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There are several features, from head to toe (or nose to tail), that define a dog's appearance. One of these key characteristics sits on your dog's nose and face: their whiskers. These little hairs may make your dog look even more adorable, but they're also functional. So what are whiskers and what's their purpose?
Whiskers - also known as vibrissae - are thick, stiff hairs that extend out from the nose, jaw and above the eyes. They feel quite different from the rest of your dog's fur, which is typically softer and thinner.
The main purpose of whiskers is to help your pup navigate their environment safely, especially given that dogs don't have the best eyesight.
Read more: 5 Interesting Facts About Dogs' Eyes & Eyesight
Here's how they work: whiskers are deeply embedded into your dog's skin, with a high concentration of neurons at each follicle base. These neurons are extremely sensitive, able to detect even the slightest changes to the surrounding environment, including changes in the air. So if something gets too close to your dog's whiskers, the neurons send a message to the brain, allowing your dog to avoid that object. This helps your dog detect potential hazards and avoid injury.
Whiskers are particularly important at night or when there's low light, as they help guide your pup in the dark. They allow your dog to sense and "see" things around them before his or her body touches them.
In addition, whiskers can also let you know when your dog is in distress. When feeling threatened or stressed, dogs often flare their whiskers or point them forward. If you see this in your dog's whiskers, it's signals that it's time to remove them from that situation.
Because whiskers are essential to your dog's life, it's important that you avoid messing with them (this includes trimming them). Any changes to their whiskers will affect their natural ability to sense changes in their environment and will likely lead to decreased spatial awareness and increased risk of injury.