What Do Dogs See? 10 Dog Vision Examples

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Dog Vision

Have you ever wondered what dog vision looks like?

Do they see in color? Or is it all in black and white?

For a long time people thought that dogs could only see in black and white, but that isn’t true. Dogs can see some colors, just not as many as humans.

They can also see during the daytime and nighttime. Their eyes are actually better adapted to see in dim light than humans’.

If you are curious to learn more about dog vision and how they see the world, keep reading.

What Does Dog Vision Look Like?

Dog vision is not as clear as a human’s in the day time.

It is difficult to measure how clear dog vision is, but in a study done by P.E. Miller and Murphy (1995) it was estimated what a dog sees at 20 feet, a human can see with the same clarity at 75 feet.

To put it simply, dogs are nearsighted and cannot see as clearly as humans.

P.E. Miller and Murphy estimated that the visual acuity in dogs is 20/75.

Visual acuity is a measure of how clear the vision is.

Dog Vision Distance Example

Dogs are nearsighted probably because they are better adapted to seeing in dim light.

It is likely they had to trade visual clarity for seeing in the dark.

Dogs have evolved to see clearly at night, but they can still see in color in daylight, though not as effectively as humans.

Dog Vision Night Vision Example

Humans can see better in color than dogs because we have more cone photoreceptors.

Cones allow us to see in color and are used for day vision.

In dogs only 3% of the cells in the retina are cones. In comparison, 5% of the retinal cells in human eyes are cones. This is the equivalent to 4.8 million more cones.

Humans also have more cones in the area where light is focused when it enters the eye.

These two differences mean humans can see color more vividly than dogs.

Dog Vision vs Human Vision Color

Humans can also see more colors than dogs because we have three different kinds of cones, while dogs only have two. These are stimulated by yellow and blue light waves.

Dogs can see yellow and blue, but the rest of the world is the same dull grayish-brown.

The world will seem more colorful to humans than to a dog.

A human at the park will see the blue sky, the trees with their green leaves and brown bark, all of the colorful clothing the people are wearing, and the different colored balls their dogs are playing with.

Dogs will see the blue sky, but the grass won’t be green in the way a human perceives it. A dog will also not see all the oranges, reds, greens and purples of the clothing or toys.

A dog will see things that aren’t yellow or blue in a gray-yellow-brownish hue.

Dog Color blindness Example

Dog vision beats human vision when it comes to motion detection.

How quickly light flickers and becomes one continually illuminated image is called the flicker fusion rate.

This rate is thought to be 60Hz in humans, but in dogs it is thought to be greater.

60 frames per second will seem smooth for humans, but studies suggest that the flicker rate in dogs is 70-80Hz.

What humans might see as a fluid moving image at 60Hz, dogs will see as a jerky image.

So what you see as moving in a normal fashion, a dog might see as moving in slow or robotic motion.

Dogs are predators, and this heightened ability to detect motion is very helpful when hunting.

Dog Vision Video

Dog vision also beats human vision when it comes to nighttime.

They have more rods in their retina than humans which helps them see better in dim lighting.

Rods allows dogs to see in different intensities of lighting and are used for night vision.

Dogs see much better in the dark because they have evolved to see in dimmer lighting.

Night Vision Example

Dogs also have a reflective structure at the back of their eye (the tapetum lucidum).

If you have ever shone a light into a dog’s eyes you will see them shining like headlights! This is the tapetum lucidum reflecting the light back to you.

The tapetum lucidum reflects more light back onto the retina.

This allows a dog’s retina to capture more information and helps dogs see better in dim light.

At the same time it also decreases their ability to see the image in detail because of the scattering of light.

So at night, a dog might see a tree where humans only see darkness.

Dogs are better adapted to see in the dark, but they might take longer to recover after exposure to very bright light.

The recovery period in dogs is one hour, while in humans it is 30 minutes.

Very abrupt changes in light affect dogs’ eyes twice as much as humans’.

This means they might need more time adjusting their sight when stepping in from somewhere very bright to a darker place.

