6 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Dog’s Eyesight

If you want to know just how well your dog can see, we explore some interesting facts, from their ability to see at night to whether they are colorblind.

Sep 1, 2023byLisa Szymanski
things you did not know about your dogs eyesight

Dogs can fetch a ball at incredible speed or run and jump with immense balance, but just how good is their eyesight? You may not know that canines are shortsighted or that, like cats, they can see quite well in the dark. Dogs also have a limited spectrum of colors they can see, which turns their environment into a blend of yellows and grays. To better understand how your dog sees the world, we look at a few things you didn’t know about your dog’s eyesight.

1. Dogs Have Excellent Peripheral Vision

pug eyes
Dogs have wide eyes to help them with peripheral vision.

Peripheral vision refers to how well you can see at your sides while keeping your head in a forward position. Humans average between 180 and 190 degrees of field vision, compared to the 250 degrees found in dogs’ eyesight. The positioning of a dog’s eyes on the sides of their heads helps them with peripheral sight. You would have to turn your head left or right to see what your dog sees peripherally. A canine’s wider field of vision is meant to assist with hunting or detecting danger. This explains how quickly dogs can react to nearby animals or people without your awareness of their presence.

2. Dogs Can’t See the Colors That Humans Can

woman training yorkshire terrier on grass
Dogs struggle to see different colors.

Dogs have really good eyesight, but when it comes to differentiating colors, they don’t have the greatest range to choose from. Your dog’s eyes can identify a few shades, including yellow and blue, but they can’t see any type of purple or red, which humans can see. The cones in our eyes help us view color, and this particular structure is limited in dogs’ eyesight.

We have 3 cones, birds and some types of butterflies have up to 15 cones, whereas dogs only have 2 cones. If you could see through your dog’s eyes, you’d pick up differences in light and a blend of yellow, brown, blue, black, and white.

3. Dogs are Colorblind to Red and Purple

french bulldog with brown eyes sitting on grass
Dogs have large pupils.

A dog can tell yellow from blue and white from black, but they don’t see pinks, purples, and reds. Researchers first believed that dogs could only see a grayscale of tones, but studies have revealed that dogs can see specific colors. The limited number of color receptors in their eyes means that they can see very few colors. They are colorblind to shades of red and purple. The next time you play fetch with your dog, just don’t expect them to immediately spot the red or pink toy hidden in the grass!

4. Dogs are Nearsighted

border collie in agility training
Dogs can see detail over short distances.

You may believe that dogs have perfect 20/20 vision when you spot them running after a ball or performing agility training at lightning speed. Canine sight has been rated at 20/50 in comparison to 20/20 vision in people. An object that you can see at 50 feet, a dog would clearly see at 20 feet. Most canines are nearsighted; however, some breeds, such as Labradors that are bred as guide dogs, can see better than the average dog. Man’s best friend might be nearsighted, but it doesn’t hinder their vision or their quality of life. Remember that dogs have the most powerful sense of smell, which is important for them to understand and navigate their world.

5. Dogs Can See in the Dark

yorkshire terrier
Dogs have good sight at night.

We know that cats can see extremely well in the dark, but what about their canine counterparts? Dogs actually have really good night vision because of specialized light-reflecting structures in their eyes called rods. Dogs also have very big pupils that not only make them look cute but also help them absorb more light. As the light enters the eye, it bounces off a structure called the tapetum, which is located close to the retina. You may have noticed how your dog’s eyes appear to glow in low light, which is actually the tapetum in action! These amazing adaptations allow canines to see other animals, trees, and people in faint light or complete darkness.

6. Dogs are Sensitive to Bright Light

cocker spaniel looking over a wooden fence
Dogs can respond to the brightness of an object.

Understanding how your dog sees the world is a fun and interesting way to bond with your fur friend. Some of the things you didn’t know about your dog’s vision may help you with training or choosing toys for them to play with. Dogs may not be able to easily spot a pink or red toy in the grass, but they are sensitive to brightness. They respond to bright toys and objects, not necessarily their color. A dog’s sight may not be perfect, but they have the special receptors and structures they need to make sense of their home. Along with their powerful sense of smell, your canine companion is perfectly suited to their environment.

Lisa Szymanski
byLisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the \"queens of the yard,\" Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.