Feet Terminology

Round Dog's (Cat) footRound Dog's (Cat) footThis section discusses the different types of feet, and functional dewclaws with extra toes and pads. Underneath the dog's foot is a main or communal pad and four smaller pads, each with its own toe and claw. Above this again is the pastern which has an extra pad on its underside as seen on the dog on the right. This is called the 'stopper' pad. The pads themselves are the dog's shock absorbers so it is important they have depth which is called cushioning.

Foot Shapes

Hare FeetHare Feet

There are two extremes of foot shapes. The first are cat feet with short well arched toes, which makes the whole foot look round in shape like the dog on the right. Note in this case the dog has no dewclaw. The second extreme is the hare feet on the left, named after the hare in which the foot is elongated with especially the two central toes being much longer. In this case the dog also has an extra claw called a dewclaw.

There are some breeds which have foot shapes somewhere in between the two examples above like those with semi-hare feet and those with oval feet.

Dewclaws and Extra Digits

Saint BernardSaint Bernard

A dewclaw on the dog above is a digit, equivalent to the thumb on a human hand. In most cases just a claw is present, with no pad attached. Dewclaws do not usually appear in line with the other digits or toes. Instead they appear in a position somewhat higher on the pastern on the front legs or the hock on the back legs. Many pups are born without any dewclaws at all. But if present some breeders remove them shortly after birth because they not only can look ugly, they can interfere with the dog's movement. Additionally as the dog ages the claws may grow into a circle and cause discomfort, especially on the hind legs. Then it becomes necessary to trim the nails.

Pyrenean Mountain DogPyrenean Mountain Dog

But when one or two hind dewclaws originate from an actual pad, they were so useful to the dog that double dewclaws are demanded by the Breed Standard of the Pyrenean Mountain Dog and historically by the Saint Bernard. Although dewclaws may also be present in some other breeds, double dewclaws assisted these two breeds to grip onto the rocky mountain face of the steep slopes when flocks of the sheep were being moved during the summer months in the ancient practice of transhumance. They were also useful when the dog was working in the snow.

Extra Toes and Pads

Lundehund Front FootLundehund Front Foot

An extreme example of this function is seen in the ancient Norwegian breed, the Lundehund where his four feet must have at least six toes, complete with corresponding pads, tendons and muscles so they can grip somewhat like a monkey. Peculiar to this breed, the feet can have as many as eight pads on each paw so the dog appears somewhat cow hocked because the back feet turn out to accommodate the extra toes. These particular feet give the dog incredible grasping abilities when working on the steep cliff faces of Norway's snow covered, rocky Arctic slopes.

Lundehund Hind FootLundehund Hind Foot

The Lundehund gets its name from the Norwegian word 'Lund' meaning Puffin - the name of the Arctic bird it was bred to hunt. For centuries, Puffin birds not only provided a staple diet for people living in these remote areas, their feathers and down provided essential warmth. Puffin birds are sociable creatures who live in colonies in long, windy cliff passages or rooks covered with snow and ice, so narrow it is impossible for a man to penetrate them. The Lundehund's extra toes assisted the dog to climb up the cliff faces to reach the entrance of the Puffins' tunnels and the traction to aid the dog to crawl along it. Once the dog grabbed one bird, this bird would latch onto another Puffin bird which in turn would grab yet another. So it was not uncommon for a strong Lundehund to retreat, pulling out a long chain of a dozen or so linked birds.

A LundehundA Lundehund

The Lundehand is a small dog of Spitz type, weighing around seven kilos. They are always reddish brown with white markings. They have an extremely supple build which enables them to enter and retreat backwards from the Puffins' confined underground spaces[1].

Feet Designed for Swimmimg

The feet are extremely important in the Portuguese Water Dog as they have two unique features:

  1. Designed to assist the dog to swim, the feet are rounded but somewhat flat with a membrane extending over the length of the toes, reaching their tip. As the front feet are generally covered with hair, it is easier to observe this webbing on the back feet where the hair is usually clipped. Note there should be no rear dew claws.
  2. The Portuguese Water Dog has an usually thick central pad on each foot which holds the nails slightly off the ground. This hard central pad enables the dog to grip the slippery surface of the deck of the fishing boat from which he was required to work[4].

1. Portuguese Water Dog's large round flat foot1. Portuguese Water Dog's large round flat foot2. Portuguese Water Dog's unusually large central pad2. Portuguese Water Dog's unusually large central pad

References and Further Reading

[1] Also published as 2015- Jane Harvey - 'Dewclaws and Extra Digits' in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 7, 2015 Page 14