Dogs do see color, but very different than humans. They can recognize shades of different colors, but how dogs see the world in their eyes? Can they distinguish traffic lights? In this article, we will explore the biology of the dog’s eyes and answer these common myths.

Dog’s eyes

Their eyes are similar to ours – containing iris, cornea, and the other eye parts. However, what does make them see the world differently than us?

The answer lies in their light (or photo) receptors. The eye contains cones and rods, which both have a very important role in seeing the world around us and distinguishing colors.

Rod cells

These cells are located in the retina of the eye and their function is to observe the light. They are used in peripheral vision as well, which is the view around the point we are currently looking at. Rods are also functioning better with low-light, so this explains why we can see the stars better when we look slightly next to them at night.

Cone cells

These cells, on the other hand, are used to respond to the light with different colors and therefore are the reason mammals see colors. Unlike rods, cones work better with bright light.

But what does this have to do with the dog’s color vision? The quick answer is that dogs have a different number of cone and rod cells than humans. As a result, because these cells are responsible for their vision, dogs see differently than humans.

Difference between dog and human eyes

As stated in the previous paragraph, dogs have different amounts of cones and rods than humans. The matter of fact, they have much fewer cone cells than we do. That being said, the dog’s eyes can see fewer colors than ours can.

Naturally, most humans see 3 colors – red, green, and blue. All the other colors we see, such as purple, yellow, or brown, are the result of previously mentioned colors being mixed. For example, by combining red and green, you will get yellow.

However, dogs can see only 2 colors because their cones can detect only two different colors. Besides their cones are different than ours, they have an extra part of the eye that humans are lacking – tapetum lucidum.

Tapetum lucidum

This is a retroreflector located behind the eye’s retina. Dogs are not the only animals that have this layer in their eyes – in fact, many vertebrates have. Its function is to reflect visible light to the retina, therefore giving the eyes superior night vision by absorbing more light. This layer in the eye is also the reason why the dog’s eyes are shining in the dark.

How dogs may see dandelion flower field

How do dogs see the world?

Scientists are still unsure what colors dogs can see, but many scientific pieces of research say it’s blue and yellow. Many people connect their view with dusk, which is usually a combination of red and blue or yellow and blue colors.

How does it affect dog vision?

Dogs can live normally and be happy even without seeing any colors. Many dogs are lacking vision and hearing but are happy. Interestingly, they move and “feel” the environment by sniffing and walking around. Therefore, the best way of waking up such dogs is by putting something that smells like you next to their noses. Dogs will usually wake up from excitement to play.

However, there are some things that you should concern. Bright red color for humans is possibly somewhat grayish-brown to dogs. Unfortunately, many toy factories make toys for dogs in bright red color, which can result in dogs losing their bright red toys in green grass. This is because they cannot make much difference between the grass and the bright red toy, because they both appear in a very similar shade in their vision. Dogs can actually “bypass” this issue by sniffing the environment and finding the toy.

Possible view of how dog sees the world with red ball in green grass

To make playing easier for your dog, start by comforting its view to the ball by changing its color. Coloring the ball in different colors may not be the best idea as paint can be toxic for dogs. Therefore, getting a new ball for your dog to play fetch is probably the best idea.

Related: What substances other than paint are toxic to dogs?

Dogs are comfortable with deep purple and bright white colors. They can distinguish these colors easily in most environments. Balls that have multiple colors, such as white ball with deep purple spots or patterns are recommended. This also applies to food and water bowls for the dogs.


Rod and cone cells in the eyes affect how dogs see the world. Dogs most likely see in yellow and blue colors, as many studies suggest this. Therefore, their environment should be changed in order for them to easily recognize different objects. Putting a red bowl or ball into the grass might not be the best idea, as it’s harder for the dog to distinguish between green and red colors.

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