3-Legged Wonders

Gibbs as a puppy with 2 broken legs

Have you ever seen an adorable tripod pup out and about? Their impressive resilience and grace somehow make them even cuter. At least that’s how I felt when I first saw our soon-to-be adopted pup, Gibbs. Gibbs is missing one of his front legs. We’re not sure how it happened, but we know that he was dropped in a cardboard box at an animal shelter in New Mexico—with two broken legs. Poor baby was only five weeks old. 

One leg healed (the back leg), but his front leg did not, so it had to be amputated. We adopted Gibbs a few months after his amputation. 

Tripod Tips to Keep in Mind

Our veterinarian has been an incredible resource for us while navigating life with a 3-legged dog. There’s no way around it… the situation is unique and comes with particular challenges (admittedly, many of which I did not even think about when we adopted him… all I was thinking about was how cute he was). Whether your tripod was born with only three legs or had some sort of traumatic experience to put him or her in this position, here are some tips on how to give your sweet tripod the easiest and best life possible. 

Gibbs wearing his Ruffwear harness with a handle
  1. Build up your dog’s confidence slowly.
    There is an innate vulnerability that comes with having one fewer leg than most other dogs,” explains Dr. Carl Prior of Park City Animal Clinic. Ever heard of “Small Dog Syndrome”? Think of this as the equivalent for tripods. Allow your dog to experience new things, but don’t push too hard. He or she may need extra time and space to adjust. The important thing is to try and keep experiences positive, so if you notice anxiety or tension, take a step back and provide a lot of positive reinforcement. This step requires that you actually know and can interpret your dog’s body language quickly, so closely study your dog’s behavior. This will ensure they know you have their back and can remove them from potentially negative situations.
  2. Keep your dog on the slimmer side.
    Since tripods have one fewer limb to disperse their weight, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet that keeps your dog lean,” says Dr. Prior. The more weight that goes on the remaining front leg, for example, the more stress it puts on that paw and joint, which could create problems in the future. 
  3. Use adequate paw protection on the remaining paws.
    Similar to the advice above, it’s important to protect the remaining paws. Imagine if your pup only had one front leg, and something happened to the other front leg… how would they function? It wouldn’t be easy. Use things like Musher’s Secret or boots if you’re out in the snow, keep an eye on the pavement temperature, and maintain proper nail care. Overgrown nails are one of the most common issues in dogs and can create more problems down the line.
  4. Ask your vet if joint supplements are needed.
    Since there’s extra pressure on the joint opposite the missing leg, ask your vet if giving it a little TLC is a good idea in the form of a joint supplement, to keep it lubricated and functioning well. 
  5. Consider a harness with a handle.
    Trust me, the handle comes in handy when assisting tripod dogs on hikes or getting in and out of the car (jumping down out of a car can be especially rough for pups who only have one front leg). We have the Ruffwear Web Master harness for Gibbs and it fits like a glove and works wonders.
  6. Be intentional about toy purchases.
    Having only one front paw may render some enrichment toys impossible, which could do more harm than good. Consider more stationary enrichment toys, like a stuffed Kong, a puzzle toy, or a snuffle mat.
  7. Watch their exertion level.
    While providing ample opportunities for exercise is important, be diligent about offering proper rest. Dr. Prior adds, “Many tripods have to hop along, which takes a lot more energy than a casual amble, so bear that in mind if you’re walking multiple dogs or aren’t used to walking with a 3-legged dog.”

For the most part, your dog will likely forget they even had that limb in the first place, and you’ll simply be in awe of how well they get around (and so will everyone who sees them in action!). But these steps highlight a few ways your dog may be subconsciously compensating and what you can do to help them feel their best. Enjoy your strong tripod pup!