Why Measuring the Color of Dog Toys Matters


Posted on December 21, 2017

“Right here, Charlie! Look here, Charlie!” says Tamiko Manago.1 Charlie is sitting on Santa’s lap, wanting no part in “looking here.” As Manago’s pleas go ignored, the photographer shakes a string of jingle bells. This seasonal call finally catches Charlie’s interest. He looks over, and the photographer captures the scene Manago and her partner, Eric Bouffard, have been hoping for. As for many families, the Santa picture will be featured on Manago and Bouffard’s Christmas card. Unlike most other families, however, the creature sitting on Santa’s lap isn’t a small child, but a 5-year-old terrier mix.

While getting your dog to pose for holiday pictures may have seemed outlandish a few years ago, it’s becoming a common occurrence at regular Santa operations and specialized pet store events alike. The phenomenon casts into stark relief the changing role dogs are playing in the lives of their owners. No longer “just a dog,” dogs have become cherished family members, occupying vital space in both special events and everyday life. This new level of importance is reflected not only in sentiment, but also in monetary terms: Dog toys are taking up an expanded portion of the family budget as owners seek to keep their pets happy, occupied, and loved. For example, approximately 70% of owners will buy their dogs Christmas presents, purchases that will make up a hefty portion of the $1 billion spent on pet toys this year in the United States.2

“We see parents getting toys for their 5-year-old and also toys for their 5-year-old dog,” says Sarah McKinney, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart. “They are definitely adding more to the basket.” And dog toy sales aren’t just keeping pace with children’s toy sales—they’re eclipsing them. As Jim Silver, president of Toys, Tots, Pets & More, explains, “Toys have held steady at about $21 billion on average for the past decade, but the pet industry is growing like crazy.”

While the rapid expansion of the dog toy market is a boon for manufacturers and retailers, many owners aren’t just looking for any dog toy—they’re seeking out toys of the highest quality and greatest appeal. To keep up with these demands, spectrophotometric color measurement is playing an increasingly critical role in dog toy production.

Does the Color of Dog Toys Matter?

Color matters to humans. Virtually every purchasing decision we make—from our clothes to our cars, our cough medicine to our cleaning products—is informed to some extent by color. Of course, it’s no different for dog toys. Some owners stick to a favorite hue when making their selections: more and more, we’re seeing lines of toys released in signature color groups, allowing customers to buy a range of items with identical coloration. Others have practicality in mind, picking colors that will make it easy for them to find the ball in the park, should their dog fail to retrieve it. However, while color may be used initially to attract the human customer, it also plays a role in how the dog interacts with the toy once it has been purchased.

Many people erroneously believe dogs can only see in black and white, thus rendering the color of a toy an irrelevant factor in the dog’s level of interest. However, dogs can see color, just not in the way humans do. While humans have three types of cone cells, allowing us to identify red, yellow, blue, and green wavelengths, dogs have only two types, limiting their color vision to blue and yellow wavelengths. This is similar to people who have red-green color blindness: they can identify blue and yellow, yet can’t accurately perceive other colors—red looks muddy, green and orange look yellowish, and purple appears to be blue. According to Stanley Coren, columnist for the American Kennel Club’s Family Dog:

One amusing or odd fact is that the most popular colors for dog toys today are red or safety orange. However, [they] may appear as a very dark brownish gray or perhaps even a black [to the dog]. That means that bright red dog toy that is so visible to you may often be difficult for your dog to see. That means that when your own pet version of Lassie runs right past the toy that you tossed she may not be stubborn or stupid. It may be your fault for choosing a toy with a color that is hard to discriminate from the green grass of your lawn.3

As such, it’s important to consider the practicality of dog toy colors when making your color selections. If a dog toy will be used outside in grassy areas, blue will be contrasted against the green grass, while a yellow toy will blend in. If you’re creating a toy that will be used for water play, yellow will help the toy be visible against the background of the water. You can also take advantage of color contrasts; using multiple colors—such as blue and yellow or white and red—can make toys stand out from their environments. Keeping these factors in mind can help you develop toys that facilitate play and enjoyment for both the dog and the owner.

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