The way that you introduce your dog to your horse will determine whether they become good friends or mortal enemies. Of course, you want them both to get along, but before that can happen, you must teach your dog to respect your horse and behave properly to ensure his safety – and that of you and your horse, as well. If you plan on having your dog on your horse farm, here’s how to make the introduction as stress-free and positive as possible for all parties involved.

Before You Take Your Dog to the Horse Barn

Before you take your dog to the barn, a vet visit is imperative for ensuring that your dog is current on his vaccines and that he’s free of parasites, especially if the dog is brand new to your family and you’re unsure of his history. 

According to the medical team at Bond Vet, “Worms are a very important health consideration when it comes to dogs.” Worms like roundworms and tapeworms can be a big problem for your horses, so the last thing you want to do is bring them into your stable. 

Of course, keeping your dog current on his vaccines, especially the rabies vaccine, is also important for his health and the health of other animals and people he is exposed to. A simple check-up at your vet can prevent any potential problems with your dog exposing your horse to parasites, bacteria, or illness.

We also recommend keeping stray and wild animals out of the stable for similar reasons.

Consider Your Dog’s Personality

Certain dog breeds are more likely to do well around horses than others, but a lot of it also depends on the dog’s personality, temperament, and level of obedience training. If you can, it’s best to begin introducing your dog to the horse when he’s young, but that’s not always possible.

If you’re adopting a grown dog, talk to the previous owner about his personality before you adopt him. How does he do around strange people and animals? Is he aggressive, mellow, or easily excitable? Does he know basic obedience, especially sit, stay, and come when called?

In a perfect world, your dog would be mellow, friendly, and well trained. That’s not to say that an excitable dog who’s still learning basic obedience can’t ever be around the horse, but you should take steps to correct bad behaviors before you bring him to the barn.

Get Him Familiar with the Barn First

Before you even think about introducing your dog to your horse, take steps to get him familiar with the new environment. Keep him on a leash and walk him around the barn and paddocks, allowing him to see and sniff everything until he calms down. 

Be sure to let him investigate your horse’s smell by presenting the horse’s saddle blanket or halter. Be prepared to take him on a few tours of the barn to get him used to everything and ensure that he’s calm when he meets your horse.

Introducing Your Dog to Your Horse

When the big day finally arrives, put your horse in a paddock or turnout area so that he is contained but can still move away if he gets nervous. With your dog on a short leash, approach the horse slowly, and watch your dog’s reaction carefully.

If the dog shows signs of aggression, fear, or over excitement, stop and have him sit at your side until he calms down. Once he’s calm again, move forward slowly. Be sure to offer soft praise and positive reinforcement when he’s displaying calm, friendly behavior.

Continue to repeat this process until your dog approaches the horse quietly and calmly. Some dogs may achieve this on the first day, others may need weeks or longer. Don’t try to rush it! Your dog must learn to approach the horse without displaying aggression or fear.

This process is called desensitization. The idea is that, with gradual exposure, both animals’ responses will become less dramatic. By controlling how they interact with each other, you’re ultimately controlling their response, as well.

Now Take Away the Barrier

Once your dog can approach the horse calmly with a fence between them, it’s time to remove the barrier. Have an experienced handler hold your horse while you and your dog approach in the same way you did in the previous step. 

When the dog gets close enough, the two animals will probably want to sniff each other, and that’s fine as long as they’re both calm and under the control of their respective handlers. You’ll want to take your time with this step as well. If your horse seems stressed, back off and take a break, especially if he’s older.

Keeping Them Both Safe Moving Forward

Before you consider letting your dog have free reign at the barn, you should be totally confident that he’ll follow basic commands. Most importantly he should obey sit, stay, and come even from a distance, and even when he’s distracted by your horse or other people and animals.

When you’re ready to give him free rein, watch him closely, and teach him to respect your horse’s space. Anytime he starts to get too close, call him back to you and give him a reward. It will take time, but eventually, he should learn not to get too close. 

This step is vital for ensuring he doesn’t accidentally get kicked or stepped on if he spooks your horse or wanders behind him unaware. Moving forward, you should always supervise their interactions to avoid accidents that could cause serious injury or even cost your dog his life.

Anytime you can’t keep a close eye on him, such as when you’re grooming your horse or doing hoof work, it’s best to confine your dog, just to be safe. Horses are big animals and accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. Making your dog spend a short time in a crate is a small price to pay for keeping him safe.

Wrapping Up

Although dogs and horses aren’t natural companions, they can be taught to interact safely and even be friendly with each other. Slow, gradual introduction, repetition, and supervision are the keys to keeping the experience a safe and positive one for you, your horse, and your dog. Utilizing this approach will increase the chances of your two best buddies becoming happy companions.

Leave a Reply