truth.

The Truth about Color Blindness

The truth is, after all those years of false information, dogs can indeed see color. They always could. What debunked this long-standing myth? Modern science, of course. What does this science tell us you might ask?

Studies have shown that dogs lack some crucial cells that help humans see color. Human eyes contain cone cells in the retina. Cone cells aid your eye in processing colors and brightness. Your dog’s eyes, however, contain rod cells. Rod cells don’t make for the most vibrant colors. But what rod cells can do is help with low light vision.

Dogs retinas also contain what is called a tapetum. The tapetum helps send back missed light to the retina for another round. The tapetum acts as a mirror, which is why your dog’s eyes will glow when light shines near their eyes. While it is an excellent feature dogs have with many benefits, seeing more shades of color is not one of them.

As we said before, dogs can see color. But your dog doesn’t see all the shades such as red and orange like we do. What they can see are mostly shades of yellow, blue, and green. Keep this in mind when you are the pet store picking them up a new toy or if you just want to make life a little more colorful for them.

How Do We Know?

How do we know Will Rudy was wrong? Did a dog compliment someone on their blue shirt? Humans can’t become dogs, right? Extensive research was done to find these answers. An example of one of the tests goes like this.

Three identical circles were lined up in front of the dogs. One of the circles was a different color than the others. The dogs were trained to find the odd color, and if found, we would know that they recognized that specific shade. So if the dog encountered a color he couldn’t identify, it tells us that this is one of the colors dogs don’t see.

Another test that was conducted included placing a model cat against a colored background. The cat would only be detected if the dog recognized the difference in the colors. For example, the cat could be yellow, and the background could be blue. If the dog could spot the cat against the background, we know that he can recognize blue. If the dog couldn’t locate the cat, we can safely assume that it’s a color that dogs cannot detect.

Why is it Important?

If your dog can’t see color, it isn’t exactly a life or death situation. But having a little color in your dog’s life can’t do any harm either. I would imagine that a life of only whites and greys could get pretty dull and even depressing. When you go to the pet store, make sure you don’t buy any red or orange chew toys that your dog cannot see. While it is something that sticks out for us, it is just another dark brown bore-fest for your dog. Get him something yellow or blue. These are colors your dog can see.

Pet stores litter this color all over the store in an attempt to catch your eye just long enough for you to pull that wallet out and drop a toy in the cart. Tennis balls are also a go-to toy for dogs. They can see the light green colors in a tennis ball and also enjoy chasing them down. If you ever watched dog athletic competitions on your TV, you will notice that they use a lot of yellow and blue equipment to prevent the dog from falling and hurting himself.

Conclusion

In this article, we covered a variety of things. We now know how the colorblind rumors started and who was responsible for starting them. We know what colors dogs can see and which they can’t. We even know what color toys you should be buying them on your next trip to the pet store.

But most importantly, we know that dogs are not completely color blind. The extensive research and brilliant researchers are responsible for debunking this myth. Dogs can see most colors, maybe not as good as humans can, but they can still see it. They can also see great in low light conditions and are quick to catch movement at a distance.

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