How Do Dogs See the World?

Do dogs have 20/20 vision, and what do they see when watching TV? Learn the science that explains why dogs see the world differently from us.

May 19, 2024By Donna Hobson
how do dogs see the world

Whether you’re taking a walk through the park or curling up to watch Netflix, there’s no better companion than your dog. But do you ever wonder if they see the world in the same way as you?

Sight brings the world to life, allowing us to enjoy the vibrance of nature or the animation on a screen. But these colors are not so bold for dogs, and the images lack clarity. In contrast, their motion detection is superior to ours. So how exactly does your pet pooch see the world?

Do Dogs Have 20/20 vision?

dog glasses eyesight
Credit: Image by Jan Steiner from Pixabay

“20/20 vision” is the term we use to describe the normal eyesight of a human being. This means that we can clearly see an object from 20 feet away. In contrast, our canine companions have 20/75 vision, which means they would need to be 20 feet from an object to see it with the same clarity that a human would experience from a distance of 75 feet.

While sight is the primary sense that humans use to observe and understand the world, the same is not valid for dogs. The dominant sense for a canine is smell, followed by hearing, with sight trailing in third position. And we know that dogs do not see as well as humans because their eyes have fewer cones.

Cones are the color-detecting cells that allow us to compare the wavelengths of incoming light and distinguish various colors such as blue, green, red, and yellow. Because dogs possess far fewer of these cells, they can only differentiate between blue and yellow.

Do Dogs Have Good Night Vision?

dog night moon
Credit: Image by Ria Sopala from Pixabay

Dogs possess superior night vision to humans. To understand why we must first know how the eye works.

Within the eye (human or dog) is a light-sensitive area known as the retina; here, there are two types of cells, cones, and rods. We already know that dogs have fewer cones than humans, meaning their vision is dichromatic and can only distinguish between blue and yellow.

But dogs have a large number of rods in their eyes, more than humans, and these cells make their night vision superior to ours. Rods are more sensitive than cones and pick up motion easily; they are also responsible for scotopic vision (or the ability to see in low light).

While human eyesight is far superior in bright light, a dog’s vision is much better in dimmer conditions thanks to their larger pupils and increased rods in the retina.

What Do Dogs See When They Watch TV?

dog watching television
Credit: Image by yousafbhutta from Pixabay

Have you ever seen your dog perk up at the sight of a bird or other small animal on your TV screen? That’s because dogs possess the sight and intelligence to experience the moving images on a screen, much like we do.

There are some differences, though, such as their 20/75 vision which makes them likely to sit much closer to the TV than you do, and their dichromatic sight means that red or green toys would seem incredibly dull to them. But the motion and sounds on the screen are enough to capture their imagination.

Another way dogs perceive television differently from us lies in the screen refresh rate. Our motion perception allows us to see a smooth image so long as the refresh rate is faster than 55 hertz. In contrast, dogs need a minimum refresh rate of 75 hertz, or the page appears to flicker. This is because their motion detection is far superior to ours.

If you want to make TV that little bit more appealing for your pup, ensure your system is up to date so that the screen refresh rate is faster and choose shows with a range of interesting sounds and motions.

How Do Dogs See Human Faces?

dog human face
Credit: Image by Rebecca Scholz from Pixabay

Facial cues are one of the essential factors in human communication, and dogs learn to pay attention to our faces too.

That said, dogs rely on a far more comprehensive source of cues to read human emotions, such as voice tone and body language that help them understand you. In a study, researchers found that while humans demonstrated increased visual response to a human face compared to the back of someone’s head, the reaction from a dog (concerning the same two images) did not change.

Meanwhile, another study found that dogs can distinguish between happy and angry faces, suggesting dogs may have evolved this understanding to better live alongside humans.

When you think about it, dogs rely on motion rather than clarity, so it’s no wonder that they would use our entire body for clues rather than rely on small movements in our faces. Your dog can likely recognize your face and distinguish it from others, but it’s even more likely that they use their sense of hearing and motion detection to determine your voice and movements from other people.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.