Dogs and Horses - Man’s Best Friends
If a dog is man’s best friend, then the horse is his most loyal servant. – Joseph V. DiBianca, Loudly They Speak: The Memoirs of a Horse Listener
By April D. Ray
What is it that makes the vast majority of horse people love dogs? Dogs indeed possess some of the same admirable traits as horses and complement the lifestyle of a horse person very well.
Looking back in history, both species have a long history of service to mankind in times of peace and war. As true unsung heroes, more than a million dogs and eight million horses died on both sides of World War I alone. Today, both horses and dogs are still employed in military service in countries around the world. They are also working partners on farms, in police units, and as therapy animals, and can be found in homes and hearts everywhere. There is no end to the partnerships we can form with these brave, loyal animals. And with a little effort and patience on our part, we can ensure that our four-legged friends get along with each other, too.
There are many dog breeds commonly associated with the equine world, such as the Welsh Corgi and Jack Russell Terrier, but just about any dog can be trained to be safe around horses. Regardless of the breed, it takes time and effort to create a good barn dog, and it’s important to do your research before selecting a breed. If you already have a dog, knowing about its breed history and characteristics can help you to better understand him and his behaviour. The following is a selection of dog breed types and specific breeds that typically do well with horses.
Dogs and horses have a long history of service to mankind in times of war. Pictured are a US military working dog, Louvre, searching for weapons caches and insurgents in eastern Baghdad, Iraq, in February 2009. Sgt Reckless, the “Pride of the Marines,” was a highly decorated US Marine Corps artillery horse in the Korean War. She is pictured in 1955 with her primary trainer, Platoon Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Latham. Photos: Wikipedia
The herding breeds are made up of sheep and cattle dogs, traditionally used to round up flocks and herds. These dogs are extremely intelligent with high energy levels and are widely popular among horse owners. While many companion herding dogs have never seen an actual sheep or cow, their herding instinct can be very strong and therefore will need to be monitored and they’ll need training to ensure that they don’t herd children, small animals, or horses. With the right kind of training and care, any dog from a herding breed can be an excellent addition to active homes and barns.
The Australian Cattle Dog is a hardy dog weighing in around 30 to 50 pounds, and can make a great trail companion. Meant to be a drover moving livestock over long distances, they are extremely intelligent and energetic. These dogs thrive on having a job to do and being part of an active family. In addition to their herding instinct, they can have a high prey drive. Interested in squirrels, cats, and any other small animals, it is possible to cohabitate with them if raised together from puppyhood, but anything outside of the household may be fair game. They can be good with kids, but it’s best to raise them together from a young age to avoid any issues.
A ranch worker and his dog quietly moving cattle. The dog will keep the cattle moving forward and will encourage stragglers to keep up with the herd. Photo: Shutterstock/Bob Pool
The Australian Shepherd has endless energy and vitality. This breed originated in the United States and not Australia as the name implies. Bred to herd livestock, they are a working dog at heart, obedient, intelligent, and very easily trained. This breed does best in a home where their mind and energy are put to good use, and needs to be kept busy with plenty of exercise. Due to their stamina, they are great dogs to ride out with and can easily keep up with the horses. Their size can vary, but on average they are between 40 and 65 pounds. In addition to being a great barn dog, they can also be successful in other careers as a guide dog, assistance dog, police dog, and in search-and-rescue work.
The Border Collie, often described as the workaholic of the dog world, and was originally developed to herd sheep. Incredibly smart with an extraordinary instinct and work ethic, these dogs flourish when they have a job to do and lots of space to run, making them a perfect barn dog. They are a medium-sized dog ranging from 30 to 45 pounds. With a seemingly supernatural amount of energy, they can’t be expected to be a couch potato. If you’re looking for a laid-back pet, this is not the one for you, but if you’re looking to be challenged both mentally and physically, you’ve found the right breed. These dogs can adapt to pretty much any living situation if their needs are met, and training and socialization is provided in the early years.
The endearing and easygoing Welsh Corgi breed originated in Wales, and is much loved by the Royal Family and horse people alike. The name originated from the Welshman who developed the breed and called them “dwarf dog” due to their stature, “cor” meaning dwarf and “gi” meaning dog in Welsh. Bred to work with cattle, there are two types of Corgi breeds – the Pembroke and the Cardigan, considered two entirely different breeds having come from different ancestors. The most significant difference between the two breeds is that the Pembroke tends to be slightly smaller and has a bobbed tail and pointy ears, while Cardigan Welsh Corgis have long tails and rounded ears. Regardless of their physical differences, both breeds of Corgi are great with horses and easily trained. While they are the smallest of the herding breeds, ranging from 25 to 38 pounds, don’t let their stocky build fool you; they are incredibly athletic and can be shockingly fast runners.
