What to do when you’re chased by a dog.

While horses occasionally chase dogs, usually its the other way around
While horses occasionally chase dogs, usually it's the other way around

Hands down the scariest thing that ever happened to me while riding was when my horse was chased by a dog. Although this happened more than 20 years ago, thinking about it still makes my heart palpitate!

At the time I was living in Pennsylvania and leased a young Hannovarian/TB gelding. He was probably about 5 when this happened. I knew he had some trail “issues” and phobias, but I’d been hacking him out without incident.

This particular day we were walking on the side of a paved road. A dog ran out from the front of a house and kept on coming. The gelding spooked then bolted. The dog kept right after us. In a matter of seconds we were galloping full tilt down a paved road with the dog in pursuit. Luckily, it was early on a weekend morning and there were no cars on the road. I didn’t want to try to pull him up because I was afraid he’d slip and go down; there simply wasn’t enough traction on the asphalt and we were galloping down hill and around a slight curve.

Finally we came to a place where the road was bordered by a field and I was able to ease him onto the grass where he stopped. Somewhere along our ride, the dog had turned back. The whole thing probably lasted less than five minutes but it sure felt like an eternity!

I got off my horse and my legs were shaking so badly I couldn’t stand. In fact, I sat down for a good long time stunned. The gelding just stood there with his head down. I guess he was as scared as I. That was the last time I ever rode that horse out onto the trails alone.

Since then, I’ve learned more about how to deal with a dog that wants to chase or attack a horse and rider. I’m not sure — given this particular horse’s fear issues — how I would have dealt with the situation but in general, here’s what I do now:

  • If I pass a house where a dog is barking, I stop to see if it is going to come out. Many homes near me have an electric fence and the dog won’t leave the property.
  • If I encounter an unaccompanied dog on the trail, or a dog follows me off his property, I turn my horse and face it. Most of the time I’ve found that if you face the dog (on horseback) and say “No!” the dog will back off.
    If the dog keeps coming at us or tries to circle around, I will keep turning to face the dog and walk toward it. I’ve never had a dog that doesn’t back down at this point. I do know other people who were chased and I think that mostly it occurred when they let the dog get behind their horse.
  • One thing you should never do is start to trot or canter away from the dog (like I did in the scenario above). This puts the dog “in control” of the situation and will encourage it to continue to chase you either as part of a game or because your horse is reacting like prey.

Most of the dogs I encounter out riding are not dangerous or  bad. Many have never seen a horse before. They bark either because they want to play or because they are scared. By remaining calm you can help them stay calm too.

9 thoughts on “What to do when you’re chased by a dog.

  1. Great advice. So far, I’ve had good luck facing dogs as well. Most will retreat but I’ve known a few who circled behind my horse. Then, I face the dog again and walk toward it. As soon as my horse saw the dog retreating, he was willing to walk toward it.

    What a scary incident that must have been- glad you were both OK.

  2. I too agree with facing the dog and saying “no” or something like that, and not running away. Great post to help anyone who may ever be in that scary situation!

  3. I’ve also had good luck stopping and facing the dog, and asking m horse to take a few steps toward it, even.
    Once, unfortunately, we had to get a little aggressive because the dog was aggressive. We marched steadily at the dog until he turned tail and ran off.
    After that, I always carried a long dressage whip out on hacks–not for the horse, mind you.
    This is a great post and very informative.

  4. My horse and I have been chased by a dog three times, twice by the same dog. If a dog now runs towards my horse, he turns and bolts at full speed. Last time, I tried to turn him and face the dog, but when the dog kept coming at him at full speed with the owner running after him, screaming at the dog to stop, the horse just turned and run again. My horse is normally ok with dogs, I even take my own dog out with him sometimes and he likes it, but if a strange dog runs at him now, he will spook. Any suggestions?

  5. I love the picture above.

    I once train a colt my father had raise. A beautiful palomino. After putting a month on I was amazed at his confidents and everything we did I paid close attention not to interfere with it ( you know went ur scared they catch on) anyways this one day and elk cow jumped out of the bush with her new born calf. He spooked but didn’t move from his tracks. The elk was taking her calf into cross a field. Durby..had his ears strait up n wanted to follow…I lknew it was. Sorta dangerous so I made sure to keep a safe distance of about 50 feet. We loped a quarter mile with the elk… it was pretty amasing not only watching that elk but feeling how confident my 2yr old felt at that moment…something ill never forget

  6. I also came to the conclusion that facing my horse head on towards intimidating dogs made them back down. From my experience I recommend that you do this with caution. I was on a trail ride, alone with my 16hh Thoroughbred, we had to ride up close to a fence at one point, suddenly I noticed a rottweiler belting towards us, luckily there was a fence in between us and my Thoroughbred was pretty level headed for a Thoroughbred. However we were right up against the fence and the dog was jumping up at the fence and trying to get to us. So I turned my horse on him and for the first time it actually enraged and encouraged the dog, I honestly thought it was going jump up and bite my horse on the muzzle. We were both just very lucky to have fence separating the ferocious dog from us. My friend used to carry a spray bottle with a mix of tea tree oil and water in her saddle bag to spray at the dogs noses. Apparently this will not cause harm to the dog but it is unpleasant and will distract it and discourage it from chasing horses in the future.

