Poodles do indeed have whiskers. Have you ever noticed thicker hairs next to their mouth and wondered what they are? They are, in actual fact, whiskers. All Poodles have whiskers. In fact, all dogs and most mammals have them except us humans.
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What Are Whiskers?
Whiskers on a dog are longer thicker hairs, referred to in the medical world as vibrissae. They are strong stiff hair embedded in your dog’s skin. Their roots are much deeper than the normal hair that grows.
The dog’s wiry whiskers grow differently from a cat’s whiskers. The cats’ whiskers are straight and grow in neat regular lines. Dogs’ whiskers are more sporadic in their growth and often look messy and randomly placed.
Whiskers are made up of the same protein as hair, keratin, but they are 2-3 times thicker than normal hair.
Do all Animals Have Whiskers?
All mammals have whiskers, excluding only the mammals called monotremes, which comprises the duck-billed platypus and echidnas. Humans do not have whiskers either.
The mammal with the longest whiskers is a group of animals called Pinnipeds. This is a group of water mammals comprising of sea lions, seals, and walruses. The Arctic Fur Seal has the longest, with an average individual whisker length of around 19” (48cm). This makes a whisker span from one tip to the opposite tip, of a whopping 42” (106cm).
Our simian cousins, which comprises primates, including apes and monkeys, do have very small whiskers but they are rarely needed, as evolutionary speaking, the less time that an animal spends foraging for food on the ground, the more redundant the whiskers become.
Today, primates have hardly any whiskers on their faces as they have developed intelligence that overrides the need for this sensory tool.
Do all Dogs Have Whiskers?
Yes, all dogs have them. From the Aussiedoodle to the Yorkipoo. (I couldn’t think of a Doodle starting with the letter Z!)
The exact location, length, density, and growth pattern vary from breed to breed, but they are usually found on the face. They can grow from the legs, chest, muzzle, cheek, eyebrows, jaw, chin, or neck – or all locations at once!
Even hairless dog breeds, actually do have whiskers.
Look closely at your dog’s face next time you are having a snuggle and you will see them.
What are Whiskers For?
Whiskers are a sensory tool used for spatial awareness. The ones on the head are used to trigger a blink reflex in order to protect the dog’s eyes from damage.
The official name for whiskers is vibrissae. This word comes from the Latin “vibrio”, which means “to vibrate”. They act like tiny warnings to the dog’s brain to relay information about their immediate surroundings.
As whiskers are deeply embedded (typically around 4 times deeper than normal hairs) and are surrounded by a pocket of blood, muscular tissue, and nerves, they are very effective at their job due to the electrical impulses they send to the dog’s brain.
Ever noticed your dog flinches slightly or blinks when you touch its head? It could be because you have inadvertently brushed against, or caused a slight waft of air around the forehead whiskers, which has triggered the involuntary blink action. My Labradoodle always blinks when my hand goes near his forehead, but he has very short eyebrow whiskers.
Whiskers on a dog are also used to communicate their mood, with the flaring or pointing their whiskers forward to portray their anger, fear, or feelings of being threatened.
Whiskers can also sense movement in the dark, or poor light.
Are Whiskers Always Next to the Mouth?
Whiskers are normally found on animals’ muzzle, but they also grow on the forehead, chin, and sometimes the legs. One of my Doodles has a few whiskers on his belly and a random one in the mid-length of his tail!
Humans do actually still have the actual muscles related to the sensory function of whiskers, in our upper lip, but humans do not have whiskers anymore. Humans lost the DNA that produces whiskers, about 800,000 years ago.
When you have an annoying random hair growing out of your chin or cheek, and refer to it as a “whisker”, it is not actually a whisker, just a genetic code that you have inherited that means that some hair follicles respond more to testosterone than other follicles.
Do Whiskers Require Maintenance?
No! Leave them alone! Whiskers are very important to your dog and they use them more than you can imagine. Although whiskers are technically “dead” material, so cutting them isn’t painful, trimming them will change the amount of sensory information your dog can process and may leave them feeling unsure of their surroundings, or just a bit “odd”.
If you have a breed that has naturally long whiskers, like my F1b (Reverse) Sheepadoodle, the whiskers may inadvertently get cut a bit shorter during a groom, but do try to avoid purposefully trimming or shaving them off.
It’s always a good idea to become acquainted with your Poodles whiskers. If they start to drop out, it could be an indication of alopecia (the medical name for hair loss), mange (a mite infestation), or a bacterial infection like ringworm.
Although whiskers will come to the end of their growing life and drop out naturally, they will always grow back if this is the reason they have dropped. They will never naturally all drop out at once, without there being an underlying illness causing this.
What Happens if a Poodle Doesn’t Have Whiskers?
As whiskers are an important tool to the dog, your Poodle would feel like they have lost one of their senses without them.
Missing whiskers could lead to your dog feeling disoriented, confused and withdrawn.
The main issue that we have with our Poodles, is that it seems to be the breed standard for showing Poodles, to shave their faces. This means it is absolutely impossible to shave a Poodle’s face but leave the whiskers.
As every individual whisker is attached to an array of nerve endings and muscles, a Poodle can actually retract their whiskers slightly. This means that in order to get a more aesthetically pleasing groom, you have to put your finger inside the dog’s mouth to push the base of the whisker out from the retracted state in order for it to be trimmed. This will give a “cleaner” finish to the groom.
Some groomers actually pluck the whiskers to achieve an even sleeker finish to their Poodle’s groom. Now, having read this far through the article, you can probably gain an appreciation as to how painful this will be for the Poodle. The whiskers are attached to a dense cluster of nerves and are embedded so deeply, that plucking will cause bleeding and sometimes infection. Not to mention the trauma to the Poodle.
As I said earlier, I have an F1b (reverse) Sheepadoodle, who has incredibly long whiskers (inherited from the Old English Sheepdog side). The very fact that I am aware that all three of my Doodles have whiskers, and especially my Sheepie boy who has really long ones, leans me to groom and trim them all in the Lamb cut, Teddy Bear cut, or Puppy cut. This allows the whiskers to grow freely, being virtually untouched around the mustache, chin, and eyebrow area.
What do Whiskers Look Like?
I liken them to bits of nylon. They are wiry, shiny, stiff and if they have been trimmed, the blunt ends of the whiskers can be very sharp if they happen to stab you in the cheek when having a nice cuddle.
If you are a guitar player, whiskers can be like the white thin 1st string on the guitar, where it has been tightened around the peg and a little bit of the string pokes out at the end.
Whiskers can be white, cream, brown, black, well, virtually any color! Sometimes you can see them clearly (usually the white ones as they reflect the light more) but the darker ones are a little harder to see. Also, different breeds and sizes of dogs will determine how long, dense, or thick the whiskers are.
Dog Breeds with a Tendency For Long Whiskers
Here is a small list of popular dog breeds who naturally have long whiskers (most of these breeds are parent breeds to our beloved Doodles):
|Poodle Cross / Doodle Name
|Irish Wolfoodle or Wolfadoodle
|Portuguese Water Dog
|Ttdoodle or Tiboodle
|Not a Doodle, but a cross between a Husky and a Pomeranian
|Bordoodle or Dollie
|West Highland Terrier
|Yorkipoo or Yorkie Poo
|Old English Sheepdog
So, now you know your Poodle or Doodle has whiskers and why they have them.
If this is a strange revelation to you, I know what you are doing right now – happy hunting!