Canine Colorblindness

Is My Dog Really Colorblind?


Red car. Blue car. Can my dog tell the difference?

The very last scene in the motion picture Up from Disney and Pixar is a test of humor that separates people who are dog owners from those who aren’t.

In the final scene of the movie, the old man (Carl) is sitting on the sidewalk with Russell (the young Wilderness Explorer) and their four-legged sidekick, Dug. The three characters compete to describe the color of each car as it drives past. Russell speaks first, “Red car.” Carl responds with, “Blue car.” Dug provides the comic relief when he labels the third vehicle as “Gray car.”

Some may miss the joke, but the animal guardians in the audience laugh at the canine humor. Gray car is an “off-color” reference to the fact that many people think dogs are colorblind, so both the red car and the blue car look only gray to Dug.

In reality, dogs are not colorblind. They do see colors, but not in the same shades as their human counterparts. According to The Handbook of Applied Behavior and Training, Vol. 1 by Steven R. Lindsay, dogs only have two color receptor cones in their eyes, compared to the three cone-shaped receptors that most humans enjoy. Dogs are dichromatic because they can only see two primary colors. The result is that dogs can see certain colors, but have a difficult time distinguishing between others.

So, if the question is whether dogs can see colors, the answer is yes.  But are they technically colorblind? The answer to that question is also yes.

Dogs have difficulty telling the difference between:

  • Red, orange and green
  • Green/blue and gray
  • Shades of purple

Since dogs do not have the green or orange receptor cones, but do have yellow, it would be cruel to throw an orange ball onto a grassy area and expect your dog to be able to retrieve it. Dog trainer Hirsh Marantz explained that if you want to play fetch on the grass at the park, be sure not to use the florescent orange balls that were designed for only humans to see. Marantz suggested limiting your purchases to balls that are either black or blue.  It’s not surprising to learn that at least 90 percent of any dog’s senses are in its nose. What this means to both owners and guardians is that colors probably do not play an important part in a dog’s life.

In his book Earth and Sky, author Cecil Adams came to the conclusion that dogs may simply not be interested in colors. There are too many important things to sniff and explore – why spend time distinguishing different shades of color?

“It’s the same for (those of us who are) colorblind: There are more important things to do than spotting red flowers in a green field or learning that the sky is blue even if it is gray all day long,” Adams wrote. “I would say we could concentrate much better on our work if we were not abstracted by seeing our world full of colors.”

Advice from this column is not a substitute for professional medical attention. Please contact your own veterinarian if you suspect your pet may have eaten something other than their own food. Questions for future blogs can be submitted to

This Article is posted through the Courtesy of Pet Nutrition Products at Pet Nutrition Products and their Pet Health Blog