Everyone’s likely heard this one before: Are dogs colorblind? You probably even waged endless debates with your friends on the playground as a kid.
So let’s settle the question once and for all … but it’s not quite that simple.
Let’s start with the answer to that precise question. Yes, dogs are by definition colorblind. But that’s not really the question most people assume when they ask that age old question. What they really mean is can dogs only see in black and white, which isn’t the same as being color blind. And that answer is no, dogs can see color. It’s just limited.
But what exactly does the world look like through their eyes? How do they see color?
Hues for hounds
To put it in the most basic color spectrum terminology, canine color fields consist primarily of yellows, blues and violets. It’s not black, white and grey like the “color blind” myth states, but it is much more limited to what we as humans perceive. For example, what we humans see as reds, greens and oranges aren’t exactly distinguishable colors to your pup’s peepers. As a result, that lush, “green” park and your backyard – their beloved play and potty grounds – appear somewhere on the yellow to blue spectrum … unless you just don’t water your lawn. Then, maybe you and your dog are seeing the same yellow lawn.
But why the different canine colors?
The reason humans and dogs see differently is a direct result of how our eyes are made up, particularly our retinas, which contain cones, rods and photoreceptors. The human retina contains more types of cones, whereas your dog’s eye has more rods and no fovea, a depression responsible for allowing humans to see sharper, crisper details.
But before you go feeling sorry for your pup’s lack of vision and color, it’s not all bad for them. The tradeoff for humans having a greater detail and color palette is that we have poorer night vision and movement tracking. Meanwhile, dogs may not see the full gamut of the rainbow, but they have superior night vision and movement tracking. Combined with their excellent sense of smell and hearing … dogs are near perfect hunting and sensory machines.
So the next time someone asks you “Are dogs color blind?” You can authoritatively state, “Yes.” But with the caveat “it doesn’t mean they only see black and white” ready to go in your back pocket, just in case they try to bark back.