Horses & dogs: man’s best friends

Q: Can you give me some advice on getting a new horse used to dogs? I like to take my dog for forest/beach rides with me, and my old horse was fine about it, but my new horse is nervous of the dog around his feet and even snakes his head at him if the dog comes near him while he is tied up. The dog isn’t doing anything wrong!

Amanda, Northland

Trainer Neil Davies replies:

Thirty odd years ago we had a Labrador named Deefer. He was a particularly smart dog and loved to hang around with me at the stables. There wasn’t much traffic in those days and there was nothing Deefer enjoyed more than following along when I went for a ride around the roads. When I schooled a horse in the paddock, Deefer would sit in the middle of the circle looking bored, but he always got excited if I headed off for a ride.

Deefer was around for about 10 years and he saw hundreds of different horses come and go. Deefer was the first canine experience for most of the young horses that I trained. I can’t remember any horse taking any notice of Deefer. I didn’t do anything special to introduce any of those horses to the dog. However, the dog didn’t do anything to upset the horses.

Deefer knew the rules. He wasn’t allowed in the stables with the horses and he wasn’t allowed to follow too closely. He wasn’t allowed to rush around and bark. And if he was told to sit and stay, he did so.

Whether a horse is old or young or whether a dog is old or young, the rules should be the same. Dogs should never be allowed to:

– Run indiscriminately around horses.

– Bark at horses.

– Chase horses.

– Bite horses.

If you don’t have control of your dog, keep him on a lead and teach him these rules. Never expect any horse to cope with a dog that’s not under control. And please don’t think it’s okay when your dog chases your horse because one day it will end in disaster.

Trainer Cheski Brown replies:

Thanks for your question. Even though there is a school of thought that says we shouldn’t humanise horses, I think it’s very useful to animalise humans. As humans we tend to arrogantly think that “our wish is an animal’s command”. But is this fair? Put yourself in your horse’s shoes and ask the question “Why do I have to put up with that quick moving, drooling, sycophantic dolt (that my boss idolises) when it won’t stop sniffing round my feet?” 

Your horse views your dog as a potential marauder and he’s right – your dog is a carnivore. He has genes that trace back to horse-hunting wolves. Remember that predators and prey often don’t like each other because they are genetically programmed this way. 

How do you train them to respect each other? Treat them with the same impartial attitude and don’t take it personally if your two great mates can’t stand each other! Talk to them in exactly the same way.  o not let one be mummy’s pet. Reassure, advise, and congratulate both using exactly the same tone of voice, words and touch. If one of them needs to be advised to stop attention seeking make sure you treat the other equally firmly and fairly.

Remember your horse is prey, your dog is predator, so when your horse gets cross he is defending himself, he’s not being naughty. Your dog needs to be obedient to your calm commands of “Come”, “Go”, “Stop” etc, so you can call him away from his predator on prey approaches.

Tie them both up in a large communal area where they can’t get in each other’s personal space and leave them there for long enough to fall asleep. Do this to establish that both can be together but not interfere with each other.

Move these tie-up spots around so they’re in different positions relative to each other while still allowing both sacrosanct personal spaces. Give both something entertaining to nibble/chew on.  Again you’re doing this so they’re in the same space but not “together”.  

When your dog can be relied on to settle as soon as it’s tied up – let him go but make sure that although he’s free to roam, he can always get out of your horse’s personal space if your horse tells him to go away, and that he’s encouraged to do this by having a bone or something to chew on “over there”.

When you’re riding or handling your horse start by having your dog tied up and/or entertained preferably in the middle of your work area so you can work around him. Train horse and dog at home where you are in control of the circumstances and can repeat manoeuvres as many times as is necessary to gain acceptance or learn avoidance tactics before you take on the social pressure of being out in public with an upset horse and a dog that’s not respecting his personal space.

I hope you can get your guys to work together but if you can’t don’t take it personally.  You’re dealing with genetic programming which is not easy to rewrite!