Dogs Sense of Sight

By Janice A. Jones  |Last Updated 12-08-2021

Dogs sense of sight is totally adequate for their needs, but they do not see in the same way we do.

Humans rely on their sight to gain information about their world and our large brains accommodate this by providing plenty of space for our visual perceptions to be processed. 

Dogs’ brains are dominated by other senses. 

Before going into the differences between them and us, let’s also look at size.  The average adult views the world from a vantage point of five feet or higher. 

The world view of a seven inch Chihuahua is going to look very different.  The only way to appreciate this is to get down on the ground to see what they see.

Welsh corgi looking directly at the camera

Dogs Sense of Sight:  How Dogs are Similar to People--How they are Different

Their world might be low to the ground but many small dogs have a field of vision wider than humans. 

Humans see about 180 degrees around them, meaning we can see forwards and out to our sides. 

Dogs can see up to 250 degrees depending on where their eyes are positioned.  Dogs who have eyes farther to the side of their faces will have a wider field of vision than those dogs whose eyes are located at the front of their face.

Dogs Sense of Sight:  Night Vs. Day Vision

Dogs can see slightly better than a person can during the night, but we see better in daylight.

Dogs can see better at night because they have a structure called the tapetum lucidum, which is a reflective layer of cells behind the retina. This structure provides the characteristic shiny eyes seen when you point a flashlight at your dog’s eyes at nighttime.

Another reason why dogs see better at night has to do with the specialized cells at the back of the retina called rods and cones. Rods are used for night vision and cones are utilized for day vision. Dogs have more rods and fewer cones.

During the daytime, a person sees much better than their dog, but the dog’s vision is quite adequate. Perfect vision in a person is considered 20:20, whereas a dog can see at 20:80, at best. This is fine for a canine’s activities, but do not expect him to learn to read this page anytime soon.

Your puppy’s close up vision is not as refined as your vision is. Most will not be able to focus any closer than about 11 to 18 inches (30 to 50 centimeters). Your puppy will still recognize you by his keen sense of smell.

Dogs Sense of Sight:  Color Vision

The biggest difference between our vision and theirs is the amount of color we each see. It was once thought that dogs saw only black and white. That is not true.  The dog has two types of color-sensitive receptor cells called cones as opposed to our three cones. 

They cannot distinguish reds from orange or orange from yellow. Their worldview looks like shades of yellows, blues, and grays.  The spectrum from reds to greens appear grayish to your dog. 

Keep this in mind when you purchase dog toys.  They are not going to be able to distinguish a red toy from a green toy by color alone. This could explain why some dogs can’t find a toy, especially a new one with little or no smells when placed on a similarly colored background. 

Don’t feel too sorry for your dog, though because they certainly don’t feel deprived.  What they might miss in vision is made up for in their superior senses of hearing and smelling.

Human View of this MountainHuman View of this Mountain
Dog View of the MountainDog View of the Mountain

Dog's Sense of Sight:  Visual Acuity

When you visit an opthamologist for an eye exam you are likely to be tested using a Snellen Eye Chart, a chart designed by Hermann Snellen in the late 1800s.  As you probably know, the doctor asks you to identify the smallest row of letters you can see. 

This test is measuring your visual acuity.  The chart is located 20 feet from your location and your score is determined by how well you can read a row of letters or symbols at the same distance with another person who is known to have normal vision.  Thus you score a 20/20 or a 20/40, etc.  depending on your visual acuity.

Scientists do not have a similar test for dogs. Dr. Stanley Coren designed a test that could be used to test the dog's eyesight.  The best result was obtained by a poodle in German who reached the 20/75 level.  A person with this vision would be wearing eyeglasses.  So, if you wear glasses, you can begin to understand how dogs see relative to you.

Field of Vision

Just how much of the scenery around us, can we see.  Turns out that where our eyes are located on our head makes a difference on how much of the world we can take in at one time. Our eyes point forward which means that we are able to see about 180 degrees in both directions.  

For those dogs whose eyes are positioned farther apart have better peripheral vision than us.  (Think Sighthounds)

About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with Poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, English Bulldogs, Carin Terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

Does This Article Deserve Your Thumbs Up?

We always appreciate your support and encouragement.  Your thumbs up means so much to us.  Please like this article.

If you find this page or any page on Small Dog Place Helpful, or useful in anyway, I'd love it if you would click the small heart found on the bottom right of each page.

You can also share or bookmark this page -- just click on the:

10 Mistakes People Make When Choosing a Dog Breed

Free Monthly Newsletter

Sign Up for Our Free Newsletter and get our Free Gift to You.

my  E-book, The Top 10 Mistakes People Make When Choosing a Dog (and how to avoid them)