This is somewhat ironic, because Emily commented that she is always in favor of removing dewclaws, but I am going to TOTALLY steal her gorgeous photo to illustrate what I am talking about in terms of dogs really using dewclaws for something.
See how Red Bull is actually flexing that “thumb” to hold on to the post? It’s on, ummm… his left. Your right. His right paw is relatively relaxed, so you can see the nails clearly on all toes, including the dewclaw. His left paw is flexing strongly into the wood, and SO IS THE DEWCLAW.
You can also see it when you compare that one to the pic below it. When he’s standing, the dewclaw’s nail is clearly visible pointing toward the front of his foot. In the holding-on picture, the nail is invisble–because it’s flexed and holding on.
Do you forgive me, Emily?
By the way, to answer some other comments, yes there’s very definitely a difference between front dewclaws. Some are attached at a very prominent angle and some sit very close to the leg. That’s the kind I always had on the Danes–they didn’t stick out much at all. The close-set ones would at least theoretically be safer from injury.
And yes, the flyball dogs all wear neoprene wrist guards that velcro around the leg. They use them to avoid skidding injuries but such a thing could also be very useful for a working dog going through heavy cover.
And I’m still really unconvinced by the “they could get injured” argument. Looking at the Danes over the years, by far the most common injuries were to tails (but Danes are never docked); a second would be lacerations over hips or ribcages. I did have lots of cut pads, some torn-out nails, and a broken toe. Zero dewclaw injuries. I ran my dogs through very heavy stuff and up and down mountains. So by that logic we should dock Danes’ tails, cut out loose skin on the hip, remove nails, etc., because better to deliberately cause the wound in a controlled environment than risk any possibility of it outside.