Can Dogs See Color in Ukiah, CA?

When you look at the sky and see a rainbow, you likely see the full spectrum of colors. Think ROYGBIV – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo. Have you ever wondered if your dog sees the same thing? Even if the thought had crossed your mind, it would have quickly been put to rest by the myth that dogs cannot see in color. But is it true? Without seeing through a dog’s eyes, how can humans know exactly how their surroundings appear to them? For decades, pet owners and researchers have been looking for clues, and we now have a better understanding of how dogs view the world around them. While it may be much different than humans, a dog’s life is still colorful. And understanding the way your dog experiences the world can only help you give them the best life possible.

Understanding the Anatomy of Your Dog’s Eye

To fully grasp how your dog sees the world, it is important to understand the differences in the anatomy of a dog’s eye compared to a human’s eye. Both dogs’ and humans’ eyes contain special cells and receptors, known as rods and cones. These are in the retina, which then pass along information through the optic nerve to the brain, which is what helps people and dogs see. Rods and cones make it possible to adjust to different levels of light, identifying movement, and even the colors of the world. The difference between humans’ and dogs’ eyes’ is the number of rods and cones.


The sensitive cells that aid in detecting motion and seeing in lower light levels are known as rods. Much more sensitive than cones, they are the part of the eye that allows both humans and dogs to see when there is little light, or nearly no light. Dogs have more rods in their retina than humans, which evolved as part of their nocturnal hunting nature. However, rods do not control the ability to see different colors.


In brighter light environments it is the cones that help both dogs and humans see different wavelengths, which help to distinguish colors. Humans’ eyes have three different types of cones. Dogs, however, only have two, which is why their color vision is more limited than most humans.

This combination allows dogs to see at night much better than humans, while also having more ability to sense movement.

What Colors Do Dogs See?

Because of the three types of cones in a human eye, most people identify three color combinations – red, blue, and green. Dogs, though, only have two types of cones, which limits them to only being able to distinguish the colors yellow and blue and combinations of them. This “two-colored” vision is known as dichromatic, like what humans think of as color blindness. Of course, color blindness refers to the inability to see certain colors and color combinations. Typically, humans are either red-green color blind or blue-yellow color blind. This means the person cannot differentiate between the two colors named.

Red-Green Color Blindness

Researchers believe that the color vision of dogs is most like a human with red-green color blindness. That means dogs are very good at telling the difference between yellow and blue, and some of the combinations, but they may have a difficult time seeing any green or red. It is likely that much of their world is a gray, brown, or a grayish-brown hue. It is also thought that the intensity of the colors that dogs can see is not as strong as what people see.

What Human Colors Look Like to Dogs

Here is an idea of what the colors we are familiar with would look like to a dog.

Violet ≈ Dark Blue

Blue ≈ Light Blue

Blue Green ≈ Gray

Green ≈ Light Yellow

Yellow ≈ Dark Yellow

Orange ≈ Dull Gold

Red ≈ Dark Gray

While a dog’s ability to see color is much more limited than most humans, it does not mean that their world is not colorful. And there are things that you can do as a pet owner to ensure their lives are full and bright.

Can Dogs See Color in Ukiah, CA

Why Does This Matter for You and Your Dog?

Walk down a pet toy aisle, or even browse toys online, and you may notice that many of the items you see are red or orange. This is a great advantage for humans who can see the full color spectrum, as these colors make it easier to find the items if they are lost. However, it is likely not the best toy or training tool for your dog to find, since they are unable to distinguish reds and greens. In fact, these colors may even make it more difficult for your dog to find things, especially in green grass.

Look for Blue and Yellow Toys

Instead, focus on blue and yellow toys and training tools for your dog, as they will be much easier for your dog to distinguish. You can throw a yellow or blue ball out into a field, and your dog should be able to pick it out against the green of the grass. If you have ever noticed that your dog has a hard time playing catch with certain items, or has a hard time fetching certain things, even when it appears to be right in front of them could be because they are unable to see that color. Switch to blue or yellow and see if you can tell a difference.

How Your Dog Sees You

Something else to consider when it comes to how your dog sees the world is to think about how they see you, especially when it comes to times when you need your dog’s full attention – such as out on walks, playing in the park, or during training sessions. This is something that many trainers involved in dog agility often practice, as well. Dogs can see you better when you wear contrasting patterns. All those solid colors, especially if they are not within the spectrum of what your dog can see, may result in you blending into the background. Contrasting colors and patterns make your movements and signals pop against an otherwise brown-gray backdrop.

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About Mendocino Animal Hospital

At Mendocino Animal Hospital, we believe in fostering the human-animal bond with excellent veterinary medicine. Our full-service veterinary practice operates in Ukiah, CA with a team of skilled veterinarians and a passionate, talented support staff who make you feel like a part of the family.

As an AAHA-accredited animal hospital, every service and aspect of our practice meets AAHA’s Standards of Excellence. No matter what your pet comes in for, they’ll receive only the best in care, compassion, and service.