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 central 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.

Please click to enlarge furtherPlease click to enlarge further

Dewclaws and Extra Digits

Dewclaws are vestigial claws, or sometimes whole digits with pads, attached to the leg just above the foot like the thumb on a human hand. Dewclaws usually do not touch the ground when the dog is standing. Historically these were useful because they enabled the dog to be more sure-footed when working on slippery surfaces like on rocky mountainsides covered with snow.

Saint BernardSaint Bernard

Today, double dewclaws are still demanded by the Breed Standard of the Pyrenean Mountain Dog (in the diagram on the right), and historically by the Saint Bernard (on the left) which in this example also has double digits. On snow covered mountain slopes, dewclaws with or without pads gave breeds like Saint Bernard's a better grip when rescuingĀ  people. Livestock Guardian Dogs like Pyrenean Mountain Dogs also needed to be sure-footed when moving flocks of the sheep in ancient practice of transhumance.

Dewclaws do not usually appear in line with the other digits or toes. Instead they appear on the pastern of the front legs, or on the hock of 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 interfere with the look of a dog's movement, they can cause problems particularly as the dog ages. This is because dewclaws may grow back into the dog's pad or leg and cause discomfort, especially on the hind legs if the dog's owner fails to trim the nails.

Lundehund FootLundehund Foot

Feet Designed for Gripping

An extreme example extra digits and dewclaws is the ancient breed, the Norwegian Lundehund. 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 which includes the main central pad. So the dog can appear 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 Front FootLundehund Front Foot

Puffin BirdPuffin Bird

The Norwegian Lundehund gets its name from the Norwegian word 'Lund' meaning Puffin - the the Arctic bird this dog 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, winding 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 plus 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[1].

Feet Designed for Swimmimg

The feet of the Portuguese Water Dog 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

Irish Water SpanielIrish Water SpanielHowever the feet of the Irish Water Spaniel are unusual for a Gundog dog in that this breed is also required to swim. So their feet must be large and spreading so they can act like paddles in the water. The abundance of hair over and between the toes enhances this ability.

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