All of the dogs were out early one morning, during the usual horse feeding schedule. The horses were playfully kicking up their hooves in the excitement of the cool morning air and the anticipation of breakfast. Just as usual, they were working in a fast pace around the turnout before selecting their favorite feeder bins. The dogs were happily herding them through the morning exercise when one of the pups got eaten by a misplaced hoof. The dogs were not supposed to be in the horse turn-out during that morning, or any other time, for that matter. It was well known that the dogs were not allowed to chase those horses! It can become a major safety issue during horse training when a dog is commanding the horse to do one thing underfoot, while a person is requesting another response from the horse. Too many times, people allow dogs to herd horses, which is very dangerous.
Not all dogs with horses stories end up the same way, but these tips were written to help raise awareness for dog owners. We do love our faithful ranch buddies who attend every chore and patiently wait to come inside at the end of the day and keep us company. Most ranch dogs are quick underfoot and courageous in the face of animals much larger than themselves. All dogs have a herding instinct, which works well with most "herd" animals.
For restricted horses, or horses limited to an area for which they deem their territory, any newcomer must establish their place in the herd in terms of hierarchy. This includes people and other animals at every encounter within that space. It's always best that the people are in charge of this invasion of the horses' area, and the horses respond to your company in a safe manner. A dog must not take that lead over, since the dog will not have the same goal in mind that you have for your interaction with the horse. Just as you enter and exit doorways with your dog, be sure that you always lead and the dog waits to be invited. Same goes for leading the horse through an opening, you must go first through gates and lead not follow. Make the dog wait for you to greet the horse before it has any interactions. This habit will help establish who is the leader at the beginning of every visit with the horse.
Great ranch-chosen dogs have hereditarily predisposed exercises that will make some breeds a better choice than other dogs. Now, the choice is up to the rancher, of course, what type of dog also fits into the lifestyle of the home or family, and other situations and duties that a particular dog may be required to perform. Very importantly, a dog must be trained to listen to their owner or handler, so that they can respond at any time of excitation, to human commands. It is always best to keep the dogs away from any horse-training activity and make sure that the dog can sit and wait quietly on command when there is excitation nearby. Your dog should never exhibit herding practices with an actual horse, since this can be life-threatening behavior. If a dog can not perform these manners around horse activity, it is best to keep them off the ranch. In fact, many horse facilities will have a no dog policy due to previous problems with dog owners.
Many dog owners will bring their dogs on a tail-ride. Trail dogs must understand where they are allowed to tread and follow all directions when needed, in order to keep the horseback riders safe. These trail-dogs must be trained prior to attending an actual horseback trail-ride. A bicycle is a great tool for preliminary exercises with such a dog. It will determine if he is fast enough to keep up, and can remain steady along-side. Teaching the dog to switch sides on command can be very useful when riding your horse next to a street.
With the proper training and manners, certain dogs can be a great addition to the trail-ride, the ranch activities or horse facility.
This story is dedicated to beloved "Sparky", the smallest of the litter of Red Apricot Poodles. He was one year and five months old and a tiny little guy at 4.5 lbs. When he suffered one of the worst things happened to any dog on a ranch! Sparky was being treated by a great group of professionals and their wonderful staff at "Animal Medical Services" in Gardnerville, Nevada. We are grateful for their knowledge and professionalism and wish to thank Dr. Doug Bass, Dr. Sharon Burns, Dr Dave Novotny and Camille Marsh. Shakespeare Animal Fund also donated a portion of Sparky's medical expenses. Although Sparky's story had a tragic ending, we hope that this article helps other dog owners who bring their pups to the horses.