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.

Color:

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.

Vision:

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.

Like humans, dogs can also be farsighted or nearsighted. Nearsightedness (distant objects become blurry) is more common in certain breeds. For example, Murphy and colleagues (1992) found that 64% of Rottweilers they tested were nearsighted. They also found that 53% of German Shepherds tested (clinical population) were nearsighted. Interestingly, of the German Shepherds participating in the eye-dog program only 15% were affected. This would conclude that the dogs with poor eyesight may have been excluded from the program as the result of other behavioral shortcomings during their training.

Dogs watching television

Have you ever had a dog watch television? You may have. Noelle La Croix, DVM, Dip. ACVO Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island, explains it this way:
The traditional tube-based American television produces a complete image 60 times per second (60 Hz “refresh rate”), with each image being a duplicate of a filmed image or “frame.” The refresh rate of a more modern high-definition television (HDTV) is similar, but with many more projected lines per image.
Intermittent televised images appear stationary to a human observer since their projection rate exceeds the human “flicker fusion” rate. This rate roughly corresponds to the speed at which a retina “updates” an image to the brain. The flicker fusion rate can vary with a multitude of other factors including image brightness and observer fatigue. Ultimately the rate-limiting step of retinal image updating is the response of photoreceptors. Cones are slower to update than rods. The canine retina is predominately rods that can detect flicker within images projected at a rate below 70 to 80 Hz. Therefore most televisions produce images that dogs perceive as flickering, without fluid (realistic) motion. Some newer HDTV’s operate in excess of 120 Hz, and can therefore project images that appear fluidly to a dog. Getting a dog interested in watching commercial programming is another matter entirely.

I did have a German Shepherd that used to wait patiently for the moose on the television show “Northern Exposure” to come out and would bark furiously at this unforeseen threat. Eventually he would bark at any dog on the screen. This dog could even distinguish a dog dressed in a “people suit”. I believe this was several years ago prior to HDTV’s. Who knows?

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