I’ve witnessed hundreds of interactions between horses and dogs. Some have been gentle and companionable, while others have left me fearing for the dog’s life.
Do horses like dogs? Horses are naturally afraid of dogs. Horses are a prey species, so even though dogs are much smaller than them, horses fear dogs because they are predators. Despite that, many horses and dogs coexist peacefully, and some even become close friends and playmates.
Humans domesticated horses and dogs centuries ago, so they’ve had plenty of time to get used to one another. A new puppy won’t necessarily understand that any more than a new horse will. You should therefore conduct your initial introductions carefully and cautiously.
5 Tips for Introducing Dogs and Horses
If you have a canine best friend that you want to introduce to your equine bestie, there are a few steps you can take. Horses will become accustomed to a dog best if the dog and the horse have a solid foundation of behavioral training. Then, introduce them slowly from a distance, respond to each animal’s body language, remain cautious, and allow each animal their space.
This will help both animals feel more comfortable. Let’s dive in a little more.
#1 Get your Basic Training in Place First
Before you even consider introducing your dog to your horse, ensure both animals have basic behavior training. For the dog, that means he has good recall, will walk quietly on a leash, and sit when asked.
You should similarly ensure your horse has some basic ground manners in place. That means he should be halter-trained, able to stand tied up, and comfortable being touched on all parts of his body, especially his legs.
#2 Make your First Introductions Long-distance Ones
When making your initial introductions, keep your dog on a leash and a safe distance from your horse. Let your dog see and smell the horse from a distance and observe his reactions.
If he becomes excitable or stressed, move further away until you find a range that makes both animals comfortable. Praise and reward your dog every time he relaxes in your horse’s presence.
After your initial introductions, gradually reduce the distance between your dog and horse. Praise and reward your dog repeatedly as you move closer, making it clear that his lack of response to the horse is the behavior you’re seeking. You don’t want an excited, playful dog to scare your horse.
If your horse is nervous around dogs, get someone to help you make the first introductions. One person should remain with the horse, rewarding him when he stands still while the dog approaches.
Ignore any negative behavior from the horse, such as snorting, pawing the ground, or trying to run away. Instead, focus on positively reinforcing good behavior, such as moving towards the dog or remaining still in its presence.
#3 Learn the Body Language of Both Horse and Dog
A dog that feels nervous around horses will often cower with its tail tucked between its legs and its ears flat against its head. Other dogs may become defensive and either bark or growl at your horse. Herding dogs are more likely to want to engage with the horse and drive it away from you, especially if he perceives the horse as a threat.
A horse that feels uncomfortable around dogs may struggle to stand still or back away from the potential predator. Some horses become aggressive towards dogs, putting their ears back and even stamping or pawing the ground with their front feet.
Whatever the initial reaction, stay calm and speak to the dog and horse in a low, soothing voice.
If that doesn’t calm the situation, create more distance between the dog and your horse, only moving closer once the undesirable behavior has diminished.
#4 Make Thoughtful, Careful Introductions
When we first introduced our Jack Russell cross puppy, Peakay, to our Arab mare, Thandi, my husband picked him up and allowed the two to sniff one another.
As you can see from the photograph, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight! The horse’s body language indicates that she’s relatively comfortable, although her ears are facing different directions, suggesting some anxiety.
On the other hand, the puppy looks decidedly unsure and a little worried.
Soon after I took this photo, the two touched noses, and although the puppy growled a little, his curiosity soon got the better of him.
#5 Stay in Control when Introducing Dogs and Horses
Please give a few sentences about how to stay in control. Should the dog be leashed? What happens if someone finds the situation out of control- what steps should they take?
After this first introduction, my husband put Peakay on a leash, and I haltered Thandi. We then allowed the two to coexist together for a few minutes. Within a couple of minutes, Thandi returned to her favorite pastime – eating – and Peakay got distracted by the mouth-watering scent of horse manure.
Unfortunately, not all introductions go this smoothly. If the dog starts barking or growling at the horse, move away immediately. Some horses react aggressively towards dogs. I had one mare who would chase dogs, attempting to trample them with her front hooves.
If your horse shows any aggression at all, increase the distance between the horse and dog. Once the horse stops being aggressive, reward him. Keep the horse haltered and still while the leashed dog approaches. Again, if either party shows any signs of aggression, move back and try again.
