Can Dogs see Colors?

The question if dogs are colorblind, specifically red-green colorblind or if dogs only see shades of gray is raised among dog owners quite often. Even on the internet the question concerning dog vision is discussed controversial. But there is a simple answer to that question which I would like to share with you supported by some scientific resources.

Actually there are two distinct questions which I would like to ask, answer and set in relation hereafter:

  1. Can dogs see colors? — Answer: Yes
  2. Are dogs colorblind? — Answer: Yes

Let me explain this two answers to you a bit more in detail.

Dogs can see colors
Dogs not only see in shades of gray but also can see distinct colors contrary to what most people belief. About one hundred years ago some scientific tests were made to find out more about the color vision of dogs. But these tests weren’t that scientific as they thought and the researchers concluded only that color vision doesn’t play a part in the daily life of a dog.

Only about 90 years later distinct researches have shown that dogs can perceive colors. Neitz, Geist and Jacobs researched in 1989 the color vision of domestic dogs and found the following facts:

  1. Dogs have two different color receptors in their eyes and therefore are dichromats.
  2. One color receptor peaks at the blue-violet range, the other at the yellow-green range.
  3. Conclusion: Dogs are green-blind which is one form of red-green color blindness also called deuteranopia.

This results were support by later researches of Jacobs with colleagues in 1993 and Miller and Murphy in 1995.

Dogs are colorblind
This directly leads us to the second question concerning the color blindness of dogs. Colorblind doesn’t relate to not see any colors but describes the fact that you can’t see the same color range as somebody with normal vision. Because of that any kind of color vision deficiency is called color blindness. Therefore dogs are colorblind because of their dichromatic color vision.

Colors dogs can’t distinguish
Actually the color spectrum made up of wavelengths of light is the same to all of us. Only the perception of those colors can be quite different. As dogs only have two different color receptors in their eyes they have problems to distinguish certain colors:

  • Red — Orange — Green
  • Greenish Blue — Gray
  • Different shades of Purple

The list is not completed and there are a lot of different shades which can’t be differentiated if you are colorblind. And the conclusion is dogs can see colors but are at the same time colorblind.

More facts on the vision of dogs can be found in the book Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 1: Adaptation and Learning by Steven R. Lindsay.

56 responses on “Can Dogs see Colors?

  1. Ewen

    Hi Daniel

    I’m just a novice but I have difficulty in considering dogs to be colour blind. Because they are dichromats, that only means that a typical dog sees differently to a typical human. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to consider a dog to be colour blind if it only had a single type of cone? Further, if you do consider dogs to be colour blind, wouldn’t you also have to consider almost every human with normal S M L cones to be colourblind as there are some animals (and humans) that are tetrachromats?
    Any comments?


  2. Daniel Flueck Post author

    Ewen, you are definitely right. There are even animals which can see ultraviolet and therefor all humans should be called colorblind compared to them.

    When talking about color blindness we take the most intuitive interpretation of those words. This means, we call everybody (and every animal) colorblind, if they have less color vision than a human being with normal (trichromat) color vision.

  3. Ewen

    Hi Ben

    I’m not quite sure what you don’t like, particularly as you say the response is helpful. Can you be more specific?

    I think Daniel’s interpretation is probably the most reasonable one we can take. We always seem to judge based on our own experiences.


  4. Ewen

    Hi Daniel

    I’m intrigued by the way in which we try to accurately represent images with primary colours. While we trichromats seem to be quite able to do this with three primary colours, I would assume that tetrachromats would not see an image created with three primary colours as being an accurate representation of the real thing. I can’t find anything on the Internet that discusses this, and in particular, whether RGB and CMY images of the same object are seen as equivalent or different by tetrachromats.

    I presume that a tetrachromat needs four primary “colours” to accurately represent an image and since no pigments represent UV, the only way a tetrachromat can accurately represent an image is electronically.

    Do you have any references that you think might throw some light on this topic. (Sorry about the pun!)