These are an extremely diverse group of dogs ranging from the Pharaoh Hound to the Beagle, Elkhound, Bloodhound, and more. The English Foxhound has long been associated with horses, having been traditionally used on fox hunts. They make excellent trail partners and are bred to cover long distances; however, they will often follow their nose rather than listen to you. Laidback, independent, and full of stamina, with consistent training and a bit of supervision they can make a great addition to the family.
Sporting Dogs, such as Retrievers and Pointers, are still some of the most popular types of dogs today. Historically found around horses, they are known for their loyalty, obedience, and eagerness to please.
The friendly Golden Retriever, a medium-sized breed, is one of the most popular of dog breeds. Intelligent, willing to please, and typically gentle, this breed is good with kids and cats, so the barn cat should approve. Often used as guide and rescue dogs, and for tracking and retrieving game, the Golden Retriever is a natural athlete and usually an excellent companion on trail rides. With a longer hair-coat, the Golden Retriever may need a bath more often during the muddy season, and an extra check for burrs and ticks after each trail ride.
This is a group of different breeds that don’t have similar characteristics, but there a few that fit on the list of dogs that do well with horses.
The Jack Russell Terrier was born in the fox-hunting country in England. The breed has an affinity for horses and can be great at keeping mice and rats at bay. These terriers are incredibly popular with horse people and have been widely popularized in television and on the big screen. They are first and foremost a working dog who is fearless, confident, intelligent, and energetic. If not properly trained and exercised they can be destructive and unpleasant to be around, but if given the right balance of physical and mental stimulation, they can be wonderful pets and fantastic dogs to have at the barn. A small dog with a big attitude, they range in size from 13 to 18 pounds.
The Dalmatian is the original coaching dog, responsible for the safety of horse-drawn vehicles and their contents as they ran for miles alongside carriages. They are commonly known as the firemen’s mascot, and could be seen running alongside the horse-drawn fire engines in times gone by. Thanks to the popular movie 101 Dalmatians, the breed is thought to be active and playful when in fact, if left untrained, the Dalmatian can be an aggressive dog. It’s their ability to run for miles on end that makes them great to have around horses. They have a lifespan of 13 to 16 years, surprisingly long for a dog of this size, and weigh up to 55 pounds. They have an attraction to horses to this day, and are energetic and intelligent.
This is not an exhaustive list of dog breeds suitable for the barn, and dogs of these breeds are not guaranteed to get along with horses. On the other hand, dogs of mixed or unknown breeds can also make excellent barn dogs. It comes down to the individual dog and, of course, the work you’re willing to put in.
Horses and dogs have been our companions and working partners down through the ages.
Since dogs explore with their noses, and what they find often ends up in their stomachs, you need to be careful when bringing dogs to the barn. While it might seem harmless, albeit gross, for a dog to eat horse manure, you need to consider what could be present in that manure, including traces of supplements or drugs given to the horse.
Both moxidectin and ivermectin, active ingredients in many equine dewormers, can be very toxic to dogs. Signs of exposure include drooling, dilated pupils, incoordination, and trembling which progresses to seizures and coma, and can be fatal if left untreated. Ensure that syringes are disposed of safely and securely after deworming. Keep the dog out of paddocks for a few days after horses are dewormed, as although rare, it is possible for the dog to ingest toxic amounts in horse manure. Certain breeds of dogs that can be extremely sensitive to those drugs include Collies, Border collies, Australian Shepherds, and Old English Sheepdogs.
Some of the products we use topically on our horses can also be toxic to dogs, and any poison left out for pest control must be inaccessible to the barn dog or cat. Dogs who like to eat hoof trimmings can be in for tummy upset or much worse. Any residue of treatments applied to the hoof can be present in those trimmings left by the farrier, as well as bits of nails, and eating too many trimmings can make your dog sick. Make sure to always clean up after the farrier so your dog can’t access the trimmings.
In addition to ensuring that the barn is a safe place for your dog, you need to take steps to ensure your dog is safe for the barn. In a perfect world, all dogs and horses would get along, but that’s not always the case. It is the responsibility of the dog owner to ensure a safe and positive environment if bringing a dog to the barn. An unpleasant interaction between the two could be dangerous, or at worst, fatal. Being aware of the barn’s rules and the relevant bylaws in your area is essential for every responsible dog owner.
Most horse people can recount a story of a negative interaction with an aggressive dog at the barn or on the trail. While we tend to think of our pets as pets, dogs are predatory animals by nature, and horses are prey. If instincts take over, dire consequences can result, ranging from being ordered to pay a fine, to dealing with an injured horse and rider, to having to destroy the dog.