Only spend around 20 minutes introducing your two pets. If your first session proves unsuccessful, try again the next day. Closely observe both animals’ reactions to minimize the risk of an aggressive confrontation.
Three Mistakes to Avoid when Introducing Dogs and Horses
There are three common mistakes that horse owners make when introducing their horses to a dog. Too often, they are eager to make introductions and don’t take time for the animals to adjust. Owners may forget that dogs are prey animals and fail to anticipate a dog’s reactions to the horse and how that can frighten the horse. Curious dogs who explore the food during feed time or playful dogs who chase horses should be immediately stopped.
#1 Don’t Force an Interaction Between your Horse and Dog
When introducing dogs and horses, give both animals time to become accustomed to each other without pressure. Never force a dog or horse to get closer to the other than they are comfortable. If your dog stops 100 feet from your horse, let him stay there. Don’t try and force him to come closer until he’s had time to assess the situation.
Similarly, if your horse runs away at first sight of a dog, let him. In time, his curiosity will outweigh his natural flight instinct, and he’ll start to come closer to investigate. Don’t try and lure your horse closer with treats. Just let him take his time and allow the relationship to build incrementally.
#2 Keep your Dog Under Control at Feeding Time
I’ve witnessed some frightening interactions between dogs and horses at feeding time. Some of my dogs have a higher scavenging instinct than others. When a horse drops bits of food on the floor, these dogs immediately assume it’s for them.
Train your dog to avoid the horse’s food when your horse is feeding. Horses can be protective of their food and may try and bite or even lash out at a dog. The dog, in turn, will often retaliate with growls and snarls or even by snapping at the horse’s face. These interactions can quickly escalate to the point that both animals are in potential danger.
Keep your dog out of the way, either on a leash or in a training crate. This will allow him to be in the same vicinity of the horse without any direct interaction, making the experience safer for everyone involved.
#3 Nip Chasing in the Bud
I’ve seen horses chase dogs just as many times as I’ve seen dogs chase horses, and both situations are equally worrying.
There’s a big difference between letting my Australian cattle dog herd the horses and letting my Jack Russell cross chase after them barking and nipping at their heels. While my cattle dog may nip at the horses’ heels, she’s doing so to move them to a specific place. On the other hand, my Jack Russell is effectively hunting the horse, looking for an opportunity to kill it.
A horse frequently chased by a dog is liable to react defensively by kicking or even turning the tables on the dog and pursuing it.
Either situation can diminish trust, increase anxiety, and lead to conflict. If you let your dog chase one horse, it will inevitably want to pursue every horse it meets.
5 Tips on Training your Dog to Trail Ride with Your Horse
I love nothing more than hacking out with my mare and my Australian cattle dog. Hacking out is when a rider and horse go pleasure riding for light exercise in the countryside. Its also referred to as trail riding.
When I ride with my mare and dog, they aren’t particularly fond of each other, but they’ve learned to tolerate and trust each other. My horse appears to take comfort in having a predator out there in front of her, scaring invisible monsters away.
You can take several steps to help your horse and dog become comfortable with each other when trail riding.
#1 Start with One-on-One Training
Before your dog can come out on a trail ride with you, he must be walking out obediently.
A good trail dog should be able to walk on a loose leash, stay beside you when instructed, and have excellent recall. Similarly, your horse should be comfortable hacking out alone or with others.
This article gives more information on how to calm a skittish horse, so it’s safe to hack out. If your dog stays close to your side, you’ll have a lot fewer problems when riding out.
A dog that stops to sniff or explore and then bolts up behind you is liable to spook an inexperienced horse, putting you in potential danger.
#2 Get Help when you Bring your Horse and Dog Together
Before going out alone with my dog and horse, I first got my husband to accompany me on foot. While I rode, he would walk with the dog, always keeping her on a leash.
We tried different approaches, alternately between him and the dog walking in front and the horse taking the lead. This method gave the horse and dog time to familiarize themselves with each other’s movements.
It also helped to teach my dog to stay away from my horse’s heels and maintain a safe distance throughout the ride.
#3 Teach your Dog to Keep its Distance from Your Horse
While you want your dog to stay close, you don’t want him walking on your horse’s heels where he could easily get kicked. To prevent this habit from developing, ride with a handful of treats in your pocket.
As you ride, throw a few goodies to your dog, encouraging him to stay around 10 feet away from you and your horse.
