Dew claws are one of the most controversial topics in the world of show dogs, regardless of breed. All dogs have dew claws. Some breeds have dewclaws on their front legs only and other breeds have them on all four legs.
German Shepherds typically are born with dew claws on each front paw. Not all GSD puppies are born with dew claws on their hind paws as well.
In past decades, the popular view was that dew claws had no useful purpose and should be removed soon after birth.
But now we know that, like all other parts of your German Shepherd dog, those dew claws do have a purpose.
So what exactly are dew claws? What does your German Shepherd use them for? Why do breeders remove them? Should you be concerned if your GSD still has dew claws? We are going to take a close look at these questions and more right now.
What Are German Shepherd Dew Claws? An Overview
As we mentioned in the introduction here, the topic of canine dew claws can be a controversial and emotionally charged topic for dog owners. But this can be hard to understand if you are not even sure what – or where – they are!
Where are your German Shepherd’s dew claws?
When you look at your German Shepherd’s paws, you will see four toes at the front end of each paw.
But if you look up a little higher on the hock (ankle) of your dog, you may find an additional toe, complete with a claw. This is a dew claw.
Some German Shepherds have these dew claws on all four ankles. Other GSDs only have them on the front ankles. Occasionally GSDs will have double or even triple dew claws on the hind legs.
Why is this?
As this German Shepherd owner forum explains, it all comes down to genes. Some GSDs carry the genes for all four dew claws and others will only carry the genes to produce two.
GSDs that do not have any dew claws have likely had the surgery to have them removed.
What are dew claws used for?
You will find it easiest to understand what your GSD uses the dew claws for when you think of them like your own thumbs.
You use your thumbs for quite a lot, don’t you! Thumbs are great for grasping, manipulating, moving, and more. Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have thumbs. It would be harder for sure.
The same holds true for your German Shepherd’s dew claws. But since your dog has four legs instead of two arms and two legs, the dew claws function more like your big toes in some ways.
However, not all breeders and owners agree on this issue, which is what makes dew claws a cause for frequent arguments.
Are All German Shepherd Dew Claws the Same? Two Kinds of Dew Claws
The dew claw may have been named for its position on a dog’s ankle – just high enough so the morning dew on the grass will get it wet while the dog walks.
But today, the word “dew claw” is more closely associated with “unnecessary.” And this isn’t at all true in nearly all cases.
To understand this statement, it is helpful to know that not all dew claws are formed equally. As PetMD explains, one kind of dew claws has bone and skin and is attached to the rest of the bones in your dog’s foot.
The second kind may be missing the bone and simply be a flap of skin. Or it may be more loosely attached to the rest of your dog’s leg. However, the dew claws should not be removed simply to remove them.
They should only be removed if you have seen a medical reason, such as frequently catching on things and becoming infected or tearing.
Why Do Some Breeders Remove Dew Claws from German Shepherd Puppies?
In past decades, it became common practice for purebred dog breeders to simply remove the dew claws on German Shepherd puppies a day or few after whelping.
This has been done for three main reasons:
1. The breed standard requires it
For German Shepherd dogs, this is true at least for dew claws on the hind paws. It is lightly recommended but not required for dew claws on the front paws.
You can take a look at the current American Kennel Club (AKC) GSD breed standard to see this for yourself.
But the breed standards for some purebred dogs require allowing the dew claws to remain. It varies a great deal from one breed to the next.
2. Breeders believe the dog will get injured
There is a long-standing belief in the world of canine breeders that dew claws on a dog are just painful accidents waiting to happen.
Many breeders and owners believe that when the dog’s dew claws are left intact, the dog may injure them or even tear them off when they catch on something while the dog is running or playing.
However, as this video by a longtime dog breeder explains, evidence that this happens with any frequency is hard to find.
3. Owners think the dog’s legs look better without dew claws
Sometimes dog owners think that their dog’s legs look cleaner if the dew claws are removed. They will ask the breeder to do this before they take their puppy home.
Breeders that don’t have a firm policy against this practice often agree to do it.
Is Removing a German Shepherd Puppy’s Dew Claws Painful or Cruel?
There are several ways to look at answering this question.
In theory, as long as the breeder or veterinarian uses anesthetic and guards against infection, the removal of dew claws in puppyhood will likely be no more painful than most other minor surgical procedures.
Of course, surgical procedures always seem to involve some amount of pain, no matter how careful the surgeon is and when it is done.
Sometimes owners wait until the dog is the owner and as their veterinarian to remove the dew claws during spaying or neutering. This can be more painful and also more dangerous because it can be harder to keep your dog restrained to prevent infection in the paws.
It can also be more painful emotionally for your dog to wake up and discover that extra digit they have been relying on is suddenly missing.
As the Service Dog Central forum explains, the dew claw can also be important for a dog’s balance and gait because it is a part of the foot. When the dew claw is missing, your dog will have to adjust and distribute weight differently.
Missing dew claws can also cause arthritis issues later in life, especially in the carpal tunnel (ankle) joint.
This can cause foot and gait issues later in life.
Perhaps the fairest way to approach this question is to consider how you would feel if your parents had decided to remove your thumbs when you were a baby. This would handicap you in your life to come and it would no doubt be considered very cruel.
How to Care For Your German Shepherd’s Dew Claws
Dew claws generally grow a toenail just like the other toes on your GSD’s paws. But it is easy to forget this when you are grooming your dog.
Many people who report issues with the dew claw catching on things and tearing are actually having an issue with an overly long dew claw toenail catching on things and tearing.
This makes sense, considering what happens when you let your fingernails grow past a certain point. They are much more prone to catching and tearing under the right set of circumstances.
To keep your dog’s dew claws safe and healthy, always clip the toenail (or have your groomer tend to this) at the same time when you are caring for your dog’s other nails.
Also, be sure to check to see if the toenail has become split or damaged in some way and this can give you a good indication of how and whether your GSD is using the dew claws.
Is It Illegal to Remove a German Shepherd’s Dew Claws?
As more research is done to learn about the mental and emotional lives of animals, more legislation is being passed to prevent inhumane treatment of animals.
In the United States, this is typically left up to each state to decide. Often, states will delegate the decision to local governments. This means you will need to check with your state and local government to find out the status of dew claw removal.
By understanding what German Shepherd dew claws are, where they are located, what your dog may use them for and why this is a controversial issue, you can make the best choice for your precious dog.