A dog that isn’t familiar with horses can see them as a threat and react by chasing, causing issues for the dog, the horse, and anyone else involved, especially if there is a rider on board. When dog meets horse, the mix of fear and uncertainty can result in the dog being aggressive or trying to play with a horse. Proper training and socialization will help to avoid altercations.
It’s just as important to make sure your horse is comfortable in the presence of dogs. For a horse, it always comes back to their fight-or-flight instinct. If a horse feels threatened by a dog either of those instincts may come out, and the risk of injury is high, whether they choose to fight by kicking or striking, or decide to run away.
When predator and prey meet, instincts can take over. If the horse feels threatened, his fight-or-flight reaction may cause him to strike or kick, or run away. The dog may react by becoming aggressive or chasing the horse.
Happy together! It takes patience and time for horses and dogs to become comfortable and safe in each other’s presence. Photo: Jill Livesey
Following these simple guidelines to introduce your dog to life at the barn is a great way to minimize issues that could arise.
It is essential that the dog have basic obedience before he is brought to the barn or anywhere horses might be present, including public trails or parks used by horseback riders or drivers. When introduced to the barn, the dog should be on a leash to see how he reacts to the horses and the new surroundings. Allow the dog to get comfortable by walking him around the barn and adjacent facilities. Encourage good behaviour and correct bad behavior, just as you would in any other environment. Repeat these visits until your dog remains quiet and calm and is comfortable around the horses. This will likely take several trips to the barn or park.
Now you can introduce him to a horse directly. It’s best to have two people, one to hold the dog, and one to hold the horse from outside a stall, paddock, or round pen. It’s ideal if you have a horse available that is already accustomed to dogs. With the dog on leash, slowly approach the horse. It will be natural for them to want to sniff each other; encourage it but don’t push it. If there is any aggression, correct the behaviour and try again, verbally praising your dog if he remains calm and quiet. If all goes well, walk the dog around the horse several times at a safe distance. It may take several days, weeks, or even longer to master, but the goal is a dog who can be around horses without any signs of aggression or fear.
Before introducing your dog to the barn, take steps to ensure it will be a positive experience and a safe environment. The author’s dog, Tink, is shown supervising the evening feed. Photo: April D. Ray
It’s vital that the dog respects horses and understands how to be in their space. Since horses have binocular vision, they have a blind spot behind them and could easily kick or step on a dog that follows too closely. The dog needs to learn to respect the horse for its own safety and that of the horse – this is especially important for aggressive or overly playful dogs. If you plan on riding out with your dog, it’s vital that the dog learns to follow at a safe distance. A kick from a horse could lead to injuries or even death for the dog and should be avoided at all costs.
Play by the Rules
Create some ground rules. For example, my dogs are not allowed in stalls, paddocks, cross-ties, or rings unless invited – there are plenty of other safe spaces for the dogs at the barn. This rule allows the horses to feel comfortable in the dog’s presence and avoids injuries to both animals. Always reinforce the rules. Even with the best care and attention, not all dogs can be barn dogs, so use your judgment to figure out what is best for you and your animals.
When Dogs Attack
An aggressive dog and a spooked horse can be a recipe for disaster. If you are involved in a dog attack while riding, try to stay calm and assess your horse’s behaviour, the dog’s behaviour, and the general environment. Depending on the circumstances and your horse’s demeanor, it might be best to dismount, although some riders will feel more comfortable controlling their horse from the saddle. Try to distance yourself from the dog by riding away if you can do so in a safe manner. Keep in mind that a bolting horse might encourage an aggressive dog to chase. Keep the horse’s head away from the dog but do allow the horse to defend itself.
Photo: Shutterstock/Grigorita Ko
Make sure to note identifying details of the dog and its owner. Try to get the contact details of the dog owner in case you need to follow up after the incident, and use your mobile phone to call for help if needed. You may need to call your veterinarian to treat your horse for any injuries. A dog attack should always be reported to the local Animal Services department in your municipality or to the local police. They can ensure that the incident is thoroughly investigated and documented, and that steps are taken to safeguard people and animals. In Canada, there are local bylaws, provincial statutes, and Criminal Code provisions providing several means of dealing with dangerous dogs.
Whether it’s working livestock, guarding the door or gate, or simply providing companionship on long days in the barn, a good dog is an asset to any equestrian. By taking steps to make sure every experience your dog and horse share is a positive one, you can truly enhance your life and theirs. And while there might not be a clear-cut answer to the question of why so many people share their lives with both horses and dogs, one thing we know for sure is that our four-legged pals will always be there to warm our hearts and enhance our lives at home and in the barn.
We can all learn from the love, devotion, and commitment shown by the dog and the horse. – Anthony Douglas Williams
This article was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.
Main article photo: Canstock/Callipso88