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How to Prevent Your Dog from Chasing Horses

Dogs Chasing Horses

Certain breeds of dogs make really great herders--whether it's sheep, cattle or even horses. Some horses do really well with dogs herding them and don't blink an eye.

However, some horses react very badly to being chased by dogs even if they've cohabitated for years together. It's all about the intent of the chase and really based on the personality--of the horse and the dog involved.

Some dogs are just generally excitable around horses and their natural instinct is to bark, lunge or give chase. Especially if they happen to be herding dogs or running dogs in the first place. It would seem natural for them to want to herd the animal, no matter how big it was.

Dogs like arctic breeds, however, can be excitable around horses in a different way. They can have a mental trigger that says "prey" even though the horse is huge compared to them.

Sometimes if dogs are in a group, they can also assume the "pack mentality" and this can trigger behaviors such as nipping, biting, or trying to hurt the horse--something no one would want to have happen.

So do horses and dogs generally just not get along well or more importantly, why would dogs give chase?

Much like dogs would chase a cat that's running or a squirrel, it's a natural instinct for a dog to run after a horse---especially if the horse is moving.

But there are also situations where a dog is allowed to chase a horse when it's reinforcing bad behavior--and dangerous behavior at that.

Dogs and horses may or may not get along famously--it all depends on the dog and the horse.

Dogs and horses may or may not get along famously--it all depends on the dog and the horse.

Dangers of Dogs Chasing Horses

While good natured playing and interacting between a dog and a horse can occur, this usually occurs when the dog and horse have gotten to know each other.

Unfortunately though, some horse and dog situations turn dangerous. Most often, it's because appropriate steps weren't taken to ensure the well being of both animals.

Many a dog is killed every year from chasing a horse or going at them in a way that spooks the horse. Consider a horse being confined in a stall and having a dog come at him or her unannounced in a tight space.

Most of the damage a horse can do is with its hooves and its legs though they can bite too. Dogs are kicked, stomped to death or otherwise injured by a horse that doesn't want to be bothered. The same thing happens with llamas and moose--something that big has much better odds even against the most energetic, fearless canine.

Some horses are used to dogs because they've been brought up with them. Usually these are the kinds of dogs that respect the horse's space and don't invade it with bad behaviors.

However, horses (and riders) are always in danger of unleashed dogs coming at them and the horses reacting. The responsibility here lies with the dog owner from this author's perspective as dogs that are allowed free reign should be trained to be respectful--whether it's of people or other animals.

Dogs that are allowed in public situations, which means on trails or in the country, too---anywhere they could possibly encounter situations with animals they aren't used to---should be trained and trained well in order to minimize problems.

Dogs for instance that ride in a car with their owners to a stable but have never been exposed to horses or cattle, chickens, etc., can become nuisances if let out of the car unleashed. If they don't respect their owner and take off for the pasture and start running down the horses, that's probably a good indicator that training is far from over.

Dog owners need to understand the issues are twofold--someone who owns a horse has to be able to control their animal but they are at a considerably bigger disadvantage since the horse is huge compared to the dog.

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Dogs that are out of control and do not obey commands such as "leave it," or "come" or "freeze" should not be allowed in stables or around horses until they have graduated to the level of doing what their owner says--the first time and immediately. Otherwise, there should be no thought of letting the dog off the leash.

People who think that animals can "work it out" or that they'll get used to each other aren't really thinking of the safety of either the horse or the dog. Just like bringing a new dog into a household, dogs have to adjust to different animals--like horses. It's the owner's responsibility to introduce them properly and assure the safety of both parties.

Horses have to adjust to being around dogs and need to be calm enough to be able to ignore yapping or quick movements that could make them nervous or fidgety. Some horses are naturally better at it than others but the key is watching the behavior of both animals to ensure a positive outcome.

Training Dogs to be Around Horses

If a dog has never been around a horse before, training is essential. It should start with a leash and the owner should have a firm handle on training before introducing a horse into the mix.

Some ideas for training a dog to not react negatively to horses:

