How to Recognize Paw Prints

By Kyra Sheahan

Knowing how to recognize paw prints in the snow, ground or sand can possibly save your life. When wandering around in the wilderness, it is important to know what types of wildlife are around and to consider the territory of the region through which you are traveling. No matter where you are walking, if you see paw prints, you should take the time to study them so that you can tell whether or not the area is safe to continue walking through.

Study the paw tracks up close. You will have to bend down to get a closer look, and you may even wish to use a magnifying glass if the area is covered with shade from trees.

Count the number of toes in the paw print. If you see four toes and one pad, you are looking at a canine paw print. Dogs, coyotes and wolves have four toes per paw. If you see five toes plus one paw pad, then you could be staring at a bear's paw print.

Look for evidence of claws. Claws will leave a small triangular shape in the print above the toes. If the tracks are light, there may not be evidence of claws because the animal leaving the prints has to sink deeper into the ground to leave claw tracks.

Examine the toe placement around the pad. You can tell what species of animal left the prints by analyzing the toe placement. For instance, if you have identified a bear paw print, you can discern whether the bear is a grizzly or a black bear based on the curvature of the toes. A grizzly bear's toes line up in a straight line above the paw pad, while a black bear's toes curve more around the pad.