I love my fur family. And I’m lucky that my two fur balls, a dog and horse, like each other too. So the barn is now an outing horse, human and dog can enjoy together.
But my dog didn’t always like going to the barn. There was a long learning process and I knew I had to have the right horse to help make my 12-pound whippet cross rescue dog, Josie, feel comfortable. Josie is naturally a skittish dog. She’s a rescue and her breed is known for being nervous. It took years before she was comfortable just going to the dog park.
So when I had a young and curious (and equally skittish) warmblood gelding, I knew he wasn’t the first horse I should use to introduce my dog to at the barn.
But Belinda, my 18-year-old hanoverian mare, was perfect. Belinda was already comfortable with dogs at the barn. She’s as unflappable as a horse can be. She’s quiet and slow moving by nature. So I decided to slowly start exposing Josie to Belinda and vice versa.
It took a while but Josie is now very comfortable at the barn. But she understands that her big sister Belinda can be dangerous. She respects the space of the horses around her and knows certain areas of the farm are off limits – that includes horse stalls and the riding arena.
Belinda and Josie are comfortable enough with each other now that we can load up the trailer and go for an all-day trail ride together without any problems at all.
Here are some tips to help train your next barn dog:
Start on a leash: I only recommend bringing mature dogs that are already obedient at home to the farm. If your dog is well behaved in most social situations, then you’re off to a good start. Bring your dog to the barn a couple of times while on a leash to see how he reacts to the horses and new, busy surroundings. Treat him how you would at a restaurant or at a dog park to encourage good behavior and to correct bad behavior, like barking or chasing.
Nose-to-nose introductions: Once you feel like your pup is fairly comfortable and familiar with the barn surroundings after several trips on a leash, it’s time to introduce him to a horse. (This requires two people – one to hold the horse and one to hold the dog) I recommend using a horse that is already comfortable around dogs. If you have a horse that’s not, it might be worth having an experienced handler hold your horse nearby on a lead line to watch the dog meet more level-headed horses. When the dog or the horse tries to sniff one another (which is natural) encourage the behavior. But don’t push it. If your dog responds aggressively or nervously by barking, growling or snapping, then correct the behavior and end the interaction. If all is going smoothly, walk your dog around the horse (keep your distance for safety, of course) and vice versa. Do this for several trips.
Teaching respect: Some trainers recommend letting a horse and dog into a small paddock together, with the option for the dog to run out if it’s scared or if a chasing situation occurs. I think this depends on your dog and your horse. I do not let my dog into open pasture situations with my horse. However, it is important to teach respect and space to keep your dog safe. My dog isn’t allowed in the riding arena unless she’s on a leash and if there’s someone else on the ground to hold her. But it was a good learning experience for her to see how fast and heavy Belinda can be when she’s barreling toward a jump. It helped teach Josie to stay out from under her feet.
What’s off limits: I don’t let my dog loose in my horse’s stall. It’s too confined of an area and it doesn’t encourage my dog to give my horse the space she requires. My dog also knows not to go into the riding area unless she’s on a leash. She has free rein of the barn and grassy areas in between the fenced pastures and arena. When it’s time to ride, Josie sits obediently on a stack of saddle pads on top of my tack trunk, where I can see here while riding in the arena.
Not for everyone: Just like dog parks and other social activities, the barn isn’t the best environment for every dog. It’s not worth stressing out your horse or dog if they don’t get along. Horses too can be aggressive toward dogs and one wrong step can severely injure or kill your pet. So use your own judgment to decide what’s best for you and your pets.