Barn Dogs at Their Best
Any dog can be a barn dog with proper training. These breeds lead the pack in terms of cohabitating with horses.
If you’re a horse person, chances are pretty good you also love dogs. Good thing these two animals go together like biscuits and gravy. With the right training, both of your four-legged friends can learn to get along and make your time at the barn even more special.
When it comes to choosing a dog for your horse life, temperament and training matter even more than breed. You want a dog who is quiet, trainable, and good around other animals, and people. Many mixed breeds can be a great choice because they combine lots of traits that make a dog suitable for barn life.
The Barn Dog: Basics
There are a few common traits any good barn dog will have. You don’t want one that barks a lot, jumps (on people or horses), or runs into the riding ring mid-lesson. In short, you want a dog that’s well-mannered and has a solid set of commands.
Qualities of a Good Barn Dog
- Manageable Size (although you don’t want something so small it gets underfoot easily)
- Quiet (excessive barking can disturb both horses and riders)
- Good with strangers
- Respects boundaries
- Obeys commands promptly
- Excellent in off-leash scenarios
- Friendly with children
Training Tips for the Best Barn Dog
Here are the must-have commands any barn dog should know:
- Stay: This command can be a lifesaver if a horse gets loose
- Down: Good to use when you want your dog calm and nearby, but not in the way
- Off: Just in case your dog decides to jump on someone (or something)
- Out: Places like the riding arena and round pen should be off-limits to your dog
- Follow: Choose a command for when you’re on trails or at a show and can’t use a leash
- Leave It: Works for a variety of scenarios, such as “spit it out” (my dog loves to sample poop when she thinks I’m not looking), or to back off the barn cat sniffs
What are some characteristics of dogs that do well around horses?
Dogs that love other people and are curious about horses can be a great fit. You also want a dog that is highly trainable and high-energy (if you’re looking for a trail companion).
Do dogs and horses get along?
Absolutely! They may not at first, however. If you have a new dog, try to find a horse that’s been around dogs before. If you get a new horse, first introduce them to a dog that’s used to being around horses.
Best Breeds for Horse Farms
There’s no one perfect breed for life with horses. There are certain traits, like trainability and friendliness, that make certain dog breeds (or combination of breeds) a great fit for farm/ranch life.
Labrador Retrievers and Lab Mixes
Labs are one of the most popular dog breeds for a reason. They’re friendly, easy-going, very trainable, and energetic. Labs like everyone they meet, from kids and adults to other dogs and horses.
- Size: Most labs are large (65-80lbs}.
- Pros: Labs and lab mixes make great farm dogs because they can keep up on trail rides and are responsive to commands (once they’ve learned them).
- Cons: The only downside is they can be overly excitable, so teaching them to be calm or giving them a quiet space in the barn is important.
German Shepherds and German Shepherd Mixes
German Shepherds and other guard breed crosses could be just what you’re looking for. While German Shepherds can be intimidating and perceived as aggressive, it all comes down to good training.
- Size: Most German Shepherds are large (70-110lbs).
- Pros: German Shepherds and German Shepherd mixes are loyal, highly trainable, and have sharp instincts that let them quickly adjust to life around horses. They’re also great on trail rides.
- Cons: Their protective instincts can be a downside if they’re not properly trained, and it’s important that you socialize them young and often to make sure they behave around strangers and at shows.
Golden Retrievers and Golden Retriever Mixes
Golden Retrievers are a fan-favorite in the horse world for good reason. They’re kind, gentle, eager to please, and have lots of energy.
- Size: Most are large (70-90lbs).
- Pros: Golden Retrievers and Golden Retriever mixes are a great size for horse life, make great trail companions, and learn new commands with ease.
- Cons: They’re not a great choice if you can’t offer them lots of exercise.
Great Pyrenees and Great Pyrenees Mixes
These dogs are extremely gentle and mild-mannered while also making excellent protectors. They do well in both home and barn environments and don’t need supervision to do their jobs.
- Size: Most are giant (100+ lbs).
- Pros: Great Pyrenees and Great Pyrenees mixes are very trustworthy, so they’re a good fit if your barn or show lifestyle leaves you with minimal time to supervise them.
- Cons: Because of their protective instincts, they can bark excessively. They also have long, thick coats that require lots of care.
