How to Train Your Dog to Behave Around Horses

Medium
2-4 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

It is not uncommon for animal lovers to have pets from more than one species, but what happens when one of your pet species is a predator and the other is a prey animal? Does mayhem necessarily have to follow?  Hopefully not!  Many horse owners also own dogs, and they get along famously, but this does not necessarily occur without some work, training and assimilating the two companion animals from species with very different natural instincts. Remember herding dogs have a tendency to want to herd livestock and large dogs, especially from hunting breeds, may also be prone to chase livestock. Other dogs are just plain excited about being around a new animal and may jump at the horse or, if fearful, may bite out of fear. If you do not teach your dog that these behaviors are not compatible with being around your horse,  you could be in for a wreck. There is a danger to the horse if it becomes frightened and the flight instinct kicks in--the horse could become injured in its panic to escape, slip and hurt itself or run through a fence, person, or other obstacle. Also, your dog can become hurt if a horse, being annoyed or harried by a dog decides to “fight”,  a horse can easily injure or kill a dog by stepping on, kicking or even biting it.

Defining Tasks

Because horses are prey animals who tend to react by fight or flight to the presence of  a predator, which technically your dog is, you will need to teach your dog to behave in a respectful, calm way around horses in order to avoid a confrontation in which your dog or the horse could be injured or worse. Ideally, a dog that is going to be around horses is introduced when young, but this is not always possible. If a horse owner adopts or acquires an older dog that has no experience with horses, some precautions and training will need to take place so that the dog learns to behave appropriately around his equine family members.  If the dog has a history of aggression or chasing bikes, people or other livestock, teaching the dog to behave around a horse can be particularly challenging.  Dogs need to not chase, jump at, or nip horses and should stay a respectful distance from the horse's feet.  In order to not put themselves or the horse at risk, dogs need to learn to be calm, gentle and not make sudden movements around horses.

Getting Started

Before you introduce your dog and horse and start teaching appropriate behavior around horses, you should be aware of the temperament of both the horse and the dog, and whether either of them has been exposed to the other species before. If you have an excitable dog and your horse has never seen a dog before, you might want to introduce the horse to a calm dog first so the horse has a positive experience around dogs before introducing an excitable dog, and vice versa. If your dog is calm, but the horse not so much, get your dog used to quiet horses that accept his presence before introducing him to a more high-spirited equine friend. Your dog should know basic obedience commands and have good on and off leash control prior to exposing him to a horse or horses. A leash, to control your dog, and a round pen or corral with safe fencing such as rail, not barbed wire, is ideal for introducing your dog to how to behave around horses.

The Slow Introduction Method

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Step
1
Contain and provide distance
Put your horse in a corral or enclosure and your dog on a leash. Let them see each other from a distance.
Step
2
Keep it natural
Be calm, do not point out the horse, ignore the presence of the horse. Repeat several times over a few days.
Step
3
Get closer
Take your dog over to the horse when feeding the horse. Keep the dog on a leash. Let the horse and dog be closer to one another, and get used to each others presence.
Step
4
Make routine
Make the dog part of your daily routine of caring for the horse or horses. Keep the dog on a leash until he acts calm and being around the horses becomes part of a daily routine.
Step
5
Allow contact
Let the dog come in contact with the horse, sniffing noses. Be calm and reward your dog if he stays calm. Remove him if he becomes overexcited. Try again later.
Step
6
Allow off leash
When your dog is calm around the horse, and the horse is calm around the dog, try allowing off-leash contact in a controlled environment. If excitement occurs, return to leash, if your dog remains calm off leash, reward him.
Recommend training method?

The Off Leash Control Method

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Step
1
Teach basic commands
Teach basic obedience on leash, like sit, down, come, stay.
Step
2
Teach off leash commands
Teach your dog basic off-leash control, like sit/stay, down/stay and leave it, as well as off-leash recall or come.
Step
3
Contain the horse
Put your horse in a round pen, corral or enclosure with safe fencing.
Step
4
Leash and introduce dog
Bring your dog to the pen on a leash. Ignore excited behavior and reward calm behavior around the horse.
Step
5
Perform commands around horse
Give your dog commands such a leave it or sit/stay if he approaches the horse too closely.
Step
6
Remove leash
Once your dog has learned to be calm around the horse on leash, and gives the horse appropriate space, remove the leash.
Step
7
Introduce dog off leash
While off leash, introduce your dog to the horse again in a safe enclosure. If the dog approaches the horse too aggressively, command leave it or sit/stay and return to leash work.
Step
8
Reward calm off leash behavior
When the dog is calm or obeys off-leash commands, reward your dog.
Recommend training method?

