What Are Dogs' Whiskers For?

by Vivian Gomez
    "A little around the top, but let the whiskers be!"

    "A little around the top, but let the whiskers be!"

    Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

    Whiskers, which are also known as "vibrissae," are long, thick hairs located on the sides of the nose and muzzle, on the chin, and on the forehead above the eyes on many animal species, including dogs. Whiskers are among the first hairs to grow in puppies. They serve as tactile organs, so they are very sensitive to touch.

    Navigation

    Whiskers actually help dogs navigate around their surroundings. They are sensitive to the vibrations in air currents. As such, when the air moves, whiskers vibrate and help dogs determine the presence of objects near them, as well as the size and shape of those objects, and keep dogs from colliding into them.

    Protection

    The whiskers located above a dog's eyes protect the eyes, much like your eyelashes protect your eyes. Because whiskers vibrate when an object is very near a dog, they help him avoid approaching objects that might hurt his face and eyes.

    Like Antennae or Canes

    Whiskers function much as antennae do in insects. They help dogs get a sense of their surroundings, particularly in dim light or in the dark. They also function as canes do for blind people. Whiskers are especially helpful to dogs who have vision impairment.

    Reflexes

    When you gently touch a dog's whiskers, the dog's eye on the same side of the whiskers you've touched will blink reflexively. The dog will very likely turn his head away from the side you've touched.

    Good Vibrations

    Whiskers are thicker than ordinary hair, and their roots are set three times deeper. The reason they vibrate and are so sensitive to touch is that whiskers are rooted in hair follicles that are filled with blood vessels and nerves.

    Photo Credits

    • Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Vivian Gomez contributes to Retailing Today, the Daily Puppy, Paw Nation and other websites. She's covered the New York Comic Con for NonProductive since 2009 and writes about everything from responsible pet ownership to comic books to the manner in which smart phones are changing the way people shop. Gomez received her Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Pace University.

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