Socialisation of horses and dogs

Not everyone can get on all of the time, but life would be easier if horses and dogs could live together in harmony. Before buying a horse, it’s a vital consideration.

We spoke to the Blue Cross to find out more about the instinctive behaviour of horses and dogs, in a bid to understand how we can help them stay safe around each other.

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Tips from Blue Cross – before buying a horse or dog

The horse and dog relationship

Imagine… the sun is shining, you are out in the beautiful English countryside enjoying a hack with your two favourite animals – your trusty steed and your loyal pooch…

If this seems like a fictional scenario – read on.

The long and short of it is that it’s unlikely that dogs and horses will ever be the best of friends, but to maintain safety when out riding, they need to have a working relationship.

Both horse and dog base their behaviour on instincts; it is the fear of threat that conjures up an instinctive behaviour that causes dogs to chase and horses to run. In order to live in harmony, they must have a relationship based on ‘you’re not threatening, I’m not threatening’ to calm the primal fight or flight reaction.

The solution is socialisation, consideration and close control.

Why does a dog chase?

A dog might chase as an instinct of being scared, nervous or even as a defensive mechanism. If a dog has never seen a horse before or it gets upset if a horse passes, it quickly then may react in the only way it knows how – to chase and be on the ‘attack’.

After all, dogs are a predatory species and originate from hunting other animals. It can sometimes be easy to forget that pet dogs have evolved from wild dogs that have survived in the wild for years and years. Today most dogs are kept as pets, but their chasing and hunting instincts are still there and we need to know how to manage them safely.

How to avoid a chase situation

•    Socialise your dog from an early age. The more mingling with anyone, the better – people and horses.
•    Socialise a young or inexperienced dog with a horse that is considerate and calm around canines.
•    Train your dog well. Make recall a focus in training. This will ensure you have your dog under close control in many different situations, not just with horses. This will reduce the stress of a spontaneous meeting with a horse.
•    If your dog is not trained sufficiently to recall, then keep them on a lead.
•    If you see a horse approaching, recall and keep your dog as still as possible in a visible but safe place. Maintaining visibility will mean the horse isn’t being scared of the lurking unknown.
•    Wear hi-vis equipment. Riders can see you and react quickly, but it is also good practice to get in when out dog walking.
•    Train your dog not to bark at horses; carry treats so when you see a horse you can distract them and condition them to think that horses = good things.
•    Once a horse has passed, keep your dog under close control until you are sure it is far enough away.
•    Do not allow your dog to enter a field of grazing horses, they are territorial.

From the horse’s point of view…

Think zebra running away from a lion. A horse has instincts that mean that if a dog runs towards a horse, it will run away.

Dogs may see the horse and want to play. The horse is unlikely to understand this and will run regardless of whether it is a playful or aggressive pursuit. This can immediately make a situation unsafe, therefore causing problems for horse, rider, other members of the public and the dog.

Why do horses run?

Animals such as the horse were prey for many large carnivores, such as the common ancestor of the wolf and dog. To survive, they run from any threat of attack. This is often referred to as ‘flight’. The horse’s natural survival instinct is strong and a rider has little influence over this.

A bolting horse presents very real danger for horse, dog, rider, dog owner and for any other members of the public present:
•    If in open areas, the horse may run onto a busy road and be hit by a car or other vehicle.
•    The dog may pursue the horse onto the road and also be hit.
•    The rider may fall off and injure him or herself.
•    The horse may kick out at the dog and do some serious damage to your dog.

So before you buy a horse – or a dog – think about what you can do to make that relationship work in your favour. Good luck!

Naylors - Equestrian | Country | Pet