Horses and dogs can make some of the best of friends but that doesn’t mean it is always a smooth introduction. Dogs are often intimidated by the size or funny noises that horses make, and horses don’t always know if they can trust this funny looking creature barking and running around their legs! So how can you make sure they get along or at least aren’t scared of each other?
Here are some simple tips on introducing your dog to your horse!
Bring your dog on a leash
For your dog’s first time meeting your horse it is a good idea to bring them out on a leash. Introduce your dog to the barn and surrounding areas so they are comfortable and familiar with this new environment. Present them with your horse's halter, headstall, or saddle blanket, so they can investigate the horse's smell and familiarize themselves before actually meeting your horse.
There are many new sights, sounds, and smells for them to process so keep their first meeting short and simple. Observe their initial reactions to each other and it can’t hurt to bring along some yummy treats to reward good behavior in both animals!
Once your dog is comfortable with being around the barn area, they might be ready to meet your horse. If your horse or dog sniff at each other or seem curious without showing signs of aggression or fear, then you can let them get acquainted with each other with no problem. However, if your dog responds nervously or aggressively through snapping, growling, or barking, correct their behavior and keep them away from your horse. This goes for the horse as well. If they are showing signs of nervousness or stress, then keep your dog at a safe distance at your side. This will keep both parties from lashing out or injuring each other.
If everything goes smoothly, try walking your dog around your horse. For safety purposes, keep a distance and make sure to do this several times until both of them are comfortable. You may do this for weeks or longer, depending on how both behave with each other.
Training is the Key
No matter the reasons behind introducing your animals, training is always important. Both animals will benefit from having basic and reliable skills. This will make it easier on you as well, it’ll help keep the situation under your control and avoid possible problems.
Your horse should be able to stand calmly and quietly while always responding to your commands. While your dog should be able to sit and stay when commanded. This will help make sure that both animals never take over the situation and always remain within your control.
For your dog’s safety it is extremely important that your dog knows the proper behavior to display around your horse. Horses are known for having binocular vision, which means they have blinds spots in front of and behind them. We wouldn’t sneak up on our horse without taking proper precautions and your dog should know to do the same.
If your dog is running behind or around your horse, without respecting their space, it could easily lead to your dog getting stepped on or kicked and no one wants that!
Also teaching your dog which areas are off limits, such as paddocks, round pens, or riding arenas, will keep your dog from getting themselves trampled while underfoot or from spooking your horse unnecessarily.
Don’t force it!
Not every horse and dog will be instant best friends! Give them time and space to get to know each other. Always be alert and observe their behavior towards each other so that you can step in when needed. Don’t rush them! It might take them awhile to get used to each other. And some dogs just aren't "horse" dogs. It doesn't mean they're bad pets; they just may be better suited elsewhere.
Ask for Professional Help if needed
If you really want your dog and your horse to get along well, you don’t have to do everything on your own! You can always ask for assistance when introducing your dog to your horse.
If you have some concerns that your horse or dog will act out or get frightened, a professional’s help may come in handy. Watch for any signs of over-arousal or anxiety and take things slowly. It’s better to be cautious with every action you do as you introduce your dog to your horse rather than have to solve problems after having a negative experience.
When looking for a professional, make sure that you hire someone who has years of experience with dogs and horses. Don’t hire somebody who is not familiar with how horses and dogs behave or interact with one another.
Remember every dog and horse are different! Some horses and dogs get along fantastically and some are never going to be comfortable with each other. Just stay aware of your animal’s behaviors and allow them to have the time and space they need to work out their issues with each other.
Also remember that even if your dog and horse are the best of friends that doesn’t always guarantee they will react the same to newly introduced animals. You don’t always know how they will behave once they meet other dogs and horses, particularly the ill-behaved ones on trails, so always use caution and trust your judgement.
By Heather Carter