Dog Vision Demystified

Do you know what a dog can see Dog vision demystified

Are You Curious What Your Dog Can See?

I was super curious about whether Kilo the Pug could see different colors or watch TV or see himself in the mirror.

So how does a dog see colors? Can a dog see red?

It turns out that the common belief that dogs are completely color blind and only see black white and shades of gray is actually a misconception. Dogs see differently and perceive fewer colors and shades than humans.  Humans who have three different light sensitive color receptor or cone cells in their retina that sense red, green and blue and see about 1,000,000 shades in between. Dogs only have two for blue and yellow – and only see about 10,000 shades in between. Dogs are less sensitive to variations in gray shades than humans are, as well as only about half as sensitive to changes in brightness.

Dogs can’t perceive the colors green and red, so if for example, we look at this picture of Kilo in his Christmas sweater. If Kilo himself were to look at it, he would likely think his sweater is yellow and gray. The red shows up yellow and the green appears gray as you can see in the “Dog Vision” applied photo.

 Instead of seeing the rainbow as violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow, orange and red, dogs would see it as dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, darker yellow (sort of brown), and very dark gray.

This can make it difficult for dogs to distinguish between green and red, but not impossible. This surprised me as so many dog toys and accessories are red. Must make it hard to find that red ball in green grass.


The Same Image Through A Dog’s Eyes- With ‘Dog Vision’ Applied:

kilo colorblind

Go ahead and try it for yourself with some of your favorite photos here!

What about distance?

Dogs also tend to be nearsighted to varying degrees. Dogs can only see about ¼ as far as humans, meaning that a dog would have to be 2ft away from something to see it as well as a human could from 8ft. (Dale breaks this down more in his video below.) But before you start feeling too sorry for your pooch, dogs are much more sensitive to motion at a distance — anywhere from 10 to 20 times more sensitive than humans. They also can see much more in their periphery than we can. Where a human’s field of vision is about 180 degrees, a dog’s field of vision is about 250 degrees.  

Can my dog see himself in the mirror?

If Kilo were to actually look at that photo, he might recognize one of his favorite humans in the driver’s seat and a dog in the back, but unlike some animals (dolphins, elephants, magpies, and apes) dogs are not believed to be able to self-recognize. The level of cognition required to be able to be aware of your movements and what you look like is probably too complex for dogs. So, while they may recognize that the thing looking back at them through the glass is a dog, they would not realize it is a reflection of themselves. Kilo does not react to seeing himself in our mirrors.

However this adorable Bulldog puppy tries to get himself to play:

What about photos or TV?

Dogs can watch TV. Much in the same way as humans, they can perceive images and recognize them for what they represent in real life and hear sounds. National Geographic suggests a dog might even recognize an animal they’ve never seen in real life. They don’t have the same color or audio spectrum as humans and that’s why TV that’s now being made specifically for dogs (like DogTV where you can also watch our Talent Hounds documentary series for dog parents) takes into consideration their dichromatic (two-color) vision and frequencies (ones we might not recognize or hear at all as humans) to excite your pup’s senses.

Experts suggest that a Dog’s reaction to TV may be a matter of personality.

The reason many dogs might not react to TV or mirrors could be because when dogs perceive the world, they rely a lot more heavily on scent than humans. So (until we come out with 4D TVs that emit smells into your living room) they might just find it boring and confusing.

Other dogs though may be excited enough by the sound of dogs barking or the lights and images flashing to become huge couch potatoes. That’s where it comes down to the individual dog and personality. Some dogs may recognize the TV as a magical box where dogs may be seen and heard but not touched, and others might run around behind it sniffing for their new friend.

National Geographic has two great articles both on dogs watching TV and animals seeing themselves in the mirror that you can check out here if you’re interested in knowing more.

Does your dog watch TV? Share your funny stories and video links in the comments!

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  • Our Peanut used to listen to the birds on television, she was on high alert and, being a discerning cat, always brought home rats and mice (so we reckon her vision was pretty good too!) We reckon she tried birds but they always flew away 😉

  • I found this post incredibly interesting. I had no idea about the sight receptors and near-sightedness. My dogs do love to watch tv and will often react to other dogs on television. They’ve now learned “it’s just the tv”.

  • I didn’t know about the blues and yellows. That’s really interesting. Also, 3 of our 4 dogs completely ignore the TV (except if there’s a doorbell or barking dog), but our youngest pup Roxie LOVES to watch TV. She’s mesmerized by it!

  • Jasmine started watching TV after we got flat screen. Before that she wasn’t interested. After that, she’d watch. For some reason she always got really upset at people getting out of cars LOL

  • This is such an interesting post. I wasn’t aware that dogs are near-sighted. My niece’s dog seems to be able to see deer in the back yard, so maybe he’s picking up their scent first.

  • Great post, I often wonder about this so love reading about it to learn and understand more, thanks so much

  • This is really fascinating. I knew dogs only saw yellow & blue, and I commend companies like Kong that make many of their toys in those colors. I think all the other colors are for US, not the dogs, LOL! Icy has watched TV for very short periods of time and she’s gotten visibly upset when watching dog rescue shows where a pup will be crying or extremely fearful & whining. It seemed to really bother her.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  • This was such an eye opener (forgive the pun)! I admit to having bought my dog Soldier toys that were red and never realizing that he can’t seem them as anything other than gray. The fact that their vision is so blurry in many cases made me a bit sad, but since they don’t know what they’re missing….

  • I think there’s an app that shows you the world through a dog’s vision. Mr. N is not interested in TV at all and can distinguish between fake dog and real dog noises.

    • Profile photo of Talent Hounds

      Yes- there is an app. Kilo is not interested in TV or the mirror either. I think he relies a lot on smell. He does occasionally react if he hears real dogs barking on TV or me through the Furbo but then he ignores if no physical presence.

  • That is really interesting. So it’s not just colours but they can’t see as clearly or as far. That might expect why my dog can’t see me at a distance until I start to wave.

  • I never thought about dogs not being able to see the same colors as humans. I need to research what colors cats can see.

  • This is very interesting! I recently learned that dogs can see blue and yellow, but didn’t think about how red and green are so similar looking to dogs. My dogs haven’t watched Dog TV, I wonder if they would like it.