Dog Vision vs. Human Vision

Photograph of dog adjusted for dog vision vs. human vision
Don't adjust your screens, furfriends! This is the same photo of Oli as shared in our cataract surgery post, adjusted to represent a typical healthy dog's view of the same scene. That's right. This is a simulation of GOOD dog vision. Surprised? Me too. What a difference it makes to see a dog's view of the world!

Ever wondered if your dog sees the world the same way as you do? When trying to better understand the differences between human vision and dog vision so that we could better assist our senior dog Oli with his post-cataract surgery visual deficits, I had a (long overdue) lightbulb moment. It changed everything for us and how we approach our dogs’ view of the world. I knew that dogs didn’t perceive colour the same way as we did, but never really understood the potential implications of dog vision vs. human vision. With better awareness, I can now use that knowledge to better support our dogs with visual cues as well as boost their general fun. 

Dog Vision vs. Human Vision: A Life Changing Owner Learning

As Oli’s eye sight declined, we turned to contrast, brightness, and colour to help him navigate the world. My natural pull to relatively sedate colours gave way to a walkies wardrobe of vibrant pinks, purples, and bright whites to help Oli as I sought to distinguish myself from the natural world around us at the beach (black sand) and favourite local trails (heavily forested). When his vision was significantly altered through cataract surgery and recovery, I upped my game even further. Humans might have been dazzled, but doggos not so much. It turns out that I was going about things all wrong. I wasn’t considering the world through a dog’s eyes.

Typically, dogs see on a spectrum of blue-yellow as these are their base colour receptors (cones). They are also less sensitive to shades of colour (brightness and contrast discrimination). Even with good eyesight (unlike Oli), when compared to humans, dogs have a lower visual acuity and tend to be near-sighted.  As upsides, dog vision is significantly better suited towards peripheral views, low-light vision, motion detection, and depth perception than ours. Predator skills. Squeaky toys, beware…

Seeing Colour, Contrast, and Clarity Through a Dog's Eyes

The easy to understand website and image processing tool at Dog VISION by András Péter (not to be confused with the also recommended and very beautiful DOGvision photography and art website and social media by the talented Fenne and her beautiful dogs) sparked an ah-ha moment of realisation.  As someone who has studied science, light, and colour, I turned to  the RGB colour wheel to better grasp the differences. It was a revelation on how my human-centric efforts were misaligned with our dogs vision.

Instead of looking at the colour shifts in the usual rainbow or spectrum, I created a very simple colour-wheel based RGB breakdown sketch and processed it through the Dog-Vision tool. First I processed it for colour only and then for both colour and brightness. The results are consolidated below along with some examples of how these differences would translate into some “brightly coloured” real-life scenarios with toys, treats, and everyday life. Wow! What a difference!  It’s also worth noting that these adjustments are for typical visual differences. Oli’s visual acuity is significantly lower than a healthy dog’s eyesight. He sees far less than the examples.

Colour wheel and example images adjusted to demonstrate dog vision vs. human vision

Using an Understanding of Dog Vision in Daily Life

The realisation of how different dog sight is and what that means for their view of the world made me a little sad. at least at first. What is a world of ever changing colour and interest to us is much of a muchness to them (see my four seasons example below), but dogs “see” the world through smell in ways we can only imagine. And frankly, probably wouldn’t want to if we could! Haha!  Check out this awesome TED-Ed clip on how dogs “see” with their noses. This helped me a lot in understanding that what gives sensory joy is different for the dogs. Then giving or allowing them more of that joy helped immensely with greiving Oli’s sight loss.

Example photos of the four seasons adjusted for dog vision

High Visibility Dog Walking Clothes

What will our new and improved dog vision understanding change for us and our dogs? The biggest change in our Oli care is what we wear on walkies. To help him see his humans, we’ll be switching to lots more blue dog walking clothing for our usual city, park, and forest walks to ensure that we are distinct in a world of yellow and greige. There will also be some yellows to ensure we can be seen on blue sky blue water beach days. We have black sand, so yellow is a clear difference for us. Momma looks rather terrible in yellow by the way, except (hopefully) to Oli and Humphrey. Haha!

High Visibility Colours for Dog Toys

For things like ready-made toys, we’ll think more about how the toy colour plays against the backdrop of our carpets and flooring or green grasses for outdoor toys.  All these years of red, yellow, and orange balls in green grass. Bah. Who knew?  Bright blue is my new go-to colour for outdoors. It works for both us and the dogs to see against a green backdrop.
Colourful balls adjusted for dog colour vision

For homemade dog toys, there may be a few changes, but not as significant. Many of the toys we make are for special occasions, styled for a combination of dog play and human holiday design fun. I’ll try to keep colour theory in mind when shopping for materials and designing general use toys, though. For example, ensuring tugs have good colour variation from a dog’s perspective when materials allow, like this high visibility woven fleece dog tug toy.

Dog birthday party toys and treats adjusted for dog vision

Colours for Dog Treats

Colour? Who cares! For our homemade treats, little will change. Colours are mostly just for fun to suit our human preferences. We often play with colour for holiday and special occasion treats. Sometimes colour is just a pretty natural by-product of using colourful ingredients. Either way, all the dogs really care about is eating them. The rest is just for us! We always say in our posts that the dogs don’t care about looks, just smell and flavour. This just reinforces that further. 

Getting a Better Understanding of Dog Vision

Want to see things through your dog’s eyes? Take a few photos of your favourite walkies outfits, walking places, dog toys, or other dog-related things. Then pop them through the quick and easy free image processing tool at Dog VISION for a look at life through your dog’s perspective. Think about what you might change to make life better or more fun.  It’s a genuine eye opener (no pun intended) and well worth a few minutes of your time. 

Curious about how other types of pet vision differs from people? Check out this nifty article from Home Advisor on how pets see for adjusted colour and field examples for dogs, cats, fish, and more. I have to confess that the snake’s thermal imaging vision made me shudder. Eeek!

Understanding the differences between dog vision and human vision

You might also enjoy: