The best way to introduce your dog to your horse is to start them young. Honestly, the younger the better. Jackson was only one, but we got him from the shelter, so we have no idea what his previous experience was or if he had any at all. Taking your puppy to the barn and letting them grow up around horses will help so much with your training! They won’t be as nervous around horses or other livestock if they see these animals as part of their day.
For those that don’t have this opportunity, that’s fine! Dogs can learn and adapt at any age. The most important thing about introducing your dog to new places is that they are previously well trained! Before I even considered taking Jax to the barn, I made sure that he would do all the commands he knows with me at home. Making sure he listens in a familiar environment will make it all that much easier when they go into sensory overload and can’t remember left from right!!
After I made sure I could handle Jax at home and on walks and hikes with different people than what he’s used to, I finally took him to the barn. I waited such a long time because I wanted to be 100% sure that he knew that I am in charge when we go to places together.
I started by making Jax heel beside me while he was on a leash. This taught him that his “safe place” was with me while he was doing what he’s told. It worked well for him to have an area where he knew he could go! I also taught him that he was not allowed in the arena or in any stalls/pastures. This is EXTREMELY important because you do not want your dog running around a horse and accidentally get kicked in the head. You also don’t want them in the arena when someone is riding and annoying them because your dog won’t listen. Trust me. Your dog=out of the arena. Your fellow barn mates will thank you!
Next, I taught him that Raven’s hind legs were off limits.(See above for the explanation.) This helps with his herding instinct, too, because he won’t circl e around Raven endlessly. Which brings me to my next point: herding. To be honest, I have no idea how to completely eliminate this behavior. What has worked well for me is to give Jax a ‘job’ whenever we are at the barn. I either make him sit, heel, stay, or run ahead at all times. I think when he has a job, he is less likely to start herding or staring at all the other horses.
If none of these work, keeping your dog on a leash is always better than having them galavant all over the place and annoying people because you can’t control your dog. In fact, leashing them is better safe than sorry. I know Jax won’t go in arenas or bug anybody, especially when Raven is doing something, but I still leash hi m when I’m riding. I do this because I don’t want him to get in the way of everyone else.
If you are worried about being in people’s way, it is also a good idea to go to the barn with your dog at times where there is low barn traffic. In the beginning, I took Jax early in the morning or late at night. Usually no one was at the barn so he could learn how to act.
All in all, just remember to have your dog well trained before you start taking them to the barn. Also remember to be patient! You want the barn to be a fun experience for you, your horse, and your dog!! Best of luck to all!