Horses and Dogs, Part 1: Finding the Right Dog

Before you set out for a horseback-riding excursion with your favorite furry friends, examine these tips for selecting the right canine companion.

From America’s Horse

It's a fact that horse people are animal people. If they’re furry, we love ’em. The American Quarter Horse might be our favorite, but the canine is not far behind.

However, there is an inevitable problem when we head out to feed our prey equids with our predatory canines at heel. Both species’ natural instincts can lead to frustration, fear and, worst case, fatalities. Careful planning and training on all sides can lead to harmony. In Part 1 of this three-part series, you’ll learn about the first step in building a successful horse/dog partnership: picking the right pooch.

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Kristina Hedrick of Purcell, Oklahoma, was the 1992 AQHA-Justin Rookie of the Year 30 & Under and has numerous top 10 placings at the AQHA World Show. In her spare time, she shows dogs and has worked rescuing and rehoming Australian Cattle Dogs, often called blue or red heelers. Australian Cattle Dog AKC Ch. Cool Hand Luke II, better known as “Luke,” has been her constant companion and a regular on the horse scene.

Kent and Lori Herbel train herding dogs at their XP Ranch in Putnam, Oklahoma. They give clinics and have won numerous awards while competing in stock-dog events around the country. They also raise ranch-bred working American Quarter Horses.

Once you and your horse have found and trained the right canine companion, reap the rewards by hitting the trail. With AQHA’s Recreational Riding report, you’ll uncover new places to explore with your four-legged horseback-riding buddies.

Angela Heili is a dog trainer in Lawrence, Kansas. She owns, breeds, shows and hunts with Jack Russell Terriers and also competes in endurance with her three horses.

Finding a Dog

The first step in finding the perfect canine resident is … well … finding a canine. The key, Kristina says, is doing research and shopping smart.

“You have to pick a breed that is conducive to the environment (they will live in),” she says. “As a person who did rescue, I would (get these) dogs out of so many bad situations.

It’s so key that the dog’s environment matches its breed. A cattle dog was bred to herd cattle, so he herds cattle, he herds horses - he also herds vacuum cleaners and anything else that moves. That’s what he’s bred to do, that’s what he’s made to do. Our rescue kennels would be so much less crowded if people just researched the dog breed that is best for their environment.”

Kristina recommends going to the American Kennel Club’s Web site, www.akc.org, to research breeds. Things to consider include the size, temperament, energy level and level of required maintenance. For example, some dogs require daily brushing while others are “wash and wear.”

Is your dog ready to hit the trail? Because you’ll now have one more furry friend to worry about, make sure the rest of your horseback-riding trip is executed safely. Download AQHA’s Recreational Riding report for safety tips that’ll help you do just that.

“Read the descriptions carefully and be honest with yourself regarding what the environment is going to be like,” she says. “You could say, ‘Well, I live on 10 acres, so I can have a big outdoor dog.’ … But do you let the dog run on all 10 acres? Or do you leave the dog penned up in the house all day long?”

Lori agrees.

“Once this knowledge base has been established, find breeders and talk with them in-depth about their breeding program,” Lori says. “How do they classify the importance of temperament, bidability, structure and herding instinct?

“Spend some time with their dogs and evaluate how they would fit into your lifestyle. If you purchase a dog from these lines, you need to like what they are exhibiting with their breeding stock.”

Many wonderful dogs come from rescues or local humane facilities, Lori says, but realize that you may be adopting a dog with an unknown or troubled background.

Angela recommends finding a nearby mentor that has a relationship with her dogs and horses that you respect, and learning from her about choosing and training a dog.

Now that you know how to pick your canine, come back next week for Part 2 so you can uncover the next steps.