Train Your Dog to Behave Around Horses

Discover methods for training your dog to behave around horses and other dogs in this Q&A, by Edie Jane Eaton.

Question: My Cairn terrier has never really liked loud noises. When we have thunderstorms he runs all over the house and yard barking like crazy trying to chase it. A few months ago he started doing the same thing when he heard the lunge whip crack in the round pen. He would start running laps around the outside of the round pen barking like crazy at the passing horse’s feet. Now he has started doing it all the time whether or not the person in the round pen is cracking a whip. If I go up and stand right next to him and tell him “NO!” he will stop for as long as I stand right there next to him (or if I put him on a leash). How do I get him to stop doing this even when I am not right next to him?

Answer: A basic Tellington TTouch principle is that when we change how an animal feels in his body–his self image–his behavior changes. We see common associations between tension in particular parts of the body and specific behaviors. Dogs that are sound-sensitive and fearful (horses, too, for that matter) usually carry tension in their hindquarters. They may have clamped tails or dislike being touched behind the hips, and they may show it with a range of behaviors–some as subtle as sitting down or turning to face the person doing the touching, both of which conveniently move their hindquarters out of reach! The simplest TTouch technique to reduce this tension is the Body Wrap.

The Body Wrap can be made using an elastic support bandage. For your dog a 2″ wrap is probably best. Place the center of the wrap on the front of the dog’s chest. The ends are then crossed over the shoulders, crossed again under the abdomen and fastened together on the top of the loin, with a knot just to one side of the spine. The wrap is not snug, but is not so loose that it will fall off. It should not be left on the dog when he is unattended, and when outside he should be on a leash or in an enclosed space.

I suggest that you put the wrap on for the first time in the house, where the stress is minimized. Allow him to move a bit with the wrap on–perhaps take him for a walk. When you go near the horses for the first time, move him around within sight and sound of the activity, but far enough away from it for him to feel safe. Praise him often with quiet words and touch.

If he has a tendency to pull on his collar, use a Balance Leash. This is made by forming a “necklace” with the leash in two hands and putting it around his chest, passing one end under the leg that is farthest from you, and the other through the collar on your side–it can still be attached to the collar, but without contact. (You may need to fasten two leads together since he’s a small dog and this configuration needs a length that is three times the distance between him and your hands.) The Balance Leash makes a kind of harness that will allow you to keep him beside you without pressure on his neck. Dogs that pull on the collar can become more excitable and reactive, so it’s important to avoid having tension on the collar.

Keeping him beside you allows him to see that you are calm and makes it easy to reach down and touch him. Your intention is that he experiences feeling comfortable in a situation that was previously related to mindless running and barking, and that he develops some self control. Notice if there are small signs that indicate his stress–increased respiration, for example–and move a bit further away from the activity.

Losing control is not fun. We find that when animals discover that they can be calm, cool and collected, they become so, so we set up situations that help them maintain their composure. You may need to do this several times until you can be right at the fence, but if he’s calm, learning and having you telling him how great he is–it can be lasting.

The wrap, as well as other TTouch techniques, does not simply modify the behavior–it changes the animal. Many people have had the experience of putting a wrap on their dog when nothing is happening and finding that the dog stays calm during the next thunderstorm or fireworks display even when the wrap is not on! I trust you will find it helps your little guy–with his behavior at the round pen and with his thunder-phobia.

Question: At a previous boarding place, Border collies would chase my then-yearling around the paddock so he has learned to chase back. We are now at home, and I have a Border collie. The horse will chase the puppy (she is about 9 months) old so the dog is learning to get out of the way, but with some close calls. But when the horses run the dog thinks it’s fun to chase the horses and bark at them. Is there any way I can teach the dog better behavior? I know she is wary of the horse that chases her as she will jump out of the way if the horse comes near her. I know it’s both a horse and a dog problem, but it would be nice to teach the dog some better habits.

Answer: Ah, who hasn’t seen this? And of course none of us has ever added to the excitement by yelling at the dog in an attempt to stop it! Many dogs and horses get along fine when they’re standing still, but any movement increases the arousal level, and it can soon get out of hand. You may notice that just before it happens the dog exhibits some stress responses, and it may be that his chasing and barking is not just because he enjoys it. I have a dog that had a tendency to behave in the same way, and I would notice his hackles raise and his respiration go up just as the horses began to run. Doing the exercise described below made a huge difference and helped him not fall into the mindless chasing.

What you would like to do is to set up a situation between horse and puppy that allows them to experience each other differently. I suggest an exercise using one of the TTouch obstacles from the “confidence course,” the Labyrinth. This is a pattern of poles on the ground outlining a serpentine path. Walking through the Labyrinth helps horses and dogs to focus and settle, and we use it frequently with dogs that have a tendency to be reactive with other dogs or people. Since our interest is in helping both horse and dog shift their behavior, we can use the Labyrinth with both, taking advantage of the fact that moving through the poles–and movement itself–have a calming influence.

