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What Colors Do Dogs See?
Explaining a Seeing Eye dog’s vision to children
Beth Finke talks to students about her Seeing Eye dog, Whitney.

Whitney and I visited a school on the North Side of Chicago recently, and for some reason the first and second graders seemed particularly interested in color blindness. When one of them asked me if it’s true that dogs can only see black and white, I explained that dogs do see some colors, but they can’t tell the difference between red and green.

“If we’re at an intersection with a stoplight, it’s my job to judge when it might be safe to cross.” I described the way I stand up straight, concentrate and listen for the rush of cars. When it sounds like the traffic is going the direction I want to go, I take a guess the light is green and command Whitney to go forward. Whitney’s ears perk up; she listens for traffic and looks left and right to confirm it’s safe before pulling me across.

The students seemed satisfied with that answer and went on with other questions. Are you blind all of the time? When you were at the Seeing Eye school, what was your teacher’s name? Does Whitney like to lick a lot? What do you and Whitney do to have fun? Their thoughts eventually returned to colors, though.

One girl told me that her school uniform is red. “But does Whitney think they’re green?” I gave that question some thought, and realized I couldn’t answer it. When I got home, I did some research.

Dogs see colors, but not the same way humans do. People can see variations of violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Dogs can only see blue, violet, yellow and some shades of gray.

My source? An article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association called “Vision in Dogs,” written by P.E. Miller and C.J. Murphy. A credible source, but not sure it answers this sweet first grader’s question.

If dogs can’t see the color red, what do they see instead? Blue? Violet?

Yellow? If any of you blog followers have an answer, by all means leave a comment. I’m curious to know now, too!

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Beth Finke's book, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound—about her bond with her Seeing Eye dog—won an ASPCA/Henry Bergh children's book award. Follow Hanni and Beth's travels on the Safe & Sound blog. bethfinke.wordpress.com

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