Dewclaws are often removed from neonatal puppies in the first few days of life. Dewclaws on the hind legs are very easily torn, and some dogs have large dewclaws on the front legs that don’t lie close to the leg. These dewclaws are similarly easily torn.
Now, some people remove dewclaws. Some don’t. It’s really not that big a deal with a neonatal whelp. The vestigal digit hasn’t developed so strongly that they have a really well-developed bone with a lot of blood supply.
However, there are certain breeds– the Briard, the Beauceron and the Great Pyrenees come to mine– that have a requirement for double dewclaws on the hind legs.
The photo above is of a Beauceron, which looks something like a Dobermann crossed with German Shepherd. However, it is probably related to the German shepherd, descending from the old European herding dog landrace, and it is an ancestor of the Dobermann (I spelll it with two n’s because Herr Dobermann spelled it that way!) It is derived from the Chien de Plain of northern France that herding sheep and guarded farms.
This breed has always had a requirement for the double dewclaw on the hind legs. It is almost a diagnostic for the breed.
Its closest relative is the Briard, which looks very little like it on the surface. But the two have similar conformation and both have the double dewclaws on the hind legs. The most famous Briard is “Buck” from Married… with Children.
So not all “working dogs” have their dewclaws removed. The practice is actually becoming less and less common, not because the risk of damaging dewclaws has been reduced. If you ever have a dog that pulls a dewclaw, which I haven’t, it is a very bloody mess. The reason why people don’t remove dewclaws is something like this “You’re chopping off the dog’s fingers!”
Well, I don’t remove dewclaws, but some people do. I respect the choice. Dewclaw removal hurts the puppy for a few minutes and maybe is sore for a few days afterword. This happens when the puppy’s neurological system is quite primitive. It’s unlikely that the puppy will have any lasting damage to the dog.
There is some anecdotal evidence that dewclaw removal causes carpal arthritis. I know of any good studies to suggest that this is the case. My vet talks people out of removing dewclaws on the front legs. I don’t know whether this is the reason or if he feels that this is an unnecessary medical procedure.
But hind dewclaws on any breed that doesn’t have to have them really should have them removed. They hang loosely to the sides of the legs and jiggle when the dog walks. They are an accident waiting to happen.
*I should point out here that, contrary to what folklore says, removing dewclaws does not make a dog immune to snake venom. It just prevents a dog from tearing off a vestigal digit while doing its work, playing, or just being a dog.