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So many horse lovers are also dog lovers. It is not uncommon for people who own horses to also own dogs, and take their dog to the stable to visit their equine family members. Also, people who live rurally with horses on their property often own dogs as well--it seems to be part of the lifestyle.
If you own a dog and a horse you will need to teach them to behave around each other. This means teaching the dog not to bark at or act aggressively toward the horse, not to chase the horse, and to be cautious around the horse's feet. It also means teaching your horse to be calm around the dog and ignore the dog, maybe even watch out for the dog under their feet. But, what if you want to combine your love for your horse and your dog into a cute trick, such as having your dog lead your horse on a lead line. A miniature dachshund in the UK recently became an internet star, leading a pony around a stable. The little dog looked so cute and confident, and the pony so patient, everyone fell in love with them! Teaching your dog to lead a horse can be an entertaining trick and who knows, might even come in handy someday!
To teach a dog to lead a horse you will need to use a horse that is easy to lead. After all, the dog is small in comparison, and cannot physically make the horse follow. Also, your dog will have to be calm and obedient around horses. You will need to teach your dog to pick up the lead line in his mouth and move away from the horse so the horse can follow. Ideally, the dog will face away from the horse and trot out smartly with the leadline in his mouth, with the pony or horse following several feet behind. The dog will need to move out and not toward the horse so that the lead line does not end up under the horse's feet, or the horse does not become confused. This exercise should be supervised closely at all times so that lines do not become tangled or hung up on obstacles and so that neither horse nor dog is injured. Your dog may not understand that an area is too small for his much larger equine companion and lead the horse where it cannot go. To avoid this, you will want to use an appropriate area free from obstacles and with safe fences.
For this trick, you should use a lead line that allows your dog to move out in front of the horse without getting stepped on, but not so long that it drags on the ground or can become entangled or stepped on by the horse. Your horse should be well halter broke and quiet so that the horse obediently follows the dog. Both dog and horse should be well acclimatized to each other, so neither is frightened by the other. Use a safe enclosure with rail fencing and no obstacles that can tangle up the dog, horse, or lead line. You may want to use a clicker to mark and shape behavior. Remember to provide treats for both your horse and your dog to reward them for being calm and obedient.
The Lead Person First Method
Reinforce touching the line
Teach your dog 'take it' with a soft lead line not attached to a horse. Present the end of the lead line and when your dog mouths the line, click and treat.
Reinforce taking the line
Continue, but require more. Wait until your dog takes the line in his mouth, click and treat. Click and treat while your dog holds the line in his mouth for longer periods of time.
Moving with the line
Ask your dog to take the line while you hold the other end. Have an assistant call your dog with the line in his mouth. When the dog takes a few steps forward holding the line, click and treat.
Continue to encourage your dog forward with the line in his mouth while you follow him, until he is picking up the line and walking while you follow him.
Transfer to horse
Transfer this leading behavior to a quiet, calm horse.
The Lead as a Pack Method
Teach dragging the line
Teach your dog to pick up a lead line in his mouth and drag it behind him.
Walk with the horse
Walk your dog next to your horse so the two become used to walking together.
Drag the line with the horse
Let your dog hold a lead line in his mouth while you walk with the horse on a lead line. Make sure the lead the dog is dragging does not get under the horse's feet, keep it short. Reinforce with treats.
Attach the lead line to the horse's halter and ask your dog to pick up the other end and walk. Continue walking at the horse's head so you can direct your dog and grab the halter and direct if the horse balks. Reward both horse and dog for walking together calmly while dog holds lead.
Start providing space and letting the dog walk the horse solo. Call your dog to direct if necessary. Always supervise horse and dog together. Provide treats for both.
The Shape Leading Method
Introduce dog and horse
Put a quiet horse in an enclosure with a halter and lead line attached. Introduce your dog.
Reinforce touching the line
Take your dog over to the horse and present the lead line. When the dog mouths the line, click and treat.
Reinforce taking the line
Require the dog to take the line in his mouth before receiving a click and treat.
Once the dog is taking up the lead line in his mouth, call him a few feet from the horse with the line in his mouth. If he continues with the line in his mouth, pulling gently on the horse, click and treat. You may need an assistant with the horse to encourage the horse forward when the dog pulls on its halter as well.
Continue to click and treat for progressive steps, picking up the lead line and taking several steps with the horse in tow. Eventually move away from the horse and dog, remove the click and treat less frequently.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 12/07/2017, edited: 01/08/2021