How Many Toes Does A Dog Have?

Filed in Dog Health on September 13, 2021

How Many Toes Does A Dog Have

I took my three chihuahuas to the groomer to get their nails clipped last week, and I always ask them not to forget the dewclaws. Some groomers in the past have missed them, and it’s a pet peeve of mine.

A dewclaw is indeed a toe with a nail, but one that is higher up on the leg. If dewclaws are considered toes, then you may be asking how many toes does a dog have?

Quick answer: Most dogs have 5 toes on each front foot (which includes 4 regular toes and 1 dewclaw) and 4 regular toes on each rear foot, so a total of 18 toes. However, some breeds have more toes (or declaws) with single or double dewclaws on their back legs. Additionally, some vets or breeders remove a dog’s dewclaws completely. My Jack Russell Terrier has no dewclaws at all!

In this blog post, I will discuss how many toes a dog has, what is a dewclaw and their history, breeds with more toes, and more.

So How Many Toes Does A Dog Have?

As mentioned in the intro, most dogs have a total of 18 toes. Each front foot has 5 toes, which includes 4 regular toes and 1 dewclaw, which is a toe with a nail higher up on the leg.

Each rear foot has 4 regular toes. However, there are variations between breeds with their number of toes.

So What Is A Dewclaw?

Beauceron puppy's dewclaw

Beauceron puppy’s feet with dewclaws

A dewclaw is a small thumb-like toe with a nail on the inside of a dog’s legs, which is higher up and doesn’t make contact with the ground like their other nails.

Some dogs have front dewclaws, while others have rear dewclaws, and some have none.

Dogs evolved from wolves, and research shows us that purebred wolves don’t have dewclaws. So did humans encourage and develop dewclaws in their working dogs to help them perform their duties?

Very likely. Front dewclaws helped the earliest dogs with activities such as digging, climbing, and making quick turns.

They must have given these dogs an advantage, so they were more likely to survive and breed. Now, nearly all dogs are born with them.

TV vet and animal advocate Dr. Marty Becker says this of these weird little digits:

“Dogs use their dewclaws to grip and handle items such as bones and toys, dig into ice or other surfaces to pull themselves out of water, or gently scratch an itchy eye.

Dogs doing agility may grasp the sides of the teeter with their dewclaws to steady themselves. And canine speedsters such as whippets and border collies use their dewclaws to corner like race cars.”

Hmmn…who knew? And why do some dogs not have these extra toes?

If they stand out too much, dewclaws can get caught in things and ripped. Ouch! So sometimes vets will remove them to avoid that nasty situation.

Breeders often remove them shortly after birth, too, for a smoother look if extra toes are not part of the breed standard.

Jack Russell Terriers don’t have rear dewclaws, so my Keya probably had her front ones removed by her breeder when she was a puppy.

The Uncommon Rear Dewclaws

Dogs from distinct working breeds have developed toes with dewclaws on their back legs. Some of them even have double dewclaws on each leg. Others have extra toes, too. So what kind of dogs are these?

They tend to be large or giant breeds that guarded animals for livestock farmers, usually in the mountains of Europe. We don’t know for sure, but the extra toes probably helped them become better at their jobs.

Norwegian Lundehund

This breed, for example, developed six toes on all four feet. The dog’s toes even have extra joints to help them keep a firm grip on the craggy rocks they had to climb to hunt puffin birds. Evolution at its finest!

The Great Pyrenees

I once had one of these gentle giants in a class I was teaching back when I was a dog trainer.

This magnificent dog had double dewclaws on both his rear legs, and I remember being so surprised when I saw them. They stuck out so far that I worried that he would get them caught in something.

His mom and dad didn’t use him as a working dog but kept the extra dewclaws anyway because they were part of who he was and what he stood for. It’s a painful surgery, too, because they are attached to the leg by bone.

So why does a Great Pyrenees need those extra toes? And what other breeds have them?

As a guard dog that needed to move quickly if they had something to chase, these strong mountain dogs used their unique toes to help them gain traction. They served a purpose.

Even today, moms and dads of the breed report that they’ve seen their dogs dig their extra toes into the ground for stability when playing chase.

Which Other Dogs Have Rear Dewclaws?

dewclaw with ingrown nail

Dewclaw with ingrown nail

We’ve looked at the Norwegian Lundehund and the Great Pyrenees. Some other dogs on the AKC breed list include:

• Anatolian Shepherd Dog: this giant breed from Turkey almost always has a double pair of hind leg dewclaws.

• Beauceron: a large French dog with rear dewclaws close to the ground, enabling it to easily walk over snow and ice. The breed standard requires double on both hind legs.

• Briard: another French breed with double dewclaws low down on its legs. The breed standard requires double on both rear legs.

• Estrela Mountain Dog: this large dog from the Estrela Mountains of Portugal, bred to guard herds and homesteads, can have single or double dewclaws.

• Icelandic Sheepdog: Iceland’s only native dog, bred for guarding and herding, can have single or double dewclaws, but the breed standard prefers double.

• Portuguese Sheepdog: the AKC says that this intelligent and lively dog is devoted to guarding and herding livestock. It has single or double dewclaws.

• Saint Bernard: one of the best-known and best-loved breeds in the world, this gentle giant was bred to help stranded people in the snowy Alps. It has single or double dewclaws, but the breed standard does not require them.

Conclusion on How Many Toes Does A Dog Have

So, how many toes does a dog have? It depends on all the factors we’ve looked at today.

Most dogs have 18 toes which include 5 toes on each front foot (1 of them is a dewclaw), and 4 toes on each back foot. However, the answer to this question varies because certain dogs have more toes.

Those dogs with extra toes are all similar in that they are mostly large, flock-guarding, working dogs from the mountains of Europe.

But, as only certain working breeds benefit from double dewclaws, they were generally lost as the domestic dog evolved.

Additionally, some vets and breeders sometimes remove the dewclaws completely.

If your dog has dewclaws, just remember to have your groomer clip the nails on them!

If you’re interested, I also wrote an article on how fast a dog can run.

About the Author

Wendy Hollandsworth is a contributing writer to Dog Endorsed. She is a freelance canine copywriter who specializes in blog posts, content articles, product descriptions, and sales emails. An experienced editor and writer, she’s worked in four countries, has had hands-on experience with dogs in boarding, grooming, training, and pet-sitting, and loves what she does. When she’s not creating content she’s usually taking her three dogs Finn, Meg, and Ziggy Stardust to the dog park or making them a home-cooked meal! Sometimes her husband gets one, too.

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