Why Do Great Pyrenees Have Dewclaws/Extra Toes?

great pyrenees with extra toes or dew claws

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Great Pyrenees are such unique dogs.  The more time you spend with one, the more you learn about their amazing personalities.  Beyond their sweet temperament, they also have a lot of unique physical features!

They have a thick, fluffy, white coat, black paw pads, and an excess amount of dewclaws!  When you realize that most Pyrs have at least 6 dewclaws, you start to wonder:

Why do Great Pyrenees have dewclaws?

Well, Great Pyrenees dewclaws actually serve important functions!  They have them because of their mountainous history and used them for climbing, running, and gripping ice.  Nowadays, dewclaws still help protect Great Pyrenees’ feet from injury.  They even help them to hold onto things they’re chewing.

We will answer all of your questions about dewclaws today and tell you why Great Pyrenees have these extra toes!

What Are Dewclaws?

So, what are dewclaws?  Are they supposed to be there?  Do they do anything?

Yes!

Dewclaws are essentially extra toes.  Most dogs have one dewclaw on each front foot. Some dogs have one dewclaw on each of their front and back feet, making a grand total of four dewclaws.  Great Pyrenees, in a addition to handful of other breeds, have double dewclaws on their back feet.

This image from Wikipedia is a great example of what double dewclaws look like:

You can see how these toes really do look “extra.”  But for Great Pyrenees, they’re meant to be there.  These toes are attached to what is the ankle for a dog.  They don’t touch the ground while a dog is standing up.

Dewclaws in general can be attached to the body through bone or just skin.  Primary dewclaws, ones that belong, will be attached through bone!  Sometimes, dogs have extra dewclaws that are attached to the body just by the skin and appear to be hanging.

Are Great Pyrenees Polydactyl?

Yes!  Great Pyrenees are considered to be polydactyl.   Polydactyl just means that a foot has more toes on it than normal!  So Great Pyrenees are always polydactyl because they have double dewclaws!  These double dewclaws will usually be attached with bone to the foot, since they are meant to be there, and not some sort of mutation!

What Is The Purpose of A Dewclaw?

Many people tend to be misinformed about dewclaws!

It’s not common knowledge that these extra toes serve a purpose for our dogs still today.  In the past dewclaws served more of a function for dogs.  They helped them evade predators, chase prey, and navigate rough terrain.  Sometimes these digits are referred to as vestigial, which means they no longer serve a purpose!

We can’t agree with this.  Although most dogs aren’t reading predators anymore, dewclaws still have their place.  In general, they help with the overall function and mobility of the foot.

Let’s find out how they help Great Pyrenees in specific, and why they have double dewclaws!

Why Do Great Pyrenees Have Dewclaws?

The great Pyrenees are some of the oldest recorded dogs around!  They have a history we can see in fossils and paintings.  For the most part, these dogs were rugged outdoors animals, but did go through a time when they were members of the royal court in France!

In general, though, Great Pyrenees worked high up in cold mountain ranges protecting flocks of sheep from predators.  Because they lived in such extreme temperatures, they acquired special traits.  For example, the reason why Great Pyrenees shed so much, has a lot to do with this!

This also explains in a broad sense why Great Pyrenees evolved to have so many toes!  These toes were super important to the Great Pyrenees to be able to travel over cold and icy mountains with their sheep, all year long!

Now, here are five reasons why your Great Pyrenees has those extra digits today.

They Help Dogs Climb

If you think about the shape of a dog’s paw, the four outside toes all face in very similar directions.  For climbing, this isn’t ideal.

Adding an extra toe to each paw helps a dog to be able to grip a surface more securely, making them better climbers.  Great Pyrenees earned two of these toes to literally help them climb up tall mountains.

The double dewclaws provide stability and strength that a four-toed dog would be lacking in the mountains!  You’ll notice if you own a Great Pyrenees, that they are amazing climbers.  They can scale a wall if they have the proper traction!

They Help Dogs Take Sharp Turns

Another reason why Great Pyrenees have dewclaws is that it helps them to make sharp turns.

A dew claw can dig into the dirt or the ground and help to stall a running dog.  In the past, this made the Great Pyrenees able to evade and chase other animals.  Now, it probably means that your dog can make a pretty sharp turn at the park, without sliding out or injuring themselves!

You can think of dewclaws kind of like training wheels!  They’re just extra support and balance for a big dog that has lots of work to do!

They Can Grip Ice (swim)

Did you know that dewclaws can help your dog escape if they get stuck on ice?

It’s amazing actually!  Before we get into it, take a look at this video:

You’ll notice that the younger dog that doesn’t have dewclaws can’t get a grip on the ice.  The older dog with dewclaws on the other hand is able to use the dewclaws and small hooks and get out of the lake easily.

Because Great Pyrenees were historically living high up in the mountains, it’s not crazy to imagine that they would encounter ice.   In fact, many people are surprised to learn that these dogs can even become great swimmers.

Having a dewclaw on each front foot is so helpful for a dog to get a grip on ice.  The dewclaw can act as a hook and give traction that the other toes just aren’t able to!  The back dewclaws would also be helpful to a dog stuck on ice in the same way!

