How Dogs See 

Health & Wellbeing
November 28, 2023
Author: 
Diana Bocco
Reviewed By: 
5 minute read

Have you ever wondered how dogs see the world around them? The way our pooches perceive their environment significantly influences their behavior and reactions. This means that when we understand how our dogs experience the world, it becomes easier to connect with them. 

Let’s take a closer look at the various aspects of how dogs see and how this knowledge can enhance our relationship with them. By understanding your dog’s visual abilities, you can better cater to their needs, choose activities they'll enjoy, and create an environment that's both stimulating and comforting for them.  

Can Dogs See Color?

Perhaps the most common myth out there is that dogs only see in black and white. While this was a common belief decades ago, scientists now know that dogs can see colors — just not in the way we do. 

This is because humans have three types of color receptors (cones) in their eyes to capture red, green, and blue. Dogs, however, only have two types of cones. This means they can see colors, but only within a spectrum of blues and yellows. 1

Reds and greens don't stand out well to dogs, appearing more like greys or a shade of blue or yellow. This color vision is similar to what humans with red-green color blindness experience.

Is Their Eyesight Better Than Ours?

When it comes to sharpness of vision, dogs don't see the world as clearly as we do. In fact, studies show that most dogs have 20/75 vision on average, compared to the typical human 20/20 vision.2 This means what we can see clearly at 75 feet, a dog can only see clearly at 20 feet. However, this doesn't mean their vision is poor; it's just different and adapted to their needs as a species. Fun fact? Some breeds do have better vision than the average. Labrador retrievers, for example, have much better long-distance sight.

One area where dogs truly excel is their ability to see in low-light conditions. Their eyes have a higher concentration of rods, the receptors that detect light and motion, which are essential for night vision.3 Dogs also have a reflective layer behind their retina that acts like a mirror, reflecting light back and enhancing vision in dim light. This is why dogs' eyes sometimes glow in the dark. It's this adaptation that makes them excellent at navigating during dusk and dawn.

Other Unique Characteristics of Their Eyesight

Dogs' vision is uniquely adapted to their environment and lifestyle — and it’s much better than ours in several ways:

  • Field of Vision: Dogs have a wider field of vision compared to humans. While humans have an approximate field of vision of about 180 degrees, dogs can see up to 240-280 degrees around them.4 This is because, for most breeds, the eyes are positioned in a way that allows a panoramic view of their surroundings — something essential for their survival instincts as it allows them to detect potential threats coming from different directions.
  • Motion Detection: Dogs are significantly better at picking up subtle movements than humans, something that comes from their evolutionary background as hunters. This enhanced motion detection is a testament to their hunting lineage and an integral part of their survival instinct. Their acute motion detection is particularly beneficial when playing games like fetch or when they are tracking small animals in nature. Do you have a dog who’s easily distracted by flying birds or running squirrels? That’s because dogs can identify objects moving at high speeds which might appear blurred to a human observer. In fact, a fascinating recent study found that dogs are so good at tracking fast-moving things, they can easily track a moving object on a screen and anticipate its destination.5

Dogs’ unique vision allows them to engage with their environment in unique ways, including watching TV. Because dogs have high flicker sensitivity (which is how they detect fast motion), they might see TV as jumpy and less realistic — but this isn’t true for every dog. In fact, some breeds (and just some particular dogs) have incredible sight and as a result, might be able to engage with the sounds and movements on the TV much more easily.6 

In addition to these characteristics, dogs also have other visual adaptations. For example, while dogs’ dichromatic vision —meaning they only see two primary colors– results in some limitations, dogs can still discern variations in shades of blue and yellow well enough to differentiate certain objects and environments.

Dogs also have eyes that are very sensitive to light changes. This adaptation is particularly noticeable during dusk and dawn, where their night vision comes into play. On the negative side, this means their eyes are also a lot more sensitive to sunlight and bright lights, which is why some dogs may squint or seem uncomfortable in intense light. 

Final Thoughts

Understanding how dogs see the world can help us provide better care and create a more stimulating environment for our canine companions. For example, understanding that dogs are attracted to fast movement can help you select toys and games that are more appealing to dogs (toys that move or can be chased are more stimulating than those that rely on color distinction). The same is true when you’re training or playing with dogs — using high-contrast colors they can distinguish, like blues and yellows, can be more engaging for them.

Dogs may not see the world in the rich color and detail that we do, but their vision is perfectly attuned to their needs. So the next time you play fetch at twilight or notice your dog's eyes shining in the dark, remember that their world is vivid and rich in ways that we can only imagine.  

You can help protect your dog’s eyes by providing a healthy diet rich in vitamins (especially antioxidants) and essential minerals. These nutrients can help protect their vision and support overall eye health. At Cola's Kitchen, we specialize in providing healthy, well-balanced meals, ensuring your furry friend receives all the necessary nutrition for optimal health, including their vision.

References:

  1. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/can-dogs-see-color/
  2.  https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/how-do-dogs-see-world 
  3.  https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/can-dogs-see-in-the-dark/ 
  4.  https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/a-vets-take-on-canine-vision/ 
  5.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7670446/ 
  6.  https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/can-dogs-see-tv 
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