What Do Dogs See?

A dog doesn’t see the world in the same way a human does.

Their surroundings are not as sharp or vibrant as what humans see.

If you have perfect vision, you might be able to see a cat 100 feet away.

Dogs will not be able to see the cat as clearly as you and depend on other senses such as smell to identify things that are far away.

Dog Vision

They still have a good perception of everything around them and can identify objects based on their size, color and shape.

Dogs can see balls as round and cats as their slender-bodied selves with long tails.

Picture of dog ball

The world is not as colorful to dogs, but they can see yellow and blue and any combination of these colors.

They can tell that the blue sky is different from the green grass.

Maybe they like their favorite yellow tennis ball so much because it looks brighter than the grass!

All other colors appear in very similar shades of gray-yellow-brown, much like they do for people who are green-red color blind.

When it comes to seeing in the dark, a dog sees better than a human.

What they see in dim light seems brighter to them than to humans.

If something is scurrying through the grass late at night, your dog will be able to spot it better than you. Not only because they can see better in the dark, but also because they are able to detect motion better.

While a human wouldn’t see anything, a dog can tell that an animal is moving through the grass.

It is hard to tell exactly what do dogs see, but we know that dogs are able to distinguish different objects.

This means dogs can recognize different human faces.

Just by looking at you your dog knows your face and can recognize you in a group among strangers.

They are also able to identify a dog face from a non-dog face.

A dog can also tell you whether one circle is smaller or larger than another, though only if the size variation of the circles is very noticeable.

Human face

The position of the eyes in the skull also affects how dogs see the world.

Binocular overlap is the portion of the visual field that is captured by both eyes.

Humans have eyes directly facing forward and their binocular overlap is about 140°.

In dogs the binocular overlap depends on the breed, but it tends to be from 30° to 116°.

Greater overlap means you can interpret the world in three dimensions, because you are getting two different views of the same object.

In dogs depth perception is lower than in humans because their binocular overlap is less.

Binocular Overlap Example

Breeds with longer muzzles might also have their noses interfere with their vision.

What Colors Do Dogs See?

According to scientists at the Neitz Color Vision Lab, dogs have dichromatic color vision.

This means yellow and blue objects seem very vibrant to dogs, but the rest of the world is the same dull grayish-brown.

Humans are trichromatic and have three types of cones that can help them see red, green and blue light waves.

Dogs only have two which are stimulated by yellow and blue light waves.

They cannot differentiate between green, yellow and red because they only have two cone receptors.

In a way, dogs are like people who are red-green colorblind.

Since dogs’ retinas can only capture yellow and blue light, red and green will look the same to them.

While dogs cannot see the colors red and green, it is possible they can still use different cues to try to figure out what color it is.

For example, red is a very dark color, so red objects might appear a darker shade of gray.

A very light pear might look a lighter shade of gray than a dark red granny smith apple.

Can Dogs See In The Dark?

Dogs see very well in the dark. They are better equipped to see in the dark than humans because of the slight differences in the anatomy of their eyes.

Humans have mostly cones in our retinas, which is one of the reasons why we see color better.

Dogs have mostly rods in their retina, which are responsible for better vision in the dark. They are able to see their surroundings better in dim light and capture more information in the dark.

Most dogs also have a tapetum lucidum (the reflective structure at the back of their eye) which helps them see in low light.

Dogs are more active during dawn and are nocturnal hunters.

They need better vision in dim light to be able to follow their prey. It is likely that this is why they see better in the dark.

How Do Dogs See?

The anatomy of the eye of a dog is very similar to that of a human’s.

Much like humans, the eye (also called the globe) is located within a bony structure called the orbit.

The white part of the eye is called the sclera.

Eventually the sclera becomes the cornea, which is the clear front part of the eye that lets light in.

The iris is the colored circular portion of the eye that helps control how much light goes in through the pupil.

Muscles within the iris make the pupil bigger or smaller so that in the dark, more light goes in, and when it is very bright less light goes in.