#4 Set the Pace According to your Dog’s Fitness Level
I’m fortunate enough to have a strong and athletic Australian cattle dog to ride with, but I still have to monitor my pace, so she finds it comfortable. In hot weather, we avoid long, fast trails that may cause her to overheat, sticking instead to shorter rides that consist primarily of walking and trotting.
When you first start hacking out with your dog, you want to keep your rides to under an hour and do more walking than anything else. As their condition improves, you can increase the pace.
Always keep an eye on your dog, watching out for any signs of heat exhaustion, dehydration, or fatigue; if there’s the slightest indication that your dog is struggling, head home.
#5 If Safety is Compromised, Call it Quits
Although I never ride without my cattle dog, I do force some of our other canine companions to stay at home.
My Jack Russell used to come out with me but would suddenly disappear halfway through the ride. I once spent nearly an hour scrambling about in the bushes looking for her, only to discover that she’d headed home without me.
Another dog I used to ride with was fine until we started to canter, at which point he’d run in front of my horse, barking at her. You can train almost any dog to be reliable hacking companions, but some endanger themselves to such an extent that it’s simply not worth it.
The dog that went home without me could have been run over, stolen, or mistaken for a stray. The one that ran in front of me barking risked being run over by my horse. Similarly, dogs with a strong prey drive won’t be able to resist chasing after a squirrel. Others might dash off to greet other dogs or explore new scents, putting them at risk of being lost forever.
If the situation is getting dangerous for any participants, it’s time to call it quits.
Dog Breeds that Get Along with Horses
The experts agree that almost any dog breed can be a good match with horses.
Dog behaviorist Sarah Fisher told Horse & Hound that “Dogs, like horses, are all individual, and age, as well as experience and education, play an important part in the way a dog is likely to respond in any new and potentially stimulating situation.”
The best breeds to look for are confident, active, and enjoy the outdoors. A couch potato, like the Bulldog or Shih Tzu, is unlikely to find the prospect of a five-mile ride very tempting. But, an Australian cattle dog or Border Collie, on the other hand, is built to work and can easily keep up with a horse all day.
Breeds developed to retrieve rather than hunt are more suited to living among horses and less likely to act aggressively towards them.
The larger poodle breeds, golden and Labrador retrievers, for instance, are usually calm around horses and fit enough to hack out with them. Despite that, the unlikeliest combinations can prove highly successful. Out of our pack of five, only one feels comfortable on horseback, and he’s a couch potato cross Chihuahua!
On the other hand, he’s an absolute nightmare to hack out with as he appears to have zero peripheral vision, putting him in constant danger of being trodden on.
10 Dog Breeds that are Good with Horses
|Breed||Positive Characteristics||Negative Characteristics|
|Australian Cattle Dog||Confident, energetic, generally quiet||Tendency to herd and nip heels|
|Australian Shepherd Dog||Intelligent, energetic with lots of stamina||Can be protective with tendency to herd|
|Border Collie||Loyal, energetic, easy to train||Tendency to herd|
|Dalmatian||Athletic with a natural ability to coexist with horses,||Prone to genetic conditions, including deafness|
|German Shepherd||Energetic, intelligent, and protective||Prone to aggressive behavior|
|Great Pyrenees||Breed to guard livestock, active but gentle||Can be difficult to train|
|Jack Russell||Bold, energetic, and highly intelligent||Has high prey drive and can be difficult to train|
|Labrador Retriever||Easy-going, friendly, obedient||Prone to overheating and heat exhaustion|
|Standard Poodle||Extremely intelligent, agile, and athletic||High prey drive|
|Welsh Corgi||Bred to work with livestock, agile and energetic||May have mobility problems later in life|
Horses and Dogs can (and do) Form Strong Bonds
Some horses and dogs develop a deep bond. They may even play together like these. Studies show they share very similar play tactics and learn to mirror one another’s body language.
After centuries of domestication, dogs and horses can recognize different facial expressions, both in their own kind and others. This ability makes them more attuned to one another’s emotions and enables them to overcome their evolutionary differences.
You can learn more about which animals make the best companions for horses here.
Horses and dogs can get along as long as you introduce them slowly and sensitively.
Hacking out with your dog loyally by your side is a hugely rewarding experience, as long as you’ve prepared for the situation correctly.
One-on-one training is the basis for this, and only once both dog and horse feel comfortable heading out independently is it safe to combine the two.
Time and patience are critical when introducing dogs and horses. Rushing the introductions will only cause anxiety and increase the risk of injury.