  5. Daniel Flueck Post author

    Ewan, very interesting thoughts you are sharing here with us. Unfortunately I also haven’t any reference I could pass on to you.

    But I agree with you. Our visual color world is just limited to a trichromatic color perception. What about a decachromat (a not existing person with ten different color receptors). She would be able to distinguish not only up to 150 different hues but let’s say 100’000 different hues. And this definitely wouldn’t fit in our color systems.

  6. Ewen

    Hi Daniel

    Thanks for your website. You’ve stirred old thoughts that have been dormant for some years and made me start thinking about these things again. My line of thought is almost certainly not what you intended when you first wrote the article but I found it very worthwhile.

    What I’m now looking at is colour recognition by artificial devices and methods of representation. Thank goodness for the Internet.

    Best wishes for your site and to all associated with it.


  7. John Rolker

    I have been a research scientist for 51 years in 14, fields, Among them has been visual perception. I found that yellow on a black background is the best for reading. The concept of > 3 receptors is intriguing. Fleas see UV -blue because they evolved under a different colored sun. Before our sun or earth is destroyed we may have life-forms which see differently.

  8. Judy

    Can a dog tell the difference between clear and black?

    My Yorkie is paper trained and the plastic I put under the paper is clear. I cannot find it anymore but I can get the same thing in Black. Will she have a problem walking on it to go on her paper?



  9. Jane

    I have used yellow safety tape to mark off an area for my lab/pitbull to use as a latrine and she seems to understand it. Now I want to use a different color of tape to mark an area for her to stay out of. What is a good contrasting color for her?

  10. Lilah

    I am doing research and a project (experiment) on if dogs are color blind my resources mainly prove that there only green-red color blind which you have confirmed that for me. are they able to see varios shades?
    thanks, lilah

  11. Parvo

    Ah the age old question.

    But they seem to get around just fine, even better sometimes, than those of us who can see the full spectrum.

  12. Bridger Anderson

    I agree, the term “color blind” is misleading, color deficient, or some other term that meant they could see some color would make more sense.

    My dog chases red lasers pointers, but I noticed when I shined it onto a red toy, he didn’t chase it and acted as though he couldn’t see it anymore and began looking for it, even though the laser was a distinctly different shade of red from the toy.

  13. Sam

    My dog only likes red toys.  Do you think she can distinguish between red, orange, and green and is not colorblind?

  14. Rekha

    Really an interesting information. I thought that dogs cannot see any colors, but now I understand the differences in their visions

  15. carole

    I believe that dogs can identify different colours because my own dog goes beserk when she see’s the red uniform through the window of the postie and the green florescent jackets used quite often by different people.
    I do how ever find the whole debate on this confusing because how can we really pinpoint what colours dogs can see with out being able to see what they do.

  16. lilly hawkins

    I think some dogs are colorblind. but some dogs can see some colors like blue,green,red,purple and the dark colors like gray and black sometimes i think they can see white.

  17. samsam

    I’m not quite sure what you don’t like, particularly as you say the response is helpful. Can you be more specific?

    I think Daniel’s interpretation is probably the most reasonable one we can take. We always seem to judge based on our own experiences.


  18. James

    Hi, I found this interesting!
    I would like to share something else with you also – mantis shrimps have 11 or 12 primary colours in their vision! They can see infrared to ultraviolet, and can see circularly polarised light, all of which is invisible to humans. See links:

    Theres also a weird type of vision that lobsters possess, allowing them to see in murky water, where light is badly scattered, and humans are putting this design to use in new x-ray scanners and space telescopes.

  19. James

    Daniel, it’s no problem. I actually found something else you might be interested in, but theres not much information available… People who have cataract surgery usually have their eye lenses removed or replaced, and this can give them the ability to see UV light. This link gives a pretty good explanation:

    More links can be found here:

    UV light appears bluish white to humans when not filtered out by the lens. To other animals such as bees, it replaces red vision, so they see UV blue and green. To animals that have tetrachromatic or pentachromatic vision, or the mantis shrimp with hendeca/dodecachromatic vision they have whole extra colours to play with that we could probably never experience.

