Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can Canine Hair Whorls Predict Temperament?

Left dominant dogs are more anxious and fearful than righties. (See my post of canine righties v. lefties.)  The question here is:  Can chest whorls predict temperament?
According to some experts, a horses' 
facial hair whorl can 
predict temperament.

Hair whorls, also called cowlicks, form in a spiral pattern, either counterclockwise or clockwise, tufted or flat, growing toward the center or away from it.

Clockwise and counterclockwise directions

In cattle there's a relationship between the location of
the hair whorl on the face and temperament.  Middle whorls
predict a more cautious personality.

A 2009 study of dogs by Lisa Tomkins and Paul McGreevy found that 80% have typical whorls in four places: chest, rump, elbows and back of the front legs.

A typical spot for a hair whorl, but this one
seems especially pronounced.

Rump whorls are  common to most dogs. Whorls on the left side of the body
 are usually counterclockwise. Those on the right are clockwise. Check out your
dog's elbow whorls and you'll see what I mean.

Some dogs (about 20%) have additional whorls, as many as ten altogether, on the head, shoulders and abdomen.

A unique hair whorl in this Golden Retriever.
Only 5% of dogs have a facial whorl.

Some researcher theorize that there is a link between hair whorl direction and side preference. They found that lefties have a counterclockwise chest hair whorl; righties' chest whorls go clockwise. But some dogs don't fit the mold and are righties with counterclockwise hair whorls.  According to the guide dog school in Australia, (they made a video)  the exceptions, righties with counterclockwise whorls are twice as likely to successfully complete the guide dog program.  (Only 40% of dogs bred to be guides graduate.)

Counterclockwise hair whorls may be related
to left side dominance.

Except for Rhodesian and Thai Ridgebacks, hair whorls are not breed related, 
but are unique to individual dogs. The Ridgeback's ridge is made up
 of two hair whorls, one going clockwise and the other counter.  
What's really interesting is that the researchers found that shelter dogs had significantly more counterclockwise whorls than non-shelter dogs, suggesting that, like in cattle and horses, there may be a relationship between hair whorls and temperament.  Check out the cowlicks on your pooch and let me know what you think.

Read the two part study:



  1. first link at end is "forbidden" - goes no where....fyi

  2. I am not positive, but I think my guy had a left side whorl on his chest and he was more of a nervous dog.


  3. Just wondered if this is correct "shelter dogs had significantly more clockwise whorls than non-shelter dogs,"? If clockwise whorls are associated with right sidedness and they are the more successful in guide dog training it seems that they would be less likely to end up in shelters.

  4. I recently saw a documentary on dogs that said dogs with counterclockwise whorls tended to be more creative in problem solving. I don't know if they were just trying to be polite, though they did give examples...

  5. Cat Warren's "What the Dog Knows" (Simon & Schuster, 2013) mentions Tomkin's research and states "Puppies who preferred to use their right paws over their left were twice as likely to pass guide-dog school. Puppies with counterclock-wise chest fur whorls were more than twice as likely to succeed than those with clockwise chest whorls." You seem to be saying the opposite.

    1. Susan is correct. I changed the post to say: Lefties have counterclockwise whorls, and righties have clockwise whorls. But some dogs don't fit the mold. They are righties with counterclockwise whorls. It's these exceptions to the rule that are most likely to complete guide dog programs.

  6. We have a Black Lab/Border Collie mix and she has a prominent clockwise whorl and she is a righty... She is super smart and coordinated, however she is skittish....

  7. I rekon its a load of crap.

  8. My BC has a single hair formation, a sagittal head whorl, relatively straight, like two short banks of hair growing against each other, starting above her left eyebrow. She is a twin, delivered in one sac; the other twin died in birth. She was born in a litter of five altogether. The mother needed a dose of injected oxytocin to complete parturition. My bitch is smaller than her siblings but very bright, pretty and has a lovely temperament. My identical twin has (well, had) a double crown-type whorl; quite common in homozygous human twins. I surmise this might be the canine equivalent.