Horses and dogs are often expected to co-exist simply because many horse owners are dog lovers, too. In fact, there are many benefits to having dogs around on horse farms. However, if a dog has never seen a horse before, it might react to this large, powerful animal by barking or even chasing the horse.

Here are some top tips on how to keep dogs and horses safe around each other!

From Your Dog’s Perspective

When your dog first sees a horse, he’ll most likely react by chasing the horse or barking at it. That could be because the dog is afraid or nervous about the horse and reacts by trying to frighten the strange creature away by displaying aggressive behaviors.

Dogs are naturally predatory animals that hunt other species for food. On the other hand, horses are prey animals that instinctively take flight when they feel threatened. If your pet is not restrained the first time he encounters a horse, the chances are that Fido will set off in hot pursuit of Dobbin! So, take the time to set up a puppy crate where your furry friend can watch your horse without either party endangering the other.

Some dog breeds are more prone to chasing horses than others. For example, Border Collies and other herding breeds will attempt to round up the horse, which will not end well! Remember that although the horse’s first response when threatened is flight, when it’s cornered, the horse will “fight” to defend itself from the threat. That “fight” response can take the form of a kick, which could easily seriously injure or kill your dog. So, when choosing a puppy or a rescue dog, try to avoid breeds that have very strong prey or herding instincts. Of course, many fun-loving breeds, including Doodles and Boxers, are naturally playful and can easily become overexcited when confronted with a horse. Often, these breeds try to persuade the horse to play with them, usually by chasing it and barking. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that your horse will feel the same way!

How To Prevent A Chase Situation

Here are some ways to prevent your dog from chasing your horse:

  • Socialize your puppy or dog so that he remains calm around horses and doesn’t regard them as something exciting or frightening.
  • Keep your dog under close control and on a leash until you know that your pup will come to you immediately when you call him. Also, ensure that your dog understands and is obedient to the “Come here!” and “Leave it!” commands.
  • If you’re out walking with your dog and you see a horse and rider approaching, restrain your dog, and make sure that the rider can see you. The rider should slow to a walk as they pass you. Reassure your dog so that he doesn’t start jumping up and barking when the horse passes.
  • If you’re walking where you’re likely to encounter horses and riders, wear a hi-viz or brightly colored top and outfit your dog in a hi-viz harness. That gives riders a chance to react to you quickly.
  • If your dog starts barking, hush him up quickly, and then reward that good behavior by giving your pet a treat. When training dogs to behave well around horses, positive reinforcement methods are the way to go rather than scolding or punishing your canine companion.
  • If your walk takes you through fields or pastures where horses are grazing, put your dog on a leash. If something startles the horses and they start trotting, your dog might react instinctively by giving chase. If your dog is leashed, you’ll prevent that from happening.

From The Horse’s Perspective

Horses were originally prey animals for many large carnivore species, such as wolves. To keep them safe, horses evolved to have a “fight or flight” response.

The horse’s main form of defense is to flee. Even when a rider is on board, a horse will still try to run away when confronted with a threat. When a horse bolts, the animal is usually oblivious to everything around it other than a potential escape route and the pursuing predator. A bolting horse might run out onto a busy road, potentially causing a serious accident.

If the horse is unable to take flight, it will resort to its “fight” response, which usually involves kicking out at the threat. Many horses wear steel shoes, and a kick can easily kill a dog or seriously injure a person who gets in the way.

Accident Prevention

Here are some handy tips on how to train your horse to accept your dog.

  • Socialize your horse with your dog so that your equine pal understands that your dog is not a threat. Keep the dog in a crate close to the horse’s stable, or hold the dog on a leash and allow your horse to sniff the dog from behind the stable door
  • Do not allow your dog to enter your horse’s stable! Even the calmest horse is capable of kicking or treading on the dog if startled.
  • When out riding, always slow your horse to a walk, and call out to dog walkers to alert them to your presence. Remember that if you’re approaching from behind, the dog walker might not realize you’re there.
  • Give dogs a wide berth so that they don’t feel threatened by your horse.
  • Wear hi-viz clothing so that dog walkers can see you and get control of their dogs.
  • When riding out in a group, always pass dog walkers in single file and at a walk. Always thank dog owners who take close control of their dogs so that you can ride past them safely.
  • Keep calm at all times, even if your horse becomes unsettled at the sight of a dog. If the dog becomes overexcited, be ready to stop and wait until the dog has been caught.
  • If riding a young horse on trails where dogs are commonly encountered, always go in company with a more experienced equine companion that’s not fazed by canines.

In Conclusion

Always think ahead when riding out or walking with your dog. Riders should be ready to stop and allow dog walkers to take control of their dogs before passing. Dog walkers, be prepared to catch your dog and give horses plenty of space to pass. Train your dog not to bark at horses by using positive reinforcement and reward-based training methods.

Horses and dogs don’t always mix, but if you follow our handy tips and helpful advice, your furry four-legged friends can learn to get along safely.

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