The Dog’s Color Vision and What It Means for Our Training

Dog Sniffing

When training dogs in any scent detection discipline, we should use colors that are difficult for them to see so to compel them to use their noses (and not their eyes) to find the target (picture from Joy of Living).

 

Do dogs see colors? Does that affect our dog training in any way? These are the questions I will answer today.

In the early 1980s, we performed some tests at the Ethology Institute Cambridge to determine whether dogs were colorblind as the popular view says. The conclusion of our experiments was that they could distinguish between some colors and could not discriminate certain other colors. They are not completely color blind (seeing only shades of gray). They were more like some people who see colors though not the full spectrum. However, we could not determine, at the time, whether the color discrimination of the dogs was due to differentiating between real colors or various shades of gray. Meanwhile, more modern research has cast some light on these questions.

 

DogColor4

 

Eyes contain light catching cells (cones) that respond to color. Canines have fewer cones than humans, which implies that, in principle, their color vision cannot be as good as ours. To see colors, we need various types of cones, which can detect different wavelengths of light. We have three types of cones, which gives us the possibility to register what we call the whole range of color vision.

Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara tested in the late 1980s the color vision of dogs. Their studies confirm that dogs see color, though not as well differentiated as humans do. For us, the rainbow looks violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow, orange and red. For a dog, we presume it looks dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, darker yellow, and very dark gray. They seem to see violet as blue (like many humans).

 

DogColors5

 

Studies performed by Russian scientists demonstrated that dogs tend to discriminate real color rather than brightness cues. Dogs have a dichromatic color vision, which means that they have two types of cones in their eyes. They match any color they register with no more than two pure spectral lights. Placental mammals are in general dichromatic. The ability to see long wavelengths necessary to distinguish red from green seems to have disappeared during evolution, probably after the Triassic period. Dichromatic vision is, though, good to distinguish colors in dim light, favoring the most nocturnal animals.

Trichromats, like most humans, have three color-detecting cones (blue, green and red) and can distinguish between 100 different gradations of color. Honeybees are also trichromatic seeing ultraviolet, blue and green instead of blue, green and red.

 

Dog color vision.

Human = A and C. Dog = B and D. It is difficult for the dog to discriminate between red and green.

 

The term color blind is, therefore, somehow misleading. Some animals developed the ability to see some colors and others to see other colors all depending on what mutations appeared and the subsequent costs and benefits each strategy implied for their struggle for survival.

What does this mean for our communication and training of our dogs? Since dogs find it difficult to distinguish between certain reds and greens (like some humans do), we should choose toys and training aids in other colors. For example, light blue or yellow are much easier colors for a dog to detect. On the other side, when training them in any scent detection discipline, we should use colors for the targets that are difficult for them to see so to compel them to use their noses and not their eyes.

References

Kasparson, A. et al. 2013. Colour cues proved to be more informative for dogs than brightness. Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Neitz, J. et al. 1989. Color Vision in the Dog. In Visual Neuroscience, 3, 119-125. Cambridge University Press.

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Are You Bonding Properly with Your Dog?

Guinea Pig and Dog (photo by Mark Taylor).

Guinea Pig and Dog (photo by Mark Taylor).

Guinea pig camp starting tomorrow, Michael and Natalie of Ready, Sit, Go are busy with the last preparations, but there’s always time for a nice dinner and a couple of hours around the pool table. Fantasia on San Fernando in Burbank is my favorite pool hall and sports bar in the area. It has a relaxed atmosphere, a diversity of clients, good Brunswick 9-foot tables and Guinness on draught.

Pool is a great game. It requires technique, strategy, mind, skill, and it is a social activity. You play, talk, crack a joke or pick up a serious topic, and you have a good time with your mates (= buddies in the US).

Thinking about my blog for today, I asked Michael, “What should I write about?”

“Bonding,” he answered, “bonding in dogs”—and so bonding it is.

Bonding in animal behavior is a biological process in which individuals of the same or different species develop a connection. The function of bonding is to facilitate co-operation.

Cat and rabbit (photo by Mark Taylor).

Cat and rabbit (photo by Mark Taylor).

Parents and offspring develop strong bonds so that the former take care of the latter and the latter accept the teachings of the former. This serves both parties best. As a result of filial bonding, offspring and parents or foster parents develop an attachment. This attachment ceases to be important once the juvenile reaches adulthood, but may have long-term effects upon subsequent social behavior. Among domestic dogs, for example, there is a sensitive period from the third to the tenth week of age, during which normal contacts develop. If a puppy grows up in isolation beyond about fourteen weeks of age, it will not develop normal relationships.

Males and females of social species develop strong bonds during courtship motivating them to care for their progeny, so they increase their chances of the survival of 50% of their genes.

Social animals develop bonds by living together and having to fend for their survival day after day. Grooming, playing, mutual feeding, all have a relevant role in bonding. Intense experiences do too. Between adults, surviving moments of danger together seems to be strongly bonding.

Rabbit and kitten (photo by Mark Taylor).

Rabbit and kitten (photo by Mark Taylor).

