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The science behind canine colour vision: how do dogs see colours?

Updated: 4 hours ago

A golden retriever dog stood in a field of yellow flowers

As humans, we rely heavily on our vision but our dogs interpret the world differently, particularly in terms of colour. Understanding how dogs see colours can help with training, especially when it comes to the use of training dummies. In this blog, we delve into the intricacies of canine vision, explore the colours they perceive, and discuss its significance in gundog training.

How dogs see colours

Unlike humans, who possess three types of colour receptors (cones) sensitive to red, green, and blue wavelengths, dogs have only two types of cones, which means they are dichromats. This limitation affects their colour perception, primarily in the red and green spectrum. A dog's vision is similar to a person with red-green colour blindness, seeing the world in shades of blue and yellow.

Colours that dogs can see

While dogs cannot distinguish between red and green hues, they can perceive various shades of blue and yellow. These colours appear more vivid to them, making blue and yellow objects stand out against backgrounds. However, reds and greens might appear as shades of grey or brown to them, blending into the environment.

Comparison to human vision

Human vision is characterised by trichromatic colour vision, allowing for the perception of a broader spectrum of colours. This stark difference in colour perception between humans and dogs stems from evolutionary adaptations and the differing roles each species plays in their environment.

A diagram of a dog's vision colour spectrum compared to a human's

Implications for gundog training

Understanding how dogs perceive colours is helpful in gundog training, where visual cues can play a significant role. Training dummies should be selected with a dog's colour vision in mind. Opting for dummies in contrasting colours like blue or yellow against natural backgrounds like grass and undergrowth enhances visibility for our dogs, which will help them to succeed. These colours of dummies are therefore really useful when training young dogs or when introducing an older dog to retrieving.

Choosing training dummies

When selecting dummies for training young or inexperienced dogs, opt for colours that stand out against typical natural environments. Bright blues and yellows are excellent choices as they contrast well with greens and browns, ensuring that dogs can easily spot them. A blue tennis ball is great for starting puppies off with fun retrieves. Similarly a white dummy will contrast well against a darker background (white water dummies are particularly useful if training anywhere muddy as they are easy to spot and easy to clean afterwards). If you want to make things more challenging, choose items that are green, red or orange. To your dog, they blend in with the grass so it's harder for them to locate. If your marking skills aren't great, go for a bright orange so that it will stand out to you but not to the dog.

Enhancing your training

Understanding how our dogs see colours provides valuable insights into their sensory perception and behaviour. In gundog training, where visual cues are so important, selecting dummies that cater to a dog's colour vision can enhance training effectiveness. Using this knowledge, we can therefore optimise our training sessions which results in quicker learning. By setting your dog up to succeed, you will also by improving their confidence.

You can find a wide range of gundog training dummies, from puppy to advanced, in our equipment pages.

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