Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Dogs come in a wide array of different colors, shapes, and sizes, so it's not surprising that they also have different types of feet. Apparently, Mother Nature wasn't satisfied with simply giving dogs a standard set of paws. While some types of feet are desired by owners of pedigree dogs because they match the breed standard, other types are highly undesirable because they are considered major faults.
Just like people are prone to debilitating conditions, such as fallen arches or plantar fasciitis, canines also have their own set of problems.
You don't have to be a dog show judge or own a pedigree breed to get to know dog feet. This brief guide will introduce you to some common and not-so-common types of paws that are seen in canines around the world.
1. Cat Feet
I know what you might be thinking, but dogs with this type of feet don't have retractable claws! According to the American Kennel Club, a dog with a cat foot simply has a paw that is neat and round, characterized by high-arched toes that are closely held together. As the name implies, this type of foot is nicely rounded and compact and highly resembles those seen in cats.
With short third digital bones, these paws help increase a dog's endurance because they require less energy to lift off the ground. They also give dogs a good grip and help prevent injuries when they walk on rough terrains.
These catlike paws are, therefore, often found in working dogs that are bred to have good endurance in the field. Depending on the breed, cat feet may be a highly desirable trait or a major fault.
Breeds That Are Required to Have Cat-Like Feet in the Show Ring
This breed is known for having a gait that is free, balanced, and vigorous. The feet are well-arched, compact, and catlike, with the paws not turning in nor out, according to breed standard.
This breed is known for having a brisk and powerful gait. According to the AKC standard, the Akita must have cat feet that are knuckled-up with thick pads.
According to the AKC breed standard, the Kuvasz should have resilient black pads with feet that are tightly closed, forming cat feet.
This breed, blessed with a free, balanced, and vigorous gait, is expected to have well-arched feet that are compact and catlike.
This breed has a smooth gait that gives the impression of effortless power. The feet are catlike, proportionate to the body, and webbed.
2. Hare Feet
According to the American Kennel Club, this type of paw is characterized by two centered toes that are longer than the outside and inside toes. Because the toes arch less, the dog's feet appear longer than average.
As the name implies, these paw are similar in shape to the feet of hare, so they are characterized by long third digital bones that require more energy to move compared to cat feet. However, they do offer the advantage of moving faster. Therefore, many dogs with hare-like feet were selectively bred to run with high bursts of speed for short periods of time.
Breeds That Are Required to Have Hare Feet by Breed Standard
This is the fastest dog breed and it is required to have feet like hare that are knuckled-up with strong claws.
These sight hounds have front and rear feet that must be well-formed with thick pads and hare-like.
This breed was selectively bred for coursing of wild game. According to breed standard, the Borzoi is required to have hare-shaped feet, with well-arched knuckles, and close toes that are well-padded.
3. Webbed Feet
As the name implies, these feet are somewhat similar to those found on aquatic animals, such as ducks, geese, swans, and frogs.
According to the American Kennel Club, dogs with webbed feet have toes connected by a skin membrane. The breeds that have this type of paw shape are often those that were selectively bred to work in the water, either to retrieve downed birds, capture fishing nets, or track down otters in local streams.
Breeds That Are Required to Have Webbed Feet by Breed Standard
This gentle giant has a history of helping fishermen in the icy, cold waters of Canada. This breed has webbed feet that are also shaped like a cat foot. The catlike shape offers them a good grip on slippery shoreline rocks.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
As the name implies, this breed was used in the frigid waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The breed standard calls for webbed, hare feet that are well-rounded with close toes.
Portuguese Water Dog
This breed has webbed feet and a history of retrieving nets. The standard mentions "webbing between the toes made of soft skin."
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
With a history of retrieving water fowl in the 19th century, this breed is an excellent swimmer. They are expected to have strongly webbed feet with thick pads and well-arched toes.
Feet That Are Penalized
As mentioned, sometimes feet can be problematic and may be considered a major fault in the show ring. When it comes to body parts, they must all work in synchrony to allow an efficient gait.
The dog's paws and pasterns must work harmoniously so they can act as good shock absorbers as the dog flexes his legs to romp about and jump. Structural faults may compromise the whole harmony, causing gait abnormalities and ultimately damage to the dog's pasterns and feet.
According to the American Kennel Club, this type of foot is flat, with the toes spreading. Also known as open-foot or open-toed, this type of paw is mostly considered a fault. In the whippet standard, flat, splayed feet are strictly penalized, and this is also true for many other breeds.
