Debunking Five Myths About Three-Legged Dogs

We recently adopted a three-legged “tripod” dog. He is only 10 months old. He lost his leg due to a bad break caused by an accident, and the leg was unable to be repaired.

Most three-legged dogs are not so young. The majority of dogs who lose a leg are older, and most develop cancer in the leg or shoulder area, which requires amputation.

Regardless of their age, these dogs are remarkably well-adjusted creatures for the most part, and having only three legs doesn’t slow them down.

Here are five myths about three-legged dogs:

  • They fall down, a lot. So far, this has not been our experience. Granted, we’ve only had the dog for a couple of weeks, but he has managed to stay upright except for perhaps two times when he lost his footing on a wet surface or was just clumsy.
  • They can’t go up or down stairs easily. Think again! Our guy runs up the stairs three-at-a-time, and actually gets to the top faster than his litter mate who is the same age and has four-on-the-floor. Descending stairs is a tiny bit more difficult, but just a tiny bit.
  • You can’t take a three-legged dog on a walk. Wrong again. Our guy loves to see the leash and sits proudly waiting for it to be put on. Out the door, he pulls just as hard as his brother, and can keep up on the walk just fine. We don’t go for LONG walks, that would not be smart. But a brief, gentle walk, around the block, say, is just the thing to keep your tripod in shape and on the move.
  • Three-legged dogs can’t swim. We live on a lake, and while we have not actually tried swimming with our tripod yet, he has stepped into the (very shallow) water and got his feet wet — all three of them! There are a lot of online resources for three-leggers, and a few of them sell flotation devices for “tripawds.” We can’t wait until next summer to try out one of these flotation vests on our dog!
  • He wants to play fetch, but he can’t.  He can get to the ball even faster than his four-legged counterpart. Just use common sense and don’t play for too long of a period of time. Be creative and bounce the ball on a hard surface so he doesn’t have to run as much, or throw it up in the air and have him catch the ball mid-air. There are lots of ways to have fun with a ball-crazy dog other than just throwing it long distances.

You get the picture. Having three legs doesn’t phase the animal. We humans can take a lot of lessons from our dogs. This creature lost a leg and didn’t even think twice about it, he just lives in the moment and does what he wants to do. He doesn’t ruminate the loss of his leg or need psychological therapy. He doesn’t need to know “what happened” like every human we encounter on our walks!

If you have a three-legged dog, be prepared to tell his “story” to every human you meet. Be ready to see the looks of shock on people’s faces (especially children). Have a script ready for people who “feel bad” or children who seem frightened. I always say “He’s fine, it doesn’t bother him, so why should it bother us? Look — he can run, and jump, and play just like his brother. In fact, he’s even FASTER!”

K.S. Mueller is a travel executive living in Massachusetts who writes essays about dogs, cats and other topics in her spare time. Check out her web sites:; and Follow K.S.Mueller on Facebook and Twitter.

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