Who says that dogs can distinguish blue from yellow?
Nowadays we have a great deal of information on how our pets and other animal species perceive the world. ¿But who can assure us that it is so?
The same learning techniques that are used to educate dogs can be used to inquire about how they perceive reality and which sensory abilities they have. If dogs learn to sit when hearing the word “sit” and to lie down when hearing the word “lie”, it means they have the acoustic capabilities that allow them distinguish between the two sounds. If two very similar words are chosen as signals for the exercises to sit and lie, such as “sit down”and“lie down ” respectively, the dog may be confused. The more similar the stimuli, the more difficult it is for the animal to be able to discriminate between them.
Associating different behaviours with different signals is an exercise of discrimination that can be performed with any type of sensory stimulus, from visual to olfactory, from touch to hearing, so that all aspects of animals’ sensory perception can be explored.
The information retrieved from discrimination exercises is complemented with studies on the structure and functioning of the sensory organs. For example, evidence-based training suggests that dogs discriminate between yellow and blueish-purple, and anatomical studies have identified in the retina of dogs two populations of receptors, each specialising in detecting light from a certain colour.
Much remains to be investigated, but these studies as a whole provide an increasingly complete picture of animals’ sensory abilities. This knowledge is essential to understand their response to external factors better and to choose, in training, behaviour commands that animals can easily detect and recognise.