How can a dog use whiskers to detect objects without touching them?

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A dog’s whiskers, or vibrissae, are mechanoreceptors. These thick, wiry hairs on a dog’s muzzle and face contain within their follicles a dense grouping of nerve endings, which directly connect to a dog’s brain. The whiskers pick up on changes in airflow, and alert a dog to any change in their surroundings, as well as objects or other animals.

Because the vibrissae pick up cues from air currents, no touch is needed for a dog’s whiskers to detect objects or gather information. The whiskers on a dog’s face can be compared to a human’s fingertips, or even a blind person’s cane. Dogs have the ability to sense changes in their environment using only their whiskers, although dogs commonly rely heavily on smell and sight to pick up additional information about their surroundings.

The vibrissae are so important to a dog’s ability to detect objects and make judgments about their surroundings that if the whiskers are cut, a dog’s behavior will be altered drastically. A dog with no whiskers will move more tentatively, be more cautious about his surroundings, and feel as though he has less protection than a dog with whiskers.

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