You are curled up in bed on a brutally cold winter morning when you feel something scratch your cheek. Maybe you instinctively lift your hand to swat the unknown nuisance from interrupting your slumber. Then it happens again and again until you feel a cold snout against your cheek.
Your dog’s whiskers may be worth little to you – except as a tickle when your dog cozies up to your face – but, whether you realize it or not, they are an important part of your dog’s life.
Dogs typically have whiskers but their appearance, length, and texture generally depend on the individual dog’s genetics and breed. A dog’s whiskers tend to have roots that are three times deeper than their normal fur and are considerably thicker than the dog’s fur or hair.
Why do dogs have whiskers?
A dog’s whiskers are extremely sensitive.
Imagine being touched roughly or yanked on the most sensitive part of your body. It would hurt and probably cause you to become annoyed, at the very least. A dog’s whiskers are extremely sensitive and must be treated as such. If you touch your dog’s whiskers, be very gentle to avoid hurting him.
Whiskers help dogs evaluate their environment.
Your dog’s whiskers help him to determine whether he can fit into small spaces, such as under or behind a piece of furniture. They also help him assess his environment, such as how close he is to an object. For example, your dog may use his whiskers to help him find his way – to the back door or to his water bowl – when it is dark, making it difficult to see.
While it is common practice for some people to trim or to remove their dogs’ whiskers altogether for shows, you should avoid removing your dog’s whiskers. Removing a dog’s whiskers can be stressful for your dog and his ability to assess his immediate environment will be reduced altogether.
A dog’s whiskers provide protection.
Believe or not, those coarse whiskers on your dog’s face are a means of protecting him. Perhaps your dog is running through the woods as you hike on a spring day. His whisker may hit the thorns of a weed, warning him that he’s in danger of hurting himself. He can then move away from the weeds and protect his face from getting jabbed.