Border Collies and Border Collie Mixes
Here’s another breed that fits in great in the horse world. Their brains and intuition allow them to figure things out quickly and adapt well to horse life.
- Size: Most are medium, at about 40lbs.
- Pros: Border Collies and Border Collie mixes are loving, gentle, and great around strangers, making them good at a busy lesson barns or shows. They’re also excellent trail companions.
- Cons: Make sure you can give this breed a consistent and stimulating job, otherwise they can become destructive.
Welsh Corgis and Welsh Corgis Mixes
Small dogs aren’t always the best fit for horse life, but this breed is one of the exceptions. They were bred to work around livestock and so aren’t intimidated by large animals.
- Size: Most are small (25lbs).
- Pros: Corgis and Corgis mixes are very agile and love getting exercise. They love being around people, but they’re also comfortable being alone.
- Cons: Like any dog, they require good training. They also have strong herding instincts, so it’s important to keep them under control.
Australian Shepherds and Australian Shepherd Mixes
While this high-energy breed can be intimidating, they’re well-suited to life around horses. They’re intelligent, friendly, and have excellent endurance.
- Size: Most are medium (40-60lbs).
- Pros: Australian Shepherds and Australian Shepherd mixes are known for their obedience and eager-to-please nature. They love helping out and are very friendly towards humans, dogs, and horses.
- Cons: They can sometimes get in the way or feel underfoot given their supervisory nature, but they can be trained to back down or give you some space.
Horse Show Dogs
If you’ve got a dog, chances are you don’t want to leave them home alone every weekend when you pack up for a show. Fortunately, many dogs can make great horse show companions.
What are some traits of a good horse show dog?
Because horse shows are loud, crowded, and busy, a good horse show dog will be obedient, quiet, responsive, good around strangers, and comfortable in unusual environments.
What breeds of dog do you commonly see at a hunter/jumper show?
Much like hunter/jumper horses, any breed can be found at these shows. Large, friendly breeds like Golden Retrievers are common, as are some of the smaller breeds, like Corgis and Jack Russell terriers.
What breeds of dog do you commonly see at a reining or working cow horse show?
It makes sense that working breeds are more common at Western-specific horse shows. Border Collies and Australian Cattle dogs are several breeds favored by reining and working cow horse riders.
What breeds of dog do you commonly see at a Quarter Horse show?
Many Quarter Horse people are also dog people, so it’s common to see lots of dogs at horse shows. Some common breeds include Boxers, Mini / Australian Shepherds, Blue Heelers, and French Bulldogs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are dogs good companions for horses?
While dogs and horses can get along, other horses or donkeys make the best companions for horses.
Q: What are the best horse guard dogs?
Any breed that has guarding instincts will excel at this, like any type of shepherd (German, Anatolian, Australian, etc.), Great Pyrenees, or Maremma Sheepdogs.
Q: Which big dogs are good with horses?
Most big dogs are good with horses because they’re not intimidated by their size. Some of the favorite large breed dogs for horse owners are labs, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds.
Q: Do Great Pyrenees protect horses?
Yes! Great Pyrenees are guarding dogs and have excellent protective instincts.
Q: Are pit bulls good with horses?
Pit bulls get a bad rap—just about any dog breed can be a good barn dog with training! That said, pitties weren’t bred for working livestock, so horses may be a bit foreign to them. (This could be a plus, as they might not have the “herding” gene!)
Ultimately it comes down to training—with time, patience, and treats, most dogs can learn barn manners.
Q: Are Rottweilers good with horses?
Rottweilers have a similar temperament to German Shepherds, so they can be trained to fit in with the horse life. Make sure you introduce them slowly and have strong commands under your belt before taking them to the barn for the first time.
Q: Are Bernese mountain dogs good with horses?
Bernese Mountain Dogs get along very well with horses. They have sweet personalities, are very loving, and intelligent, not to mention they get along great with other animals.
Dogs can be a great fit for your equestrian lifestyle with the right training. If you don’t yet own a dog, consider adopting one from a shelter. Most are already potty-trained, have basic commands, and are leash trained, all of which means less work for you before they’re ready to meet your horse.
Don’t be afraid of going with a mixed breed, either. Many “mutts” end up with the best traits of both breeds and will feel right at home in a barn!
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