Unlike human babies, puppies are born "blind" with their eyelids tightly closed and sealed. Over the course of their development, their eyes open and their vision improves. By the time it is ready to leave its mother, a puppy's eyesight approaches what it will be like during its adult life.
Puppies Are Born Blind
Dogs, like the wolves they descended from, are predators. And like wolves, dogs give birth to offspring with eyes and ears that are sealed. Sealed eyes and ears are an evolutionary trait—short pregnancies allow the puppies' mothers to get back out and hunt more quickly. During puppies' first two weeks of life, their nervous system completely forms, they become able to adapt to their environment's temperature and their eyes and ears continue to develop.
The first improvement in puppies' eyesight comes when their eyes open for the first time, usually between the ages of 10 and 14 days. When their eyes first open, puppies can see light and movement. However, they lack the ability to see details, since their corneas have not completely developed. Neither have their irises developed their (typically) brown pigment. All puppies have bluish eyes for this reason.
As puppies grow and develop, their eyesight continues to develop as well. However, the most noticeable improvement next comes when they reach 4 or 5 weeks of age. During this transitional period, visual development is rapid. Puppies begin to explore and learn about their world at this age. They also learn about their siblings and their mothers or other dogs as they begin social play.
By the time puppies reach about 7 weeks of age, their eyesight is fully developed. Barring illness, injury or congenital issues that develop over time, their eyesight has developed to what it should be in adulthood. Although their vision has improved significantly from newborn puppyhood, they still possess limited binocular vision due to the shape of their heads and have limited color perception compared to human beings. While dogs see motion, even quick movements, much better than human beings do, they may also lose sight of something when it is still.
By Jo Chester
RetrieverPro: Health: Dog Eye Problems
DogTime.com: Stages of Puppy Development
Diamond in the Ruff: Developmental Stages & Socialization
Psychology Today: Canine Corner: How Good Is a Dog's Visual Acuity Compared to That of People?
Ipohvet.com: GOH Animal Clinic & Surgery: Anatomy of a Dog Eye
About the Author
Jo Chester holds a certificate in pet dog training from Triple Crown Academy for Dog Trainers. She has trained dogs for competition in conformation, Rally and traditional obedience and agility. Chester has two goats, chickens, rabbits, a collie and a pet rat, in addition to several much-loved Toy Fox Terriers.