If you have ever wondered what goes on in a dog’s head, you’re not alone. A dog’s perspective can sometimes seem baffling to us. What makes them happy? Why are they so scared of thunder? How did they see that rabbit and why must they chase it? Read on to find out more about how dogs see the world, and how your care can help meet their needs.
How do dogs see the world?
To begin with, it is important to understand that dogs use different tools from us to understand the world. They have the same senses of taste, hearing, smell, sight and touch, but these senses have different levels of importance for them.
Senses are incredibly important to living beings, as they define how we interact and understand the world around us. Touch, for example, tells us who and what is in our environment. Smell lets us know if something has become rotten or is good to eat. Hearing can warn us of danger, and sight gives us vision to understand the space and objects around us.
In humans, sight can be considered the most used sense; people often tend to believe what they see! In dogs, however, senses are ranked differently.
If you have ever asked yourself ‘how do dogs see the world?’, the short answer is: not very clearly. Compared to human beings, dogs have far poorer vision. This means that what they see is often hazy.
In addition, dogs cannot see certain colours. It was once believed that dogs see the world in black and white, but that is not true. Rather, what dogs have is closer to what we call colour blindness in human beings – they struggle to distinguish between certain colours. They especially struggle to see red and green, and see shades of grey instead.
How it affects their care: Your dog’s hazy vision means that they will not be excellent at recognising you at a distance. However, vision is not that important in how dogs see the world; hearing and smell also help them. If your dog is losing their hearing or sense of smell, you may need to be aware of their poor eyesight and guide them appropriately.
Smell is the primary tool that dogs use. Dogs have 220 million olfactory receptors – human beings have only 5 million! Dogs use scent to understand their environment, as well as to recognise humans and other animals.
How it affects their care: Because a dog is so sensitive to odours, they can pick up on things you wouldn’t necessarily notice. They are especially sensitive to new environments, where there are so many scents they have not encountered as yet and that they do not understand. How do dogs see the world? – through their nose! Be patient with your dog if they want to smell everything in a new space. It would be like a human being walking into a new house and looking around.
Their sense of smell also makes them sensitive to our emotions. When we are anxious, sad or upset, our scent may change and a dog can smell this. This is why it is important to remain calm yourself when trying to calm down your dog. If you are not calm, they will know. You cannot fool your dog’s sense of smell!
A dog has an excellent sense of hearing. It is believed they can hear frequencies twice as high as those that can be heard by a human. In fact, the answer to ‘how do dogs see the world?’ should have both smell and hearing ranked extremely high. This sense of hearing makes them better hunters. It also makes them excellent security guards, alerting them of any danger that may be approaching long before they can hear it.
How it affects their care: A dog’s sense of hearing will mean that they are more alert to danger and it can be hard to sneak up on them. However, it also means that they are more sensitive to noise. Fireworks can be especially scary for dogs, as the noise is far louder for them than it is for us and fireworks are unpredictable. Similarly, thunderstorms are also very frightening for them. Do your best to comfort your dog or protect them against these noises.
While dogs do not have good vision, they are more sensitive than us when it comes to movement. This means that they can notice objects moving from far away and are also more aware of any sudden or small movements made around them.
How this affects their care: Your dog’s sensitivity to movement explains why they suddenly seem startled or upset by innocent actions. What may seem slow or relaxed as a movement for you can be very unsettling for your dog. They may interpret it as a sign of danger, especially if you have just welcomed your dog into the family and you two are getting to know each other. Body language becomes very important around dogs and forms an important aspect of how dogs see the world.
Your dog’s sensitivity to movement also triggers their prey drive. Have you wondered why your dog insists on chasings rabbits, cats, cars and bicycles? It is because of this prey drive, which encourages them to hunt. It means they can be easily distracted on walks – especially in somewhere like the woods, with a lot of wildlife. You should be extra aware of this desire to bolt.
A dog’s world is very different from ours. While they may not have excellent vision, dogs have a far superior sense of hearing and smell than human beings. This means that, while we understand our world as a series of images (like a constant film), a dog’s world is defined by scent, sound and movement. Understanding this should help you better care for your favourite pet – and maybe learn to share some of their wonder!