What Makes a Dog's Whiskers Curl?

Curly-coated retrievers are known for their long whiskers.
i Apple Tree House/Photodisc/Getty Images

Whiskers are long hairs that protrude from the side of your dog’s muzzle. Sometimes whiskers are also located along the forehead and chin. More than double the thickness of regular hair, whiskers are extremely long. For most dogs, whiskers are pin straight, but for some dogs they curl.

Most Curly Whiskers are Caused by Curly Coats

The most common reason for curly whiskers is a curly coat. Breeds with curly coats, like the Bedlington terrier, are more prone to curly whiskers than straight-haired breeds, like the Dachshund. It’s rare to find a Dachshund, or other straight-haired breed, with curly whiskers, but it does happen on rare occasion. The chance for curly whiskers is greater when your dog has curly fur, but it’s still not a guarantee that the whiskers will be curly.

Genetics Plays a Role

Straight-haired dogs sometimes end up with curly whiskers. This phenomenon is rare, but it does happen, especially in mix-breed dogs with a long history of mixing curly haired breeds with straight-haired breeds. For example, if your dog’s mother is a doxie-chon, or Bichon frise mixed with a Dachshund and her father is a straight-haired Dachshund, your girl could have curly whiskers, despite her pin-straight hair. Genetics play a big role in determining how your dog will look.

The Biology of the Curl

All whiskers are hair. Whiskers may be thicker and longer than coat hair, but they're still hair with the same biological makeup. According to L’Oreal’s Hair Science, hair shape also depends on the “cross section and the way it grows.” Hair studies have indicated that hair shape is impacted by the placement of the hair follicle on the scalp. If you've noticed that your dog’s hair curls around his scalp, but is straight along his muzzle, this curling is likely caused by the placement of the curl. Your dog’s scalp is acting like a mold and shaping the hair. Because all hair is biologically dead material, the hair retains its shape even after growth.

Grooming Curly Whiskers

Some folks choose to groom their dog’s whiskers. Most often, whiskers are groomed for dog shows. This creates a smoother look around the face and is more likely to score points from the judges. Although trimming a dog’s whiskers doesn’t hurt the dog, it does remove an important tool she uses to explore her world. For the most part, your dog uses her nose and sight to explore, but when she’s close to an object, her whiskers garner her extra sensory information. Even curly whiskers have a rich nerve supply, making them useful tools in discovery. Unless you’re a groomer yourself, it’s important to consult a groomer before snipping your dog’s whiskers.

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