It’s fairly common in the horse community, to have dogs and cats in your menagerie as well. When we love one animal, we often tend to love many. For some horse owners, having a variety of animals in your barn is as common as breathing in and out, but not everyone feels the same way. The subject came up in a group conversation on LinkedIn, and I wanted to expand on it a little.
If you own your own barn, and have dogs (specifically), then who’s to tell you they can’t follow you to the barn and hang out all day? I would suspect they were probably raised around horses, so it’s become a comfortable and familiar way of life for them. From an early age, they would learn to give horses (or maybe in their eyes, the really big dogs that talk funny) a wide berth, and to stay quietly out of the way when you aren’t asking for them to be at your side. Sometimes, if not raised in a barn, they’ll learn the harder way, with the occasional kick or stomp aimed in their direction. These dogs, farm dogs, usually aren’t the problem though.
The problem lies more often in boarding/public stable facilities. If the barn doesn’t have a clear dog policy posted and communicated among it’s boarders, they may feel it’s open to personal interpretation. I’m a horse/dog person, and while I love them both, I don’t always enjoy them together. Even the best trained dogs can get in the way, or create an unsafe environment around horses, and just because I enjoy the company of my dog, doesn’t mean that others will. Additionally, your dog loves you, but will he or she love everyone at the barn? There’s only one way to find out!
When I wanted my Beagle to experience the barn, I planned ahead. We’ve gone through some basic obedience training, and she had never displayed a social behavior that concerned me, so I felt safe trying a visit during my step-daughter’s riding lesson. I knew dogs were permitted, and that there could be others around. Even when we’re in our usual territory, unless in a fenced-in area, my little hound can’t be off a leash, so that certainly wasn’t an option. I went in to the visit knowing full-well that she could go bonkers right out of the gate, and there was a likelihood that I’d have to collect her and sit in the car for an hour while we waited. To placate and encourage good behavior, I packed treats and a toy.
Upon our arrival at the barn, I let the rest of the family go in to get ready for the lesson, while I let Sami look around the outside, and go potty. Once she’d gotten an eye-full, we carefully went into the main barn aisle, after I’d made sure there weren’t any people or horses who might be opposed to our presence. There she got to look over horses in their stalls. They took mild notice of her, a few sniffed or snorted in our direction, but we went otherwise ignored. Sami’s eyes were huge. She stayed very close to my legs, and made a few low growling sounds, which I hushed. I gave her the chance to get closer to one horse I felt confidant would stand quietly and not be bothered by her. She was timid, but not aggressive (I was relieved!). We were able to sit quietly and observe the lesson without much reaction from anyone. It was a successful trip! I took her out another time, repeating the same process, and all went smoothly again.
The main points I want to focus on are preparation and mindfulness. Even if you’re one of those people who never gets in the car to go anywhere without your dog, please remember that the barn isn’t just another grocery store or corner coffee shop where you can leave them in the car or tied up outside. If I’m being completely honest, the people who go everywhere with their dogs kind of make me crazy. Unless your dog is a registered service animal, do they really want to be by your side 24/7, or are you just catering to yourself and ignoring how they feel?
Once you’ve established the barn’s rules on dogs, and gotten permission to bring them with you, plan for the worst, and hope for the best. Maybe on your first visit, don’t even expect to get anything else done other than acclimating your dog to the unfamiliar surroundings. Keep them on a leash until you’re reasonably certain they’ll mind you quietly without disrupting anyone else. If you do let them off the leash, make sure anyone else in the barn is aware and comfortable with it. Have an exit strategy, and an emergency strategy. Dogs are naturally herd animals, they may see a horse loose and have their genetic blueprints kick in, sending them hot after the horse’s heels, and even into the Vet’s office. It’s cute for a minute, one chasing after the other, until one, or both get hurt.
If your dog is a regular visitor at the barn with you, and usually off leash, make sure they’re still “checking in” with you frequently. Work out simple, but clear communication tools with your dog so they understand every time when you ask them to come to you, or stop what they’re doing.
Having all your furry kids in one place can be a lot of fun, it should be for everyone involved. By setting them up to succeed rather than fail, you’re insuring a better chance of everyone enjoying the visit, rather than dreading it. As a horse owner that’s always had to board, there was nothing more annoying than being tackled by someone else’s unattended dog, as soon as I opened my car door, or being followed around by them, tripping over them, because they were being ignored by their owner. Extra animals should be a pleasant experience, not one you have to constantly deal with in order to enjoy your own trip to the barn.