Dogs and horses, horses and dogs…they just go together, right? But what happens if your dog doesn’t love (or at least respect) your horse? Or if your horse sees your furry best friend as a scary predator and gets all jiggy whenever he’s around?
A proactive approach to canine/equine harmony
You could just leave your dog home but what fun is that? Not to mention the guilt you feel as you walk out the door. Or you could just take your untrained dog to the barn, let him loose and risk injury, liability and maybe even getting booted out of the barn. Whoa! Let’s try a better solution!
Read on or skip forward to read 10 Barn Rules for The Well-Mannered Dog Owner»
First, do a quick assessment…
…of your dog’s understanding of basic obedience and behavior, especially loose leash walking. If there’s a lot of pulling, barking, etc, it might be time to enroll him in Obedience 101 for some professional training. Think about it. Nothing (not piles of laundry, lack of sleep nor nasty weather) keeps us from working our horses. And we train ourselves the same way—in lessons, clinics and workshops so we can become better owners and riders. Surely we can put some of that energy into training our dogs! The result, an improved quality of life for our loyal canine friends, will be worth it.
Do you already feel comfortable with your dog’s behavior?
Great! Let’s start! First, we need to make sure your dog is accustomed to, and enjoys time in, a crate. Here, he can safely rest (without chewing seatbelts, upholstery, etc) while you are handling your horse or otherwise unable to provide supervision. Just make sure you park in the shade, use a sun-repelling tarp on the windshield, leave the windows open to catch the breeze and bring a long-term chew such as a knuckle bone or bully stick for your dog to enjoy while you are riding.
Before you leave for your first training session…
…skimp a little on your dog’s breakfast and be sure to pack a bait bag/treat pouch full of “high-value” treats (the ones your dog craves such as hot dogs, string cheese, etc) for rewards. The fastest way to create a great work ethic is to tempt a hungry dog with some extra-yummy treats. (Note: the higher the distraction level during training, the better the treats/rewards should be.) Before you know it, your dog will focus both eyes on you and be asking, “Horse, what horse?”.
Budget some extra time into your schedule to take your dog out for some lively exercise. A tired dog makes for a happy owner. Here’s why: A dog that has bounced around a bit and taken the edge off is guaranteed to be more relaxed, receptive and respectful. He will also be less reactive (especially important in this training exercise) and will be better able to learn new skills in a new environment.
On to the barn!
All set? Grab your dog, your leash, your treats and let’s go! When you arrive, take a walk around the property and let your dog scan the scene while he is securely on-leash (a 6’ leash, not a Flexi) and your equine friends are safely behind turnout fences. Be the confident Alpha you know you are! Keep your energy up, legs moving and verbal praise ongoing so your dog begins to view you as the pack leader, picks up your positive vibes and follows you. As you’re walking, pull out some of those yummy treats and begin luring your dog’s attention up to your face. Verbally praise him and then bring the reward down for him to eat. Remember, state of mind is important. If you are confident and consistent, it will encourage your dog to be too.
Is your dog pulling forward, left and right?
Change direction, re-engage, reward and then continue forward on your path. Walking backward until your dog checks in with you is a smart way to achieve re-engagement. Consistently done, this action will teach him that pulling on the leash simply means it ultimately takes more time to reach his destination and now he will have to cover more ground. Not only will you be making doing the right thing easy (paying attention to you on a loose leash gets rewards) but you’ll also be making the wrong thing difficult (pulling on the leash and disengaging means more work).
At safe intervals, when your dog is willingly moving forward without pulling, be sure to stop and allow him the opportunity to process all this. Simply stand still, relax your leash and body, call his name and feed him every time he looks at you. Then move on. Remember to keep training short and positive this first time out. First experiences are critical to your long- term success.
When you are done with your tour, give your dog some downtime in the crate while you go focus on your horse. This rest gives him a chance to decompress in comfort and safety while digging into that long-term chew you brought. Additionally, it lets him quietly process that first training session, ensuring better success for Round Two after your ride.
Before moving forward, perform a quick evaluation of your dog’s comfort level. If you think he needs another walk, or two before moving on to our next more challenging exercises, then keep at it. However, if he seems comfortable walking on a loose leash while checking in consistently, then let’s continue.
Dog, Meet Horse!
For this section of training, you will need to enlist the help of a fellow horse owner. Ask her to go for a walk with you and your dog. Walking is a pack activity and a great way to develop a bond between dogs, humans and horses. At this point, it would be best if you could use a confident horse who has already been exposed to dogs so you are not training dog and horse simultaneously. If that’s not possible and you must train both at the same time, be sure to take the needs of each into consideration and train accordingly. If your dog is feeling insecure, ask the confident horse and other owner to lead the walk.
If your horse is more insecure, you and your dog take the lead.
Asking the animal with the most uncertainty to follow the lead of the other animal will build up that animal’s confidence. That’s because leading away makes the other animal think that the lead animal is retreating. As each animal’s comfort level increases, reverse the order.
Be sure to once again stop at regular intervals so both canine and equine can digest the exercise. Giving the horse a moment to graze and the dog another opportunity to get treats will also create a positive association for each animal. Be sure to always to keep a safe distance between horse and dog, even if this initial training session is progressing smoothly.
If all is going well, stop here for today. Remember, short term success brings long-term results. Over the next several days, enlist the help of different horses and owners until you are eventually able to you’re your dog side by side with any horse in the barn.
“Who wants to go to the barn????”
The more miles and the more horse partners the better. With each walk, ask more of your dog; for example, try walking with a looser leash, maintain more eye contact and develop consistent overall comfort and relaxation. Before you know it, your dog will treat horses like familiar friends enabling you to leave the leash—not your dog—at home every time you head to the barn.
Happy training, Jenifer
Barn Rules for The Well-Mannered Dog Owner
1. If you keep your horse at a boarding facility, be sure to ask the owner or barn manager if non-resident dogs are welcome and if any areas are dog-free zones. Just because there are resident dogs there, don’t assume it is okay to bring yours. Horses are the focus at horse barns, not dogs. Don’t be offended if you are asked to leave your dog home.
2. Always keep your dog on-leash if you do not have him her 100% trained to obey verbal commands under all circumstances.
3. Don’t assume every horse (and every person) is comfortable around dogs. Some horses (and people) are uncomfortable around even calm, friendly dogs.
4. Be especially careful with puppies and small dogs that horses (and people) can unknowingly step on. Never take them along for a ride.
5. Don’t let your dog enter stalls, arena or turnout areas.
6. Curb your herding breed dog’s natural instincts to bark, chase or nip at horses’ heels.
7. Carry clean-up bags with you and immediately scoop up dog waste.
8. Bring your own water bowl. Be sure your dog doesn’t help himself to barn cat’s food dish, other boarders’ snacks, etc.
9. Don’t ask other people to “watch your dog.” If you can’t supervise him, leave him home or put him safely in his crate. If he barks in the crate, leave him home until you have trained him not to.
10. Be sure your dogs are up-to-date on required immunizations.