Virtually all dog breeds (apart from some hairless dogs like the Mexican Hairless Dog) have whiskers around their muzzles, and sometimes around their eyes as well, and this is such a pervasive canine fact that it is something that people rarely think about too much, being as it is just a regular part of the appearance of dogs.
But if you have ever wondered why dogs have whiskers or if they actually serve any purpose, you might find yourself surprised at the role that they actually play, and the various different roles that they fulfil, which makes sense when you think about the fact that evolutionary traits remain or are phased out for a reason!
In this article, we will look at the whiskers of the dog in more detail, covering issues such as what whiskers actually are, and why dogs have them. Read on to learn more!
Many people assume that whiskers are simply coarse hairs, bit this is not actually true-the technical term for whiskers is “vibrissae,” and vibrissae are not constructed in the same way as hair or fur, and do not perform the same role.
Fur or hair is designed to insulate, retain heat or protect from heat and protect the delicate skin of the body, while whiskers do not do the same thing at all, and in fact, fulfil a very different role altogether.
While hair or fur does not respond to stimulus in itself, and your dog will only feel contact with their fur or hair if the movement stimulates the skin too, whiskers connect to the dog’s central nervous system via the follicles that they grow from, which are very sensitive and allow the dog to feel contact with even the very ends of their whiskers when felt very lightly.
Contact with the whiskers send a sensory trigger back to the dog’s brain, and this in turn allows your dog’s whiskers to fulfil a range of important roles for them.
All dog breeds that have whiskers have the same sort of whiskers, and wherever they grow on the dog (around the muzzle, eyes and chin) they are constructed in the same way, and provide the same sensory input to the dog. The only thing that tends to differ from case to case is how sparse or dense the whiskers are, where on the face they grow, and how long they are.
It’s a good idea to begin by learning the basic information above regarding what whiskers are and how they behave, as this can help to give you an insight into the roles that they fulfil for dogs and how, but what do whiskers actually do?
Ultimately, quite a lot of different things! Because the whiskers of the dog are sensitive, they perform a role in the same way as the dog’s other senses do, by providing input to the brain that tells the dog something important.
It is well known that cats use their whiskers to judge distance, spatial awareness and depth by using the ends of their whiskers to test for space, and the whiskers of dogs fulfil a similar role as well. The sensory input from whiskers can help dogs to navigate in poor light or cluttered environments, as well as giving them guidance in other things such as swimming-a dog will judge how high above the water they should keep their heads by means of their whiskers’ contact with the water!
It is also thought that whiskers can tell dogs a lot of much more subtle things as well, such as the wind direction, and even potentially an upcoming change in the weather, as they are sensitive enough to be able to pick up on small changes in air pressure that accompany a change in conditions.
The sometimes long whiskers that dogs may have around their eyes also help to protect the eyes from dirt and debris, and this function is thought to be especially important in breeds with prominent eyes such as the pug-the whiskers around the eyes form as an additional line of defence against airborne particles, and can let the dog know if their faces are getting too close to something.
Whiskers may also be used as part of canine communication too; a dog that is alert and on point will likely have stiff whiskers that are almost quivering with anticipation, and the position and stance of the whiskers can indicate how the dog is feeling too, such as if they are pricked up and pointed forwards in greeting or dominance.
They may also play a role in how and what dogs scavenge and eat, because when a dog drops their head to a food bowl or something else, the whiskers are the first part of the body that will come into contact with it, and this can help to tell the dog about the temperature and texture of what is in front of them too!