Dogs and horses just go together — at least, it seems like they should. Art over the centuries has certainly romanticized the dog/horse/human companionship as the epitome of the sporting or outdoor life. But do dogs really belong in the barn (or in the pastures, or on the trails, or in your arena?)
The answer depends, of course, on the dog and on the horse. If you’re considering introducing your dog to your horse, here are a few steps to help ensure the meeting goes well.
Obedience: Before you take your newest pound puppy to the barn, be sure that he’ll listen to your commands. Your dog should have basic obedience down pat — sit, stay, come, down. Control over your dog is hugely important should your horse react nervously and shy away. You don’t want to see the evolutionary traits of predator vs prey in action here, you just want to bring your dog to the barn.
Gradual Introductions: Bring your dog into barn life slowly. Bring him along on your usual feeding routine. Give him a few days to get used to stalled or pastured horses before any nose-to-nose time.
Bring a Partner: For most new interactions between a dog and a horse, whether it’s introducing a horse or teaching the dog to follow a mounted horse, you’ll want a second person who can control the dog. Leashes can get wrapped around a horse’s legs and cause panic, so one person should handle the horse and one person should handle the dog. If your animals are comfortable with one another and you want to introduce your dog to trail riding, bring a ground-person who can walk the dog while your ride the horse. This is especially important if you’re not sure how the dog will react when a horse begins to pick up speed.
Understand Breeding: Dog breeds with specific traits might be more apt to act negatively around horses, so get to know as much as you can about your dog’s instincts. A herding dog might nip at a horse’s heels to try to bring him into line — sometimes they just can’t help themselves. Introducing an older herding breed to horses shouldn’t be impossible, but the dog might need extra training and supervision.
Be Sensitive to Fear: Many of us are working with animals with murky pasts. Whether you purchased a horse as a ten-year-old or just adopted a dog from a local rescue, learning their entire history is generally pretty unlikely. If a horse or a dog is showing fear of the other species, take the behavior seriously. Fear sparks aggression — horses kick, dogs chase and bite — which could spell the ending of your beautiful dog/horse relationship before it ever began.
Take introductions slowly, be sure your dog and horse are both trusting and under control, and remain vigilant: dogs and horses can and do coexist, but building the relationship between predator and prey, naturally, can take some time.