Written by Ella White
Dogs’ eyes are so irresistible that ‘puppy dog eyes’ have taken on a whole human meaning of their own. When your pup peers up at you, it can feel like you’re seeing into their soul. And many owners might have found themselves wishing they could see what their pet sees, wondering if dogs have good eyesight? And do they see the world in the same way as humans?
In this article we’ll look at the anatomy of a dog’s eye, how it works, and whether dogs can see better than humans.
There are different ways to measure how good the eyesight of a dog is – and it’s fairly similar to how we judge the eyesight of humans. For example a dog’s eye test would look at their:
Scientists and researchers have found that dogs don’t see as many colors as humans, and they have a shorter field of vision that means they can only recognize things that are close to them. They do, however, have a greater ability to see movement in darkness as well as during daylight. This comes from their pre-domestic days as hunters that would usually operate during the darker hours of dawn and twilight.
So, if a human’s perfect vision is 20/20 then a dog’s vision is more like 20/75. This means they’re unable to perceive some of the finer details that humans can see but rather they focus on the ‘bigger picture’. However, since dogs often have their eyes situated on the side of their head rather than the front like humans, they tend to have a better range of vision than we do.
Dog’s eyes share many of the same structural features of human eyes, including:
However, there are some structures within a dog’s eye that humans don’t have.
The tapetum lucidum in a dog’s eye reflects light through the retina, which increases the light perceived by the photoreceptors allowing dogs to see in darker conditions. Dogs also have a third eyelid on the inner corner of their eye that helps protect the eye and produces tears.
Dogs and other animals also benefit from better Flicker Fusion Frequency (FFF) than humans, which means they are able to perceive frames of light as a more steady, continuous picture. This helps them to see movement in the dark, and also see more clearly when they are moving quickly.
As we’ve already covered, dogs’ Flicker Fusion Frequency and tapetum lucidum mean they are able to process motion in the dark and benefit from more light filtered through their retina. Historically, dogs would have been nocturnal creatures so their ability to run and hunt in the dark meant they depended on their ability to ‘see in the dark’.
If you’ve ever noticed that your dog’s eyes seem to glow in the dark, this is why. When light hits the tapetum lucidum, it reflects back and forth and can appear to be yellow, green, blue, or orange. However, blue-eyed dogs don’t have a tapetum lucidum, so a flash against their eyes can make them appear red due to the blood vessels at the back of the eye.
Since we already know that dogs have extra structures in their eyes to help them see in the dark, that they have an improved range of vision but less ability to perceive detail, we know that dogs don’t see the world exactly as humans do. But how do they see it?
Though dogs only notice objects up close, their ability to detect motion in the distance is 10 to 20 times better than humans’. Their wider peripheral vision – dogs can see 250 degrees compared to humans who can see 190 degrees – means they’re better at quickly scanning their environment. This does mean they lack the binocular vision of humans.
And though their ability to perceive color is to only really see the things they ‘need to’ from an evolutionary perspective, this is offset by their highly sensitive sense of smell.
In human terms, dogs could be considered color blind. Scientifically, their sight is known as ‘dichromatic’ which means their color perception is more limited than ours. Humans have ‘trichromatic’ vision thanks to three cone receptors in our eyes that are each receptive to a different color, either red, green or blue.
Dogs only have two of these cones, so their vision is compressed into the blue and green part of the spectrum. So while they do see in color, they don’t recognize the red spectrum and can therefore see fewer colors than humans.
Now we know that dogs can see blue and green colors, it’s clear that they don’t just see in black and white. This myth probably sprung from their inability to perceive red tones. But in reality, dogs can see blues, yellows, combinations of blue and yellow, and shades of gray. So next time you’re picking out a new toy for your canine companion, opt for a blue or yellow color over red and they’ll be able to see it more vividly.
Understanding how dogs see the world is important not just so we as owners can empathize with their literal point of view. It also helps us understand their working backgrounds – for example how a Border Collie detects movements that humans couldn't in order to protect and herd their sheep.
This also helps inform how we train working dogs like guide dogs with strong peripheral vision and hunting dogs that can track movement at greater distances.
Want to keep your dog’s eyes healthy? Front of the Pack dog food is made with sweet potato, carrots, blueberries, kale, and a host of other pure, natural ingredients all known to help dogs’ vision. It’s packed with meat protein, fruit, and veggies that deliver all the daily nutrients your pet needs to be happy and healthy all over – from their eyes to their wagging tail.