high angle view back brown hair line of dog

The Wild World of Dog Hair Whorls


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Ever wondered why your dog has those little patches of hair that grow in a spiral, circular manner? These are called dog hair whorls and the science behind them is actually quite fascinating. You’d be surprised to know that these cowlicks on your dog have actually been studied!

So what do they actually mean and what’s the big deal about hair whorls? Let’s pounce right in …

Dog hair whorls are a focal point from which the hairs diverge in a flattened, swirling pattern.

What do dog hair whorls look like?

Dog hair whorls are easy to spot because the hair grows in the opposite direction of the surrounding hair. They can be small or large, and they can be single or multiple.  Interestingly, the whorls on the left side of the dog’s body are usually counterclockwise while those on the right side are clockwise.

According to “Hair Whorls in the Dog (Canis familiaris). I. Distribution” by L.M. Tomkins, P.D. Mcgreevy, there are two main types of dog hair whorls: simple and tufted.

  • Simple hair whorls are the most common type. They’re characterised by a central point from which the hairs diverge in a flat, swirling pattern.
  • Tufted hair whorls are less common. They’re characterised by a central point where the hairs converge from various directions. This creates a tuft of hair at the base of the whorl. The whorls on the dog’s elbows are examples of tufted whorls.

The whorl with a crown

Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a unique type of hair whorl called a “crown.” Crowns are located on either side of the ridge of hair that runs down the back of these dogs.

The ridge should have two identical whorls (circular swirls of hair) that are directly opposite each other. The whorls should not extend further down the ridge than one-third of its length.

The ridge and whorls are so important to this breed that a dog that lacks a ridge will be disqualified from competition. A dog with only one whorl or more than two whorls is also considered to have a serious fault.

So, if you’re thinking about getting a Rhodesian Ridgeback for show purposes, be sure to look for a dog with a good ridge and whorls! It’s one of the things that makes this breed so unique.

ridgeback on white background, isolated on white

Where are they?

Here are some possible locations of these whirly cowlicks on dogs:

  • Chest: This is the most common location – they’re usually found in the middle of the chest, but they can also be found on the sides or upper chest.
  • Elbows: Hair whorls are also common on the elbows of dogs – more likely on the back of the elbow
  • Rump: Hair whorls can also be found on the rump of dogs.
  • Face: Hair whorls are less common on the face of dogs, but they can sometimes be found on the forehead, cheeks, or chin.
  • Neck: They’re less common here, but can be found behind the ears or on the throat.
  • Abdomen: Cowlicks on dogs here are the least common, but they can sometimes be found on the belly or groin.
This cat and dog duo both have hair whorls on their chest.

What do dog hair whorls mean?

The meaning of dog hair whorls is still up for debate, though some studies have suggested they may be linked to a dog’s personality and behaviour. For example, one study found dogs with hair whorls on their chest were more likely to be right-pawed, and dogs with hair whorls on their rump were more likely to be outgoing and playful!

Here are some more interesting studies done on whorls:

Excited or not excited?

A study by Sofie Lillebo called “Correlation Between Hair Whorls and Different Types of Behaviours in Dogs” looked at the hair whorls on the chests and shoulders of dogs, and found that dogs with more whorls and whorls that spiralled counter clockwise were more likely to be reactive, or easily excited. This could be because the whorls are a sign of a more active nervous system.

The study was small and more research is needed to confirm these findings. However, it’s an interesting area of research that could help us better understand dog behaviour!

Hair whorls and guide dogs

Another study done by Tomkins L. M., Thomson P. C., McGreevy P. D. called “Associations between motor, sensory and structural lateralisation and guide dog success” found that, statistically, right-pawed dogs that had a counterclockwise whorl on their chest had twice the chance of succeeding in guide dog school when compared to left pawed dogs equipped with a clockwise whorl on their chest!

Dog hair whorls are definitely one of the more interesting quirks of our furry friends. Whether they’re a sign of being left or right pawed, personality, or talent, hair whorls are a unique part of what makes each dog special.

So, next time you’re petting them, take a closer look at their fur. You might just find a few cowlicks on your dog that tell you something interesting about them.

this orangey brown short hair dog looking at the camera has a dog hair whorl its chest

More on wonders of the fur kind

Speaking about hair and pet fur, here are some more interesting articles to delve into:

Insurance for when they get into a hairy situation

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