Do dogs see colors or do they see the world in black and white? Contrary to popular belief, dogs see in colors, but their vision is not as colorful as how we humans see the world.
Dogs See Colors But The Colors Are Limited
In humans, there is something we call cone cells or cones. These are special light catching cells that respond to colors. Humans have three different kinds of cones, and when these three work together, they give us what we call a full range of color vision. The most common type of colorblindness comes when a person has a missing, abnormal or non-functioning cone. These people can still see colors but they only see fewer colors than people with normal color vision – and that is the case with dogs.
With those two types of cones, dogs can see in color but not as rich as the humans who have normal color vision. Jay Neitz at the University of California, Santa Barbara was able to study and confirm this. According to Psychology Today, Neitz conducted many test trials wherein dogs were shown three light panels in a row: two of the panels of the same color and a different colored one. Each dog was tasked to find the panel with the different color and press it. If the dog presses the correct panel, the computer will deliver a treat to the cup below that panel. With the study, Neitz was able to conclude that 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 (brownish), and very dark gray.
This means that dogs see the world as basically yellow, blue and gray. The colors green, yellow and orange appear yellowish in their eyes while violet and blue both appears blue. Blue-green on the other hand appears gray.
Do Dogs Distinguish According to Brightness or Color?
Since the truth about dogs’ ability to see colors came out, it was thought that they used levels of brightness to distinguish objects – and not the color per se. That’s what the scientists at the Institute for Information Transmission Problems of the Russia Academy of Sciences suspected want to prove so they conducted a study to determine whether dogs distinguish objects through color or brightness.
Since dogs only have two types of cones, the researchers suspected dogs would see shades of blue, green and yellow, but not red and orange. First, the dogs were trained to respond to one of four pieces of paper of different colors: dark yellow, light yellow, dark blue, and light blue. Then, the sheets of paper were placed in twos in front of boxes that contain meat. The researchers placed the pieces of paper with the color the doggie participants had been trained to respond to in front of a feeding box – together with a brighter paper, but of a different color. The reason behind this is that the researchers wanted to know if a dog who was trained to respond to light blue would respond to dark blue instead of light yellow.
The researchers then saw that the majority of the doggie participants went for the color identifier instead of the brightness identifier. According to the study that was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, all of the dogs went for the color-based choice more than 70% of the time while and 75% of the dogs chose the color-based choice 90 to 100% of the time.
Contrary to what the scientists predicted, the dogs based their choice on the color of the object they associated with getting reward rather than its brightness.