    1. As a dog person (trainer) and an individual very familiar with this breed you did everything wrong. First you confronted the dog on ‘its land’. Dogs are terrotorial, and you just gave it a higher level of incentive to fight to show it. Think of it like this: You walk by someone’s house, theres a dog. The dog is naturally going to defend its property. How is the property defined? By a fence. If you stick your face up against the fence to confront the dog on ITS LAND you are directly challenging it for rights of dominance.

      if you truly wanted to avoid a fight you should have continued. Now, if the dog left the yard, you have to challenge it. A dog is more willing to compromise and walk away from a fight where it is NOT its land. Its all a mental challenge. You needn’t physically fight the dog for dominance. If you beat it mentally it’s a long term victory the dog is unlikely to tread lightly on again. Instead your very juvenile actions will now provoke the dog into being more aggressive in the future.

      If you have so little understanding of dogs please do not tread that line. More so, if the dog’s on the persons property and your challenging it, you risk causing the dog itself harm, possibly physically as well as mentally. Your putting other horse folks in danger and possible other folks merely walking by.

      Your thoughts were well intended by you do not understand how to apply them. Please be more thoughtful and have more care, both for yourself, your horse, future riders and the dog itself.

  7. Great article and I’d like to add some additional insight here. Well I know many of you may own, or have owned, or simply are familiar with dogs this does not mean your educated on general canine behavior. Some key points to remember concerning the confrontations laid out here:

    1: A dog is most confident and most willing to fight when it’s on its own land. It can be defined many ways, from a car to a yard to a specific room of a house. The best thing in these situations is to treat the dog respectful. Do not challenge it or try to provoke it as this is the easiest route to a fight. If you are the owner of this dog you should take steps to assert control and dominance over the household and that means forcing the dog to accept your leadership position.

    2: If a dog is NOT on it’s own land, the dog is more prone to play aggressive but not risk a serious fight unless it’s a dangerous dog. Easy ways of provoking a dog to react as a predator is to play as prey. The last thing you want to do is show fear, or, if necessary, controlled fear. A dog can pick up on your chemical cues but this does not mean you’re not ready for a fight. Stand your ground, and be loud. A very serious and assertive “NO” to a dog that has already slowing its charge to a trot/approach is normally enough to scare it off. Most of you here have done wonderful in challenging the dog. This is necessary to keep it from repeating the incident and possible growing more bold in the future.

    As an owner of dogs, as well as a rescuer/foster home care giver for dogs I know a good deal. I’m happy to look at questions you may have.

    But as good horse owners you also need to keep your horses under control. I’ve seen aggressive horses with very unconcerned owners. Every animal needs to be controlled when their outside their yard/paddocks, so bear this in mind. This is true for any domesticated animal. You can’t allow your horses to provoke or attack a dog, as rare as that is. I’ve been victim to poor equine management before and would wish that on no other dog owner or animal owner. We’re all part of a community here, and that community is animal owners. I’d like to think we all love animals or we would not spend time learning them.

    So far this forum has been a blessing. I’ve always wanted to learn more about horses, but more importantly about the character of their owners. You all seem like a pretty decent bunch.

    1. I was horseback riding today with my friends at a local lake.(like we usually do). And we noticed a large pitbull walking towards us off leash. The owners were far away and were calling but were casually walking up. I was riding my 12 year old Arabian mare. And she is always calm and nice. Our horses were looking at the pitbull. And we didn’t know what to do. My friend got off ( MISTAKE) to try and calm it down. It ignored her and went after me and my horse. She bolted and it was deep sand. The pitbull was faster than us and was franticly leaping onto us with full force. My horse got bitten and I did too in the leg. Luckily I had my leather half chaps on so it wasn’t bad. But this is the most scariest thing that has ever happened to me. I want you to keep in mind that I am 14 years old. And know no self defense. My horse kicked the dog in the eye with full force and it whimpered and rolled over. I’m my opinion you should have a knife on you at all times when riding. Pitbulls are just too risky. Standing still doesn’t help either because it will still attack. I regretted not having any weapon on me. If I had a knife I would have stabbed the dog in its face. This is SELF DEFENCE. So they cannot sue me, but I can them. Because we had not provoked the dog in any way. While my horse was darting she was spinning and kicking and rearing and bucking. I HIGHLY SUGGEST STAYING ON AT ALL TIMES. I’m glad I did otherwise I would have been mauled by the dog. Stay on So you can control your horse and not get injured on the ground. this dog was jumping up on me and my horse and if I had a knife I could have easily killed it. But sometimes they don’t jump up, and attack your horses legs. I am 14 and have no idea what to do in those situations. Please tell me in case this happens again.

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