Dog whiskers–they aren’t just there to beautifully accent your dog’s snout or to cover a larger area to drip water after they drink. So why do dogs have whiskers? There are people who think their dog’s whiskers serve no purpose and actually get them cut off at the groomers. Before you go and make an uneducated decision, educate yourself! Let’s dive into what dog whiskers are and why dogs have whiskers to understand our beautiful pups just that much more.
What Are Dog Whiskers?
Whiskers (also referred to as vibrissae) on dogs develop from hair follicles like their other hairs, but have differences that set them apart. These hairs are some of the first to develop on a puppy. Since whiskers are hair, they are made of the protein keratin. The whiskers on a dog are thicker, courser, and have roots three times deeper than their regular hair. A dog’s whiskers are located above their eyes, on their chin, and above the upper lip. The whiskers are dogs are located here to help them with spacial navigation since dogs essentially move with their face. There may be some variances here depending on their breed.
A dog’s whiskers are more sensitive than their regular hair. They can respond even to small changes in air currents. The follicles from whiskers contain nerve fiber and blood vessels which send sensory information to their brain. Their whiskers can also move and will often go towards the dog’s focal area of sniffing and interest.
Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?
There are many benefits of dog’s having whiskers. Let’s dive into the main reasons why dogs have whiskers.
Whiskers help dogs navigate their world
A dog’s whiskers help guide them through their daily activities. They send data to sensory cells as they detect objects and movement. This sensory equipment they have allows dogs to understand information about the shape, size, and speed of these objects.
Whiskers improve a dog’s sight
Dogs do not see so well through their eyes with up close objects. So their whiskers help them see things up close by sending this constant wave of information to their brain. As a dog approaches something up close, their whiskers are able to detect small vibrations caused by changes in air currents in relation to the object. Additionally, dogs are able to use this ability to help navigate through night or darkness.
Dogs have excellent long-distance vision and are very quick to pick up movement and detect lameness, which has helped them hunt. Dogs can see best in the lower light levels of dawn or dusk. Since they do not have the best close vision, dogs rely mainly on their scent and touch through their whiskers to investigate close objects.
Your dog uses their whiskers to communicate emotions
Yup, your dog’s whiskers can move depending on how they feel! A curious or happy pup elevates their whiskers above their eyes – think the ‘puppy dog eyes’ stare that you swear you won’t give into, but you do. If your dog feels threatened, their whiskers will directly lean forward towards the threat. So in addition to other characteristics you use to understand your dog’s temperament (i.e. tail, mouth, or body language) their whiskers can also help you understand how they feel.
Whiskers help to protect your dog
Because dogs whiskers are so sensitive, they will immediately feel any type of dust or particle that comes in contact with them. They will then use their body to get the object away. This protects their eyes. Therefore, their whiskers are an early warning device that something is near their face and helps your dog from colliding into objects that could hurt them.
When they are walking outside and come close to something like a sharp bush, their whiskers will alert them to back off so their eyes and body will be protected. Dogs can also use their whiskers to determine if they will fit through a fence or small area (think sofa) so they are less likely to attempt something they cannot do. This helps to keep them safe.
Should I Ever Cut My Dog’s Whiskers?
Whiskers help to protect your pup, so it is not advised to take this layer of protection away from your dog. Even when you are petting or playing with your dog, make sure you aren’t pulling on their whiskers, since this can be painful. When having your dog groomed, make sure you are avoiding having their whiskers cut.
Dogs whose whiskers have been removed will be more uncertain in dim light, and they will move more slowly since their spacial awareness has been taken away. Some groomers may trim them solely for looks, so make sure you are telling whoever is grooming your dog to not touch or trim their whiskers!
Do Whiskers Grow Back On My Dog?
Let’s say you weren’t aware of the harm that can be caused by trimming or removing your dogs whiskers. Don’t fret. Their whiskers will grow back. Whiskers (or vibrissae) shed naturally, just like other types of hair. Your pup will grow them back and when they do, you know to leave their whiskers alone.
Learn more about your dog’s body language by understanding their tail language here.