It’s early afternoon. You’re out in the backyard, throwing a ball for your dog. Your pup can clearly see the ball in your hand and follows its movement as it sails through the air. But it’s when that ball hits the ground and rolls into the grass that your dog pauses as if it is unsure where the ball went. But, that doesn’t make sense. The ball is bright red, and the grass is a lush green. Surely, your dog can see the difference in color…right?
As it turns out, to your dog, there probably isn’t much of a difference between red and green. If it seems like your pup has lost sight of the ball, it’s probably true. This begs the question: what colors can dogs see? Can they even see colors?
Colors According to Your Dog
If you were able to ask your pup what colors are visible, your dog would probably be confused about what a color is. But, after some explanation, your pup might reveal to you that only yellow and blue are really visible, and maybe some combinations of those two colors. Why is that, though?
Both humans and dogs have what are called rods and cones in their eyes. Rods are used to pick up movement and see in low light, and cones function best in bright light and also interpret colors. Humans have more cones than rods, and dogs have more rods than cones. Dogs also only have two types of cones in their eyes, whereas humans have three types. This creates a vast difference in the amount of color that humans and dogs can see.
In short, because of the reduced number of cones in their eyes, dogs can see colors, but not all of them. Two colors they can’t differentiate between are red and green because they lack the cones necessary to do so. Since dogs mostly see yellow and blue, much of the rest of the colors look more gray or brown.
Can Dogs See Different Colors at Night?
Since dogs have better night vision, can they see more colors at night? No, not really. As mentioned above, color vision is determined by cones in the retina, and dogs don’t have a lot of cones. Not only that, but colors are actually the result of light bouncing off of objects. As the amount of light decreases, so does the number of colors that can be perceived. This holds true for dogs, as well.
But, while they can’t see more colors at night and can only see a limited amount of colors during the day, they do have better night vision than humans. This is due to the increased number of rods in their eyes, which also help them track movement. Being able to see in low light and detect movement is probably more beneficial to dogs than being able to see a lot of colors.
Should You Choose Toys With Colors Your Dog Can See?
Since dogs can only see a limited range of colors, should you choose toys within that spectrum? Well, it might make things easier for your dog. As in the scenario above, if your dog is trying to find a red ball in a field of green grass, there might be some issues, since your dog can’t tell the difference between red and green. If your dog were looking for a yellow or blue ball, however, it would probably stand out more and be easier for them to find.
With that in mind, you could choose toys of specific colors for a variety of purposes. For instance, if you just want to play a fun game of catch with your dog, maybe get a yellow or blue ball to keep things simple. If you want to provide a more challenging game for your dog (like fetch mixed with hide-and-seek), you could get a red or green ball. Your dog would probably have a more difficult time searching for a ball that blends into the environment, which could prolong or complicate the game.
So, should you choose toys based on what colors your dog can see? It probably doesn’t make too much of a difference, but your dog might be more excited by a toy that’s yellow or blue.
The Visual World of Your Dog
If you’re curious about what the world looks like through your dog’s eyes, it’s important to remember that it’s not only our color vision that’s different. Dogs also don’t see as clearly as we do. We can see detail in faraway objects that probably only look like a blur or a smudge to our dogs. But, because of the limited range of colors that dogs can see, their visual world is a lot less vibrant than ours.
To get an image of what it might look like, try to imagine a world that’s mostly grayish-brown. Red and green don’t exist, so the only real spots of color are the occasional yellow and blue objects. There might be some other diluted colors thrown in there, but mostly, it’s a fairly bland landscape. That might give you an idea of what the world looks like to your dog, based on the colors your pup can see.
If you think that’s kind of sad, remember that your dog doesn’t know about all the colors besides yellow and blue. What’s important to your dog is being with you and maybe getting to play with a favorite toy. So, even if your pup can’t see the brilliant red color of a flower, your dog doesn’t mind because it’s just not a big deal in your dog’s mind.
So, can dogs see colors? They can! Though they can really only see yellow or blue (and maybe some combinations of those colors), they can at least see some colors. Their lack of color vision comes from the reduced number of cones in their eyes, but they make up for this with an increased number of rods, which help them detect movement and see better in low light.
If you’re wondering what color toys to buy for your dog, yellow or blue toys would probably be the easiest for them to see. But, if you want to give your dog more of a challenge while playing fetch or some other similar game, you could choose a red or green toy.
Regardless of which color toys you choose, have fun playing with your dog and making their limited color world a little brighter!