There is nothing better than a good barn dog. However, dogs + horses can = sticky situations. You can’t just drop a dog off at the barn and expect a “barn dog.” A lot of precautions must be taken and a lot of training goes into both horse and dog.
The first thing anyone wants to do with their new puppy is rush them to the barn to meet the horses. I don’t blame them, but I don’t recommend this. Puppies are unreliable, and horses are unpredictable.
My best advice is to wait until your puppy has a solid recall, that way you can reliably call him to you in case things don’t really go the way you want them to. If you need help teaching a recall or improving one that is already there, there are plenty of great sources online.
Now you’ve taught the recall, and you trust your pup. It’s finally time to take him to the barn. Never start by taking your dog immediately to the horses. Let him get familiar with the property and environment first. Let him see the horses in the field and observe from afar. This will give you a good idea of how he is going to react when he meets one up close. If your dog is already timid and afraid when seeing horses in the field – it’s probably best to let him do some growing up and then come back again later to try again.
If you pup seems confident and unphased by horses in the field, let him walk down the aisleway. Walking into a big barn can be intimidating enough for a pup. Don’t force him to walk up to any stalls, just let him walk through the aisle. He’ll be able to see, smell, and hear the horses up close, but have a safe barrier.
All of this can be a lot to take in for a young puppy, and how much you do in one day is totally dependent on the individual dog. Some people might stop after conquering the aisle, and save the actual introduction for another day. Sometimes it’s best to end on a positive note instead of pushing for too much too soon.
Whether you decide to do this all in one day, or spread it out into several barn visits, once your dog is comfortable in the barn atmosphere – it’s time to introduce him to the horse.
If you have a young, green, ill-mannered, or overly unpredictable horse – I do NOT recommend letting him meet your puppy. Only introduce your dog to horses who you know 100% will be sane and saintly. I always introduce mine to West first, because I know everything there is to know about him. I know what’s going to bother him, and what isn’t. I trust him completely, and he’s done this before.
Once you’ve chosen the horse, you then need to find a good meeting place. Never take your puppy into a horse’s stall or paddock. That’s THEIR space. Intruders, especially new and odd looking ones are not welcome. Understandably.
My favorite place for this is the cross ties or wash rack. I can cross tie the horse, and while on a leash, let the pup see the horse up close. Stay away from feet, and especially the rear. I let both the puppy and the horse get familiar with each other for a few minutes, then I put the puppy away.
Short sessions of letting your dog and horse interact as your puppy grows up will lead to a great barn dog down the road. Since it’s good to keep interaction sessions short at first, use the extra time to lay down some ground rules for your dog. No going in stalls. No going in paddocks. Stay out of the feed room. Stay out of the ring. No barking at the horses. Don’t leave the property. Whatever you want your rules to be. It’s best for the dog to learn these early and for you to always enforce them. This ensures safety of your dog and horses in the long run.
As your dog gets older and more trained ( I highly recommend using an e-collar [ only on dogs who are e-collar conditioned and trained ] on off leash dogs at the barn in case of emergency situations ) you can start to let your dog off leash and give him more freedom. Eventually, you can let your dogs stay off leash the entire time you’re at the barn and have peace of mind about it.
My older dogs are off leash for our entire barn visits, even while I ride. I tuck their collar remotes into my breeches, again – just in case of emergency. I trust my dogs and the training I’ve put into them – so I feel comfortable with this. If you do the introduction and train your dog correctly from the beginning – your dog will be a pleasure to have around the farm.