Friday, April 2, 2010

Dewclaws

Dewclaws are sort of like thumbs, except not quite as useful.  I have dewclaws and so do Mel and Barry, but Gabe does not have dewclaws.  And the reason he doesn't is because his were cut off when he was a teeny, tiny puppy.  He says he doesn't remember this because he was too little and hadn't even opened his eyes up yet.

Most dogs have dewclaws on their front feet, but if they are purebred show dogs, the dewclaws are usually removed, like Gabe's were.  Of course, Gabe never ended up being a show dog, but his sire and dam were champions, so he could have maybe been a show dog except that he didn't really have the right temperament for it.

Anyway, the natural state of dogs is to have dewclaws, and some dogs even have dewclaws on their back feet, too.  Not only that, but some dogs have TWO dewclaws on their back feet, and this is called being "double dewclawed."  There are even a few breeds where a double dewclaw is part of the breed standard, like for instance Great Pyrenees, Briards, and Beaucerons.  Mom has seen a couple of mixed breed dogs at the shelter that had double dewclaws, but I have never met any dogs that have this interesting feature.

You may be wondering why dogs have dewclaws at all, since they don't really serve much of a purpose.  And the answer is that they are what's called a vestigial digit, which means that a long, long time ago, our ancient ancestors had an extra toe, but then it gradually shrank up to the point where it's just kind of decorative and not really useful, except that sometimes it helps you hold onto a bone you're chewing on.

Some dewclaws are connected to the leg with muscles and bones.  This is especially true of front dewclaws, but not so much for the back ones.  If a dewclaw is just kind of flapping around and isn't connected very well to a dog's leg, it might get caught on something and get injured.  And that's mostly why people have their dogs' dewclaws removed.  It's to keep them from getting hurt.  This is especially true for hunting dogs who are running through a lot of brush and stuff like that.

Now I will tell you a funny story about Gabe.  He doesn't have any dewclaws, like I already mentioned, but guess what!  One time he was running, and he ripped out one of his regular toenails.  It grew back, but now it's just a funny little stub of a toenail.  And the other three of us dogs who still have our dewclaws have not hurt them at all.  In fact, I think most dogs don't ever hurt their dewclaws, so they might as well keep them.  At least that's my opinion.

But if you are going to remove your dog's dewclaws, you should do it when the dog is very, very young, like just a few days old.  Because the puppy's nerves and bones and stuff aren't very well developed then, and it's not such a big deal to remove a toe.  But if you have to do it when the dog is an adult, then it's much more painful, and it takes a while to heal up, and dogs tend to want to keep licking the place where the dewclaw used to be.

Oh, and you shouldn't believe the old folklore thing about how removing dogs' dewclaws will make them immune to snakebites, because it's not true at all.

Dogs aren't the only animals that have dewclaws.  Animals like deer that walk on two hoofs also have two other smaller hoofs that are actually dewclaws.  Cows and pigs also have dewclaws like this, but horses and giraffes don't.

So why are dewclaws called "dewclaws"?  This is the question you may be asking yourself.  And now I will tell you the answer.  Nobody really knows.  What the dictionaries mostly say is that maybe dewclaws got their name because while a dog's other toes press all the way down against the ground, the dewclaw just brushes the dew off the top of the grass.

This seems like a silly explanation to me, and Mom agrees.  So we kept doing our in-depth research, and what we learned was that the word has been around for a very long time, like at least since 1576.  But there's an even older phrase, from 1350, which is "dewe lappe."  This comes from the Old English lappe, and it means "loose piece."  It was first used to talk about that loose skin that hangs down on a cow's neck.  But since a dewclaw is sort of a loose toe, it seems like maybe dewclaw and dewlap came from the same root word or something.  But maybe not.  This is just an idea that somebody on the internet had, and I thought it sounded good, so I am telling it to you.

Anyway, I'm glad I have dewclaws, but not a dewlap, because I think dewlaps are ugly!

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