    It’s all very interesting, and I wonder what things would look like to an animal with more colour receptors than we have. Another thing to think about is what would stuff look like to animals with 4 or more eyes, such as spiders. :)

  20. Jay W

    My collies have diffacult time going out from a kitchen floor to the outside steps into the yard. Is there a color I can paint the steps to help them “see/differentiate” from what I call “the falling off a cliff syndrom” Thank you

  21. Melissa

    I just noticed today that my dogs mostly only pick the red toys out of their toy bin of many different coloured toys. They have 3 red toys and about 9 or 10 other toys and their red toys are always out.

  22. Mildred

    i bought doggie steps so my three dogs could get into the bed. the female poodle & chihuahua hop in quite readily. the male chihuahua will not use the steps, and has to be picked up. the steps are whitish, and i was wondering if a color would help the stubborn one. what color? mildred

  23. Pet Sitting

    Very good to know; like Melissa said, I’ve noticed that the dogs I watch tend to flock towards the red toys. It’s very interesting to imagine what the world would look like through a dog’s eyes. =)

  24. Cass

    Hi there!
    It is true. Dogs can actually see five colours and two tones!
    The colours they can see are red,indigo,violet,yellow,and blue.
    The tones are black and white. Did you know black and white aren’t colours they are tones?!

  25. brett

    its all an educated guess unless somebody has a dog that can talk!me and my dumb ass friend argue over this he says its a fact i say hypothesis

  26. Scott Miller

    Makes sense that dogs wouldn’t have wide color vision like us. We evolved color vision to differentiate between poisonous and non-poisonous berries, not an issue for a true carnivore.

  27. Laura

    Can dogs see through windows? Our dog doesn’t seem to see us from outside, especially in the evening; even if our lights are on in the room!

  28. David Bouchez

    I think that dogs see color, but much more faintly. They only have blue and yellow cone cells, while humans have blue, yellow, and red. Also proportionally, humans have 7 times more density of cone cells than dogs.

  29. ronny

    check out the “color contrast analyzer” tool freely available which helps us to check whether colors. One can check the compatibility of colors for different categories of color blindness like protanopia, Duteranopia, Tritanopia, Grayscale,Inverts, Cataracts,Nromal.
    Thanks for help

  30. Alex Perez

    This webpagE actually answered my question about dogs’S vision But I have another question…If they can’t See all Colors, what colot do they see humans

  31. Gorade

    # David Bouchez Says:
    September 14th, 2010 at 5:28

    Also proportionally, humans have 7 times more density of cone cells than dogs.

    That’s why we humans usually are better then most dogs at reading tiny text and such.

  32. laura

    this is really helpful!
    Are dogs colour blind is one of those questions that you keep asking yourself all life and neverr know the answer cos everybody believes different things.
    I actaully thought that scientists couldn’t work out the truth, after all the technology they’ve advanced…
    So i finally know that my rottweiler can see colours but he’s colourblind due to the fact thathe cant recognise certain colours and that condition is called colourblindness.

    wicked!! well done!!

  33. Gorade

    From the article: ” 1. Dogs have two different color receptors in their eyes and therefore are dichromats.
    2. One color receptor peaks at the blue-violet range, the other at the yellow-green range.
    3. Conclusion: Dogs are green-blind which is one form of red-green color blindness also called deuteranopia.”

    Sorry, but isn’t it protanopi that the article describes above. If it is so, the dog ought to be red blind or do I missunderstand something?

  34. RJRL Group of Company

    Believe to dogs can identify out of the ordinary colours for the reason that my own dog goes beserk at what time she see’s the red uniform through the window of the postie and the jade florescent jackets used quite often by out of the ordinary ancestors.
    I resolve how perpetually locate the full contemplate on this confusing for the reason that how can we really pinpoint I beg your pardon? Colours dogs can witness with disallowed being able to witness I beg your pardon? They resolve.