  • Start off slow--baby steps
  • Introduce the dog to the horse from a distance--let him or her observe the horse moving about, even running--gauge the reaction of the dog and even the horse
  • Do not let the dog bark at the horse--it's bad behavior--train with "no bark" or "no"
  • If the dog becomes over-excited, barking, snarling, pulling, jumping, etc. start training the dog to focus on something else--reward behavior that does not involve bad behavior towards the horse--it's called deconditioning
  • Never let the dog off the leash or allow him or her freedom to go near the horse until the dog is trained to obey any command that involves stopping a behavior--such as "leave it," "come," "no", "no bark", "stay", or "freeze"
  • Dogs that are not properly trained in the first place don't belong around other animals as it's a danger to them and it's a danger to the other animals
  • Add in retractable leashes and work at gradually getting the dog closer to the horse without negative reactions--as long as there are positive reactions on both animal's parts, it's going well and should proceed
  • Remember to reward the dog for positive behavior--if the dog simply needs to chase something to be happy, use balls or objects NEAR the horse to burn off the chasing behavior and reward the dog for doing that instead
  • Work at it gradually and don't expect miracles in just a day
  • If all else fails and the dog simply "must" chase the horse, trying a shock collar or an E collar as a viable option to train the dog to not do that behavior
  • If the dog is going to be around the horse for long periods of time and can't be trusted, a simple electric fence is a great deterrent to keeping the dog from chasing the horses--or from going near them at all
  • Remember that animals do not "have" to get along--sometimes it's hard to take the breed out of the dog so a malamute for instance will instinctively go after something small like a cat or a squirrel--they look at it as prey
  • Only put your dog (and your horse for that matter) in situations where he or she can be successful--that means extensive training and monitoring the dog's behavior--and not expecting your dog to do something he or she hasn't been trained to do

Good Example of Bad Dogs Chasing Horses

Horses and Dogs

Dogs and horses have coexisted for centuries. Those that do have a healthy dose of respect for each other and know their boundaries.

As the video above illustrates, these are dogs with a disrespectful owner being allowed to perpetrate bad behavior towards a horse and its foal.

As you can see in the video, the more the dogs yap and chase, the madder the horse becomes and eventually is kicking up its rear legs. I'm surprised that a couple of the dogs didn't get stomped on to be honest.

The worst part of this kind of behavior is that the dogs are allowed to keep doing the bad behavior while the horses are developing an anxiety level over being around dogs. That can't bode well for future encounters.

As in all things, dog owners have a responsibility to their dogs to keep them safe. They also have a responsibility to others, whether it's other dogs, horses, people, possessions. If owners don't train their dogs appropriately, they will never act appropriately.

This author would happily go and give the dog owners a citizen's arrest for their stupidity in putting their small dogs at risk with these horses. It's also cause in my mind for animal cruelty to the horses.

Remember if you're going to have your dog around horses, it should be done in a humane fashion with lots of practice and training--don't expect them to intuitively know how to handle situations with strange animals--and don't expect horses to be accepting either. You never know what might have occurred in a horse's past with other dogs!


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 04, 2012:

That's terrible - I have mixed feelings about it to be honest. I think animals are just that - animals--they really can't reason and if a dog isn't exposed to a horse "properly" - how do they know what's appropriate behavior and what isn't?

I definitely see this as an issue from both sides though except I can't imagine putting a dog down for following probable 'instinct' especially in an off leash area. Especially if the horse was seriously injured OR the rider/police officer--what's the deal? People just make too much out of everything these days. I always say learn from it and move on!

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on September 04, 2012:

Recently, a dog bit a police horse in San Francisco, in an off-leash area. The city wants to put the dog down, but the owner pointed out that perhaps police horses should not be patrolling an off-leash park. I have to admit, I see his point.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 03, 2012:

Definitely wouldn't be something I'd want to have happen to my dogs...that's why I gave up my dream of doing the Iditarod...yeah's really because there are no Comfort Suites along the route...when they get that little item nailed down, I'm in!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 03, 2012:

Wow, Audrey, that was a close call. So glad it had a happy ending. That vision of moose-or-horse-stomping-dog is devastating.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 03, 2012:

BJ - Lucky you~ I've always wanted to own a horse (or two) but only have my mals~~~ They are the equivalent of probably trying to control a horse..ha ha - but I have done a lot of riding and have a very healthy respect for the great and wonderful beasts.

That video just got me all riled up thinking how stupid people can be as I've also done a lot of reading about dog racing in the snow, etc. and how moose literally hate dogs and stamp them into pieces in a heartbeat.

THAT said, my own mals got out and were away overnight which was horrific for both of us. The sheriff ended up finding one of them (we called it in immediately and the whole town was looking for them)....they had tried unsuccessfully thank goodness to get in with some llamas and he told me he had no doubt my dogs would have come up short on that one. Lucky for us, the owner snagged our fools with a couple of dog biscuits and called the cops to come grab them as they obviously are well bred and well fed~~~ Again, lucky for us they weren't hurt - or worse yet---shot for messing with people's "livestock." Here they shoot first~

We took steps immediately to assure our little babies never got out again though---nothing like an electric fence to say "you are NOT going out that fence to do what you want~"

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 03, 2012:

Very thoughtful article, Audrey, with important information for pet owners to know. I have owned horses and dogs but the two were always mutually exclusive. But I can understand the importance of training dogs not to chase nor aggravate horses.

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