Author: Brianna Kuna, Trailblazer
At the time, we weren’t actively looking for a dog and knew next to nothing about caring for a three-legged pupper. We were recent college graduates who just moved in together and didn’t have much money. But when I saw Remmy’s shelter photo, I couldn’t get him out of my mind! We felt a strong sense of sympathy for Remmy at the beginning. He was a stray for who knows how long and sustained a terrible injury to his leg (exactly how that happened, we’ll never know for sure, but he most likely was hit by a car). Despite his history, he had a resilient spirit and a gentle soul. I didn’t think he’d ever be a hiking dog or be able to learn tricks like High 5. But from the beginning, Remmy has completely blown us away by showing us how much he is capable of doing and we no longer feel sorry for him, but are inspired by him.
In this post, I’ll share some of the things we’ve learned about adventuring with our differently-abled dog. Please keep in mind that while the info shared here may be useful to you, it is not a substitute to a quality conversation with your veterinarian about your dog’s unique needs.
Dogs carry 60% of their weight in the front half of their body and 40% in the rear. Because Remmy is missing a front leg, his remaining front leg has to support his entire front end which puts a lot of stress on his wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints. A good joint supplement containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM helps to keep these joints well lubricated. We found Wild Alaskan’s Hip and Joint Mini Pellets to be the best supplement for Remmy’s needs. Remmy refuses chalky pills and tends to regurgitate his food afterward if he takes them. Liquid supplements were a bit too messy and inconvenient for traveling and camping. These pellets are small, easily packable, lightweight, blend seamlessly into Remmy’s food, and also contain krill oil and turmeric for extra health benefits. In addition to a joint supplement, Remmy has to stay just underweight so that he doesn’t carry around extra pounds and exert extra stress on his joints.
One of the most common questions we get asked about Remmy is how far he can hike and every time we answer – it depends! It depends on the type of trail: flat and easy or elevated with lots of obstacles like rocks and logs?
Weather plays a factor, too: his stamina is way better on a cool, cloudy day than sunny and warm. Typically, Remmy can easily manage 5-6 miles on a moderately challenging trail, but it took some time to get to that point. Losing a limb is a big deal. It takes time for the body to adjust and figure out a new way to move. Dogs are incredible with how fast they bounce back from amputations, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for long, grueling hikes right off the bat. Multiple, short walks for about 20 minutes around our neighborhood were what we started off with. The first hike Remmy went on was about 4 months after his amputation and was just shy of 3 miles on a well maintained path. Swimming is a great low impact exercise, too! People are always impressed that Remmy doesn’t swim in circles for missing a leg, but he adjusted just fine and can swim in a perfectly straight line, often beating his buddies!
TRICK TRAINING BUILDS STRENGTH AND BODY AWARENESS
Sit Pretty and High 5 may look like cute parlor tricks, but they are much more than that! Trick training is a phenomenal way to build a dog’s core strength and increase body awareness. It’s also an excellent way to exercise your dog’s mind during those stretches of time where you’re stuck at home instead of out exploring. All dogs, not just tripawds, can benefit from trick training! There are also products such as balance boards that pet owners can buy or DIY to improve body condition and coordination.
It goes without saying that having a comfortable spot to relax and recover is so vitally important to a tripawd. Hopping around is tiring! When we camp, we make sure to bring a simple travel bed to give Remmy a cozy spot to settle on while we’re setting up camp and hanging out (he doesn’t always use it, but it’s the thought that counts, right?!). At home, he has plenty of supportive orthopedic beds to rest on in between adventures.
We get questions all the time from other tripawd pawrents about good harnesses for tripawds. Front-leg tripawds like Remmy have a hard time finding a good fitting harness that won’t slip or slide around. Ruffwear’s Webmaster simply can’t be beat! There are 5 adjustable straps for full customization and the two belly straps help the harness stay snug and prevent it from slipping around. There is also a sturdy handle on top that we use all the time to help support Remmy up and down obstacles like rocks, trees, and sometimes the car. We’ve had Remmy’s harness for 3 years and it shows no signs of wearing out anytime soon!
We likely won’t ever purchase a hiking backpack for Remmy because it isn’t necessary for him, and I don’t advise them for tripawds. It’s already very taxing on his body to hop around on three legs so he does not need any extra weight on his back. The only instance where we would consider a pack for him is so he can carry out his own poop. Spending $40-$80+ on a pack solely for his poop is just kinda silly in our minds so we will continue to be his poop carriers. Lucky Remmy.
When we take Remmy swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding, we don’t leave without his life vest! Again, Ruffwear came out on top for us but there are many others on the market that will do an excellent job of keeping your pupper afloat. Some key features to look for in a quality life vest are a sturdy handle to lift the dog, secure straps with good belly support, a snug fit, and the dog’s comfort/maneuverability. Remmy does work harder than his 4-legged pals when he swims and he’s all muscle so his life vest helps extend his stamina and keeps him safe!
If in the event Remmy does get injured, we always make sure to bring a first aid kit stocked with basics such as benedryl, gauze, booties, vet wrap, and antiseptic spray. We also never hike without our hammock which primarily functions as a cozy place to relax but also doubles as a carrier in the event Remmy sustains an injury rendering him unable to walk.
It’s perfectly natural and acceptable to want to protect our dogs from potential injury, especially with a tripawd. We worry about Remmy injuring one of his remaining legs for the pain it may cause him and the cost associated with vet care to repair and rehabilitate an injury. We also know that a life cooped up indoors is no life to live, and Remmy has a ton of life in him! We feel so much joy seeing him happily explore trails, scale rocks, roughhouse with his furiends, and settle into a deep, content sleep at the end of a fun day.
Accidents can happen on the trail, and they can just as easily happen at home. We minimize the risks as best we can while adventuring with Remmy through researching the trail conditions, monitoring Remmy’s activity, bringing his gear, and keeping him fit and conditioned.
What about you? Do you adventure with a differently abled dog? Or have questions? Share your tips and inquiries in the comments!