Bonding behavior like grooming and feeding seems to release neurotransmitters (e.g., oxytocin), which lowers innate defensiveness, increasing the chances of bonding.

We often mention bonding together with imprinting. Even though imprinting is bonding, not all bonding is imprinting. Imprinting describes any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior. Some animals appear to be preprogrammed to learn about certain aspects of the environment during particular sensitive phases of their development. The learning is pre-programmed in the sense that it will occur without any obvious reinforcement or punishment.

Our dogs in our domestic environments develop bonds in various ways. Grooming, resting with each other, barking together, playing and chasing intruders are strong bonding behaviors. Their bonding behavior is by no means restricted to individuals of their own species. They bond with the family cat as well and with us, humans.

Bonding is a natural process that will inevitably happen when individuals share responsibilities. Looking into one another’s eyes is only bonding for a while, but surviving together may be bonding for lifetime—and this applies to all social animals, dogs and humans included.

We develop stronger bonds with our dogs by doing things together rather than by just sitting and petting them. These days, we are so afraid of anything remotely connected with stress that we forget the strongest bonds ever originate under times of intense experiences. A little stress doesn’t harm anyone, quite the contrary. I see it every time I train canine scent detection. The easier it is, the quickest it will be forgotten. A tough nut to crack, on the other hand, is an everlasting memory binding the parties to one another.

I even suspect one of the reasons we have so many divorces these days is that we want everything to be easy and oh so pleasant that in the end, there’s nothing holding the two together—but that’s another story for maybe another time. Meanwhile, ponder and enjoy the photos from the great animal photographer Mark Taylor.

Guinea pig camp tomorrow—time to bond with these loving little creatures.

 

"Ethology" by Roger Abrantes

If animal behavior fascinates you, you will enjoy "Ethology—The Study of Animal Behavior in the Natural Environment," the book and course by ethologist Roger Abrantes.
Enrolling for this course puts you in direct contact with the author to whom you can pose any question while you complete your coursework. Click here to read more and enroll.

How to Avoid Problems with Children and Dogs

Children are good dog trainers.

Children are good dog trainers if we instruct them properly (picture from “My First Dog Book” from 1997 by Roger Abrantes).

 

Too many misunderstandings between child and dog end tragically with the dog biting the child. Usually, the dog is rehomed or destroyed. The child may retain physical or emotional scars for the rest of his or her life.

We must take any problem between children and dogs extremely seriously. Best of all, we should set preventative measures into action before accidents happen. Allow me to be blunt: when a dog bites a child, it is always the adults’ responsibility. If a child and a dog misunderstand each other so blatantly, it is because we (adults) have failed. We haven’t been good enough in explaining to the child how dogs understand our behavior; and we have been irresponsible dog owners, as we should have taught our dogs to respect a child always and unconditionally. Subsequent apologies and explanations are useless.

A child must never pay the price for her parents’ ignorance and the dog owners’ negligence—nor must a dog. Period.

Even if you are not a parent, and you are not planning to be, you must teach your dog to accept children and to behave properly in their presence. We should regard every child as our own, our priority to protect them all. A bitten child is a mark of shame for all of us, dog owners.

Playing safe is the best advice I’d give you. Be particularly attentive at the following potentially dangerous situations:

Daniel and Rassi doing scent detection in 1997.

Daniel and Rassi doing scent detection in 1997. Scent detection games are excellent to teach children and dogs to work together.

  • The dog must never be allowed to pick up the child’s toys in its mouth. If this happens, instruct the child not to attempt to take the toy from the dog, but to tell you, or another adult.
  • Do not allow dog and child to play rough games where unforeseen consequences are unavoidable.
  • Instruct the child not to run in the dog’s presence, as this is liable to encourage the dog to chase the child.
  • Discourage all attempts by the dog to jump up at the child, as this scares most children.
  • Do not allow child and dog to sleep together. We never know what might suddenly frighten one or the other and trigger an accident. It can also contribute to the development of an allergic response from the child.
  • Do not feed dog and child together. The vicinity of food is a factor likely to trigger increased vigilance in some dogs and may result in unfortunate accidents.
  • Instruct the child about the fundamental principles of understanding the dog so that teasing, or cruelty, is not an option.

 

My First Dog Book

“My First Dog Book” published in Danish in 1997, the book I wrote with the children, for the children.

Always show respect for all life. It is my experience (and supported by various studies) that children reflect their parents’ attitudes to a surprisingly high degree.

Children can be extraordinarily good at understanding and training dogs if we teach them well. Classes I taught at the Ethology Institute in the 1990s showed that children are significantly quicker than adults in teaching dogs new tricks. They are also better at reinforcing desired behavior—more spontaneous, more precise and much less inhibited.

In 1997, I wrote a book, “My First Dog Book,” with eight children, aged seven to 14. I instructed them for half a year. They were amazing: not only were they great dog trainers, but they also kind of co-wrote the book with me, checking all chapters, one by one, even correcting typos. What impressed me most was that they knew how to have fun and how to put it into perspective. Not one ever got mad at the dog for not performing as expected. At the end of each day, we all sat on the grass, sharing our snack packs with one another and the dogs (breaking one of my rules), giggling, being silly and enjoying life.

