What do dogs see?

When I look at a dog I always look in to the eyes first. You can tell a lot about a dog through his eyes and expression. They say the eyes are the “window to the soul”. I have always wondered what a dog sees when they look back at me.

As a child, I was always told a dog sees in black and white. I never believed it. How could an animal with such acute hearing and other senses see only black and white? Well, they have come to realize this is not true.


Dogs can definitely see in color but where humans have “trichromatic vision”, dogs have “dichromatic vision”. This means we see the entire spectrum of the rainbow and a dog only sees yellows, blues and shades of gray. Yes it is a form of color blindness, so keep this in mind when you buy a red toy for your dog and wonder why he may run by the toy instead of seeing it right away.

However, these findings conflict with an earlier study performed by Rosengren (1969) in which dogs (three female Cocker Spaniels) were ostensibly trained to discriminate between red, blue, green and yellow hues. She also claims that these dogs could distinguish these various colors from gray samples of different values.


One big difference between dog and human vision is dogs lack a fovea. The fovea is made up of cones and cells and gives us the ability to see detail. Instead, many dogs have an area in the retina called a visual streak and central area which is thought to enhance binocular vision, acuity and horizontal scanning. However the visual streak is more pronounced in some dogs than others. So, the better visual streak in a dog the better hunters they are. This may be the difference between a dog that wants to be outside looking up trees for squirrels while other dogs are happy sitting in you lap staring at you.

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