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Do German Shepherds Have Dewclaws? Canine Facts and FAQ

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By Nicole Cosgrove

German shepherd lying on sofa

All dog breeds, including German Shepherds, have dewclaws. Looking at a German Shepherd head-on, you will notice that there are two protrusions with toenails a couple of inches above the hock (ankle) on the front legs of the dog.

These toes are called dewclaws and they are attached by two tendons to the dog’s leg bone. They are just like the other toes on the dog, meaning they have a blood supply, muscles, and nerves.

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What Is the Purpose of the Dewclaw?

The dewclaw on the front legs of a dog corresponds to the “thumb” on humans, while dewclaws on the hind legs are similar to the “big toe.” Dogs’ forepaws bend when they run and their dewclaws often contact the ground. As such, dewclaws provide traction and stability at high speeds (especially when turning) or on slippery surfaces.

Depending on the breed, dewclaws can also be used to hold objects, climb up trees, and grip ice to pull the dog out of the water if they fall through frozen ponds or lakes.

dew claw of german shepherd
Image Credit: Goran Horvat, Pixabay

Do German Shepherds Have Rear Dew Claws?

German Shepherds may have rear dewclaws on their back paws, but it will vary from animal to animal. Rear dewclaws can be attached to the hind leg by bone, but they are usually attached to the hind leg only by skin, not bone and tendon. These dewclaws are pliable and can be moved around easily.

Genetics plays a large factor in whether a dog has rear dewclaws. A German Shepherd may have them, but it is less likely than other large dog breeds, such as Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, and Great Pyrenees.

Should Dewclaws Be Removed?

For many years, the removal of dewclaws on dogs was a normal procedure. Breeders encouraged it as a way to prevent injury because the dewclaw can get torn or injured when the dog is playing or running. Dog shows also encouraged the removal of the dewclaws, often to achieve conformation, meaning it makes the structure of the leg more aesthetically pleasing.

Many veterinarians now believe that dewclaws should not be removed unless there is a reason for removal, such as tumors or severe injuries. It’s believed that dewclaws help to prevent arthritis and help to support the leg when the dog is running, so the removal of dewclaws is not recommended for most dogs.

german shepherd running on sand
Image By: Niels Hansen, Pixabay

Is It Cruel to Remove German Shepherd Dewclaws?

German Shepherd dewclaws are thought to serve a purpose, often helping dogs move with agility and to prevent joint and gait issues as the dog grows older. If a dewclaw is to be removed, whether for show or because of a health issue, it is best to have a qualified veterinarian perform the surgery so the dog can receive anesthetic and preventative medication to prevent infection. The animal will feel pain after the procedure, but the vet will prescribe medication to help prevent pain and infection.

Some breeders will remove dewclaws from German Shepherd puppies. The puppies are only a few days old when they are given a local anesthetic and the dewclaws removed. The removal of dewclaws is becoming controversial with many in the veterinary community believing it should only be done when medically required. It’s best to discuss with your veterinarian whether the dewclaws should be removed or not and to help determine whether it is cruel to remove a particular animal’s dewclaws.

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Final Thoughts

German Shepherd’s dewclaws are found on the front foreleg of the dog about two inches up on the ankle. The dewclaw helps the dog with agility, they provide traction on slippery surfaces and can be used to help the dog grip objects. German Shepherds are not a breed that typically has rear dewclaws, but it is possible depending on the dogs’ genetics.

Veterinarians do not recommend the removal of dewclaws unless medically necessary. If you have a question about dewclaw removal, you should discuss it with your veterinarian to determine what is best for your pet.

Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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