The lens is right behind the iris, and it helps to focus light onto the retina.

Muscles control the shape of the lens to adapt the focus for close and far away objects. This process is called accommodation. Accommodation is done pretty well in humans, but according to Merck Manual, in dogs lens accommodation is limited.

Accommodation is a good example of slight differences in the structure of the eye that changes the way in which dogs see the world. Dogs are near-sighted and are not able to accommodate their lens for far vision. This means that to dogs, distant objects appear blurry.

The retina is the back portion within the eye that contains special types of cells that are able to sense light (photoreceptors).

There are two types of these photoreceptors:

  1. Rods which are used for night vision
  2. Cones which are used for day/color vision

Rods allows us to see in different intensities of lighting, while cones allow us to see in color.

Dogs can see during both the day and night because they have both Rods and Cones.

However, a dog’s retina is made up of mostly rods and has fewer cones than a human’s.

The area of the retina where the light entering the eye is focused (the centralis) is very different in dogs and humans.

In humans, this area is exclusively made of cones, so we can see things in the daylight in great detail with lots of colors. In dogs, there are more rods in this area, so dogs aren’t adapted to see with the same clarity or colors as humans.

This means that dogs’ eyes are actually better adapted to see in dim light because they have more rods.

The retina of many dogs also has a reflective portion that is useful for night vision that is not present in humans.

Rods and Cones send their signals to nerve fibers which all converge to make the optic nerve.

The optic nerve goes all the way to the brain to deliver the message of what a dog is seeing.


Do Dogs Have Good Eyesight?

Dogs’ eyesight is worse than humans’.

A dog will see at 20 feet with the same clarity what a human will see at 75 feet.

Their vision is nearsighted. This means that they can see things nearby with clarity, but as the things get farther away they become more blurry.

Dogs don’t see as clearly because they are actually better adapted to see in the dark. They have more rod receptors that are used for seeing in dim light.

Researchers think that there is a trade-off for dogs. To be able to see better in the dark, they need to give up being able to see clearly.

While vision is important for dogs, they rely more heavily on other senses such as their hearing and smell to be able to get a better idea of their surroundings.

A dog is thought to have a sense of smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans. If you compare this to vision, it is like saying your dog can see as clearly over thousands of miles, what you see right in front of you.

With such powerful noses, dogs ‘see’ the world through their nose.

How Far Can Dogs See?

Based on studies, the visual acuity of dogs has been estimated to be 20/75.

This means what a person could see at 75 feet clearly, a dog will see as blurry. At 20 feet the dog will see the image with the same clarity as the human did at 75 feet.

The closer the dog is to the object, the better they can see it.

Other studies have given estimates of their visual acuity at 20/45, 20/85 and 20/60.

We might not know the exact number for dogs, but in general dogs cannot see as far as humans.

You can think of dogs as being nearsighted.

It is possible that how far dogs can see is also affected by the breed of the dog. The anatomical differences in skull shape, eye position and nose length all have a role to play.

Are Dogs Color Blind?

Dogs don’t see the world in shades of black and white as was previously thought.

It is possible for dogs to see color, but not all of the colors that humans see.

Dogs only have two types of cone receptors that can distinguish yellow and blue.

Reds and greens are not captured by a dog’s retina so they just appear grayish-brown or yellowish-brown.

In a way dogs are like people with red-green colorblindness.

Key Takeaways

People used to think that dog vision is black and white, but this is not true.

Dogs do see in color, but they can only see yellow and blue. Most of the world looks like a shade of gray-brown through the eyes of a dog.

When compared to humans, dogs do not have the best vision.

They are nearsighted and objects that are far away do not appear as clearly to them as they appear to a human.

What a dog sees at 20 feet, a human can see with the same clarity at 75 feet.

Dogs cannot see as clearly, but they do have an advantage because they have better night vision. They are better able to see in the dark and can also detect motion more clearly.

Life isn’t colorless for dogs, but knowing what colors they can see might make you think about getting dog toys that are blue or yellow!

Learn More About Dogs

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