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Why Do Dogs have Whiskers?

A dog's body is mostly evenly covered with a lot of hair (and we are not talking about hairless dogs such as Chinese Crested), but do you know, not all hair strands are same on a canine's body? Some have a different texture, length, and even function and in this article, we are going to be discussing about those hair strands only that are highly useful for a canine on a day to day basis.

What are Whiskers?

Apart from normal hair or coat of a pooch, there are a few distinct hair strands that are mostly situated on a dog's muzzle, above his eyes or sometimes on his chin. These hair strands are a lot stiffer, coarser, thicker and mostly longer (if we talk about short-coated breeds) than a regular canine coat and are known as Whiskers. The technical term for Whiskers is "Vibrissae" which is believed to be derived from a Latin word "vibrio" which translates to "to vibrate".

Why Do Dogs have Whiskers?

Before answering this question, we should first answer a very common question, Do all dogs have whiskers? Apart from some hairless breeds which may not have whiskers, all dog breeds have these thicker strands of hair in their facial region. The number and location of these whiskers might differ in some breeds but the actual function is always the same for all the breeds.

But What is the purpose of Whiskers on a dog's body? Whiskers are present on dogs' bodies not just to enhance their facial features but they have also proven to be extremely useful for the canines in terms of sensing nearby things. It is a well-known fact that dogs have an awesome sense of smell and hearing, but that is not true for their vision as well. A dog's eyesight is fairly average (they are good at seeing far-away objects but when it comes to nearby things, they tend to struggle a bit) and Whiskers or Vibrissae help the dogs to feel what is near to them and in this way, these stiff hair strands protect the pooch from inadvertently bumping into surrounding things such as walls, furniture et cetera.

How Do Whiskers work?

A dog's whiskers are set into the skin three times deeper than the normal hair strands. These whiskers originate from hair follicles just like the normal hair, but what makes them unique is the fact that the hair follicles from which the Whiskers erupt are rich in blood vessels and neurons or nerve cells. Whenever a canine sense anything through his whiskers or his whiskers touch any objects or they are moved by air currents (yes! A dog's whiskers can also sense slight changes in the air currents), these hair strands, being extremely sensitive in nature, starts to vibrate and the numerous nerve cells that are situated in the hair follicles get stimulated. Neurons then send a signal to the brain that there is something close or near to the canine's face and in this way, dog whiskers help the canine to avoid getting hit by whatever is in front of him.

What are the Uses of Dog Whiskers?

Whiskers are basically, sensory devices for the dogs that help in improving their sense of vision and avoid any kind of bumping and hitting into nearby objects. There are several uses of whiskers that we can list here, but some of the most common and famous ones are:

  1. A dog's vision is at a disadvantage during the night time or when it's dark. During that time, his whiskers allow him to sense (and thereby, see) what is near to him.
  2. If a dog is roaming in a bushy area and his whiskers are brushed up by dirt, leaves, grass or a stick, then because the nerve cells will immediately send this information to the canine's brain, he will instantaneously close his eyes and will probably move his face away from the bushes.
  3. Whiskers also tell a dog about the size, speed, and shape of nearby objects. They are so sensitive in nature that whenever they start to vibrate, they can collect so much information and then send it to the brain for taking the right action. This helps the dog not get stuck in between the furniture or under the bed or get hit by a wall.
  4. Whiskers are also used to emote feelings by a dog. A canine's eye whiskers are mostly elevated whenever he's feeling happy or joyful. Also, he will flair his muzzle whiskers (in the forward direction) whenever he is being aggressive or he feels threatened by something.

How to care for Dogs' Whiskers?

Now that you have learned that these Whiskers are so useful and important for your pooches, you should try to protect and properly care for them so that your dog's sensory powers remain fully functional. Although whiskers are known to naturally shed off of a dog's face (and then they again start to grow again, if you are wondering "do dog whiskers grow back?") you should never pull or pluck them off your dog's face. Also, you might be thinking whenever you are taking your pooch to a groomer, can you cut a dog's whiskers? Then the answer is Yes, you can cut a dog's whiskers and it is not even painful to a dog as whiskers don't have pain receptors in them. But the main question that should be on your mind is should you cut a dog's whiskers? And the simple answer to that question is NO. Whiskers are so useful and advantageous for a canine that cutting them will be like removing "spidey sense" from Spiderman. Your canine may even feel a bit confused and his awareness power may also get decreased if his Whiskers are removed and where's the fun in that! Hence it is very important to properly care for these stiff and thick strands of hair as they contribute towards the overall sensory experience of your dog.