If you have more than one four-legged friend, chances are you’d like to be able to spend time with them at the same time. It does take some training to make sure the relationship between a dog and horse meshes well, and then it’s “happy trails” for everyone.
Start with Basic Obedience
Whether through dog training classes, taking your dog to a professional, or taking on the training yourself, it’s important your dog understand and yield to basic commands. These include “come,” or a strong recall, “heel,” “stay,”. A few other level two commands can prevent injury or save a life: “close,” “forward,” “stop,” and “move”. The basic commands are necessary before the first introduction to your horse, and level two when your dog is off leash at the barn and on the trail.
Around the Barn
Safety around horses often begins at the barn – a great place to get your dog acclimated to horses. Allow the dog to get used to the sights, smells and activity of the barn. Be sure to introduce the dog and horse slowly, with your dog on a leash and with your horse in a safe, enclosed place (round pen, etc.). There should be enough space for the horse to move away if needed. Watch your dog closely and encourage friendly behavior, while discouraging any aggressive or chase oriented actions. Be cautious of your horse also, as some will be aggressive towards dogs. Dogs must learn horse safety: stay away from the legs, don’t cross under the horse, don’t cut the horse off or try to herd him.
At the Arena
There may be some areas around the barn that should be off-limits to your dog. These might include pastures, arenas, and round pens. An off-leash dog can prove hazardous if the instinct to chase kicks in in these areas. This is where good socialization between dog and horse comes into play, along with a strong recall – incredibly important if you aim to take your dog beyond the barn.
On the Trail
Basic obedience training will pay off, particularly when out on a trail. The open environment and additional distractions are a good test for your dog. In order to instill level two training in this new environment, consider introducing your dog to appropriate behaviors on the trail by taking him on hikes before adding horses to the mix. It’s especially important your dog have a strong recall for trail rides, so you can trust that you can call him off chasing any other dogs, wild animals, runners or mountain bikes.
Level Two Training Skills to Practice at Home:
Close: Using an extendable leash or long lead, let you dog roam, and repeat “close” while your dog is 5-10 feet away from you. If your dog goes beyond that, tug on the leash to get him back in range and say “close.” Practice this cue in different environments with different stressors. Develop this with off leash work before advancing to horseback.
Forward: Forward can be taught at home before applying it to the trail. Most of the time you will be going through doorways before your dog, but when you would prefer he go first, begin at home by encouraging him to enter doorways before you with the command “forward.” You can translate this to the barn, and it applies on the trail if you’re coming into a narrow spot and must continue single file. You may want your horse in front if the other horses do not know your dog. You can tell him “forward,” to have him lead the way through narrow areas. Your dog can also advance on narrow, blind curves to warn fast-approaching mountain bikers you are just around the bend!
Stop: “Stop” or “stay” can be used to stop your dog from going further, so you can catch up. This way, the dog does not have to retrace its steps returning to you on the trail. Begin training with a long line to instill the concept, and then practice while hiking before translating to horseback.
Taking you dog to the barn or on the trails can be a wonderful experience. Using these commands can help keep everyone safe. Some dogs “know” these behaviors instinctually, others need to learn, and some dogs may be best left home. Sharing the trail with your horse and dog is a dream come true for many horse people, good training for all involved will help make it a good dream.