The AKC Labrador breed standard states: “Feet are strong and compact, with well-arched toes and well-developed pads. Dew claws may be removed. Splayed feet, hare feet, knuckling over, or feet turning in or out are serious faults.”
Keep the Declaws! Although they don’t touch the ground when your Lab is standing still, studies have found that they make contact with the ground when dogs are running, and are used for instance when dogs are pulling themselves out of water.
Paws are made up of the following five components: nails, digital pads, metacarpal pads, dewclaws, and carpal pads.
"Dogs are digitigrade animals; this means that the weight-bearing surface of their limbs is their digit (toe). The canine phalanges are, thus, very important. They are virtually identical in their structure in the hindlimb and forelimb. The main differences are that in the forelimb we have metacarpals and the metacarpophalangeal joint, and the hindlimb equivalents are the metatarsals and the metatarsophalangeal joint.
The feet serve as a base of support for the dog, as a cushion to absorb shock, provide traction to start movement, and as a brake to stop. Each of the toes (digits/phalanx bones) is supported by a pad composed of thick layers of fat and connective tissue covered with several layers of skin forming a thick, horny skin. This thick skin makes it possible for the dog to comfortably work over many types of terrain, from abrasive to slick and slippery, which also varies greatly in temperature. The pads serve as a weight-bearing, shock-absorbing cushion and aid in traction.
The metacarpal pads on the front feet (metatarsal on the rear) are the largest pads on the dog’s foot and are located behind the pads of the toes. As with the toe pads, the metacarpal (forepaw) and metatarsal or plantar (rear paw) pads provide shock absorption and traction." (S. Hedgepath)
Keep the Dewclaws!
Five tendons attach to the dewclaw and play an important role when the dog is in motion. For example:
When a dog’s lead leg is on the ground during the gallop or canter, the dewclaw is on the ground to stabilize the carpus
When a dog turns, the dewclaw digs into the ground to support the structures of the limb and prevent torque
Some dogs also use their dewclaws to help them climb trees and out of water, or hold items as they chew
If a dog does not have dewclaws, there is a higher potential for the carpal ligaments to stretch and tear which could result in laxity and arthritis over time (OUCH!). This can then result in more stress being generated through the dog's carpus, elbow, shoulder, and spine as it tries to compensate for the lack of digit.
All dogs are born with a toenail on the inside of their front legs called the dewclaw. When looking at a dog's foot the toes that make contact with the ground are essentially the pinky, ring, middle, and index fingers - the dewclaws are like the thumb. Feeling the nail you should be able to move the dewclaw a little (forwards and backwards) and you'll probably be able to feel the tendons that connect the nail to the leg. The presence of these tendons suggests that the front dewclaw has a function and that removal of the front dewclaw may have lifelong consequences for our dogs.
“Rolling Off Pads. Dogs are meant to walk on the pads of their feet and the pads cushion the foot, helping to absorb the concussion of motion. A dog should never roll off of its pads to where the pads show from the front of the foot. However, rolling off pads is becoming a common problem in Golden Retrievers, Samoyeds, Australian Shepherds, and several other breeds. It is caused by connective tissue that is too loose or too long. At one time, we only saw this problem in the rear feet, but now it is also shows in the front feet.”