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Are Dogs Colorblind?

based on 74 ratings
Author: Tricia Edgar

We've heard that many animals are colorblind. We generally understand colorblind to mean that you cannot see any colors. Can dogs only see in black and white, or can they see other colors too? Let's test what colors dogs can see in this experiment.

Problem: 

Develop an experiment that will help you decide whether your dog can see in color.

Materials

  • Camera
  • Different colors of construction paper
  • Black and white film
  • 3 identical glass jars
  • 1 dog in good health
  • Any treats the dog likes

Procedure

  1. First, set up your jars.  Place different colors of construction paper under the same lighting and take a photo in black and white.
  2. Compare the shades of the different colors in black and white – they’ll all look like shades of gray. Look for two colors that look nearly the same when they’re viewed in black and white. Cut pieces of these two colors long enough that they’ll wrap around the jars. We’ll call these shade 1 and shade 2.
  3. Wrap two jars with shade 1 and shade 2.
  4. Choose a different piece of paper that appears as a much lighter or darker shade of gray than shades 1 and 2, and wrap the third jar in this piece of paper. We’ll call this one shade 3.
  5. Set the jars with shade 1 and shade 3 in front of you.
  6. Ask your dog to come. When your dog comes to shade 1, give him a treat. If your dog goes to shade 3, do not give him a treat. Continue giving him treats for going to shade 1, but make sure to switch the jars’ positions so that you’re not just training your dog to choose one side over the other.
  7. Once you’ve trained your dog to always choose shade 1 over shade 3, you’re ready to test if your dog is colorblind. Take away shade 3 and replace it with the jar containing shade 2 (which looks very similar to shade 1 in black and white).
  8. Ask your dog to come again. Which jar did he go to? Switch the jar positions several times. Continue to give him treats for going to shade 1. How many times does he choose the correct jar (shade 1) over shade 2? Tally the number of times that he goes to each jar.

Results

Dogs are able to distinguish between blue, purple, and yellow colors and different shades of grey. They can’t see the difference between green, yellow, orange, and red.

Why? 

Animals see colors differently. In fact, they use all of their senses in ways that work with their environment. While humans are focused on using their eyes, dogs have amazing noses.

Dogs aren’t completely colorblind, but they do see colors in a way that’s different from the way we see colors. Humans see three main colors: red, blue, and yellow, while dogs see mostly blue and yellow.  They can see blue-violet and yellow, and they can distinguish between shades of gray. Dogs can’t see green, yellow, orange, and red. So, when we see a rainbow as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple; when dogs see a rainbow, they see dark gray, dark yellow, light yellow, gray, light blue, and dark blue.

Why are dogs’ eyes different from peoples’ eyes? In animals’ eyes, there are two main types of light-sensitive cells: rods and cones. The cone cells help you see color. Rods are responsible for black and white vision, and they’re better at picking up shades in low light.

Dogs have fewer cone cells than humans do. Humans have fewer rod cells than dogs.

Humans are diurnal, which means that most of us are awake in the daytime. It’s useful for us to have good color vision because daytime is sunny and colorful at least some of the time. Dogs are better at seeing at night.

So are dogs colorblind? It depends what you mean by colorblind. Humans have different degrees of colorblindness. Some can see color, but they can’t see all colors. People who have red/green color blindness can see two color variations, just like dogs can. In that case, you might say that dogs are just somewhat colorblind. 

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