Encouraging Positive Behavior Between Horses and Dogs
Horses and dogs now often come into close proximity; being two of our beloved pets, however, their relationship used to be far from civil. Naturally dogs are predators and horses are prey. Although these animals have been domesticated for many years, their intrinsic survival instincts can still be strong in certain situations. This is how distressing and often critically serious situations develop between horses and dogs.
written by Roberta Coll
Why dogs chase horses
Many dogs are unfamiliar with horses and often it is only curiosity, fear or nervousness which manifests itself in aggressive behaviour; such as barking and chasing. Some dogs may only want to play with the horses, however, playful chasing and barking is not easily distinguishable for the horse with a deep rooted awareness of a canine predator. If a horse is spooked by a dog this could have consequences that result in the dog getting kicked or trod on potentially causing serious injury or even death. The rider could also fall from the horse, injuring themselves severely.
Playful chasing and barking is not easily distinguishable for the horse with a deep rooted awareness of a canine predator.
The horse is inherently a flight animal so it could also bolt, which would then create a hazard to the horse, the rider and members of the public. If the horse runs into a road out of control, this furthermore, could cause a serious traffic accident. Dog attacks can also make the owner viable for prosecution against the Dangerous dog act 1991 section 3, consequences of this can be: destruction of the dog, disqualification from owning dogs, compulsory muzzling and keeping the dog on a lead in public and for more serious cases two years in prison and a £5,000 fine.
How to help prevent dog attacks
One of the main areas that can be significantly implemented in an effort to prevent any of these horrific outcomes is socialisation between horses and dogs. Dogs are more receptive to socialisation with other animals when they are young. Therefore they are more likely to gain a long term positive association if they are introduced to horses and have a good experience with horses, within their socialisation period. Their socialisation period is between 3-12 weeks old or again from 6-9 months.
When introducing young dogs to horses, you should make sure they are kept on leads and already have some idea of basic training commands such as sit, stay and come. The best result from socialisation is to ensure that they are used to each other and therefore don’t find the others presence scary or exciting and therefore don’t take any notice of each other.
When out walking your dog ensure that your dog is under close control and can be instantly controlled regardless of the situation. If this is not the case and your dog’s recall is unreliable, then the dog should be on a lead. If you see a horse approaching whilst exercising your dog you should ensure that you are seen and that the dog is kept still, in a visible but safe place, so the horse will not get violently spooked by just partially catching sight of the dog. The rider should also slow down to pass you and give you a wide berth. Try to encourage your dog not to bark at the horse, as this can spook them, use treats to distract them and reward them for being good. Once the horse is passed, maintain the close control you had over your dog, as they still have the potential to chase after the horse, even after they have moved some distance away.
As an owner be aware and do not allow your dog to enter into a field with loose horses grazing, even if your dog is used to horses, if they become spooked by the sight of the dog and canter away your dog may think it’s a game and give chase, causing the horses to panic and bolt. Overall riders and dog owners should be courteous and considerate to each other and constantly aware of the dangers posed by either animal if not handled correctly.