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Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now

By Lisa Dubé Forman


One cannot overstate the importance of the feet on our many breeds. I am discussing the shapes, phalanges, claws along with the digital and communal pads. A future essay will discuss the pasterns’ carpal and metacarpal bones.

Virtually all the Group breeds were propagated for and should be functional. Although today many argue that nearly all the breeds no longer fulfill their purpose, the truth is that for basic soundness of even a companion, family dog, the feet factor into sustaining quality of life. Liken this to a person whose feet have fallen arches, plantar fasciitis or muscle strains that cause constant discomfort and pain.

There are three standard shapes of canine feet. The round (cat-compact) foot has well-arched, tightly bunched or close-cupped toes with the center toes just marginally longer than the outside and inner toes. The oval (spoon shaped) foot, is similar to the round, except the center toes are slightly longer than described in the round foot, which leaves an oval shaped impression. The hare (rabbit) foot has noticeably longer center toes, all of which are less arched and appears almost elongated. There are then a number of variations on these basic shapes.


Here some may ask what’s the big deal — why do breed authorities and genuinely knowledgable judges complain about feet on our dogs? The foot is foundational. To illustrate, the Alaskan Malamute breed standard demands a snowshoe foot, which is a specialized variation of the oval foot being well-knit, well-arched, but with strong webbing between the toes. If a Malamute has splayed feet, he is going nowhere fast in his place of origin. Splayed feet are flawed, with toes spread far apart and can occur in any shape of foot. This may be tolerable in a warmer climate, but in time may prove painful as the Malamute’s weight bears down on the defective foot having spread, far apart toes, typically accompanied by thin, flat pads offering inadequate support.

Consider the various gundog foot shapes, such as the Irish Water Spaniel whose benchmark calls for a large, round, somewhat spreading foot, but never splayed. This separation of toes aids the dog in his primary function, which the breed blueprint clearly defines for working in all types of shooting and who is particularly suited to water fowling in difficult, marshy terrain. His feet are to have pronounced webbing for propelling him through rough waters, mudflats and tidal marshes with ease. Liken this foot to our using webbed flippers in the water. The greater webbed area propels and the stronger we swim forward. Providing that this dog has the obligatory, moderately spread toes and very strong webbing creating resourceful surface area, he can navigate through mudflats with ease. An Irish Water Spaniel with short, stubby, well-knitted toes is like poking a stick into the mud.


What of the hunting hounds? Pack scenthound and sighthound feet are highly rated. Consider the American Foxhound, whose feet are of tremendous importance rating 15 points on a scale of 20. His are shaped like a fox foot, which is a variation neither hare nor a cat foot, and is known as semi-hare. This shape levels the playing field so the foxhound hunts with the same shaped digits as his quarry to match speed. He has well arched toes, close and compact, with thick, tough, pads indurated by use. If you are running a foxhound with a paper or splayed foot, the hound will be useless in the hunt as he will quickly break down.

Lastly, we discuss digital pads and the communal pad. Pads provide protection in the simplest form. They are our shoes. The dog or hound will hurt if he has thin, poorly cushioned toe pads. Experiment by walking barefoot for a long period on various surfaces. Some breeds pride themselves on the size and padding of the feet, e.g., Afghan Hounds. They are to have ridiculously large front feet with harmonious, large, thick pads. As an Afghan Hound judge, I confirm the pads of the front feet because the Afghan Hound hunts in both hot, open, hard packed and steep, craggy terrain. If his pads were small and thin, with weak fibrous tissue then the hound will break down. In his country of origin, breaking down means the hound most likely will die because speed and hunting skills along with proliferating these traits, are necessary for his ongoing value to the tribes.

Keep all these factors in mind when you evaluate your litters because feet are mostly unforgivable.

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Posted by on Oct 8 2013. Filed under Health & Training. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  • March 2023