How to Introduce your Dog to Horses

Periodically, I invite other bloggers to publish an article on Equine Ink. This article is written by Melissa Waltz, who grew up on a family farm with 4 dogs, sheep, a few hens, gooses, and two Appaloosas (named Ronny & Barty), and one American Miniature Horses (Moosa). Before opting for a full-time vet-tech career, she interned at Fort Worth Botanical Gardens in Fort Worth, Texas, and has first-hand experience working with farm animals including horses and managing the animal relations within the farm.

Longtime readers know that one of my pet peeves is encountering dogs who have no experience with horses, and whose owners don’t always understand the best way to introduce (and control) their pets when they see a horse for the first time.

If you have horses on your farm and decide to get a dog, you must understand that a process is necessary for them to be introduced and learn to get along with each other. Likewise, anyone who owns a dog next to or near a farm with horses and other animals should communicate and work with the horse owner so that your dog and their horse can be introduced to avoid.
The problem that arises is if neither species is familiar with the other, you can run into many issues. For example, dogs might chase horses and spook them, which can lead to injury or cause harm to a rider. Horses might also injure small pups if they are close to their feet. In both cases, trauma to either a dog or a horse can cause it to mistrust the other.

Even as a seasoned horse or dog owner, you need to ensure that introducing the two is a positive experience so they can easily be around each other. Dogs and horses are both social animals and can learn to coexist in harmony. They both have a good reputation for associating with other animal species, but much of their learning comes from their owners, too. 

If you want to understand how to introduce your dog to either your horses or other horses properly so it can be around them safely and without worry, then read on for some expert tips and techniques.

Social Skills

Since both animals can acclimate to each other, it is essential to be familiar with the animals and their personalities. Herding dogs, particularly collies, have an instinct to move things and would be more inclined to chase and herd horses like cattle. Smaller breed dogs tend to be less interested in livestock.

Horses tend to be more apt for socialization from about four to twelve weeks old. During this time, being introduced to other animals can go a long way to aiding their acceptance of other animals in a friendly fashion. Keep these things in mind as you start to develop interactions between horses and dogs.

Trails for horses are one of the more common places where dogs will find them. Unfortunately, it can be one of the most dangerous times for interaction and socialization. In many cases, owners don’t keep their dogs leashed, and if the dog has never seen a horse before it most likely will overreact. It is essential for dog owners to recognize areas and locations such as trails to ensure their dog stays leashed or will not cause harm such as barking, chasing, or biting at the horses.

Training Dogs and Horses

When properly socialized, dogs and horses can become good friends.

When you decide to introduce your dog to the neighbor horses, or your own horses, you should begin with leash training. Leash training a puppy helps you as the owner to assert boundaries, and you can do a gradual introduction from a distance. You need to be in control of the dog’s access to the horse.

Introducing your dog to a horse will be a process, so prepare yourself to be patient. It is also important to note that you should only reward your pup when it displays good behavior to encourage disinterest and coexistence with the horse. Keep your voice calm and steady at all times, and be as natural as possible. In other words, don’t point out the horse to your dog, but rather, ignore its presence to encourage your dog to do the same.

Training is crucial for both animals. Knowing basic commands and understanding that you are the “boss” will help you manage and prevent any issues. Horse owners should have the horse stand quietly, move back when instructed, and be receptive to lead pressures. Dogs need to be able to sit, stay, lay down, and come, holding those positions as long as necessary until they are released by your command. Another common training phrase for your dog can be “leave it,” which cues the dog to ignore, which you can use around the horses.

Understand Each Animal’s Body Language

Animals tend to demonstrate how they are feeling, and we need to be aware of the subtle signs and clues that they show. For example, horses might whine, move back, or try to run away when they are scared or stressed. Dogs will tuck their tails, growl, bark, whimper, and either charge or run from the horse. Be sure to prepare for these situations and immediately separate the animals from one another. 

Keeping both horse and dog under control is an important part of the introduction process

When you know if your horse or dog is reacting negatively or seemingly upset, you can quickly prevent the associations and remove the animals from each other’s sights. The introductions need to stay positive and encourage so that neither animal is ever fearful or anxious with the other around. Each animal needs to learn that the other one is not a threat so that they can accept the other’s presence freely.

Keep a Solid Distance

Ensure that your horse or the owner’s horse is secured somewhere, be it within a fenced enclosure or tied out in an open field. If you happen to have your horse on a trail or out in the open, the owner of the dog should be the responsible party for having their dog secured with a leash to keep the distance. When you first approach the horse with your dog, keep your dog next to you at a leash and a distance from the horse. You want to keep the distance far enough so that initially, your dog is unaware of the horse at all. 

Next, have your dog sit or lay down with your command, and remember to reward it when it adheres properly. Then, continue to keep your dog on a leash and slowly and calmly move a little bit closer to the horse. As long as you can make these small advances with your dog continuing to be relaxed, calm, and disinterested, you can continue to praise and reward your dog.

Do this multiple times on a routine, and eventually, you can allow your dog to get close enough to “explore” the horse, as long as both animals are not showing any signs of aggression or fear. Your ultimate goal should be to get your dog to the fence or near enough to be around the horse without any reaction. Your dog may sniff or show subtle signs of interest by watching the horse’s actions but should still be quiet and subdued. 

Do this introduction process numerous times – the best way is to try to do it daily around the same time to make it routine until you are completely sure that both animals will remain calm. It may only take a matter of a couple of weeks but may take longer for you to know that both animals are comfortable, like four to six weeks. When you have reached this point, now is when it could be okay to remove your dog’s leash and not have any barriers between the horse and dog for the actual introduction. 

It can also be helpful to consult experts such as a veterinarian for help in how to introduce your dog to horses best. It is vital that the dog is under verbal control before you ever attempt to remove the leash, so you can ensure it will follow commands.  If the horses are not your own you can talk to the horse owner, especially if they have other animals, about how they might help with the process.

Take Your Time

Remember that this process is prolonged and can some time to accomplish, such as a few weeks. It helps if the dog owner provides obedience training prior to the introduction to the horse. However, having horses and dogs be around one another is possible, with proper training and a lot of time together in a pleasant, calm environment. 

As a dog owner, walking your dog along a trail can result in an encounter with a horse. To make that introduction smooth, you should work with riders ahead of time that utilizes the trail and alert them to the possibility of an introduction with your dog. The best way to ensure safety is by keeping your dog on a leash, and again, ensuring that your dog will follow verbal commands.

Be patient with this process of introducing your dog, look for warning signs, and ensure that your dog can be around your horse or other horses without any reaction (and remember to reward this good behavior). Never let your dog off the leash until you are sure that it can be calm around the horses and is under your verbal control at all times. Keeping your dog on a leash at all times will ensure safety. Your hard work has paid off, and your dog and horse can now have a happy, harmonious relationship.

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