Dog Questions
can dogs see colour

Can Dogs See Colour? Are Dogs Colour Blind? - Waggel Answers

Written by Steph McCulloch


The canine vision system means that dogs perceive colours in a fundamentally different way than humans due to their dichromatic type of vision. Unlike humans, who have three types of cones in their retinas, dogs possess only two kinds of cones. These cones are sensitive to blue and yellow wavelengths of light, which means that dogs predominantly see the world in those colours.
close up of black collie


Dogs have intrigued and captivated humans for centuries with their unique sensory abilities, including their sense of smell and peripheral vision. Yet, when it comes to understanding their vision, a plethora of misconceptions have taken root in the minds of dog owners and enthusiasts alike. These misconceptions often stem from projecting human vision experiences onto our pets, leading to misunderstandings about their world.

In this blog post, we’re setting the record straight. Our goal is to debunk these prevalent misconceptions and shed light on the fascinating reality of how dogs perceive the world around them.
At the heart of our exploration lies the intriguing topic of colour vision - demystifying how dogs truly see and appreciate the light wavelengths and shades of grey available to them. So, join us as we unravel the truth and offer accurate insights into the remarkable visual world of our canine friends.

Understanding dogs' vision

a brown dog wearing glasses

Dogs' vision differs significantly from that of humans, particularly when it comes to their field of vision and depth perception. While we humans possess three kinds of cones, or types of colour receptors, in our retinas (sensitive to red, green, and blue wavelengths), dogs only have two main types of cones. This phenomenon is known as dichromatic vision, in contrast to our normal vision, which is trichromatic.

In dogs, the two types of cones are sensitive to shorter (blue) and longer (yellow) wavelengths of light. This means that while they have a limited ability to perceive colours, the vision in dogs is skewed towards the blue and yellow ends of the spectrum. The absence of cones sensitive to red and green wavelengths in dogs' retinas is the primary reason they struggle to differentiate between these colours as humans do.
Imagine the world through a dog's eyes: the lush green grass that appears vibrant to us might seem more subdued to them, leaning towards shades of yellow. Similarly, the red ball you toss to play fetch could appear as a less distinct shade of grey or brown to your furry friend.

However, don't let the concept of dichromatic vision deceive you into thinking dogs have dull visual experiences. Their excellent vision system is finely tuned to motion sensitivity and can detect differences in brightness, making them exceptional hunters and adept at navigating various environments with a broader range of capabilities.

So, while dogs may not see in the rich tapestry of colours that we do, their blue-yellow dichromatic vision offers them a unique perspective on the world—one that prioritises different visual cues and contributes to their remarkable abilities in other areas of sensory perception.

Dogs and colour perception

yorkshire terrier peeping behind pink flower outdoors

The canine vision system means that dogs perceive colours in a fundamentally different way than humans due to their dichromatic type of vision. Unlike humans, who have three types of cones in their retinas, dogs possess only two kinds of cones. These cones are sensitive to blue and yellow wavelengths of light, which means that dogs predominantly see the world in those colours. Their optic nerve carries this visual information to the brain, enabling them to make sense of their surroundings.

The absence of cones sensitive to red and green wavelengths in dogs' eyes leads to challenges in distinguishing between these colours. Reds may appear as muted shades of grey, and greens might blend with the background, making them less prominent. Consequently, the colour of objects can significantly impact a dog's interaction with its environment and their advantages over humans in certain aspects of vision.
This unique colour perception also influences dogs' daily activities and choices. During walks or playtime, a toy's colour could determine its attractiveness to a dog. Beyond toys, dogs rely on their colour vision to assess their surroundings and make decisions based on their visual cues.

Despite their limited colour range, dogs possess exceptional motion detection and contrast sensitivity, enabling them to excel in various tasks like hunting and surveillance. While dogs may not see the world in the same colourful splendour as humans, their distinct visual abilities contribute to their remarkable adaptability and interactions within their environment.

To read more about dogs’ physical characteristics and how they affect their behaviour, read our blog on 
dogs that don’t shed.

Dogs' night vision

black dog looking over

Dogs possess an exceptional edge in night vision compared to humans, thanks to their biological adaptations like the light sensors in their retinas. A key factor in their superior nocturnal vision lies in the abundance of rod cells within their retinas. These specialised photoreceptor cells are highly sensitive to low levels of light, enabling dogs to navigate and perceive their surroundings effectively even in dim light conditions.

An additional feature that contributes to their remarkable night vision is the reflective membrane known as the tapetum lucidum, a reflective layer situated behind their retinas.

This reflective layer acts as a mirror, bouncing back any light that hasn't been initially absorbed by the photoreceptor cells. This reflective process amplifies their sensitivity to faint sources of light, a phenomenon that's often observed as a distinct glow or shine in their eyes under low light conditions.

This heightened night vision plays a pivotal role in dogs' ability to detect movement and identify potential threats, further enhancing their motion sensitivity. In situations where humans might struggle to discern details, dogs excel at tracking even the slightest motions, also thanks to their wider field of vision. This capability is deeply rooted in their evolutionary history as hunters and guardians, allowing them to spot prey or potential dangers from a distance.

Their exceptional night vision not only enhances their innate instincts but also enables them to serve effectively in various roles, from vigilant protectors to loyal companions, especially when the darkness sets in. Other physical features that enhance a dog’s sensory ability are the ears, as mentioned above. But what difference do long ears make to pointy ones? You might want to check out our other blog articles for the answer to that.


puppy king charles spaniel looking slightly upward

In conclusion, understanding the nuances of dogs' vision, including their visual acuity, provides us with a deeper appreciation of their unique sensory world.
With their dichromatic colour perception and superior night vision, dogs experience the world in a distinctive way that prioritises movement, contrast, and different shades of blue and yellow. This knowledge not only sheds light on why they prefer certain toys or excel in specific tasks but also highlights the evolutionary adaptations that have shaped their exceptional abilities.

Recognising the significance of dogs' vision is vital for enhancing their living conditions and overall well-being. By choosing toys and accessories that consider their colour perception, we can ensure their engagement and enjoyment. Additionally, understanding their superior night vision aids in creating safer environments during nighttime activities.

Ultimately, a more informed approach to their visual experiences strengthens the bond between humans and dogs, fostering a richer companionship that caters to their unique sensory strengths.

For up-to-date, helpful pet information take a look through our other blog posts where we provide everything you need to know about common health issues and dog behaviours including their meanings.


Does my dog see me in colour?

Your dog sees you, but not in the same colours as you see yourself. Dogs perceive colours differently, primarily seeing in shades of blue and yellow. 

Can dogs see TV?

Yes, dogs can see TV, but they perceive the images differently due to their dichromatic vision and faster flicker rate perception.

Can dogs see in the mirror?

Dogs can see in the mirror, but they do not recognise their own reflection as humans do. Although dogs can’t identify themselves in the mirror they still have amazing levels of self-awareness and can recognise their own odour and recall certain events.

What colours do dogs see best?

Dogs see blue and yellow colours the best. Red often appears as a brown/grey colour which isn’t very appealing.

Waggel Pet Insurance

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