The Irish Water Spaniel’s breed standard indicates that the feet should be “large, round, somewhat spreading,” and standard for the English Bulldog calls for well-split toes, but neither are these the same thing as “splayed feet” in which the toes are spread quite apart. The opposite of tightly knit toes, splayed feet are also known as “open toed” or open-feet,” and in most breeds, it’s considered a fault, if not something to be strictly penalized.
Why is a splayed foot a problem? Because it’s inefficient. It doesn’t support a dog’s weight very well, and it can reduce traction. Plus, dry tough vegetation or rough ground can irritate webbing between the toes to the extent that cysts or sores can appear. Instead of a nice thick, firm pad, the pads on splayed feet aren’t as “cushiony,” but tend to lie flat against the ground. In time, this will become painful as a dog’s weight bears down splayed feet.
Try this little experiment. Put your own hand flat, and spread (or splay) the fingers out and apart. Now, arch your fingers, the way a good foot on dog should be arched, and try to spread them. Uncomfortable, right? especially if the dog’s nails are too long.
So why are somewhat spreading toes okay in a breed like the IWS? Probably because of the dog’s original job that had him working in marshy, often challenging terrain. Strong webbing between the dog’s toes gave him greater surface area to easily negotiate mudflats and propel through water (think snorkeling flippers).
Any number of things can cause splayed feet, from poor nail care, nutrition, or under or over supplementing with minerals/vitamins, to genetics.
Image: Shared from the AKC with consent