Horses and Dogs, Part 3: Training Your Horse

Teach your horse to accept a canine companion on your horseback rides.

From America’s Horse

Dogs and horses can be the perfect combination. And it’s so rewarding when you get to experience a horseback ride on your favorite American Quarter Horse with a canine pal by your side. That’s why we dedicated three weeks to the topic. Review Part 1 to see what you should keep in mind as you look to purchase a dog and Part 2 for dog training tips.

Now you’re ready for the next steps: stopping bad dog behaviors before they become a problem and training your horse to accept dogs.

Nip Bad Dog Behavior in the Bud

Common aggressive behaviors for a dog, such as barking or chasing, should be stopped early, before they become habits.

“In some people’s minds, it’s probably not a big deal if the dog barks at the horses; the horse is going to take care of himself,” says Angela Heili, a dog trainer in Lawrence, Kansas. “Well, that horse could (get upset and) kick the dog and kill it. So you just don’t want to allow that.

“Chasing should never be allowed,” she says. “Ever, ever, ever, ever!”

Chasing, she says, is an aggressive herding posture that is obviously intended to move an animal in a specific direction, not to be confused with a dog’s playful capering or running alongside a horse.

You’ll be busy once you have a horse and dog to keep track of at the barn. Don’t let something avoidable, like a run-in with a haynet, prevent your horse from taking you on horseback ride. Download AQHA’s FREE How to Tie a Haynet report today!

If a problem is serious enough, seek professional help. Proper timing is crucial to keep a dog from bad behaviors, says Lori Herbel. She and her husband, Kent, train herding dogs at their XP Ranch in Putnam, Oklahoma

“You must release any pressure you apply as soon as the dog stops the undesirable behavior,” Lori says. “Address negative behavior the first time it happens and each time it happens. Inconsistency in training gives mixed signals to your dog, and your results will be just as inconsistent. Shape behaviors by showing the dog what you want, and then once you are getting the behaviors consistently, name them (ex: “get back”). Once the behavior is consistent and then named, ask for it only once. Repeated commands and lack of follow-through will also give you inconsistent results.”

If a working stock dog is your goal, be careful with his training, Kent and Lori say.

“Dogs that are constantly reprimanded for ‘working’ horses may interpret this to mean you don’t want him to work cattle, either,” Lori says. “So if it is important that your dog be a ranch hand, be aware of what you are actually teaching. Formal training for working cattle may already be in the works or may need to be started at some point to give the dog a clearer picture of what is and isn’t acceptable.”

If a dog is showing fear or aggressive tendencies, Angela brings the dog along for chores.

“The dog gets used to being around the horses, and you just ignore the dog, go about your business,” she says. “And if the dog growls or does anything else, you’re right there to correct him at any time.

If the dog continues having problems adjusting to being around horses, he might not be a candidate for being around horses and might be better off staying at home.

Training Your Horse to Accept Dogs

Most horses acclimate well to having dogs around, but they should always be introduced gradually.

“From what I’ve seen, it’s no different from teaching a horse to be good around kids,” says AQHA Professional Horsewoman Kristina Hedrick of Purcell, Oklahoma. “You don’t put a kid on a yearling to see if the horse is good with children. If there are kids playing near that yearling, safely outside its stall, the horse is going to get used to (the racket). So if the dog is in the aisleway, let the horse keep its space in a stall, and make the dog stay out.”

Angela says her horses get used to having things - rabbits, blowing leaves, etc. - underfoot because they live in a pasture, and dogs are rarely upsetting to the horses.

However, it is a good idea to desensitize a horse to having objects under and around his legs and hooves. Angela’s dogs are mostly white, and if that is the case with your dog, she suggests using items of that color, such as a roll of toilet paper, a ball of yarn or a plastic bag.

You’ve got the dog and the horse. What else could you need? A little help with the basics, like tying your horse’s haynet! Download AQHA’s FREE How to Tie a Haynet report so you can spend less time worrying about that menial task and more time with your four-legged critters!

Kent and Lori use an experienced dog to introduce a horse to canines and teach him that dogs are OK. Lori says that it is easiest to work with only one inexperienced species at a time - if you have a young dog, use an experienced horse, and vice versa.

If the horse becomes nervous with the dog around, they move the dog back until the horse becomes comfortable again, using pressure and release for both species. If the horse shows any aggression toward the dog, he is corrected.

“Both species need to show mutual respect,” she says.

As with any training, exercise caution. Keep track of the dog at all times, so you can move him out of the way if the horse becomes agitated or offers to kick.

Reaping the Rewards

Once dogs and horses are acclimated, it can be a joy having them together, whether you’re cleaning stalls, going for trail rides or hunting.

“It’s an amazing amount of fun to have horses and dogs together,” Angela says. “It is great to see the looks on peoples’ faces when you have such a well-behaved dog off-leash that’s going along with the horse, and to see the relationship between you, the dog and the horse. It’s a wonderful example of how that can happen, it just takes dedication, hard work and the love or want-to.”