Why Does My Dog Have Whiskers?

Let’s start with the science of whiskers. Whiskers work in a very similar way to a human’s fingers: they relay information about an animal’s environment back to the animal’s brain. All mammals (except for humans) have whiskers on some area of the body. Whiskers are highly sensitive and can pick up small changes in air currents, allowing the animal to tell the size, shape, and speed of nearby objects.

One direct benefit of whiskers is that they help dogs see objects more clearly even in the dark. Just like our fingers can tell us information about our surroundings, specifically a surface’s temperature, texture, and movement, the sensory nerves located in the whisker’s follicles allow dogs to feel minuscule vibrations in the air.

Although still theoretical, the benefits of dogs’ whiskers are thought to be evolutionary in nature. When dogs feel threatened, they tend to flair their whiskers, and this action may have roots in dogs’ combat defense strategies. Similarly, the sensory nature of dogs’ whiskers may have been purposed for searching for food pre-domestication.

For show purposes, many dogs have their whiskers cut when groomed which, although aesthetically more attractive depending on the judge, might temper with your dog’s sense of special awareness. Imagine if you wore gloves for an extended period of time – you may look more attractive, but you lose certain sensitivities that your hands and fingers would normally benefit you.

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Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions