Dogs with three legs—also known as tripods—can live fit and active lives despite missing a limb. A growing number of three-legged dogs are even training and competing in a variety of sports alongside their owners. Some dogs are born without a fourth leg, while others lose a leg because of injury or illness. Regardless of why they only have three legs or what leg is missing, many of these dogs are driven and fit enough to participate in dog sports and are increasingly being allowed to do so.
Are Three-Legged Dogs Allowed to Compete in AKC Dog Sports?
Tripod dogs who are otherwise healthy and sound can compete in several AKC and AKC recognized sports. At this time three-legged dogs are not able to compete in Obedience or Rally but can earn virtual Obedience titles. Here is a list of sports they are able to compete in.
Are Dog Sports Safe for Three-Legged Dogs?
Just like every four-legged dog isn’t physically and structurally appropriate for every sport, the same is true for three-legged dogs. “One has to consider why the dog has only three legs,” says AKC Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein. “Was the leg amputated due to pathologic reasons, such as cancer? Was the limb amputated due to extreme trauma?”
He explains that if the limb was amputated due to a disease, you need to be certain the dog is fully healthy to risk further injuring or harming the dog. But many tripods are very physically active and for these dogs, sports can be a great outlet. “Dogs losing their limb due to trauma or unique genetic malformation are more likely to do better [in sports],” Dr. Klein says.
Any dog owner wanting to start training in a sport, especially high-impact sports with their tripod dog, should pay special attention to their dog’s health. Dogs should be in ideal weight and body condition in order to train and compete and should be screened for any underlying soft tissue disease or underlying osteoarthritis of existing limbs (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, spondylosis, etc.).
Dr. Klein explains that some three-legged dogs do better with sports than others, and you should consider the stress you may be putting on your dog. “When a dog has three legs, each leg takes more trauma than dogs having four limbs. This is especially true of forelimb amputees. Generally, smaller dogs fare more easily as tripods than larger dogs, but short-legged dogs with longer torsos may be more at risk for back issues.”
Assessing Three-Legged Dogs
A dog who is deemed by the judge to be lame, which is defined as any irregularity of locomotion, cannot compete in any AKC sport or event. In the past, it was often assumed that three-legged dogs were always in discomfort and unable to compete but that isn’t the case. When competing judges will evaluate a three-legged dog the same way they would a dog with four legs.
“Evaluating soundness and lameness on a three-legged dog is more challenging than with a four-legged dog,” Dr. Klein says. “Postural changes need to be evaluated such as how the dog sits and lies down or tries to get up. Coordination, scuffing, and slipping may be other signs to help assess soundness.”
Like with any dog you’ll want to take the specific health needs of your tripod dog into consideration when exploring sports with your dog. There is also the option of physical therapy for these dogs, as well as hydrotherapy and acupuncture. “Owners must be sensitive to their special needs of soreness and stiffness that they may be more prone to,” Dr. Klein explains.
Breaking Barriers In Dog Sports
Three-legged dogs and their owners are helping to break barriers and redefine what tripod dogs are capable of. Lark Shlimbaum and her dog Rascal, a 3-year-old Norwich Terrier, gained notoriety last year when he became the first tripod dog to compete in an AKC agility trial. Rascal has helped change the perspective of many dog people of what tripod dogs can do, that is if they notice his missing leg.
Rascal being a tripod sometimes takes people by surprise. “Most people don’t notice Rascal has three legs, including the judges!” Shlimbaum says. “Everyone who sees Rascal in person says he is inspirational and how terrific it is that he is running in agility. It has not been uncommon to be told the Judge had no clue who the tripod was and for other exhibitors to tell me at the end of the second day they just noticed Rascal has three legs.”
Shlimbaum and Rascal also train in Scent Work and Obedience. Rascal’s success came as a surprise to Shlimbaum and she never imagined being able to run with one in Agility. “This experience has introduced me to people around the world and tripod owners and dogs around the country,” she says. “Tripods can do anything.”
Dr. Klein advises joint health is something all dog owners should be thoughtful about. but especially those with three limbs. If you have an active three-legged dog, he advises you to “ask your veterinarian about supplements such as chondroitin and MSM to support joint health. Omega-3 fatty acids may help decrease the symptoms of osteoarthritis although there is scant definitive research.”
For any dog competing in any high-impact sports, and especially for a tripod dog, it’s a good idea to work with a rehabilitation veterinarian familiar with sports medicine. They will be able to help you assess what sports are right for your dog, and how to keep your dog in the best condition for training and competing.
Safety is something that Shlimbaum takes very seriously with Rascal on and off the Agility field. To help, he doesn’t run on wood and tile floors and only plays in carpeted areas, and Shlimbaum carries him up long flights of stairs.
There are handling adjustments she makes in Agility as well to keep him safer. “In Agility class, our teacher showed us how to turn left instead of right where there was a choice,” Shlimbaum says, as Rascal’s left side has two legs. She also makes sure to keep him in top physical condition, keep his weight down, do core strengthening exercises, take shorter walks every day, and moved his jump height down from 8-inch to 4-inch.
Rascal and Shlimbaum trained in Agility before he needed his leg amputated in 2020, and he was driven to get back to the sport he loves. She recalled that two weeks after the amputation, he got his staples out in the morning and they went to Agility class in the afternoon. “I thought we would try three or four obstacles, but Rascal turned out to be his same loud, fearless, athletic self and ran a full agility course.”
It has now been over a year since Rascal’s amputation and Shlimbaum says at this point there’s no difference to what it was like running him before amputation.
Getting Started With A Three-Legged Dog
If you have a tripod dog at home, and your dog is otherwise fit and healthy sports can be a great way to bond with your dog. “Dogs love to have a purpose. If your dog has only three legs but is mentally and physically fit and conditioned as determined by your veterinarian, most will do just fine,” Dr. Klein advises.
If you have an active three-legged dog at home, having three legs doesn’t have to slow them down and you might be surprised where the journey takes you. This sentiment was echoed by Shlimbaum. “You know your dog,” she says. “Do what you decide is best for your dog and no matter what happens, enjoy every moment.”