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?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Gem
Border Collie
6 Months
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Question
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Gem
Border Collie
6 Months

I want to know how to train dog to heal while i am on horseback. Gem is running ahead of me and then coming right back to me at the moment?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
611 Dog owners recommended

Hello Julie, First, you need to work on a really solid off-leash heel around the horses, when not on horseback. Teaching pup to heel calmly around the horse when you are just walking past the horses comes first. Next, choosing the calmest, most well-socialized horse, practice having pup heel next to you while you walk next to the horse on your other side, going in the same direction as the horse. It's probably best to have a second person actually leading the horse even though you are next to it, so that you can focus all of your attention on the dog. Next, have pup heel while you are riding on the horse, but have another person managing pup on a long leash to correct him back into position just as needed - the leash should be relaxed when pup is doing well so that he is heeling because of obedience and not because he is being forced too most of the time. This can also be done through off-leash heeling with e-collar training if pup has been trained to heel to an e-collar ahead of time. The e-collar can be used to correct pup when he begins moving out of position. I would have another person who is super experienced with e-collars managing the corrects though, so that you can focus on the horse for safety reasons. You may need a long leash and an e-collar for a bit in between this step and the previous step too if you use an e-collar. You will practice with the extra person helping for a really long time, spending lots of time on this step because pup needs to be 100% on this before it's just you on the horse alone with pup. Once pup is 100%, then you are ready for just you, pup, and the horse in calm areas. Only progress to more distracting areas when both the dog and the horse are fully in the habit of obeying you and traveling with each other even around distractions. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bullet
Lab mix with German Shepherd
6 Months
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Question
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Bullet
Lab mix with German Shepherd
6 Months

My puppy won't listen to me or I need him to not be scared of my horses.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
611 Dog owners recommended

Hello Angel, Check out the Passing Approach method from the article linked below and the Turns method from the second article linked below. Passing Approach: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Have a second person handle your calmest horse. Practice a structured obedience walking past the horse using the two methods above, adding in turns to get pup's attention back on you - like the turns method, and passing back and forth from a further distance, rewarding calm responses as they walk past the horse. Be careful not to spook the horse and give the horse as much space as they need also. Reward pup for being calm and ignoring the horse, and gradually work the animals up to being closer over the next few weeks. You want pup to become bored around the horse, focused on you, and able to be calm and responsive to training by adding in the structure of the heel and managing the interaction with distance and lots of repetition to create a good, calm habit when near the horse. When pup is doing well, check out the walking together method from the article that the passing approach method is found in, to teach pup to heel along the horse. Only use that method when both the horse and dog are completely calm around each other, to avoid spooking the horse. Have a second person walk the horse while you walk pup during that training too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rex
Border Collie
2 Years
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Question
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Rex
Border Collie
2 Years

I’ve only had Rex 7 months,
Was perfect round horses when I went to view him.
Brought him home, bit silly darting infront of them in an intimidating manor - not aggressive, this got better, he was good to hack with the horses etc.

Unfortunately we had to move house and yards etc, now getting progressively worse with horses finding the yard far too exciting and now jumps up and snaps teeth at the stables doors!!!

I need to nip this in the bud, he loves coming to the yard and I want him to be a part of it, but I’m really struggling at the moment and don’t know what to do.

Thank you

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

Thank you for the question. It sounds as though Rex is trying to put his innate herding skills to use. As for the jumping up at the doors, I am really not sure why he would be doing that. I think you may need to spend some time at the yard with Rex on the leash. Put some gentle yet corrective training to work while there. When he shows too much interest in the horses, correct him so that he learns what you expect and that the horses deserve respect. You could join either a Border Collie forum or even better, a horse forum and ask questions there. You may run across a similar problem and someone there can give advice. How does Rex do in obedience classes? He has a keen, working mind and is a breed that thrives on having a job to do. He would excel at obedience, flyball and agility. Put him to work and maybe he'll be calmer around the horses. Good luck!

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Question
Roxy
Australian Cattle Dog
1 Year
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Question
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Roxy
Australian Cattle Dog
1 Year

I got my two horses yesterday. Roxy is going crazy and wild when around them,she only seems to acts like this when I'm around. She barks and goes crazy, she doesn't listen to us and normally does. I have tried to ignore the horse while I'm with Roxy but it doesn't make a difference. What should I do?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
611 Dog owners recommended

Hello Natalie, Check out the videos linked below. I suggest working on some structured obedience with pup from further away from the horse, while someone else manages the horse. The videos below show dogs with a cat, but the commands like Place can be used in this situation to increase pup's self-control and desensitize them too. Gradually decrease the distance between pup and the horse as pup improves. When pup can handle being calm around the horse with lots of boundaries, then practice pup heeling with you on leash in a very structured, focused heel around the horse in closer range. Have someone else manage the horse and be careful not to let the horse spook due to the dog. Mild issue - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate issue - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-to-not-bark Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Heel - Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel How pup responds to the training will determine whether other things like interrupters or more structure is needed. If things are getting worse, not improving, or you feel uncertain how to proceed, I suggest hiring a trainer with experience with reactivity and introducing animals, to help you. Even working with the right trainer over video right now could help determine what methods to use and be very helpful. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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