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Desensitizing Horses to Dogs

Training horses to not fear dog activity is good, and training dogs to behave property around horses is better.
Western horse woman dog snow

Dogs and horses go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s not uncommon to see at least one or more canine companions in any stable. For some people, they can’t have one animal without the other. Whether on a working ranch to guard livestock, stable protection, or just a faithful companion, dogs are an integral part of the barn lifestyle.

Fortunately, most horses are not afraid of dogs themselves, according to Lisa Rakes, Captain of the Kentucky Horse Park mounted police. Rakes is one of the most decorated mounted police officers in the country, having trained the top-ranked Lexington Mounted Police unit horses and riders as the unit's in-house trainer before taking over the Kentucky Horse Park mounted unit.

She said it is more likely the noise of a bark or an owner yelling that spooks the horse and not the dog itself.

Trail riders might come across dogs on their path. If a horse is nervous about the dog, or the dog is displaying aggressive behavior, Rakes said to face the threat.

“If a dog lunges out at you while you are on horseback, turn the horse to face the dog,” she said. “If the horse can see the dog to its front, he will have more confidence because he can see the threat better.”

This tactic also puts the rider facing the dog for a clear picture as to what is happening. Yelling at the dog or spraying with a water bottle is often enough to force a retreat.

“The worst thing you can do is put the horse's hind end to the dog,” she said. “The dog will usually attack if he perceives the horse is retreating.”

Horses unacquainted with dogs might be frightened by playful or rambunctious activity. While it can be a great training exercise to develop unflappable horses, it’s important to create an environment that is safe for horses, dogs and humans. If you let visitors or boarders bring their dogs to the barn, make sure the dogs are well-behaved. Requiring owners to keep them on a leash is another option for keeping them out from underfoot.

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