I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked “Why do dogs have whiskers, Napa?” Well, here’s the answer!
Like cats – shudder – most dogs have whiskers. Depending on the breed, some whiskers are short, while others have long whiskers. In fact, a dog’s own genetics will play a role in what they look like. I bet right now you’re imagining the whiskers on a dog’s muzzle. Well, you’re right, those are the main whiskers, but dogs also have whiskers elsewhere. Have you ever noticed the whiskers above your dog’s eyes or even underneath his chin? Many may have a lot, others a little, and some dogs may have none.
Similar to a human’s fingertips, whiskers are packed with nerves. They’re also much thicker and longer than normal fur, and have roots that are set much deeper into a dog’s skin. These whiskers, also called vibrissea, act like “feelers” in some ways for dogs. They alert a dog that something is close to his face. This would be beneficial if a dog walked into a spiderweb – don’t laugh, I’ve done it before – or even worse, if he was about to walk into something. I’m a little scared of spiders, so I felt very grateful for my whiskers that time I walked into the web.
Some people believe that dogs use these feelers to guide where they’ll walk. That would be like wearing a GPS on your face. Personally, I have a great sense of direction, so I don’t use it very often for directions. I do use my whiskers to feel out objects around me, especially when I’m trying to figure out what toy I should play with. Basically, we use the whiskers to be aware of anything near our face, and in emergency we can protect ourselves.
Don’t tell any dogs I told you this, but you can test this all out for yourselves. Gently – that’s the important part – brush your hand against your dog’s whiskers. You’ll notice that he may move his lip area or even squint his eyes. The same would happen if your dog was the one to walk into something or get an unknown substance in his whiskers.
Why do dogs have whiskers? Because we need them!
Often, groomers will ask if you want your dog’s whiskers trimmed or removed. Once, I watched a television show about show dogs, and their handler got rid of all the whiskers for beauty benefits. I couldn’t believe it. Now, before I start with my own opinions, I’ll tell you that it seems that cats would be affected much worse than dogs if you remove their whiskers, but we actually use these things!
How would you feel if we removed your sense of smell or taste or maybe got rid of your fingers for the sake of beauty? I bet it would affect your everyday life. The same happens when you remove a dog’s whiskers. It’s disorienting.
Was your guess as to why do dogs have whiskers correct? Tell us about your dog’s whiskers in the comments section!
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