Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?


You know those tiny little hairs coming out of the sides of their muzzle?  They can certainly get awfully long, and some dog owners will reflexively feel the need to trim the whiskers, which can be a very bad thing to do to your dog.  Whiskers are facial hair that many animals develop, and are basically rigid hair follicles that are embedded deep into a dog’s skin and nervous system.  The scientific name for these is vibrissa and they are very important to a dog’s senses.  Dogs use these to feel their way around the world, and they are an essential part of their sensory system.  The longer your dog’s whiskers are, the more they are sensing!  Dogs will maintain a whisker length that is appropriate to them, and trimming whiskers will set them off balance.

Why do dogs have whiskers?Whiskers are found in many animals, from dogs to bears, and even seals.  They serve an essential function in the animal world.  Each individual whisker can be traced to a specific location in a dog’s brain, and over 40 percent of their brain is actually dedicated to what their whiskers sense. On a scientific level, it is easy to see how much our dogs utilize their whiskers.  One very important way they utilize them is as an early warning system.  Dogs feel their way through the world sensing and feeling with their whiskers.  You can see this just by lightly brushing your dog’s whiskers, they will instinctively reflex and blink away from that side.  Just like we do when we brush an object.  This early warning system is essential to a dog’s sensory function, as they feel their way around the world sniffing things, and the whiskers act as a close proximity companion to their nose.  A dog will use its whiskers to shape its map of an environment, responding to feedback that the whiskers give.  You can notice when your dog enters a new area or sees a new person. They like to get real close with their nose and feel it out.  Not only are they smelling, which is a dog’s primary sensory tool, they are also feeling with their whiskers.

Many dog groomers and fanciers are unaware of the essential functions of a dog’s whiskers, and consider them purely cosmetic.  They will trim a dog’s whiskers because they do not like the look if it.  If you do this to a dog, you are depriving them of an essential sensory function, kind of like cutting off your fingertips.  Dogs do not have hands to feel around the world, so they rely on their muzzle, as well as their nose and whiskers.  If you trim their whiskers, it will set them off balance although it will not physically hurt them.  A dog will maintain an appropriate whisker length to its breed and environment, and will shed whiskers that grow too long.  Maintaining and trimming them is totally unnecessary, as a dog will constantly clean its own whiskers throughout the day.