Horse and Dogs, Part 2: Training Your Dog

Enlist these six tips to train your dog so he can tag along for future horseback-riding excursions

From America’s Horse

Now that you’ve picked the perfect canine companion (See Part 1), you’re ready to start the training process so your four-legged friends can live in harmony.

1. Teach your dog the basics, starting at home. AQHA Professional Horsewoman Kristina Hedrick of Purcell, Oklahoma begins training her puppies in the house, mastering basic commands such as come when called, sit, lie down, “off” (move away from something) and “out” (get out of whatever the dog is doing).Working with herding dogs, she said, “you have to remember you do not have to put a ‘go’ on them; you have to put a ‘whoa’ on them. They’re going to go (herd) instinctively. The key is putting the whoa on them.”

To help her dogs learn the “whoa,” Kristina teaches them to herd when it is appropriate by teaching “get it.”

“When we’re playing fetch with toys, when I throw the toy, I say ‘get it,’ ” she says. “That way, when you want them to go get a horse, for example a horse is down and you need help getting it up, you can say ‘get it,’ and that means ‘you’re allowed to go after it.’ ”

2. Practice on a leash. Once the dog is reliable in the house, she moves to the yard, then on to the barn. Kristina keeps her dogs on a leash until they know commands absolutely, even if takes months. The most important part to having a well-behaved dog around horses, dog trainer Angela Heili says, is starting the dogs young.

“You have to socialize dogs around anything you’re going to have them with, whether it’s horses, kids or cats,” she says. “Start them young, get them out there around those horses as often as you can. The biggest thing is to teach them to respect the horses’ feet. You’re going to have a dead dog pretty quickly if you don’t teach the dog to respect a horse’s feet.”

Training your dog is a crucial part of building a successful relationship between all parties involved. Don’t forget to save time for your other four-legged critter throughout the process, though. Download AQHA’s FREE Riding Lessons With Richard Shrake report so you can improve your confidence, precision and bond with your horse.

3. Be thoughtful in how you introduce your dogs to the horses. Angela begins introductions by holding the puppy while the horse sniffs it, reinforcing the puppy for being friendly, but not making a big deal if the puppy acts afraid. When he is comfortable, she puts the puppy down and allows him to get used to having horses around.

If the puppy gets too close to the horse - especially if the horse is showing signs of being uncomfortable - she uses an arm extender, such as a riding crop, to bump the puppy out of the way.

“If (the puppy) thinks I’m playing, I’ll use something to smack him, or the ground next to him, because it’s either me smack the puppy or the horse smack the puppy,” she says. “And if it’s the horse that does it, it’s most likely going to be a serious injury or death. So get that puppy away from there, teach him that (horses’) feet are not something to be messed with.”

4. Ensure that your dogs are really ready to be your horseback-riding companion. Before Angela’s dogs are allowed to hang out at the barn, they must prove utterly reliable to her commands in every situation.

“It’s crazy to think that if the dog doesn’t listen to me in the house, then maybe he’ll listen to me outside,” Angela says. “It’s not going to happen that way. You have to be positively sure that dog’s going to listen to you in the house, yard, even in an off-leash dog park. Because when you take him to the barn, there are no fences that keep him contained.”

5. Consider using a system of pressure and release to train your dog. Kent and Lori train their dogs the same way they train their horses, using a system of pressure and release.

“We find that successful horse trainers, in general, are good with dogs, also,” Lori says. “Any dog, regardless of breed, will have to be taught how to behave around horses, to learn what is acceptable and what is not. We make sure the dogs have a proper basic foundation before introducing him to an existence around horses: He is already well behaved off-lead, he has a solid stop and recall, and will respond properly to pressure from a person. Without this foundation, a trainer is creating a more stressful situation, with likely a lower or slower rate of success. With the proper foundation, a trainer can focus on the task at hand, which is actually reinforcing, or proofing, that the dog continues to be well behaved in the presence of horses.”

If using a leash in the early stages of training, be aware of how it is employed. The goal, Lori says, should be a slack in the line at all times. A dog straining at the leash is not showing self control, but is artificially restrained and not likely to behave once off-leash.

Just like with dogs, how well a horse listens partially depends on the relationship you have with your horse. Download AQHA’s FREE Riding Lessons With Richard Shrake report, and you’ll be on your way to a harmonious bond with your best equine pal.

“When introducing a young or novice dog to horses, the dogs are taught to honor the comfort zone of the horse. This is a basic foundation we use in working all livestock. If the horse gets nervous, we apply pressure to the dog to move away from the horse until the horse settles back down. We release pressure on the dog as the horse relaxes. This indicates to the dog that he is now correct, and he learns to associate the nervous actions of the horse with the correction. With consistency in training, the dog will learn to read, recognize and maintain that distance.”

6. Be ready for inconsistency, especially when you bring your dog to a new location. It is extremely common for a dog who responds with 100 percent accuracy in one location to become distracted or less consistent when moved to a new environment.

“When you go to a new area, there’s a whole new set of stimuli, and everything that’s out there is more interesting than you,” Angela says. “So you have to be more important than the stimuli. You do that by making sure that the bond you have with that dog is strong, and you don’t have a fear bond.”

Angela recommends having a favored treat or toy to entice the dog, if necessary. And if the dog does run off, never punish him when he comes back to you.

“That is the No. 1 worst thing that a person can do, and people do it all the time,” Angela says. “A dog’s attention span is about as long as a horse’s. If the dog takes off running, and you call him back and get on to him, you punished him for coming back to you. So the next time you call your dog, he’s going to say ‘No way, last time I came back to you, you yelled at me. I’m not doing that again.’ So it doesn’t matter how far the dog ran away, when you call him and he comes back to you, praise him.”

If a normally well-behaved dog attempts to interact with the horses by barking at them or attempting to get them to play, Angela steps in before the dog gets too aggressive. If she can’t physically reach the puppy, she will do something to spook him, such as throwing a clod of dirt at him. If you chase him, he may think it’s a fun game.

Membership Benefit Spotlight

Once your pup is trained around horses, you’ll be able to reap the reward by indulging in long horseback rides - with your dog by you and your horse’s side. It might seem like it can’t get any better, but it can: AQHA members are eligible to participate in the Horseback Riding Program. That’s right - you can ride your horse, log the time spent in the saddle and earn great rewards. Enroll today!

AQHA Video

Pressure and release -- these are the two foundations of teaching your horse how to give to the halter. This lesson explains how pressure motivates and release teaches. This is just one of the many lessons that are part of AQHA's Fundamentals of Horsemanship, a comprehensive guide to improve your relationship with your horse developed with La Cense Montana.