Whitney and I visited Hendricks and St. Mary of the Lake Elementary schools in Chicago this week, and the kids at both schools had tons of terrific questions.
For some reason the first and second graders at St. Mary’s 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.
“Do you just see the color black?” one girl asked. “Or do you just see the color white?” Another girl told me that the school uniforms they wear are red. “But does Whitney think they’re green? I gave that question some thought, and realized I couldn’t answer it. I remember writing a story for Dog Fancy magazine years ago about dogs and vision, so when I got home I looked it up:
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.
I checked my source list, and the information for that Dog Fancy story came from 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!