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What do dogs see?

Have you ever wondered how dogs see the world around them? Dogs are born blind and it can take up to two weeks for their eyes to open for the first time. While they do see from then on, there is a lot of difference between what dogs see and how we humans perceive the world.

To give you an idea of what your four-legged friend can and cannot see, we provide some answers to the questions “What do dogs see?”, 'How does a dog see?' and “Can dogs see colour?'

How does a dog see?

To understand what dogs see, we need to have a look at how vision works. All mammals have cones at the back of the eye that are responsible for colour vision. The cones capture light and convert it into visible colour. Humans have three types of cones while dogs only have two.

There are also rods at the back of the eye. The rods are very light sensitive and responsible for vision in low light and dogs have more rods than humans. They also have a larger cornea - the transparent covering of the pupil and coloured part of the eye - which helps to focus light into the eye.

What this means is that dogs see fewer colours and colour hues than we do. But one might ask the question “What do dogs see that we don’t?” and the answer is that their night vision is far superior to ours and they are better at detecting motion.

Can dogs see colour?

For a long time it was believed that dogs are colour blind because the light-sensitive cells in their eyes are designed differently to those in humans. It was assumed that dogs could only distinguish black, white and grey tones.

However, recent research looked at the question of “How does a dog see colour”. They found that dogs are able to distinguish between blues, purples and yellows.

They determined this with an experiment using coloured paper. A group of dogs was shown sheets of coloured paper, one light blue sheet and the other dark blue. Behind one of the sheets they consistently placed a piece of raw meat and so the dogs were trained to find the food based on the colour of the paper. The same study was repeated with light and dark yellow sheets of paper.

Now, if you are clever, you might think that the dogs didn’t recognise the colour but rather distinguished between light and dark. Fortunately, the researchers also tested for this by using and alternating between the light and dark colours.

So now we can better answer the question “Can dogs see colour?”. They do see some colours and are also able to distinguish between and interpret them.

What do dogs see?

The bottom line, however, is that dogs see far fewer different colours than we do. They cannot see red and green and everything is in shades of blue, yellow and grey. So they are somewhat colour blind, but not as much as was previously believed.

Strangely enough, many toys for dogs are red and this doesn’t fall within the scope of the colours that dogs see. To dogs a red ball on a green lawn looks like a brown ball on a light brown lawn. So it is not surprising that it is sometimes difficult for your dog to find their ball right away.

Should I make allowances for what my dog sees?

Besides the fact that you might buy blue or yellow balls instead of red ones, you don’t have to take your dog’s vision into account. While dogs don’t see many colours, their excellent sense of smell makes up for it. So you definitely don’t have to feel sorry for your dog. When you consider the question “What do dogs see?”, the answer is that they see more than enough to survive.

You could even let your dog watch television. Some dogs watch TV for up to about 50 minutes a day. They might become absorbed with what is showing on the screen even without seeing all the colours. Furthermore, your dog probably watches television because this is what you are doing. Sharing time with you is more important to them than what is happening on the screen.

Clean your dog's eyes regularly with warm water using a gauze or a clean face cloth to gently remove any debris from the corners of their eyes. This helps to prevent eye infections and any other damage to their eyes. There is no set schedule for cleaning your dog's eyes and some breeds tend to get dirty eyes more than others. Check your dog's eyes regularly and clean them right away if you notice a build-up of dirt.

Human, animal and nature

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