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I am Your Dog's Dewclaw

Whether your dog still has his dewclaws or you never got to see them because they were removed when he was just a few days old, it's interesting learning more abut these structures. If you have no clue what dewclaws are, you are at the right place. Many dog owners are unaware that dogs have dewclaws until they get a closer look or they have seen them all the time but just weren't aware they're called this way. Today we'll be learning more about dog dewclaws, where they are located and what they look like. We will also be taking a look at their function and how they may help a dog's performance in some dog sports. So let's have the dog's dewclaw do some talking to get more familiar with this is often neglected body part.

Introducing Your Dog's Dewclaw 

dog dewclaw

Hello, it's your dog's dewclaw talking! You may not be much familiar with me but you may have sometimes seen a breeder advertising a litter of puppies without dewclaws on a newspaper ad or you may have heard your vet talk about me.

I am basically, somewhat the equivalent of your thumb, but I am located up your dog's leg, and, unlike the rest of your dog's toes, I generally don't make contact with the ground when your dog is standing.

I am typically found on your dog's front legs, but in some breeds, I am present in the rear legs too. Actually, in some dogs you may find two of us on the same paw. This is seen in the great Pyrenees ans Icelandic sheepdog. Dogs with this feature are known as being "double-dewclawed." However, sometimes in some dogs, I may be poorly connected and prone to injury, so I am surgically removed.

If you do not see me on your dog's front leg, most likely your breeder has removed me when your dog was a puppy and less than 5-days-old. Poor me! The breeder just snipped me off using a nail clipper and the puppy obviously squealed since the procedure was done without anesthetic!

You see, I am still considered pretty much useless, and often perceived as a trouble maker as many people fear that I may get snagged on stuff when the dog is playing around or working. Since I rarely touch the ground, unlike other toes, I don't get worn down and this may cause me to grow quite long and require frequent trims. In many cases, I am simply removed so the dog can adhere to its breed standard.

However, as of late, people have been discovering that I am there for some reason, rather than being a useless inconvenience worthy of being tossed away.

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I am There for a Reason!


Even though I may look like a useless structure, more and more people are discovering that I have several functions. First of all, let's take a closer look into my anatomy.

According to veterinarian and rehabilitation specialist Christine Zink, I am attached to five tendons and such tendons are attached to a muscle. Hey, don't know about you, but to me this suggests that I must have some sort of functionality!

If you look at the Norwegian lundehund dog (which, by the way sports six toes!) and what these dogs used to do for a living, you will see how I was considered an asset more than an inconvenience.

But without going back in time or visiting distant lands, you may be interested in discovering that even the average dog may actually need me.

Dogs Use Me!

bone dog

Sure you likely won't see your dog using me to send text message or engage in some innocent thumb-twiddling activity, but please stop labeling me as useless.

If your dog is able of grasping a toy, bone or stick it's often thanks to me that he has such good manual dexterity. Indeed, I can help dogs grasp objects and hold them in place so they can effectively gnaw on them.

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I also play a role in helping Rover climb up, (ever known some dogs can climb trees?), and when he has a sudden itch, my extra nail can come handy in reaching certain hard- to-reach spots.

I Prevent Torque

agility dewclaw

If your dog is a working dog or simply loves the sport of agility, you may want to think twice before thinking of me as useless and snagging me off. You see, when your romps around at a fast pace and makes a tight turn, it is thanks to me that your dog's leg doesn't twist on itself.

Indeed, according to Christine Zink, when dogs canter or gallop, and then make a quick turn, their dewclaws get in contact with the ground, digging in to provide more traction and preventing the dogs' legs from getting potentially twisted or injured.

" I have seen many canine athletes with carpal arthritis. Interestingly, this condition is much more common in dogs that have had their front dewclaws removed" ~ Dr. Christine Zink, veterinarian and rehabilitation specialist.

When Things Go Wrong

double dewclaws

Did I already say that sometimes I can be a troublemaker? Because I don't wear down as the other nails on the dog's toes, I may grow quite long and if I am not trimmed often enough, I can even embed in the dog's paw pad.

Sometimes, I am weak and barely attached. When I flimsy like that, I tend to get caught on something and may cause pain, bleeding and sometimes even an infection.

Yes, I can't blame you, it's annoying to deal with these inconveniences, especially when I am not structured too well, but please wait before thinking that my presence is always bad news!

Did you know? While the general trend in mammals is to have five toes at the end of a leg, fossil evidence shows that a loss of toes in cursorial animals (such as dogs) was convenient as it made for a lighter foot, allowing dogs to maintain higher speeds over long distances.

"Members of the dog family (canids) have small feet, with usually four digits in contact with the ground. The small size and weight of their limbs requires less energy to move, allowing them to run more efficiently."~ John Buckwalter, Professor, Physical and Life Sciences, SUNY College of Technology, Alfred, NY

The Bottom Line 

As seen, I carry out several functions! Perhaps this is another reason why (other than the obvious pain factor) removing me has become illegal in some countries. You see, people often remove me for cosmetic reasons only rather than medical ones, which is a shame because I am not totally useless as people often portray me. I hope this article has helped you understand me and has raised some awareness of my important functions. In the meanwhile, I wish you and your dog, a good rest of your day (and, Rover, no more thumb-twiddling please!)

Your Dog's Dewclaw

Dog Pawprint


  • MadSci Network, Why do dogs have dewclaws? and why are they only in the front?John Buckwalter, retrieved from the web on April 10th, 2o16.
  •  Vertebrates: Structures and Functions, By S. M. Kisia, CRC Press (April 12, 2010)
  • Do the Dew(claws)? by M. Christine Zink DVM, PhD, DACVSMR, retrieved from the web on Aprile 10th, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Letter "D" in the image indicates the dewclaw on this dog's front paw. Letter "E" is the carpal pad. Amos T Fairchild - own work (photo and GIMP modifications) CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Wikipedia, Foot of a Norwegian Lundehund. Picture taken by myself, User:ZorroIII, Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
  • jaimekay16, agility163, Flickr creative commons (CC BY 2.0)
  • Picture of dual dewclaw on hind leg of Border Collie / Burnese mountain dog 5 month old puppy, by VinCBR900 Licensed under the GFDL by the author; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License
  • Wonderlane Rose, a puppy, chewing on a bone, south U District near the Montlake Cut, Seattle, Washington, USA, Flickr creative commons CC BY 2.0

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