If you live in a cold climate, your Great Pyrenees is well equipped to deal with a rough winter and icy roads!

They Protect The Rest of The Foot From Injury

If you read our last few reasons, this one should come as no surprise!

We’ve been saying that dewclaws give a dog more stability and strength during all sorts of movements.

When a dog has dewclaws, they’re not only stronger, but, their dew claws are protecting their feet from injury.  When the dewclaw is in use, it stabilizes the carpus (wrist) and tarsus (ankle) bones.  This in turn protects your dog from injuries to the soft tissue surrounding those bones, like the carpal ligament!

More stability is a more functional dog overall, which is another reason why our working Great Pyrenees friends evolved to have so many extra toes!

They Act Like Thumbs Sometimes

Is your Great Pyrenees obsessed with chewing a special toy or bone?  Have you ever watched them while they chew it?

Odds are, they use their front dewclaws to grip onto the things they’re chewing!  In this way, their dewclaws almost function just like thumbs!

Because dewclaws have bones inside of them, they are functioning parts of a dog’s body.  Unless it’s a bonus dewclaw that is only attached by skin, dogs are able to flex and extend their dew claws.  They can use them to hold onto objects, and make chewing a little more fun!

So, What’s The Big Picture?

There are so many reasons why your Great Pyrenees has dewclaws!  They are functional, protective, and in our opinion, very cute!  While these reasons relate back to the Great Pyrenees’ working past, they all still apply today as well!

Now you might be wondering, if they’re so useful, then why do people remove dewclaws?

Let’s discuss if and when it’s appropriate to remove your dog’s dewclaws.

Should You Remove Your Great Pyrenees’ Dewclaws?

We will talk about some exceptions below, but in general, dewclaws should not be removed unless something is wrong with them!  Dewclaws that have bones in them especially should not be removed unless absolutely necessary.

It’s a common misconception that dewclaws should always be removed.  But, in Great Pyrenees this is definitely not the case!  As a matter of fact, the UKC agrees that a lack of double dewclaws means a Great Pyrenees is not purebred.  While most of us love our furry friends, either way, some breeders might choose to remove dewclaws.  This would be done to hide the fact that the Great Pyrenees might not be purebred if they only have single dewclaws!

Some breeders also are known to remove dewclaws because it gives the dog a “cleaner” look overall.  And, dog owners are not free of guilt!  Some buyers will complain if their dog’s dewclaws remained intact.  If only they knew how useful these extra appendages would be to their pups!

The honest truth is that healthy, bong dewclaws present almost no health risks to your dog.  The four outer toes are much more prone to injury than the hidden dewclaw is!  Plus, surgery to remove a dewclaw is painful and invasive.  Removal of a bony dewclaw requires a veterinarian to cut through many layers of tissue, including nerve tissue!

But, there are some instances when dewclaws should be removed!

Is It Ever Okay To Remove Your Great Pyrenees’ Extra Toes?

In special cases, yes, dewclaws should absolutely be removed!  Let’s discuss these situations quickly, so you know what to look out for on your Great Pyrenees many dewclaws!

There Is An Ingrown Nail on The Dewclaw

An ingrown nail is an obnoxious problem for any dog!  An ingrown nail or claw basically is one that doesn’t grow in straight and can lead to sores and wounds on the paw.  If left untreated, these sores have the potential to become infected.

While an ingrown nail can be managed, in some cases a veterinarian might recommend removing the toe itself.  We always recommend consulting your vet with questions, and trying some less invasive treatment options first if possible.

The Dewclaw Keeps Getting Caught

If the dewclaw is set at a very funny angle or is only attached by skin, it might get caught on things.

If you find that your dog gets their dewclaw stuck on fences, or bushes a lot, you might consider removal at that point.  Getting their toes stuck and pulled could end up being as painful as a removal.

Just make sure that your dog’s toe is actually getting stuck because of the toe, to just because of a long nail!

It Is Diseased

If your dog’s dewclaw is infected, cancerous, or has a tumor growing on it, you should feel good about making the choice to remove it!

Any benefit your dog gains from having their dewclaws is outweighed by a diseased toe.  Cancer and infection can quickly spread to other parts of the body, so in this situation, your vet will probably recommend removal!

What Can You Do You Protect Your Dog’s Dewclaws?

The best thing that you can do to protect your dog’s dewclaws from potential removal is by keeping your dog’s feet clean and their nails short!

You can almost avoid issues with ingrown nails if you make sure to always clip nails.  We know, with a Great Pyrenees this can be easier said than done!  But, it’s important to make sure you get all 22 of those toe nails trimmed!

Keeping your dog’s feet clean and trimmed will also help to protect their toes and keep them healthy!

Wrapping It Up!

If you’re a Great Pyrenees lover, you’re probably also a dewclaw lover, it just comes with the territory!  Know that your polydactyl friend should have this many toes.  These extra toes do amazing things for your Great Pyrenees and should only be removed when medically necessary.

Extra toes make your Pyr a better climber, runner, and chewer!  They protect the delicate tissues in your dog’s foot.  And the best part is, they’re adorable too!