Colour Depends On Who’s Looking

For the last two or three years it’s been fascinating to see lures around the nation progressively change colour from white or mousey to a very common pink.

There was no obvious plan or announcement about this momentous move – it just happened. Well, that’s all terrific and no harm is done. But I don’t think they asked the dogs.

Unfortunately dogs are not great at colours, particularly not red. There are probably a hundred sources around the world for this information – from veterinary experts and others – and there is not 100% agreement on the detail. That aside, here’s a comment from Answers.com that fairly well summarises the subject.

“Dogs are not color blind – they see color, but their chromatic acuity is significantly less than humans’. This is for two reasons: (1) dogs have far fewer cone cells in their retina (cone cells are responsible for seeing color); and (2) dogs are dichromatic (they see only two primary colors – blue and yellow) whereas humans are trichromatic, meaning we see three primary colors – red, blue, and yellow.“

So, red, pink, white or whatever, it probably makes little difference to the dogs. They can spot a moving lure very well, but the colour does not matter. The humans like the pink, though.

Maybe rug colours were organised the same way.

Casual checks of other SKY viewers as well as personal experience reveal two sets of confusing clashes. Both blue/green and red/pink can often be difficult to tell apart. Mistakes are often made. It depends on the circumstances.

If these colours are together, or right in front of you, they are not a problem. If they are apart, or in the back straight, or the camera angle is flat, or if it is raining, or the lights aren’t great, or the sun is shining in the wrong direction, or they are partly obscured, then they can confuse you. And remember, there is only a fleeting moment to find them.

Whether this is due to the shades used in the materials or to external factors like lighting is uncertain. In the end, selecting colours is a highly scientific job, especially in a commercial environment. It is affected by the viewers’ perceptions, too, as some are better equipped than others.

For example, here are some comments from Firelily Designs, a US firm which does a lot of work on web pages:

“Do not assume that your users have normal color perception. Many will not; many more than you assume. Color perception problems are more wide-spread than people think, and have more causes and variations. As many as one male in twelve may be affected to some degree.”

Presumably, aging or myopic eyes would have some trouble as well.

A related issue is the mix of rug colours and those of the dogs wearing them. Consequently, white, black and white, or black rugs will disappear on dogs of similar colouring. At a distance, the light colouring of the (9) rug can appear similar to the (2) and (3). For similar reasons, the old brown rug (6) was discontinued because dark coloured dogs and the presence of the nearby black rug were too confusing. In the rain, the mix was hopeless.

And way back in time the (9) rug had green spots, not green stripes. I am not sure which was better. Maybe the spots.

The underlying principle here has been recognised by some thoroughbred people as they have just started increasing the size of the number on the saddlecloth to make it easier to pick out. Regular racegoers are familiar with jockeys’ colours but casual fans are not, and they are by far the majority. Hence the attention to numbers.

One idea that would solve the greyhound problem in a flash is to turn the green and pink into Dayglo colours. That may well be more expensive but it would look marvellous. Dayglo yellow has been used in whippet races and it worked brilliantly.

Ideally, authorities should commission an experienced colour consultant to assess all the factors and offer recommendations. Currently, material manufacturers appear to be the only people involved in this process. Yet, while they would no doubt be good at clothing, they are not qualified to assess the large range of technical matters involved in the human interaction with a racetrack environment or a TV monitor.

The greyhound industry is notoriously slow at asking customers what they think. This would be a good time to survey them.

The table below shows rug colours used in other parts of the world (note that England has only 6 runners). Note that only Australia uses pink.

Box UK US Australia/NZ
1. Red Red Red
2. Blue Blue Black/White Checks
3. White White White
4. Black Black Blue
5. Orange Green Yellow
6. Black/White Stripes Yellow Green
7. Green Green/White Black
8. Yellow/Black Yellow/Black Pink