Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers

Why Do Dogs Have Whiskers

Author WDF Staff


If you ever wondered, “Why do dogs have whiskers?” you are not alone. We know how cats and other animals use them, and we are fairly sure they are not growing them like human males grow beards. So, why do dogs have whiskers? Are they simply some sort of wild hair on their muzzle, or do they actually serve a purpose? We became curious, so we decided to dig a bit deeper. Here is what we found out.

What are dog whiskers?

You don’t have to be a vet to notice that whiskers are entirely different than the rest of the dog’s coat. The first thing we need to define is what dog whiskers actually are. Whiskers are scientifically called vibrissae, and they are long hairs on the dog’s muzzle. The whiskers have many nerves at their base, and some even speculate they are as sensitive as our fingertips.

FUN FACT: Try touching your dog’s whiskers. They will most likely flinch or blink as a response. That is evidence of the whisker’s sensitivity.

dog with a ball in its mouth

Why do dogs need whiskers?

The large number of nerves located at the base of the dog’s whiskers send direct signals to the dog’s brain. That handy characteristic makes whiskers very useful in a number of situations. Here are some reasons dogs developed whiskers;

1. Hunting

Believe it or not, whiskers help dogs hunt. The first thing you can notice is that the number, density, and coarseness of whiskers depend on the breed. This is most apparent in hunting breeds. Breeds like the Scottish Deerhound were bred for hunting large elk and boar, and these large dogs have more coarse, dense whiskers than your average non-hunting dog.

Their large whiskers helped dogs move in dense areas. Dogs need all the help while hunting, and whiskers helped dogs avoid trees, bushes, and all sorts of obstacles they could encounter. These days, Scottish Deerhounds are not kept for hunting, but they still use their whiskers when navigating around the home. They use it to move gracefully around all the furniture and obstacles they can bump into.

2. Whiskers help dogs see

Dogs and humans have different facial structures, which is the main reason we see things they have trouble seeing. Mind you, dog’s vision, in general, is worse than ours, but they have a few tricks up the sleeves that help them find things that are right in front of them. Dogs will use their sense of smell and whiskers to locate things in front of them on the ground.

dog eating an egg

Because dogs have long muzzles and eyes set wide apart, they have issues seeing things right in front of them. Most dog breeds, with the exception of brachycephalic breeds like Boxers, Pugs, or Frenchies, have wide-set eyes, and looking at something right under their nose can be difficult. That is when whiskers come in. They help them locate things that are close to their muzzles, but dogs can’t seem to pinpoint the object only using their vision.

Want to know more about your dog’s vision? Check out this article - Can dogs see color?

FUN EXPERIMENT: Try putting a dog treat in front of your dog’s nose. You can clearly see the treat, but your dog might have some issues with it. You can see how they use their whiskers to pinpoint the treat you placed in front of them.

3. Communication

Dogs use their whole bodies for communication, so you shouldn’t be too surprised to learn they use their whiskers as well. This is especially true for canine-to-canine communication. This is very clear and easy to spot when the dog is distressed or feels something will attack them. The dog’s whiskers will become very pointed in a stiff downward direction. However, this is rarely the first thing you will see in distressed dogs. You will probably see growling, “whale-eye,” teeth showing, and other signs of discomfort, fear, or distress.

nova-scotia-duck-tolling-retrievers whiskers

In conclusion

Whiskers play an important role for our furry best friends, and you should never trim or shorten your dog’s whiskers for appearance’s sake. You might not like them, but your dog heavily relies on them for different things. They can even get messy when your dog eats or drinks, but get a nice dog towel and leave the handsome “stache” on your dog.

World Dog Finder team

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