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Five Fascinating Facts About Dog Hair Whorls

For those who do not know what in the world dog hair whorls are, here's a brief explanation. Dog hair whorls are simply small patches of hair that grow in a spiral, circular manner. If you think your dog doesn't have any hair whorls, think again. He likely has some somewhere on his body, but likely you just have never paid any attention to them.. at least until today. Also known as swirls, crowns or cowlicks, dog hair whorls are found in certain areas covered with hair on your dog's body. Today, we will be discovering some fascinating facts about hair whorls in dogs, where you are likely to find them and what special meanings they may have according to some interesting studies.

1) Dog Hair Whorls Can Grow in Two Directions

What makes hair whorls stick out? Hair whorls are easily seen and felt because the hair is growing in the opposite direction compared to the rest of the hair. The direction of the hair can be clockwise or counterclockwise. Interestingly, the whorls on the left side of the dog's body are usually counterclockwise while those on the right side are clockwise.

dog hair whorl

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2) They Come in Two Types

There are hair whorls and hair whorls. According to a study conducted by L.M. Tomkins and P.D. Mcgreevy, dog hair whorls can be either simple or tufted. Simple hair whorls have hairs that stem from a central, focal point and diverge into a flat swirling patter. Tufted hair whorls, on the other hand, have hairs that are converging from various directions to a central point, and, as the name implies, these hair whorls form a tuft, a collection of hair growing together at the base. The study found that among dogs tufted whorls were less common than simple whorls. The whorls on the dog's elbows are examples of tufted whorls.

simple tufted whorl
hair whorl areas

3) They Tend to Grow in Certain Areas

So now that we know what dog hair whorls look like, let's go on a treasure hunt and find where they are more likely to grow!

According to the study, whorls were found in ten different places, but the majority of dogs were found to have hair whorls in the chest, front legs (brachial axillae), elbows, and rump area. So let's go a bit more in detail where they may be exactly found.

Chest whorls are commonly found in the middle of the dog's chest.

Two brachial axillae (one one each leg) are found in the upper front legs.

Two elbow whorls (one on each elbow) are found in the back of the dog's front legs, just nearby the bony prominence of the elbow.

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Two ischiatic whorls are found in the rear area, nearby the rectum. Some dogs also have whorls on the lateral areas of their face, sides of the neck and the abdominal area but these are considered atypical.

4) The Rhodesian Ridgeback Has Special Ones

whorls in rhodesian ridge

Rhodesian ridgebacks are known for having a ridge of hair growing in the opposite direction on their backs. Along with the ridge, this breed has two hair whorls.

According to the American Kennel Club standard for this breed, the ridge should have two identical crowns (whorls) opposite of each other.

The whorls must not extend further down the ridge than one third of the ridge.

The presence of ridge and crowns is so important in this breed that a lack of ridge is means for disqualification in the show ring and having only one crown or having more than two is considered a serious fault!

5) They Might Tell Something About Your Dog's Personality

Interestingly, the placement and directions of dog hair whorls can be linked to right paw or left paw preference and can give some insights on the dog's personality. Some pioneering work done on cattle found that the placement and direction of the hair whorl had a great effect on how anxious or bold the cattle were. No-one knows why, but there's belief that it must be somehow related to skin and brain development in the embryo.

Back to dogs, research done by Tomkins et al., 2012 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.

Now that you know what in the world dog hair whorls are, you can see that whorls can mean a whole lot!

References:

  • Tomkins, L.M. and Mcgreevy, P.D. (2010), Hair Whorls in the Dog (Canis familiaris). I. Distribution. Anat Rec, 293: 338–350. doi: 10.1002/ar.21055
  • Tomkins, L. M. and McGreevy, P. D. (2010), Hair Whorls in the Dog (Canis familiaris), Part II: Asymmetries. Anat Rec, 293: 513–518. doi: 10.1002/ar.21077
  • Grandin T., Deesing M. J., Struthers J. J., Swinker A. M.: 1995. Cattle with hair whorl patterns above the eyes are more behaviorally agitated during restraint. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 46, 117–123
  • Tomkins L. M., Thomson P. C., McGreevy P. D.: 2012. Associations between motor, sensory and structural lateralisation and guide dog success. The Veterinary Journal 192, 359–367.
  • ABC Catalyst, Left Paw, Right Paw, retrieved from the web on May 6th, 2016
  • Correlation Between Hair Whorls and Different Types of Behaviors in Dogs, Lillebo Sophie, retrieved from the web on May 6th, 2016

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