Have one person lead the horse and the other lead the dog. If the dog pulls, use the Balance Leash arrangement described above for the Cairn terrier. You might also consider putting a Body Wrap on the dog. To begin with, stand the horse at a distance from the Labyrinth and positioned relative to it so that as the dog walks through it he is most of the time sideways to the horse. A next step–perhaps at another session–could be having the horse walk back and forth outside as the dog goes through the Labyrinth. There are several configurations you could work through. The horse could be inside the Labyrinth and the dog walking back and forth outside. They could move through the Labyrinth one after the other, keeping a safe distance. One could move around the outside, or trot back and forth, or around outside as the other walks calmly through.

It is very important that you monitor the dog’s arousal level–respiration, heart rate and his own characteristic stress behaviors. Stressing him beyond his ability to stay calm will cause him to fall into the old familiar responses you are trying to change. Plan several sessions, keep them simple, and stop before you see the stress levels rising. Notice which patterns are easiest so you can work with them first and go back to them if you have an “oops.” You want the dog to be calm, balanced, able to look around him and unreactive to the horse, even when the horse is trotting by.

You can also reinforce and praise the response you want with quiet words and touch. If you find that your voice or hand distracts him from the appropriate response he’s showing, you can use a long dressage whip to stroke him along his sides. This can be a more neutral way of saying “I like what you are doing,” but it’s wise to find out beforehand how he feels about it. Most dogs respond very well to being stroked with the wand held vertically. The stroking helps to ground them and to help them breathe more deeply, and it increases their awareness of themselves.

Question: Is there a way I can socialize my dog to get along with other barn/neighborhood dogs? She has been very friendly with people since we adopted her (about 2 years ago) and is such a sweetheart, but she is rather dog aggressive.

As with the Cairn and Border terriers above, our intention is to help your dog have a different experience of interaction with other dogs. One way we achieve this is by changing their experience of themselves–with the Body Wrap or by stroking with the wand, for example. I suggest you use the movement in the Labyrinth as described above with the horse, though there are a few things to be aware of before you start.

Although dogs will usually get along best when off leash, you may not want to risk it. In that case ensure that all other dogs are leashed so that your dog won’t be threatened by one approaching her. If it does happen, and is unavoidable, make sure that the dogs can meet on loose leashes–but don’t let go! Holding your dog back, especially on a collar, will make her feel less safe and increase her protective response. Practice the Balance Leash with her, so you can use it when you need it. If you are suddenly in a tricky situation and don’t have time for the version described above, with both hands simply flip a necklace of leash in front of the dog’s chest and ease up on the collar connection. She then has a better chance of looking around, taking stock of the situation and responding differently.

When you begin the work in the Labyrinth, make sure that the other dog is neutral and unreactive. If it’s impossible to find such a dog, consider using a toy dog. Many reactive dogs find toy dogs a challenge, and your confidence in its passivity will help you to be calm and focused on the exercise. Work slowly through the same progression as described with the horse, allowing several sessions. You can change the experience by switching the side you lead from, stroking her with a wand and having her wear a Body Wrap. Remember to praise her with a low voice in a way that keeps her calm.

You may not see a sudden switch in behavior, but instead see more of what you want, and less of what you don’t want. Your dog will be able to recover her composure more and more quickly until she doesn’t react at all. What you are showing her is another behavioral possibility and making it pleasant for her. Habitual responses are very familiar and are the default behavior when the dog is stressed. Avoid letting your dog get stressed beyond her ability to cope appropriately, and resist the temptation to test her with a challenging situation.

I’m sure you will be able to help her find a new way to respond to other dogs, and I suspect the beneficial changes will spill over into other aspects of her life.

Question: My German Shepherd thinks it’s a great idea to nip the horses’ hind legs. We used to live on a farm, and she has been kicked in the head at least four times over the last five years that I have seen, and I do everything possible to keep her away from the horses. I think she just wants to play, but will she ever learn that those back feet can hurt her? I’d love to be able to bring her out to hang around while I ride, but I just can’t risk another big vet bill.

Answer: I’m going to make the same suggestions as I made for the dog and the horse chasing each other–use the Labyrinth and possibly a Body Wrap and Balance Leash. I have a dog that used to chase horses, but he was less lucky than your girl and now has just one eye!

Just doing the work can make a big difference. Many years ago a woman came to a TTouch session wanting to stop her dog from running after deer and rabbits when she went out riding in the woods. It seemed like a tall order, but the practitioner focused on nothing more than helping the dog feel different by doing TTouch bodywork and using some of the techniques I’ve mentioned. Interestingly enough, the dog stayed with the horse and rider and never ran off again.

The TTouch techniques can help your dog relate differently to the horses, but added to that are management and training. An ironclad recall would make a big difference, for example, as would giving him a clear understanding of what he might do instead. We sometimes get caught up in the “no’s” and forget to offer a more appropriate option. However, just doing the work works –so do try it, and enjoy how it will have the added benefit of improving your relationship with your dog.

Edie Jane Eaton has been working with TTEAM and TTouch for over 20 years, and as an Instructor teaches practitioners around the world. She is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, and when not traveling she enjoys being home in Quebec , Canada, with her animals and garden. Visit her website




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