Together, dogs and horses can be a human’s best partners. From Dalmatians running alongside coach horses to fox terriers riding in saddlebags during the hunt to cow dogs and quarter horses teaming up to drive livestock, dogs and horses have a long history of friendly and fruitful interactions in partnership with people. If you want your dog to be your riding buddy, here’s how to get started.
Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh corgis, Jack Russell terriers and Australian shepherds are commonly seen at stables, but most dogs can learn to safely run alongside or interact with horses, just as most horses can become used to dogs. Both animals should have a calm, quiet and sensible character. With that as a foundation, you can teach each to behave politely and safely in the presence of the other.
Before you bring him around a horse, your dog should respond reliably to the verbal cues “sit,” “down” (including at a distance), “stay” and “come,” whether he’s on or off his leash. You shouldn’t have to repeat yourself multiple times before he obeys. Schedule a refresher training session if he needs to brush up on his skills.
When you’re comfortable with his behavior, take your dog to the barn with you while you feed the horses or muck out stalls. Practice obedience skills there so your dog becomes comfortable performing them while the horse is nearby. At the same time, your horse can learn to watch out for the dog. A kick from a horse can cause a fractured skull, broken leg or ribs, or even kill a dog.
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Two herding cues that can be helpful are “come by” (clockwise) and “way to me” (counterclockwise), which tell the dog to move out and in which direction. If necessary, work with a trainer who has experience in herding to teach these cues.
Teach your dog to sit while you mount and not to cross in front of the horse while she’s moving. It’s best to ride in an area where it’s safe for the dog to be off-leash. Trying to use a long line while riding can end with horse or dog becoming dangerously tangled.
While mounted, practice cues such as “down,” “sit” or “wait” until your dog responds instantly. It could save his life if you encounter wildlife, livestock, loose dogs or a farmer with a gun. Always remain alert for potential dangers.
To keep track of your dog if he runs ahead or is hidden by high grass, attach a small bell to his collar so you can hear where he is. It’s good practice to call him back to you regularly so you can keep tabs on him.
Is there a perfect “horse dog”? Some dogs are better than others when it comes to being around horses. Herding breeds such as Australian cattle dogs, border collies, English shepherds and German shepherds have a heritage of working around large animals, but it’s important to teach them not to nip at horses’ heels unless they are aiding you in loading the horse into a trailer.
Retriever and pointer breeds such as Labradors, German shorthairs, Weimaraners and Brittanys can also make excellent riding companions. Beagles, foxhounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, bassets and other hound breeds tend to be mellow around horses. Among the working group breeds, Doberman pinschers have a reputation for getting along with horses. Smooth and wire fox terriers and Airedales are among the terrier breeds often seen with horses.
Even smaller dogs such as cavalier King Charles spaniels, dachshunds, rat terriers and miniature poodles can make good riding companions. Bonus: If they get tired, you can just plop them in a saddlebag.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, affiliated with Vetstreet.com.