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Introducing your dog to your horse

Always keep your dog on a leash during the first encounters with a horse.

When it comes to other animals’ compatibility with horses, it’s hard to find a more well-matched partner than a dog. These two species have long been associated with developing keen friendships with humans, and much of it has to do with the distinct qualities both horses and dogs share with each other. But just like all well-rounded relationships, it takes time and effort on both parts to truly create a bond. If you’re a horse trainer who is interested in adding a dog to the family, here are a few tips to consider when it comes to introduce one furry friend to another:

Types of dogs
When considering what type of dog works best alongside horses, knowing the specific species that come from herding breeds is a good tip to mull over. According to the American Kennel Club, known dogs that derive from herding groups include German shepherds, collies, border collies, Australian shepherds, Norwegian buhunds and plenty more. While these types of dogs are more naturally prone to be comfortable around larger animals, it’s important to remember that you don’t want your new pet to boss or herd your horses around, unless it’s for occasions such as rounding horses up to go inside a stable or trailer.

Another type of dog that’s known to feel comfortable around horses are sporting breeds, such as retrievers, cocker spaniels, pointers and Labradors. These dogs are extremely intelligent and can easily be trained to be friendly with larger animals such as horses without getting in their way. HorseChannel.com also names dalmatians as an excellent dog that gets along great with horses, because of their renowned training abilities. A good rule of thumb to consider when thinking about a breed of dog is to avoid smaller, lap dogs, as they tend to be either intimidated by larger animals or generally ignored by the horses.

Practice beforehand
Before you introduce a dog to a horse, you should already be practicing various routine tricks that can come in handy later on. If your dog has mastered the art of sit and stay, these commands can make the initial encounter with the horse more relaxed for both parties. The more well-trained your dog is before introducing it to a horse, the smoother this experience will be for everyone.

Meet and greets
The first encounter between a dog and a horse is the most important aspect to developing a bond between the two animals. For starters, it’s wise to choose a horse you consider to be the most calm. Puppies tend to be the easiest age to introduce to a horse, as they usually don’t have any preconceived notions of fear and anxiety toward larger animals. Always keep your dog on a leash during the first visit with a horse, and ease the dog closer to the horse rather than letting it quickly approach. Horses can be easily startled, as they are flight animals in new or tense situations. Make the meeting pleasant for both animals by giving them treats in between the initial sniffing and introductory process. If your dog reacts negatively to the horse by either barking or biting, try not to yell or discipline the dog, as this will create a negative memory it might always associate with the horse.

Riding alongside your dog
Once you’ve established a connection between your dog and horse, go for a ride on your horse and see how your dog handles trotting aside you both. It’s important to gauge your dog’s personality as well as training abilities before this ride. Dogs that are generally independent will gladly relish the opportunity to be outdoors alongside their owner, while dogs that need constant attention may not adjust well to not being directly by your side. If your dog doesn’t respond well to vocal commands from afar, you might find it difficult getting it to perform instructions while perched on your horse. At the end of the day, you can’t force a bond between both animals, so if you find that things aren’t gelling between your dog and horse, try to keep them separated as much as possible.