Wolf (wild dogs) dewclaws

This has been on my mind for several years. My mum and dad got a dog in the 70’s, and they didn’t know much about dogs. It’s dewclaw grew around until it pierced the pad, and the pads had to be removed. I cut my own dogs dewclaws routinely.
So, I’ve been wondering how wild dogs, like wolves, live with dewclaws. Is there some way that they wear down in the wild, are their lifespans so short that there is no time for the dewclaws to grow into the pads, or do they just live with it? An honest question!


I’m not sure of the answer but one of my dogs hates getting her nails clipped so much that she just chews at them to keep them short. She actually does a great job of keeping them under control.

I think in some breeds, the dew claws make contact with the ground when the animal is running and gets worn down naturally, so I wonder if the answer could lie in one of those two situations.


I’d be surprised if it is lifespan related. Assuming they survive being a pup, their life span is not significantly different than the largest dog breeds, maybe slightly shorter, but not enough to make a difference here I would think.


It could correlate to domestication, maybe wolf dewclaws just simply don’t grow so fast or so long?


Dewclaws, like other nails, are worn down naturally while moving through the environment. Although the dewclaw is not a weight-bearing digit, there is some degree of flexibility/rotation in the carpus, so abnormal wear may not be as great of an issue in wild canids (that are very ambulatory) as it is in our domesticated dogs. (Unless, of course, there is injury/disease present or in captive animals with less opportunity to roam naturally to wear those nails down). Dewclaws can also grip the ground for traction while running and help hold items with the front paws, such as bones that are being gnawed upon.

Honestly though, I haven’t worked with wild canids, so I can’t be certain that it is not an issue. Good question!


I really didn’t think it was lifespan related, though I did not know how long wild dogs live. Dewclaws are just one of those odd things that I think about now and then!


Thanks for all the information. I did not know that dogs could or would gnaw on their own nails! Nor did I know that some dog’s dewclaws can touch the ground. My guy’s dewclaws are about 8 cm above his foot, so I don’t think they get down to the ground.


My mom has a Shiba Inu. True to the breed’s reputation, he is a bit fastidious with his grooming, and does spend some attention on his paws, including his dewclaws.

He also uses them to grip a toy if we’re playing tug-of-war. I haven’t paid attention, but it would not surprise me if they gripped the ground when he’s trying to get leverage to tug away too.

Can he use them to grip the ground if he’s in a “down dog” type position, rather than running?
I could imagine them maybe reaching that way if his lower forelimbs are on the ground, to do a low rush, a crawl, or to get leverage while he tugs or pulls something with his mouth.

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I really don’t know. I’ve never seen the pads of dewclaws move. If I have to put ‘booties’ on him, he never moves the pad/claws out of the way. Even when the claw sticks. He’s a minimal hunter - he will chase things, but I don’t know what he would do if he caught anything! He does seem to use them when he scratches his face, but that’s all I’ve seen.

Dew claws are used to grip, like a thumb. Retrievers will use them to pull themselves up on the ice. They are used when running at high speeds or turning, and take stress off the toes. If you watch agility dogs coming down steep inclines you’ll see the dew claw make contact and take some of the stress off the food. Rear dew claws are vestigal, front dew claws are used like a thumb.


Welcome to the forum, and thank you for the information!

Clearing out my phone, found some photos I took to illustrate this.

Grabbing a toy:

Gripping the floor when tugging or about to dash or make a feint or anything that involves quick movements where his back end is higher than his front end:


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