Ever wondered how your dog sees the world? While we may inhabit the same environment as our pooches, dogs have a different view of the world to us.
Spot the action
Dogs have forward facing eyes, enabling them to spot movement ahead of them. In dim light they can dilate their pupils and they also possess a reflective layer - the tapetum - which helps dogs see at dusk and dawn.
Your dog’s vision is not perfect and, in fact, they may not be able to focus on objects in great detail, seeing the world as slightly blurry. When you stand across the park from your dog, they may not be able to focus on you.
If you need to get your dog’s attention, move around. If you wish your dog to obey your commands, gesture with your arms and hands. Dogs have the ability to visually follow our pointing gestures but using an additional verbal command may help dogs understand what you wish them to do.
Are dogs colour blind?
Dogs are not colour blind but they do see colours differently to us. This is because they have fewer cones, the light-catching cells that respond to colour. Humans have three different types of cones, enabling us to see a whole spectrum of colours, while dogs only have two different types.
On colour-discrimination tests, dogs can distinguish shades of yellow, blue and grey. While we may see their dog toy as a vibrant shade of red, they view it as a dull grey! However, they can see many shades of grey, as they have more rods, light-sensitive cells.
Can your dog recognise your face?
Dogs recognise their owners, probably as a combination of visual and scent stimuli and familiarity with our behaviour. Dogs are also highly attuned to our facial features, being more attentive to us when they can see our faces.
We can, in turn, become highly attuned to our dogs’ expressions. Have you ever noticed that when you greet your dog, after a period of separation, they move their left eyebrow upwards? When your dog is frightened, you may be more likely to see a furrowed brow or the whites of their eyes, as they turn their heads away in an attempt to avoid the situation.
Does your dog watch TV?
Dogs can see TV but their ability to detect the images may differ, depending on their individual interest, their breed and the frequency of the images. Some dogs do detect the movement of an animal on the screen but most will sit happily by your side while you watch your favourite program.
Can your dog recognise themselves in a mirror?
Puppies often react to their reflection in the mirror as if it were another dog. With time, this potential playmate ceases to interact and the dog then ignores their image. This may mean that dogs do not have the ability to recognise themselves or it could just be that they are simply not motivated by visual stimuli. Perhaps they are not as vain as we humans!
Do dogs mind going blind?
As animals age, their senses, including sight, often deteriorates. Alternatively dogs may lose their sight due to injury or other medical conditions. Dogs rely more on other senses such as smell and hearing, so losing their sight is not such a major issue as you might think. Keep your dog’s environment consistent – don’t move furniture around and take care if out walking or interacting with other dogs.
Don’t you just love those canine big, brown, soulful eyes gazing into yours? Dogs’ eyes, by default, are brown in colour. Your dog’s eye colour is based on their genes, with our domesticated dogs differing from their wolf ancestors, whose eyes were a variety of colours and shades.
Dogs can have eye colours other than brown. Liver-coloured individuals will tend to have lighter, amber eyes. Blue eyes tend to be associated with a lack of pigment in the coat, often occurring in dogs with a merle gene or in those with a large presence of white on their coats and faces. Blue eyes can also be inherited as a completely separate gene, commonly seen in Huskies. In some dogs one eye will be brown and the other blue.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au