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Why Longer Walks Won’t Strengthen a Tripawd’s Leg Muscles


After amputation surgery, a three legged dog needs time to build up muscles in remaining limbs. But walking won’t do the trick. According to canine fitness experts, only core strengthening activities will increase muscle tone and keep your Tripawd steady on his paws.

Walking is great for endurance, but it does not build strength.

Thoughts About Strengthening Your Tripawd’s Limbs

Even though a Tripawd can go on long walks after recovering from surgery, that doesn’t mean he should.

Your time will be better spent by taking a few minutes each day to practice core strengthening activities.

A dog’s core muscles (or abdominals) are like a human’s: they support the back muscles which in turn help support the entire body, maintain balance and allow us to work out other parts, like the leg muscles.

Tripawds Spokespup Wyatt Ray Dawg is a good example of what can happen when you dedicate your recreation time to canine fitness games that strengthen core muscles.

Nearly three years after beginning our work on improving his core muscles and balance capabilities, Wyatt is stronger than ever.

We did it by using equipment like the games created by FitPAWS canine conditioning gear, but read on for more ideas about how to strengthen your three-legged dog’s legs.

Getting Stronger One Game at a Time

Tripawd German Shepherd post amputation
Six month’s after amputation, Wyatt’s leg was still weak.

As you can see in the above photo of Wyatt Ray running, his remaining rear limb was extremely weak and his slope was extremely pronounced. That photo was taken less than six months after amputation.

Today, this photo on the right shows his improvement, almost three years after amputation. His stronger core muscles are better able to support his entire body, his rear leg has gained power and more obvious definition.

Today he has better spinal alignment and longer endurance that helps him during playtime and walks. Staying strong will also reduce joint stress as he ages.

Can you see the difference in the two photos?

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Strengthening Tips for Tripawds

  • Take shorter, more frequent walks (no more than 20 minutes each).
  • Practice proprioception (“body awareness”) by balancing on uneven surfaces, like walking over small hedges, up and down curbs, and stepping over sticks and logs.
  • Keep food proportions small (notice how you can see the faint outline of Wyatt’s ribs in the above photo). Tripawds should be thinner than quadpawds to ease the strain on their joints.
  • Play with FitPAWS canine conditioning gear several times a week, but make daily games your goal.

Remember, you don’t need to invest a lot of money into canine fitness gear. And you can also build your own dog fitness equipment, or use simple objects like couch cushions and pillows! Here’s a list of places to help you get started.

Recommended Reading:

Tripawds News (Updated for 2022): 3 Facts About Longer Walks and Tripawd Dogs

Tripawds Gear Blog: Fitness Tips for Tripawds

Tripawds Gear Blog: How to Build a Homemade Agility Course

Tripawds Gear Blog: More Fun with FitPAWS Balance Discs

Tripawds Gear Blog: Stay Strong with Maggie’s FitPAWS Workout

Tripawds Downloads Blog: Get Fit with a DIY Balance Board for Dogs

Tripawds Gear Blog: FitPAWS Wobble Board Builds Amputee Confidence

Tripawds News Blog: California Animal Rehabilitation Center Recovery, Fitness and Diet Tips

Want more rehab and exercise tips?

Download Loving Life On Three Legs for professional rehab exercises, recommended stretches, how-to videos, and more professional tips!

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NOTE: We are not veterinarians. All information provided here is based only on our own experiences caring for Jerry and Wyatt, and the experiences of other Tripawds members. Please consult your vet or do further research before implementing any new fitness regimen into your dog’s treatment plan.



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44 thoughts on “Why Longer Walks Won’t Strengthen a Tripawd’s Leg Muscles”

    • Great question Lucy! I meant to address this in my post. We were told by a rehab therapist that overall, strengthening exercises are the same for front and rear-leggers, but a few exercises can be done in reverse to focus on the front limb area.

      As you see, Wyatt is standing with both front paws on the balance disc. For a front leg Tripawd you would move the disc or other unstable surface (couch cushion) to the front limb, to work the rear.

      Front leg Tripawds generally build up strength a lot faster since they naturally carry more weight on the front legs before amputation, so their bodies are used to shifting all of their weight forward. If your leg isn’t “Arnold-ized” already, it will be soon enough and you’ll have some heavy muscles there.

      Whether a dog is a front or rear legger, remember that it’s important to help your dog gently stretch before and after exercising to help alleviate any stress from over-compensating for the missing limb.

      Hope this answers your question.

      • Hello, Great information provided here! One question about your statement “As you see, Wyatt is standing with both front paws on the balance disc. For a front leg Tripawd you would move the disc or other unstable surface (couch cushion) to the front limb, to work the rear.” Shouldn’t it instead read “For a front leg Tripawd you would move the disc or other unstable surface (couch cushion) to the REAR LIMBS, to work the rear.”, as opposed to the front limbs, which is how Wyatt is pictured? Thank you in advance!

    • @lucysmom Unstable surface work like this should benefit all tripawds, front or rear. Once Lucy has these exercises down, you can increase the difficulty by trying to get her to keep her back legs on the disc while she stretches. Thanks for asking and good luck!

