What Are Dog Whiskers For?

by Reena Bakir
dog whiskers

If you’ve ever wondered what purpose the small hairs on your dog’s snout truly serve, you’re not the only one! Dog whiskers aren’t just there to decorate your dog’s face, but in fact they serve a real practical purpose that aids your dog in their day-to-day life!

As humans, our sense of touch is mostly tied to our hands, specifically our fingers, however unlike us, dogs use their whiskers to touch the world around them! However, that’s not the only purpose whiskers serve your dogs. Read more to find out!

What Are ‘Whiskers’?

Also called tactile hairs or vibrissae, whiskers are highly sensitive long hairs that are mainly responsible for your dog’s tactile sensation. They occur around your dog’s muzzle, jaw, chin and forehead and are usually how your dog discovers, understand and interacts with their world and the elements and materials within it.

Unlike cats which are more popularly known for having longer and more organized whiskers, dog whiskers can vary in their placement and pattern around a dog’s face due to many different factors such as breed, age and others.

dog whiskers

As a result of their high sensitivity to the environment, dog whiskers make up for your dog’s lack of strong vision, and in fact allow your dog to see the world more clearly and in deeper detail!

How Does It Work?

Due to their deep roots, which are three times as deep as regular dog hairs, whiskers are connected to skin receptors called Merkell Cells, which are responsible for sending sensory messages to your dog’s brain. The whiskers are stimulated by any affect from the outside world, such as a stir in breeze or brushing against an object, which causes them to vibrate and thus stimulate the nerves and gather important information regarding a dog’s surroundings.

Whiskers can not only help in identifying objects around your dog or in their path, but it also helps them calculate distances, sizes, and whether or not the objects they are approaching are in motion or static. This helps your dog maneuver around their world in a careful and calculated manner, becoming familiar with their surroundings and the creatures, materials and objects present! This perk also helps in your dog exploring in the dark, where their eyesight falls short and they depend on their whiskers to take over.

dog whiskers

Other Functions

Not only are whiskers responsible for sensory tactile interaction with the outside world, but their function can also be linked to a more emotional aspect within your dog. Studies have shown that whiskers can help your dog react to certain situations and emotions, for example a threatened dog will flare up their whiskers and have them pointed in a forwards direction, which can be linked to a defense strategy built instinctively within your dog!

Why It’s Important To Keep Them

Many people may opt to trim or remove dog’s whiskers entirely, usually purely for aesthetic reasons. However, this can be damaging to your canine as it can decrease their awareness of the outside world, leading them to become disoriented and confused. While they don’t necessary feel any pain when the whiskers are cut or plucked, it can greatly disadvantage your dog in their operation and interaction with their surrounding environments!

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