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How Dogs See the World

How Dogs See the World

You may have heard that a dog’s vision differs from a human’s, and it’s true! In some ways, your pup’s peepers are better than yours, and in other ways, their vision is worse. A dog experiences the world in a unique way compared to how a human does. Pet owners who want to understand this visual phenomenon better will surely find our guide into how dogs see the world fascinating! The most straightforward application of this concept can help you choose things like bedding and toys that your dog will interact with and enjoy more.

Table of Contents

Top 4 Dog Vision Questions

We have established that dogs have a distinctive way of seeing the world, but what does that mean exactly? We will tackle some of the most common questions about a dog’s visual perspective as they interact with life. You may discover some cool things you didn’t know about how dogs view the environment around them!

Do Dogs See Color?

The simple answer is that dogs, like humans, can see colors, just not as many.

Our eyes use different parts of the retina to detect different colors. Human eyesight relies on three types of color-detecting cells, commonly referred to as cones. Most humans can see red, green, blue, and yellow wavelengths by the way the light reflects off these cones in the retina.

A dog’s eyesight is very different from a human’s eyesight. Despite what you might have heard, dogs can see more than just black and white. Their vision is equivalent to someone who is colorblind. That doesn’t mean they don’t see any color, just that the scope of colors they see is limited. Most animals, including dogs, have two types of cone cells in their retinas, so they see in color, but their brains can only distinguish between blue and yellow. Dogs can differentiate between shades of gray but cannot see green, yellow, orange, and red.

How Dogs See the World

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Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.

What Does This Mean for Seeing-Eye Dogs?

If a seeing-eye dog cannot distinguish between a red or green light, how does it help its owner safely cross a street? Interesting, right?! This question was not even on my radar before doing this research. However, given that our focus on this side of the internet is on service animals, it only seems appropriate!

Dogs may be limited in how they read color, but they use other cues and their other senses to help them safely guide a blind person who is relying on them to navigate the world. Cues such as brightness and the light’s position help them understand traffic signals. Additionally, a dog’s sense of smell and hearing are heightened compared to their human counterparts, and those senses also help them in a scenario such as this. A guide dog would also learn to pay attention to traffic flow and noise to determine the right time to cross the street. 

How Dogs See the World

How is a Dog's Vision Better Than Humans?

A human’s eyes are set close together, allowing them to see the best straight ahead. For humans, the field of vision of each eye overlaps slightly, giving us what is called “binocular vision.” Binocular vision is necessary for depth perception. Humans have better depth perception which is an important survival tool for predatory species as it aids in jumping, leaping, and catching prey. The eyes of dogs are wider-set, and their field of vision has less overlap. Though breed’s vary, a dog’s eyes are generally set at a 20-degree angle. This slight angle increases the overall peripheral vision of the dog.

A dog’s visual world may not be as clear or colorful as ours, but they are better at seeing movement than we are. Since a dog’s field of vision is more expansive than a human’s, it gives them the ability to detect motion better. The trade-off, however, is that dogs do not have great depth perception. A dog’s depth perception is best when looking straight ahead, but their adorable snoot often gets in the way!

Dogs also have far superior night vision. Scientifically speaking, the cones in our eyes determine our ability to perceive color and detail. The rods in our eyes allow us to distinguish between dark and light. A dog’s retinas have more rods, enabling them to see better in low-light conditions. 

How Dogs See the World

Do Dogs Have 20/20 Vision?

No. Dogs have less visual acuity than humans do. A human with perfect vision is said to have 20/20 vision, meaning they can distinguish letters, numbers, or objects from 20 feet away. Dog vision lacks the same sharpness, and they are typically very nearsighted.

With a few exceptions, dogs generally only have 20/50 vision (or worse!). This means they must be much closer to an object to see it as clearly as a human does. Some breeds have better vision than others. Labradors are one such breed.

Fear not, however! Dogs physiology has morphed over time to allow them to rely more heavily on their other senses (smell most notably) to make up for their under whelming visual capabilities.

Learning How Dogs See Humans

Studies show that dogs aren’t wired to focus on a human’s face, but they have evolved to pay attention to human faces. Dogs recognize people by their faces alone and can read emotions from our faces. However, our body signals can be more informative for a dog. A dog pays more attention to our body language and voice cues than our faces.

Motion sensitivity is a key component of canine vision. Due to their ability to see motion so well, your dog can better recognize you when you perform a particular movement, body posture, or gesture that you often do. In addition to your seeing your face or reading your cues, dogs may also determine a human’s identity through scent, smell, or voice.

The way dogs have advanced alongside humans makes for a unique relationship and close bond. They can tell when we are anxious or stressed, happy or sad. This is one thing that makes dogs incredible companions, friends, Emotional Support Animals, and even Psychiatric Service Animals.

How Dogs See the World

How Long Does a Dog Remember a Person?

The short answer is a LONG time. Just how long? Often for their entire life. It’s safe to say that even if you are separated for many years, your dog will not forget you. Based on scientific research, dogs can store visual, auditory, and olfactory memories in their minds. Dogs may not be able to remember a specific event for long periods, but pups will certainly link gestures, voices, smells, and facial distinctions to their beloved owners.

Visual face recognition is a key part of the dog-owner relationship. Eye contact is of utmost importance for bonding and trust building. You see, animals are way more likely to listen to people that they recognize and want to make eye contact with. Dogs will also frequently look to their owner’s faces for guidance on what they should be doing. Dogs look at faces for informational details and behavior signals, and they can also read mannerisms based on a person’s face. The more this habit occurs with a particular individual, the more their face will imprint on a sweet doggo’s memory.

How Dogs See the World

Do Dogs Think Humans are Their Parents?

Recent behavior research supports the idea that dogs view us as their family. This is evidenced in the brain scans of the dogs that participated in the study. Additionally, a paper published in 2015 revealed a boost of oxytocin when dogs and their owners gaze into one another’s eyes. Oxytocin is called the love hormone. A surge of oxytocin is seen when humans cuddle, have romantic encounters, or after childbirth.

While fur-kids may look a bit different than human ones, this research shows that their feelings towards us still parallel. Your dog can definitely think of you as his parent — or more accurately, his provider, protector, security, and reassurance when interacting with the world. Though some may say that your four-legged companion is “just a dog”, we know your relationship is far deeper. 

Take a Deeper Dive

Explore these additional resources for more eye-opening information! 

  • Do dogs enjoy watching TV? Find out what your dog sees and what it likes watching on television!


  • See what the world looks like to your dog. On Dog Vision, you can use the image processing tool created by a neuroscientist to upload images and see what they look like to your dog.


  • Learn more about your dog’s perspective of the world. If you’re curious how a dog uses their other senses, the book “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know” by Alexandra Horowitz describes a dog’s world thoroughly.
How Dogs See the World
ESA or PSA Certification?

The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!


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