Are You Worried About how Your Dogs Will Interact With Your Horses? Follow These Tips

Horse enthusiasts tend to care deeply about all animals.  Plenty of riders own dogs, cats and other pets.  Unfortunately, some dog owners hesitate to bring their furry friend to the barn.  Dogs and horses might seem like two peas in a pod yet improperly mixing these two animals has the potential to backfire in a big way.  If the dog or horse becomes nervous or even slightly scared, the animals could become violent toward one another.  Thankfully, there are some ways to teach dogs to be relaxed around horses.  Pet owners who are proactive about animal safety really can prevent potentially dangerous interactions between these animals.  Here’s how to do it.

Be Careful When Mixing Dogs With Horses

“It is a mistake to let a dog or any other animal of significant size loose in a riding arena, paddock or other space near your horse” says Richard Schibell.  It takes merely one mistaken kick to inflict a painful injury or even kill the dog.  Some pet owners have found gradually acclimating horses and dogs to one another with the assistance of a trainer ameliorates socialization and obedience challenges.

Understand Canine Body Language

Take some time to understand dog body language.  Look for signs that indicate the animal is defensive or fearful.  The common signs of fear include tail-tucking between the legs, a flattening of the ears, growling and loud barking.  These are the most obvious signs of an agitated or fearful dog.  Pay especially close attention to your dog and you will be able to pick up on subtle cues that indicate fear.  Everything from dilated pupils to panting, yawning, lip-liking, pacing and refusing to look at the horse indicate the dog is unhappy being in the horse’s presence.  If you spot such signals, remain calm and make sure the horse and dog have ample space between them.

Learn About Your Furry Friend’s Background

Most dog-lovers are aware of the fact that canines evolved from wolves.  Plenty of dog breeds hunt small animals similar to how wolves chase their prey.  Thankfully, dogs do not view horses as prey.  Rather, some dogs are intimidated by horses simply because of their distinct body language and remarkable size.  However, there is the potential for the dog’s instinctive desire to chase other animals to trump his or her fear.  This means a nervous dog might run in pursuit of a galloping horse.

Some puppies and other young dogs will attempt to play with the horse yet these two animals do not share body language so the horse will have no idea what the dog is trying to do.  It is particularly interesting to note horses are naturally afraid of wolves.  The average horse will flee the scene quite quickly if pursued by a wolf or even a dog.  Some horses are even willing to kick dogs who get too close.  Kicking can inflict significant harm on the dog as well as the rider.

Carefully Socialize Your Dogs and Horses

Do not rush the introduction of your dog to your horse.  This process will take some time.  Provide your dog with the opportunity to sniff around the horse barn when the horses are far away from the area.  Walk the dog on a leash so you can control him or her when exposed to these new odors.  It might help to give your dog the opportunity to smell a horse saddle blanket to improve familiarity with your equine friends.  Position the horse within a paddock.  Do not tether him as he needs to be able to move away.  Slowly walk toward the horse with your furry friend on a leash.  Heap on the praise and doggy snacks while observing for indications of anxiety.  If the dog growls, barks or appears scared, back away until he settles down.  It will take some time to gradually move the animals closer together.   It might take upwards of several weeks for the animals to get used to one another in the paddock space.  Once the two hit it off in this environment, segue to practicing in other situations such as the horse barn.  Be patient and the animals should get along in due time.

Focus on Keeping the Animals Comfortable

Your dog deserves the opportunity to gradually socialize with horses until the point is reached when both animals feel comfortable around one another.  Ideally, socialization will occur before the two animals are formally introduced.  Socialization is particularly important for puppies.  Trainers advise subjecting dogs to an abundance of situations in the initial formative weeks.  Though it is possible to teach grown dogs to be comfortable around larger animals like horses, it will likely take longer as older dogs tend to be set in their ways.

Focus on establishing positive associations to socialize your dog with your horse.  Remain below the dog’s threshold for fear so the animal stays calm.  Slowly hike the intensity while ensuring the dog feels comfortable every step of the way.  Bring your dog to an area where he can observe the horse from afar with a fence between the two animals to prevent physical contact.  Keep the dog held tight on a leash, be quite and wait for the dog to see the horse on his own.  Once he or she spots the horse, give him a treat.  Give the dog another treat each time he looks up to the horse.

Return to the same area the next couple of days to continue practicing dog-horse socialization.  Your dog will gradually become more comfortable with the horse as these interactions increase in frequency.  Gradually move the animals closer to one another.  If your furry friend shows signs of stress, ease up and go a bit slower.  Keep trying and your dog will likely be content to be near horses in due time.

Above all, you should focus on inspiring positive interactions between the animals without spurring stress.  Once your dog seems at peace near your horse, the two can be formally introduced without a fence between them.  However, if the dog refuses to settle down after several attempts, you just might have to resign yourself to the fact that they might not get along no matter how hard you try.

Consider Crating Your Dog

Regardless of how much time you spend training your dog and horse, it will prove impossible to predict animal behavior.  You can take some precautions to keep these animals safe.  Consider crating your furry friend when horses are in the area.  Crating your dog will prove especially important if in the vicinity of horses unfamiliar with dogs.  You never know if a horse will detest your dog’s look, scent or other idiosyncrasies.

If you are grooming your horse or doing anything else in which you cannot keep an eye on your dog, the animal will likely walk around the area and possibly be mistakenly kicked or stepped on.  It is always better to be safe rather than sorry.  When in doubt, crate your dog!  Thankfully, there is no need to pay through the nose for a costly crate.  You merely need a crate with soft sides to confine your pet for a brief period of time.

Be Safe When Riding Your Horse in the Vicinity of Your Dog

Do not attempt to ride with your dog alongside your horse.  Dogs must be capable of responding to your commands regardless of the situation.  If another rider, dog, hiker or bike rider is in the area, it is imperative your dog follows your verbal commands.  Every dog should be trained to sit, stay and walk. This way, you can guide your dog into the proper position without dismounting.  You can practice with the horse in the vicinity as soon as your dog understands basic commands.

It might even help to have your significant other or a friend ride the horse as you perform dog training.  The dog must be taught to walk behind the horse at a safe distance.  Certain dogs are capable of walking at this distance without training.  However, especially energetic canines will require some extra training.  Above all, do not make the mistake of leashing your dog while riding as the leash could easily become entangled, forcing the dog beneath the horse or even yanking you off the saddle.


Few dogs and horses get along with one another in a natural manner.  These animals can be taught to be civil in the presence of one another if you are patient and caring. Anticipate some conflicts during the socialization process, closely observe animal interactions and keep a close eye on the animals to prevent them from harming one another.  Slowly introduce the two animals to minimize stress and the two should get along in due time.

With 35 years experience, Richard Schibell loves sharing his passion and knowledge for all things horses. Stay up to date with our content by following the blog at!

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