We all love our pets, from the biggest dogs to the tiniest hamsters. They inspire and amaze us with their crazy antics and incredible abilities. In the classroom, students can delve into their interest in pets and other animals with high-interest activities that explore the science of how and why our pets behave the way they do. In this activity, students will conduct an experiment to see if dogs can tell the difference between colors.
Can Dogs See Color?
To start, learn as a class about how dogs see by reading through Inside of a Dog, Young Readers Edition: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz and Dog Science Unleashed by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen.
Inside of a Dog, Young Readers Edition: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz, illustrated by Sean Vidal Edgerton
This young readers’ edition of the popular adult nonfiction book gives children a glimpse into understanding a dog’s behavior. A great book for budding animal cognition scientists and dog trainers.
To introduce this activity, explain to students how in animals, including humans, the eye and brain work together to translate light into color. Light receptors in the eye send messages to the brain. The brain processes this information and tells us the color we see. In the human eye, there are three types of color receptors called cone cells. Cone cells detect red, blue, and greenish yellow. Together, these cone cells allow us to see the full spectrum of colors.
What about dogs? What colors, if any, can they see? Unlike humans, dogs have only two types of cone cells which detect greenish blue and yellow. Explain to students that they will perform an experiment to test a dog’s ability to see color.
• Construction paper in different colors – red, green, and blue
• Two glass jars or cups of the same size
• Dog treats
Because most schools do not allow pets in class, explain to students that they will be conducting fieldwork at home and then analyzing their results as a class. You may assign students to small groups so that every group has a dog for fieldwork. Explain to students the procedures that they will follow at home to conduct their fieldwork.
1. To begin, students will cover each jar with one color of construction paper.
2. With the dog out of the room, place the blue and red jars on the floor. Bring the dog into the room and tell him to come. When the dog comes to the blue jar, give him a treat. If he goes to the red jar, do not give him a treat. Repeat the process several times and switch the position of the jars. Continue to give the dog a treat every time he chooses the blue jar over the red jar.
3. Take the dog out of the room. Add the green jar to the red and blue jars. Call the dog into the room and tell him to come. Which jar did the dog choose? Continue to give him treats for choosing the blue jar. Repeat 10 times, moving the positions of the jars each time. How many times did the dog choose the blue jar? Record the results.
Back in the Classroom
Have students organize the results of their fieldwork. They can create graphs, charts, or other visual displays of their data. Have each group present their data and discuss their results.
To encourage classroom discussion, have students discuss the following questions:
1. Based on the data, do you think dogs can see color? Which color(s)? How do your results support your answer?
2. Did the breed of dog affect the results? Why or why not?
3. Did any other factors affect your fieldwork and results? How?
4. What other experiment could you design to test if dogs can see color?
Need more ideas for teaching middle-school students about pets and other animals? Check out these resources:
- Science News for Students, Cool Jobs: Pet Science
Read about how scientists are studying pets on this online science news publication site run by the Society for Science and the Public. It includes a glossary of “Power Words,” links for further reading, and a downloadable word find worksheet.
- BioEd Online, Science Teacher Resources from Baylor College of Medicine
This video presentation introduces students to the study of animal behavior. Students will learn that behavior encompasses anything an animal does from how it interacts with its environment and other organisms. Students will also learn about how genetic and environmental factors affect animal behavior and actions. http://www.bioedonline.org/videos/content-presentations/animals-form-and-function/introduction-to-animal-behavior/
Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com