There's a good reason for this. This type of foot is not efficient because it doesn't support weight well, and it can predispose the dog to health problems down the road. The causes of splayed feet can be genetic or acquired.
The American Kennel Club states that long nails can turn a good foot into a splayed one, reducing traction and injuring the tendons over an extended period of time. Other causes may be weak pasterns, keeping puppies on wire surfaces, and improper nutrition. While the English bulldog breed standard calls for well-split toes, splayed toes are penalized.
Flat feet are generally considered a major fault in many breeds. For example, they're not accepted in the Dalmatian breed.
Interestingly, they are considered standard for the Tibetan terrier.These dogs are known for having broad, roughly-textured flat feet with hair between the toes. This allows them to climb mountains because the shape of their paws acts like snow shoes, giving them traction. It is a wonderful attribute, considering their past as companions to monks living in mountainous monasteries.
According to the American Kennel Club, this type of foot is flat with thin pads.
Unique Feet Found in a Few Breeds
Finally, there are some breeds that have unique feet.
- Snow-Shoe Foot: This type of foot is found in the Alaskan malamute standard. The standard calls for "feet of the snowshoe type, with well-cushioned pads."
- Fox-like Foot: This type of foot is called for in the American foxhound breed standard. It's truly a gift of nature to give this dog feet that are similar in shape to the feet of the animals they hunt down!
- Polydactyly Feet: For those who do not know the meaning, polydactyl means "extra toes." Yes, just like the famous Hemingway cats, there is a dog breed that has more toes than the average. The Norwegian Lundehund has six toes that are fully-formed and functional and are crafted so he can grasp rocky cliffs as he hunts down birds in their inaccessible nesting locations. Quite amazing, don't you think?
Questions & Answers
Question: Can dogs have cloven feet?
Answer: Cloven feet, like the hooves of cattle, sheep, goats, and deer are not common in dogs. First of all, we would have to find a definition for it. All dog paws have webbed toes, however, the pads themselves are not usually connected. With cloven feet, I imagine we are talking about two toe pads that are somewhat connected creating a look that is similar to a deer's hoof shape. This is not unheard of and can be seen sometimes in dogs such as Basenjis.
© 2015 Adrienne Farricelli
Georgette Schaefer on March 09, 2020:
Is there anything that can be done to tighten up the toes? My puppy is 4 months old
Joyce K on December 03, 2019:
My Shetland Sheepdog who was adopted from Korea has cloven foot pads (the two middle pads are connected)! I am not sure how much it affects her walks but she does seem to need to take short rest stops several times during a 20 minute walk. She is only 2-3 years old.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 19, 2019:
Many dogs breeds have hair in between the toes. If you are trying to guess your dog's ancestry, consider that there are now DNA tests for dogs that may provide some possible guesses about the breed components. However, they are not 100 percent accurate.
Jon toman on August 16, 2019:
Trying to figure out the origin of my dog’s “fuzzy toes” . He is a shepard mix with thick tuffs of fur sticking out and up between each toe. He also has long fringes on his front legs and a curly tail. Wish I could send you a picture. Thx :). PS, loved your article
DEBORAH MEINHARDT on May 22, 2019:
My dog is a beagle by DNA with a mixed breed in her great grandmother. Otherwise all beagle. Her metacarpal pads are extra thick. It looks little like she’s wearing high heels. And she uses them to hang on over the edge of things to keep her from slipping. I was wondering if there’s a certain breed that has that characteristic.
Rosemarie whittiemore on February 10, 2019:
What can I do for my Doberman pinscher How has flat feet in her front paws
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 26, 2015:
Isn't that true? Yet, dog feet are so important!
Mary Craig from New York on November 12, 2015:
How interesting. We never really thing about our dog's feet, but, well they do have four of them.
Melody Lassalle from California on November 11, 2015:
I didn't realize dog paws came in so many varieties. I didn't know there is a breed with 6 toes. When my Jack Russell wakes up I am going to have to give her a close examination.
O from New York on November 11, 2015:
Cute hub, now following :)
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on November 11, 2015:
I never knew there was a dog with six toes. My beagle has the cutest little feet for her 13 inch body. I think our dalmatian had web feet. Great Hub, Stella
KathyH from Waukesha, Wisconsin on November 10, 2015:
Another dog breed with webbed feet is one that I wrote about recently called the Leonberger. They are also used for tasks like water rescue. Nice job on this! I enjoyed reading it!!