Dogs around Horses can be the best of friends or the worst of enemies!! I just moved my horse to a new private barn that has only two horses. It is a quiet barn with miles of trails, which is exactly what I want! Riding trails weave in and out of the woods and across fields. With such nice landscapes, I’ve also been thinking about bringing my year old Labrador retriever on trail rides too; especially since my horse is great with dogs. The problem? My dog has never been around horses.
Dogs around horses that are trail riding partners have a few requirements. They need to be physically fit in order to go on long trail rides and they need the mental soundness enough to follow your commands. Some dogs are more independent than others and will run ahead, but they should listen when you ask them to come back to you, or wait for you to catch up. My dog loves to go on long walks. She is very independent and she is the type that will run ahead on walks through the woods to follow a scent. Even though she sometimes goes very far on a scent, she will come back as soon as I call her. Although dependent dogs might be easier to take on trail rides because they will stay close to you, a well-trained independent dog can also be a good trail companion.
Once I decided that I wanted to bring my dogs around horses, I started looking up ways to train and teach my dogs around horses. Before you introduce your dog to the barn, or your horse, your dog should be well trained. They should be able to understand simple commands such as sit, stay, and down, both on and off the leash. The first thing I did in training my dog, was to bring them to the barn on a leash. I closed the barn off so she wouldn’t see the horses outside and let her sniff around inside the barn. After a bit of smelling on the leash, I let her run around inside while I mucked stalls, so that she could get familiar to different sites and smells. When I finished doing my chores around the barn, I pulled down one of my saddle pads that has my horse’s scent on it and let my dog sniff that for a bit to get used to the smell of the horse.
I brought my dog to the barn, and let her smell my horses scent a few times before introducing her to my horse. When she was relaxed enough around the barn, I decided it was time to introduce her to my horse. I asked another person to be there, who had enough horse experience to hold my horse while I introduced the puppy to my horse. My dog was on a leash and my horse was on a lead. My horse of course has seen dogs before so was not too concerned about the dog. Observe your dog as you bring her closer to your horse. Does she show signs of aggression or fear? If she is showing aggression firmly say no and sit her down. Praise her once she relaxes and move a bit more closer to the horse. Once you’ve made it to the horse, make sure both the horse and dog are comfortable and let the dog sniff your horse, your horse may also sniff the dog because he has never met this particular dog. The whole interaction could take days or weeks to get to the point where both your dog and horse are comfortable together.
As you bring your dog to the barn more often she will easily become more relaxed. The next step is to keep your dog on a leash and allow your horse to run around in the pasture. Walk your dog on the leash around the pasture while the horse moves about. Praise your dog when she does not show any signs of fear or aggression. Move closer and closer to the horse as you make your way around the arena.
Continue to teach your dog to respect your horse and his space. It could take months before your dog is calm enough to go on a trail ride with you. The important things are to take baby steps and be patient. This could be a long process! Good luck and wish me luck in the rest of my trail partner training journey!