How Dogs See The World

Every pet owner wonders… Which of my gestures does my dog actually understand? How does my puppy see the world around him? If only our furry friends could talk!

On one July weekend, moviegoers spent more than $100 million seeing The Secret Life of Pets, an animated adventure story following a group of animals in New York City. Part of the draw for some viewers, no doubt, was the opportunity to experience a day in the life of their beloved animals, however fictionalized (indoor cats don’t typically venture into the sewer like Chloe, the movie’s feline star).

Fortunately, with each year that passes, our knowledge of how real animals actually experience the real world increases, giving pet owners genuine glimpses into the minds of their dogs, cats, birds, fish, and more—literally! While humans and dogs are both adept at using their senses to understand the world, their sensory experiences are quite different.  

So if you’re eager to understand your dog’s experience better—and who isn’t!—read on for a summary of up-to-date, remarkable facts about how dogs see the world.

Fact 1: Dogs Are Basically Color Blind

Over the last decade, scientific research has made great strides in understanding canine eyes.  No, dogs do not see in black and white, but the world created by their eyes and brains is different from the one that we perceive.

Both human and dog eyes have two types of “photoreceptors”, rods and cones, that are responsible for vision.  Cones perceive color, and function in well-lit environments. There are different types of cones too that allow for detection of different wavelengths of light and, thus, detection of color.   Humans have three different kinds of cones (trichromatic) and dogs have two kinds of cones (dichromatic). Because of this difference, the number of colors your dog can perceive is much smaller than the wide array most of us enjoy. Basically, dogs are like colorblind humans (red-green color-blindness). They mainly see blues, yellows, and grays.   To a dog, a “safety orange” tennis ball and green grass have the same color.   Dogs can better see a blue ball on green grass. (Keep this in mind next time you shop for a dog toy!).

While the human eye has 6 million cones, dog eyes only have about 1.2 million. This means that dogs have less acute vision in bright light than we have.

Fact 2: Dogs Have Night-Vision

Rods are much more sensitive to light than cones, allowing their eyes to function in low-light environments. Naturally, rods power vision at night, and also facilitate peripheral vision and motion detection.

In contrast with cones, dog eyes have vastly more rods than humans do (our eyes have about 120 million rods). Although we don’t have precise numbers for canines, their eyes are about 5 times more sensitive to light than humans are. This means that they can see in 5x dimmer light, and they’re much better at perceiving motion—which goes a long way towards explaining how little guys can so easily track down and catch an airborne Frisbee!

Fact 3: Dogs Are Near-Sighted

An additional difference between the human eye and the dog eye is in visual acuity (basically, the ability to focus and perceive shapes at a distance). If we say that the typical human has 20/20 vision, the average dog has about 20/80 vision. This means that your dog would need to be 20 feet away to see an object that you could recognize from 80 feet away.

If you’re not quite sure how all of this applies to how dogs actually perceive the world—you’re not alone! We really appreciated the below visual comparison, from Think Fact Video. Quite a difference!

Fact 4: Dogs “See” Through Their Noses and Ears, Too

As humans, we use all of our senses to perceive the world around us, but the sophistication of our eyes allows us to rely heavily on vision. Dogs, as we’ve learned, “see” a much simpler version of the world through their eyes. But any proud owner can tell you that this doesn’t slow them down. This is because our canine friends have rather impressive senses of smell and hearing that contribute to how they perceive the world.

Human brains are much larger than dog brains—10 times the size, actually. But when it comes to the sense of smell, that part of your dog’s brain is an incredible 40 times larger than yours, and your dog has somewhere between 25x and 60x more scent glands than you do.  Dogs’ sense of smell is between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours.  They can seriously smell!

And how about hearing? While this sense is secondary to smell for dogs, they still have us humans beat in ear abilities. Canines can hear sounds from 4x farther away than the average human! Additionally, they can take in sounds from each ear independently.  Unlike humans, dogs can detect ultrasonic frequencies of sound.    All of this is to say that your dog’s ears are an integral part of how he or she takes in the world.

Protecting Your Dog’s Sight Over Time

Recent research has enlightened us with better understanding of the remarkable ways that dogs see the world. We’ve long known that dogs will look us right in the eye, but it turns out that they can track our eye movements at the level of a 6-month-old child, and even distinguish between our emotional expressions. All of these factors contribute to the amazing relationships we have with our furry best friends.

As our dogs age, their powerful sensory abilities deteriorate, just like their owners’ vision, hearing, and smell. Because our pets can’t tell us directly when they’re losing their vision, we put together a list of signs that owners of aging dogs should stay on the lookout for (you can reference it right here).

Helping keep our dogs’ vision intact as they age is also why we developed Ocu-GLO ®, a natural supplement that is formulated to protect vital cells in the eye, and the rest of the body, at the DNA and protein levels. Read more about Ocu-GLO right here.

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