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What does the world look like to dogs? Now we know

We’ve all heard a hundred-thousand times that dogs are colorblind. And, wrapped up in that, that they can’t see TVs. But if you’ve ever watched your dog drool through a Kibbles ‘n Bits commercial, you probably wonder just how accurate those assertions are. Really, what does the world look like to dogs? Do they only see the world in black and white, or is there more to the story?

In a word, yes — there is more to the story.

The truth is that most of what we learned about dog’s vision growing up is based on misconceptions. You might want to sit down for this shocker: Dogs are not, in fact, colorblind.

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Crazy, right? The next thing you know, someone will debunk the theory that eating carrots makes you see better. Wait, what do you mean that isn’t true either? My life is a lie. The silver lining, though, is the happy news that dogs don’t actually have to go through life in black and white.

“The Pet Lady” Dana Humphrey — a professor and program facilitator in the pet product marketing and design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology — summed it up in an easy-to-understand way, telling SheKnows, “New research shows that dogs’ color range of sight is limited to blue and yellow. So if you throw a red Frisbee on green grass, it all looks gray to them.”

Humphrey’s assertion is echoed by Jay Neitz, a color vision scientist at the University of Washington who has performed numerous studies on color perception in dogs.

In an interview with Live Science, Neitz confirmed that dogs’ eyes (like most mammals) contain only two of the color-detecting cells called cones. The cones in dogs’ eyes enable their brains to distinguish blue from yellow, but not red from green.

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This means that a dog’s vision is much like that of someone who suffers from red-green colorblindness. Because the neurons inside their eye’s retina are not affected by red light or green light, dogs’ brains don’t perceive these two colors. Rather, they simply see shades of gray.

If you dive further into Neitz’s findings, it is revealed that dogs see the entire rainbow differently than humans do. While we see it ROYGBIV — or red, orange, yellow, green, blue-green, indigo and violet — dogs see it as very dark gray, dark yellow (kind of brownish), light yellow, gray, light blue, and dark blue.

Plus, dogs’ visual acuity is not as good as humans — Psychology Today compares it to the human equivalent of 20/75, as dogs are very farsighted. This means that in addition to basically being red-green colorblind, everything looks a bit blurry to dogs too.

What does this mean for your doggie friend? Well, he doesn’t need glasses, if that’s what you’re thinking. Because dogs don’t know any differently, having blurry, less colorful vision doesn’t bother them. Their water bowl is half full, so to speak.

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What does this mean for you? Nothing, really, because you obviously love your pet even if he does think tomatoes are dark gray. One thing you can do to potentially give your pet a paw up is to purchase pet toys in bright yellows and blues.

Although some scientists believe that dogs seldom choose to use the narrow range of color discrimination they do have — instead just going by the brightness or darkness of an object — some studies have shown that dogs consciously choose items in colors they can see.

And if you’re ever curious about what that looks like (what a dog sees), you’re in luck. There exists a Dog Vision app on the internet that allows you to plug in any picture and get a simulated version of how your dog might see whatever view is presented in the picture.

So we know how the real world looks to dogs, but what about those screens that we’re always glued to? Can they see what’s on the TV? Well, according to Ernst-Otto Ropstad, an associate professor at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, “They probably see TVs just as well as they see the world in general.”

While dogs may have had some trouble viewing old televisions, Ropstad explains, “Now that modern TVs generate more frames per second, dogs can perceive the pictures as film, just like we do.” 

So, no you’re not crazy when it seems like your dog is watching TV with you. They can’t process the content that we can, but they are definitely seeing the same images, just with a little more yellow and blue.

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