As a three-year old child, I often went across the street to visit the neighbor’s Old English Sheepdog. I would use my finger to lift the hair that was over his eyes and hold it up against his forehead. Even at that age, I knew that it wasn’t right that his eyes were hidden from the world and that the world was hidden from his eyes. He was an incredibly gentle dog who tolerated any sort of handling and attention from children. My behavior could have led to a bite if the dog had been so inclined, and if he found my actions objectionable.
Luckily, this dog was sweet and never seemed to mind. In fact, he was always glad to be around me and would seek me out whenever I visited, whether alone or with other people. I was definitely one of his favorite people. My family has always speculated that he was a social dog who loved me because I gave him attention but I’ve often wondered since becoming a canine professional if he had a different reason for choosing my company over other people’s. Perhaps he was just so grateful that I “lifted the shades”, pulling the fur away from his eyes so that he could see and more fully experience the world.
Many breeds have hair that grows over their eyes, and the look remains popular for a lot of people. Many breed standards even specify that dogs should have fur covering their face. Perhaps no dog is more famous for having a face obscured by fur than the Old English Sheepdog, whose breed description reads that the dogs have a “full skull of fur”. These dogs’ eyes have historically been completely hidden by their thick, luxurious fur.
There are so many reasons to trim this fur, while the main reason for keeping the fur over their eyes is that the breed standard requires it to be left intact. To those used to it, it may look lovely and charming, but to others, it’s easy to see why trimming the fur to allow the dogs eyes to be visible makes so much sense.
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Dogs can see better when fur is not covering their eyes, and that makes life better for them. This statement is so obvious that it’s almost weird to have to say it, but it’s true. It is easier for them to navigate the world without confusion and without collisions. They can find their food, their toys, and companions with greater ease.
They are better able to interact with those around them. So much dog communication is visual, but they are impeded in their communication if their vision is not as clear as possible. Yes, they can sometimes still see through the fur, but certainly not as well as they can without the fur obscuring their vision. And yes, they can use their nose and ears, but their other senses can’t ever fully compensate for the lack of vision because so much information is only available through visual perception. For fearful dogs especially, the world is less scary when you are not taken by surprise, which is more likely to happen when you can’t see someone coming or see what they are about to do. Miscommunications and surprises are both the enemies of fearful dogs.
Perhaps less important but still worth mentioning is that we can see their beautiful eyes when their fur is not covering it. I love to see dogs’ eyes, in part because they are lovely, and in part because they are so expressive. Obscuring these windows to the soul does dogs a disservice.
Another problem with having fur hang over the eyes is the risk that the fur will get in their eyes, which is very uncomfortable. Even worse, fur can scratch their eyes, which is downright painful and can even cause serious damage.
No matter how clear the advantages are to a dog of having the fur trimmed, there are definitely those who object because the dogs are “supposed” to have a full head of hair. If guardians do not want to trim the fur around their dogs’ eyes, there is an excellent alternative—putting it up in a topknot. By securing the fur away from the face—out of the way on top of the head—it is possible to have the best of both worlds. This hairstyle allows all of the advantages of having the eyes unobscured, but if people want the option of periodically presenting the dog according to the breed standard, the fur can be let down on those occasions.