It seems that since the beginning of time horses and dogs have fought for the title of "Man's Best Friend". Both animals have served humankind and have since turned into companions in most circumstances. While not everyone who owns a dog owns a horse, a large number of folks who own horses have dogs. I don't know about you but in my small town it's a common site to see a dog in the back of a pickup in front of the horse trailer. Also, pretty much any private or public horse property has a dog walking around.
There is no doubt that horses and dogs can coexist peacefully, sometimes developing quite strong bonds with one another. This can be hard to believe if you're new to horses or just brought home a new puppy and chaos occurs. Perhaps your dog really believes his job is to chase the new horse or your horse greets your pooch with curled nostrils and flattened ears. I certainly felt this way when I brought home my very first horse and my dog Jasmine got a bit too carried away.
Long story short, Jasmine is a cross between a Border Collie and Blue Heeler. Thunder was a Welsh Pony/Quarter Horse cross. Jasmine's genetics got the best of her and she tried herding Thunder. Thunder on the other hand only tolerated about 5 minutes of that and ended up kicking Jasmine in the head. Thankfully Jasmine only lost some teeth and suffered no further damage. After that incident Jasmine was much more respectful of Thunder and we haven't had a problem since. In fact, Jasmine would often lay out in the pasture with the horses while they grazed. Despite the years that went by after that accident, Jasmine always is quick to move out of the way if a horse gets within a few feet of her. The moral of the story is to exercise more caution than I did. Jasmine had been around horses a couple times before without a problem so I wrongly assumed she'd control her herding urges. Thanks to me she had to learn the hard way to treat horses with respect. While it seems dogs are usually the ones that cause problems, don't assume your equine is completely innocent.
Some equines, particularly mules and donkeys, just don't like canines. I've found this to be especially true of any equine that has been kept in a rural area in pasture and may have been confronted by coyotes or strange dogs. A horse with natural disdain for dogs may not give an obvious warning that a dog will recognize as "danger". Interestingly enough, most dogs are able to recognize warnings from horses if they've become accustomed to each other, though their individual species body language warnings are different. If you've never done the dog and horse combo at your home, here are some tips to help you and your animals coexist peacefully:
- Don't assume either animal will welcome the other
I made this mistake and my dog now has a goofy smile. A sweet old dog or a sweet old pony can both act very uncharacteristic when confronted with a strange animal in their presence. I would say that the average horse will tolerate a dog more than a dog can control his excitement around a new horse. This isn't a rule however, so be careful whenever doing introductions. Keep your horse on a halter and the dog on a leash.
- Introduce the animals based on their individual temperaments
Every horse and every dog are different. Some people don't even have to do a formal introduction, they just bring the new horse or the new dog home and let it sort itself out. This might work for some and has worked with new dogs of mine, but I don't recommend it for everyone, especially if you don't know your dog or horse well.
- Be careful during feeding time
Horses can get defensive with other animals during feeding time. A curious dog could wander up while your horse is eating his hay or grain to see what he's doing and could receive a bite or kick. It's best to keep your dog away from horses while they are eating. If your dogs are anything like mine, horse grain can be a tasty treat for them. Keep the grain up off the ground. On the same topic of feeding, if your horse has a stall, it would be wise to train your dogs to stay out of stalls, feeding time or otherwise.
- Teach your dog basic obedience
I strongly believe that every dog should know basic obedience but this is even more important when you allow them around very large, very fast and sometimes unpredictable animals. Commands that are particularly important are "stay" or "wait", "out", "no", "leave it" and "come". Some examples of when you need to be able to verbally control your dog:
- You drop a syringe of apple-scented dewormer and you need to stop the dog from grabbing it
- Your horse is agitated and you need to send your dog away from the horse
- Your dog ventures away from you and you need to recall him
- You are walking your horse through a doorway or down an aisle and command your dog to wait before following behind you
Please do not even think of taking your dog out on a trail ride if you can't verbally control him! Lots of practice on foot and on horseback in a secure location is important. Having personally been on a horse that was upset because of a "horse friendly" dog running between her legs I can say that it is potentially a very dangerous situation for horse, rider and the dog. So please, please do not bring your dogs along on any trail ride unless you have control of them and you get the ok from any other riders involved.
Many public stables don't allow dogs, particularly people bringing their own dogs. Dogs can really get make horses nervous and the liability of a grumpy horse kicking a dog is too great. It is also best to be cautious and not even allow dogs around your horses if there is any reason to believe they won't get along.
(Photo Credit: Darren Moloney (www.allthingsweb.co.uk/) via Flickr Creative Commons)