The Model Behavior Method

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Step
1
Obtain positive models
Find a horse that is calm around dogs and another dog that is calm around horses or ignores horses.
Step
2
Introduce dogs
Introduce your dog to the calm dog.
Step
3
Introduce horse
Bring the dogs around the horse while your inexperienced dog is on leash.
Step
4
Allow modelling
Allow the experienced, calm dog to model appropriate behavior in the presence of the horse. Walk your dog, the calm model dog, and the horse together like a pack. Repeat several times over a period of days.
Step
5
Remove leash
Once you're inexperienced dog has learned to be calm around the horse on leash and experienced the other dog's calm behavior, try taking your dog off leash with the horse in a safe enclosure.
Step
6
Provide alternate behavior
Give your dog a distraction, a game with a ball, or give obedience commands for him to focus on while off-leash in the presence of the horse. Let the other, calm, dog, participate if available. If the dog crowds the horse or gets excited, recall him and put him back on leash.
Step
7
Reward calm
If your dog is cam, ignores the horse, or is quiet and gentle with the horse, reward.
Step
8
Practice and remove model
Repeat as often as necessary until calm gentle behavior is established, remove the model dog and introduce other horses.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

Published: 10/11/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Blitz
German Shepherd
7 Years
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Question
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Blitz
German Shepherd
7 Years

Blitz has a history of running the fence line where horses are and occasionally slipping through the fence and chasing horses. He has nipped my horses heels and gotten kicked once before, but that didn't effect his drive to chase. I am going to be getting a new horse I want the transition to go smoothly. How can I train him to not chase my horse?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sarah, Check out James Penrith from TaketheLeadDogTraining. He has a Youtube channel. He works with dogs that chase and sometimes will kill livestock. Day 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgNbWCK9lFc Day 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpf5Bn-MNko&t=14s Day 3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj3nMvvHhwQ Day 4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxrGQ-AZylY Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Layla
Blue Heeler border
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Layla
Blue Heeler border
6 Months

My pup is 6 months old
I have taken her over to my horses on a leash and let her sniff them
She has been by another horse before and was ok with it
I am moving my horses to our house and would like to know how to her her use to them and my goats
I work with her all the time with commands but at times does not listen well

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Desiree, Check out James Penrith from taketheleaddogtraining on youtube. He specializes in off-leash obedience and dogs who chase or kill livestock. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Banoffee
German Shepherd cross
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
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Banoffee
German Shepherd cross
1 Year

My dog has been around my horses since she was young but has recently started chasing, barking & snapping at my horses. I genuinely think she is reacting as a defensive mechanism as when on the lead she is fine & doesn’t bark as much so obviously feels safer but I want her to be able to run in the field with my horses

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sally, I recommend teaching an Out and Leave It command, and with a second person helping you manage the horse, practice pup being around the horse further away from you on the long leash - like 30 foot, just giving pup 10 feet of slack at first, giving more slack as pup improves. Work on practicing Leave It and Out whenever pup gives the horse too much attention, with you practicing while further and further away. Reel pup in and tell them "Ah Ah" when they are misbehaving around the horse, and reward for ignoring the horse or heeling calmly near it if you are trying to train them to heel beside the horse. Out https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bruno
Vizsla
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bruno
Vizsla
1 Year

My dog Bruno is fantastic around horses. The only issue I am having is that he gets jealous of the horse when I ride. I tie him up when riding to keep him safe and under supervision, but he barks even when I go about my business and ignore him. He is very determined, and the barking becomes hard to focus with (especially when other people are trying to ride their horses too!) Any advice on keeping him safe and quiet, but allowing me to ride my horse while he is there? Thank you!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sarah, I would hire a professional trainer to help you in person with this. This needs to be done carefully to keep everyone safe around the horse, and not spook the horse. I recommend teaching pup the Quiet command, and having a second person (like the trainer) reward pup with a treat for tolerance and quietness around the horse while you ride. Using something like an unscented pet convincer to also correct pup whenever they still bark after being told Quiet, by briefly spraying it at pup's side. I would have the trainer hold pup's leash until they are trained, while doing this, and not the person on the horse. It's important to not only correct to interrupt the barking, but also to reward pup's good behavior. As pup improves there should be more opportunities to reward, and less need to correct, so that by the time you are ready to hold pup's leash, pup is generally just being rewarded for their good behavior around the horse. If pup is possessive of you in general in other situations too, I recommend building their overall respect for you gently, when not around the horse, too. Respect building: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rivet
American Staffordshire Terrier
8 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Rivet
American Staffordshire Terrier
8 Years

We recently moved out to a new property where my dog is now living with two horses. He started off totally crazy around them, but has calmed down a lot. However, he Isn’t able to read their body language at all, and crowds them often around their rear ends, which they don’t like. They give escalating signals (ears back, tail swishes, rear foot lifted slightly) but my dog has no idea what it all means. When we see the horses doing this, we call the dog away, and so far he hasn’t gotten kicked, but I feel like he’s deaf to the horses’ signals (which makes sense, he’s a dog), and I’m worried he will get kicked. Any ideas? Thanks!

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, my apologies for the delay. You may have done this already - but I looked for articles from horse magazines as I am not well-versed in this area. I've seen plenty of dogs around horses, but always on leash.https://horseandrider.com/how-to/how-to-introduce-dog-to-horse and https://www.crktrainingblog.com/groundwork-handling/6-tips-for-keeping-dogs-safe-around-horses/. One of them mentions to have your dog well trained with the sit, down and stay commands so that you can have them stay off to the side when you are unable to watch them 100%. The long stay will be essential for this: https://wagwalking.com/training/perform-a-long-stay. This guide has many good training tips for the stay. I think the best thing is to teach Rivet that the horses are out of bounds to him with a boundary of sorts set up when he is in their presence. In that case, when you are working with the horses, if that is the case, he stays on a long down. Otherwise, set up boundary training for not going on the fields or paddock. The horse's kick is very powerful! Good luck!

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