Should children be allowed to train their dogs? Definitely yes, if you ask me. It is our duty to teach them to co-habit peacefully, to create opportunities for them to learn and to enjoy life together.

Except for Daniel, my son, I lost contact with my children of 97: Mariam, Nursel, Barbra, Anna, Maja, Selma, and Christina. Wherever you are now, I wish you are happy, and I send you a big hug.

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Do You Like Canine Scent Detection?

Our new Canine Scent Detection Course consists of two parts or two lessons: lesson 1 theory, which you can take online, and lesson 2 practice, which you can take by attending one of my workshops. Chances are you’ll find a convenient location, for we are planning three in the USA, three in Europe, two/three in Australia/New Zealand and one in Mexico. Please, visit our Facebook page regularly for more news.

For more info and a video clips from our canine scent detection workshops, please, go to the course page. The workshops run typically over three days with most teams passing the double blind test on Sunday afternoon. Watch the videos and you’ll be surprised with what we achieve in only three days.

 

Nosework in 1984

Illustration by Alice Rasmussen for my book from 1984 where I write that næsearbejde (= nose work) is not only for the professionals but for all companion dogs as well independently of the breed.

 

Scent detection has fascinated me since my early days as a student of biology and I was training detection animals already at the beginning of the 1980s. I have trained dogs, rats and guinea pigs to detect narcotics, explosives, blood, vinyl, fungus, landmines, tuberculosis, tobacco—and they excelled in all fields.

Almost all my detection work has been for the police, armed forces or other professional agencies. Yet, I wrote about scent detection in the beginning of the 1980s in my first book, “Psychology rather than Power,” which was published in Danish. Back in 1984, I called it “nose work” (directly translated from the Danish = næsearbejde). I recommended all dog owners to stimulate their dogs by giving them detection work starting with their daily rations. We even did some research on that and the results were extremely positive: the dogs stimulated by means of detection work showed improvement in many aspects of their otherwise problematic behavior. My recommendation remains the same. Physical exercise is, of course, necessary, but do not forget to stimulate your dog’s “nose” as well, maybe its primary source of information about its world.

 

Roger Abrantes in 1984 with a Siberian Husky.

Yours truly in 1984 with a Siberian Husky, an “untrainable” dog, as everybody used to say. This was when my book “Psychology rather than Power” created a stir. We were then right at the beginning of the animal training revolution.

 

I write this blog 30 days after I started. 30 days, 30 blogs, 75, 764 readers and 187,756 page views. Yes, I’ll continue blogging as long as you keep clicking that magic button “like”— my reinforcer.

I won’t hold you any longer. I know you want to go and click the course link to watch the movies. Enjoy!

PS—Please, don’t click all at the same time. Our server has been boiling since last week.

 

Roger Abrantes

Canine Scent Detection

Dog Sniffing Bag

Take the theory online and the practice attending a workshop. Follow your passion, learn and have fun. Enroll now.

Scent Detection Cover
Scent Detection Page.

The Importance of Confidence in Animal Training

Confidence comes with success and success comes when you are confident—believe in yourself.

More often than you might realize, your animal training, independently of species, does not succeed because you don’t believe it will. Doubting yourself, your abilities, or the outcome of your behavior has an impact on those with whom you communicate.

Dogs, horses, cats, guinea pigs, just to mention a few, are experts in reading your body language. They will detect the slightest hint of doubt. If you don’t know or aren’t sure of what you want or what you’re doing, how do you want the animal to feel safe by following your instructions?

Here’s your plan of action: work it all out first and then do it believing fully that you will succeed. Don’t worry about the animal. Control yourself and your emotions. If you’re good, it will end up good.

“What if I don’t succeed, anyway?” you may now ask.

Tough luck, sometimes it does not work! In that case, return to square one, re-think your plan and go for it once more—and, as always, believing in yourself and that you’ll succeed.

Enjoy your training—but, first and foremost, enjoy spending time with another living creature.

"Relax, enjoy, believe in yourself" from the movie "Confidence" by Roger Abrantes.

“Relax, enjoy, believe in yourself” from the movie “Confidence” by Roger Abrantes.

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Register now for free and take a course at your own pace. With knowledge comes confidence.

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Dogs Are Better Trainers than We Are

Dogs are better trainers than we are.

Dogs are better trainers than we are.

Dogs are better trainers than we are. They don’t know anything about learning theory but get along perfectly well with whom they want, don’t get too upset with a growl, over confident with a yes, depressed with a no, they make us pay them expensive food and medical care, get up early and go late to bed so they can go sniffing other dogs’ urine; and all that just because they sit, stand, drop and look silly at us when we ask them so.

I remember, when I was a young student, listening to Professor Lorenz telling us that dogs were better ethologists than we were because they paid more attention to our body language than we did ourselves. That stuck… and still does.

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Earn your Diploma in Animal Behavior and Training paying your fees in monthly installments
CPDT: EUR 110 — CACE: EUR 132 — CAAE: EUR 214
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