  1. Our Goldie, a 15 1/2 year old Lab, just underwent surgery on her left rear leg and is now a tripawd. 3 days out of surgery and she’s trying to get up and move on her own. We’re to take her back to have stitches removed in about 10 days and she’s already showing signs of wanting to get up and go.

    Our front yard is rather uneven and after reading your pointers, I think it might be a good place to help with her rehab. Also, our street is only 1 block long and that might go with your pointers about a short walk as well.

  2. Our 9 year old golden, Katie is going in in 2 weeks to have her left hind leg amputated. At a loss as to how to start to rehab her. We have stairs, will she ever be able to master stairs again?

    • Sorry to hear about Katie. Every dog is different but she will likely be taking to the stairs in no time. We lived on the second story at the time of Jerry’s amputation and he refused our help going up and down within a few days. Please post in the forums or search all blogs for “stairs” for more information, videos and advice. And don’t miss our three legged dog rehab videos too!

  3. My dog is a rear legged amputee. She can go down stairs but upstairs is a no go without my help. But not all are like her in that sense.
    I do regular PT work with my dog. Some of it is a link at the bottom of this blog 🙂

    Tracy, Maggie’s Mom

  4. Sorry to hear about Katie. Lira, my golden just turned 9. She is almost 1 year post amputation and she is doing great. Yay! She was climbing stairs to the second floor of the house within a few weeks of her surgery. She too had a rear limb removed. I was so worried about how she would do but she has adapted so well. She actually runs better than she walks. Getting up from a lying down position is still pretty slow but she is a little on the heavy side but once she is up she is great! I think this is more related to traction on the hardwood floor than anything else really. Lira did not want help from us to move around either. If we tried to help she wouldn’t move. She didn’t need a harness, she just started moving and has been great since. I will be praying for your Katie..just remember that all dogs are different…so don’t get discouraged should you feel she is progressing slow. It can be a long recovery.

  5. Thanks for sharing Lira’s story! You’re so right, all dogs are different, and far more resilient than silly humans give them credit for.

  6. We live in San Francisco. I like to think Dixie’s daily walks up a giant hill to the park help strengthen her core. She gets up those hills faster than the tourists! Once we get up the hill, she jumps up on the short wall surrounding the park (which is rounded/sloped on either side; not a flat surface) and walks like a cat along the wall into the park. We used to say she was party billy goat when she had four legs — guess she’s still got it!

  7. My lab/mix Coco is 85lbs she just had her right front leg amputated due to bone cancer 6 days ago and has been home for 3 full days . She is approximately 9 1/2 years old. The vet has not been very helpful about telling us what to do to reabilitate her. My question is how much should we be making her walk other than outside to do her stuff. By the time she walks across a 20 foot deck and down a ramp her remaining legs are shaking. I dont know how far to push her to walk. Any information on how to help her recover would be grateful

  8. My tripawd, Zappa, seems a to not be missing a beat…..and he has a TON of energy. I used to rollerblade with my high energy dogs in the past. I am wondering if it will be okay to do this with Zappa. He had a front amputation and loves to run….seems like running while I rollerblade would actually be better for him than a walk. When walking he hops but when running he sails and the impact seems to be less……

    • Jen, we aren’t rehab vets so we advise working with one to determine if Zappa (great name!) is a good candidate for this type of high impact activity. Based on our conversations with therapists and orthopedic surgeons, we’ve learned that most dogs are not (although they will do anything to keep up with the pack and not show their pain for as long as possible). Definitely work with a pro before Zappa attempts something like that OK? There are so many other ways to burn off a dogs energy (nosework, obedience, Rally-O, etc) that don’t cause joint stress and injuries. Good luck and keep us posted!

  9. Bella,almost 6years, had her left hind leg amputated 2weeks ago following a nasty Soft Tissue Sarcoma. She was walking almost immediately and came home the next day. She is on Gabapentin and Carprox 3 times a day. I feel she needs to strengthen her remaining hind leg and I gently massage it which she enjoys, but I think she needs more than that. What else should I do? Mentally she seems fed up often, and sleeps a lot although she loves her short walks but they seem to make her sleep even more afterwards. Should we be reducing the drugs? What can I do to strengthen her 3 legs and spine as the vet said her spine will be sore?

    • Rachael please keep in mind that as we mention in the article, it’s not about strengthening that back leg but about strengthening her core muscles. Our e-book, Loving Life on Three Legs, goes into great detail about what this means. For now, keep in mind that two weeks is not a long time after amputation surgery. It’s quite soon really, to be doing any kind of strenuous activity. If she is sleeping a lot that could indicate that she is too tired from too much activity too soon. The best thing you can do for her is to get her evaluated by a canine physio therapist. Let us know if you’d like help finding one in your area. We have members in the UK who may be able to help too.

  10. Great article! I can’t find some of the pictures referenced in the article–the one of Wyatt Ray running, for instance. I would love to see the examples you discuss to get a better idea of what a weak leg and improper slope would look like. Thanks!

  11. I have a question? My Checkers became a tripawd in April he lost his front left but they also discovered he has a heart murmur. Is it ok to still strength train with him? He is only 2 and very active and I would love to take him on short hikes. ( he used to be our hiking dog)


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