Dogs have a few distinct hairs sticking out from their muzzles popularly referred to as “whiskers”. Dog whiskers, unlike human whiskers, have a functional purpose. So, why do dogs have whiskers and what are they?
Dog whiskers are technically called vibrissae. However, a more appropriate name for dog whiskers is “feelers”, because they are actually sophisticated mechanisms that help dogs feel their way around.
Vibrissae are distinct from other hairs on a dog’s body. First of all, dog whiskers are much more rigid and rooted more deeply into the body. Furthermore, each vibrissa has a high concentration of neurons at the base. These touch-sensitive neurons are designed so that the slightest pressure will create a neural response.
Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers?
Dog whiskers help a dog prevent colliding with his surroundings and warn him that something is near his head. This helps prevent damage to his eyes and face. You can witness this yourself by gently tapping on your dog’s whiskers. You’ll notice your dog react by blinking and turning his head away from the sensation.
In the dim light, dogs whose vibrissae have been removed are unsure of their movement. Dogs actually move more slowly due to the lack of information being received by the vibrissae. They depend on their feelers to guide them in low-level lighting.
Dogs with working vibrissae don’t need to make physical contact with surfaces to know they’re close. These super-hero dog whiskers are so sensitive, they can register the slightest changes in air currents. When a dog approaches an object like the kitchen table, air that stirs up from his movement reflects back from the object’s surface. As a result, the vibrissae bend slightly and alert the dog that the obstacle is near.
So, why do dogs have whiskers? Because they’re a functional tool that they use every single day. The next time you bring your dog to the groomer or do the grooming yourself, remember to leave the whiskers alone. Your pooch needs them.