“My puppy seems to prefer toys that are bright lime green. He goes wild when I hold up his stuffed green elephant; so I was wondering, can dogs see colors?” The Newton Falls Public Library staff enjoys answering these types of questions, as it often helps us to understand more about our own family pets.
The book, Inside of a Dog: what dogs see, smell, and know by Alexandra Horowitz has a chapter, Seen by a Dog with information about dog gazing and attention. Nothing is there about whether or not they suffer from colorblindness. Examining the index, we located pages about color vision. On pages 128-129, in the chapter Dog-Eyed and the section entitled “Go get the green ball!” we found a possible answer to our patron’s question. Because a dog has two kinds of photoreceptors, as compared to the three in humans, it seems that canines may be most sensitive to the colors blue and greenish-yellow, thus they experience color most strongly in the blue and green ranges. According to the author, other colors such as red, yellow and orange might look different to them only in degrees of brightness. For people this would compare to how colors appear at dusk, immediately before nightfall.
A veterinary clinic employee we spoke with said to remind our patron that the feel in the pet’s mouth and the smell have strong effects on their selection of a toy. The clinic employee suggested that we look also at the website of Veterinary Vision Inc. Animal Eye Specialists [www.veterinaryvision.com]. The site has a page titled What Do Dogs and Cats See? Here it says that new behavioral studies reveal that dogs may be able to distinguish the color blue, but have trouble differentiating between red and green.
Though the information from these two sources was somewhat conflicting, our patron found it to be interesting and is planning on presenting different colored toys to her dog to see if he truly has a color preference. Library staff members thought they would have to try this with their own dogs to see if they would respond strongly to specific colors.