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What do dogs see when being trained to retrieve?

Fran Ardley sheds some light on what your dogs can see as you train them to retrieve efficiently

What dogs see, hear and smell

A dog's eyes see colour differently to us

A dog’s eyesight is far better than ours, especially where movement and contrast is concerned. It is useful to know and understand how a dog sees colour as we can use this to our advantage in training.

how dogs see colour

How dogs see colour

Dogs see colour in a very different way to humans and when teaching a dog to mark it can really help in the early stages if you have an idea of how dogs perceive colour, movement and contrast.


training gundogs

A dog can see changes in contrast well

A dog’s colour definition is totally different to ours. For example, they see red or orange as a muddy brown colour, and they see green as dark yellow. So, imagine if you are throwing a green or orange dummy against a backdrop of trees. In such circumstances, to the dog the dummy will all but disappear.

dog with purple dummy

Dogs see purple or blue really well so try using these colours

In contrast, dogs see blue and purples really well so it is worth considering using these colours of dummy, particularly in the early stages of a dog’s training. Remember, initially we are trying to make things as easy as possible so we can build up its confidence.

Gundog training

Understanding a dog’s senses will help with training

Dogs are also very good at picking up contrast such as light and dark, black and white. This is another important aspect of a dog’s visual arsenal. A black-and-white dummy thrown out along the ground when a dog is hunting can be a very tempting distraction. Rabbits can be a downfall for many dogs, especially spaniels. In fact, when you think about it, they are the ultimate distraction. They run (movement) and they have a white tail that flashes against a dark body (contrast). Armed with this knowledge we can use dummies that are black and white or blue and white to help the dogs in the initial stages of developing their marking skills.

dog with rabbit

Rabbits are a big distraction for dogs

Another factor to consider is how acute a dog’s hearing is and how it can be developed when teaching it to mark. Ultimately we need our gundogs to use all their instincts of sight, scent and hearing to play a part when on a retrieve. Imagine you are picking-up in a wood and birds are being shot and falling through the trees. Quite often the dog won’t see the bird but will hear the fall. We can help to develop this skill by training for such eventualities.