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7 Best Dog Breeds for Horseback Riding Harmony

Dog and horse together
Written by Natalie Gasper

Barn Dogs at Their Best

If you’re a horse person, chances are pretty good that you also love dogs. Good thing these two animals go together like biscuits and gravy. With the proper training, both of your four-legged friends can learn to get along and make your time at the barn even more special.

When 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. Although these qualities can be found in any dog, certain breeds are more suited to life with horses than others. This post will explore the 7 best dog breeds for equestrians!

The Barn Dog: Basics

Goldendoodle and horse nose to nose.

Source: Canva

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.

Any dog can be a barn dog with proper training. 

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
Out command for dogs

“Out” can be a helpful command to keep your dog out of the riding arena.

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.

Certain traits, like trainability and friendliness, make certain dog breeds (or a combination of breeds) an excellent fit for farm/ranch life.

Horse and dog meet

Source: Canva

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 excellent farm dogs because they can keep up on trail rides and are responsive to commands (once they’ve learned them).
  • Cons: A possible downside is that they can be overly excitable, so teaching them to be calm or quiet 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, so it’s important that you socialize them young and often to make sure they behave around strangers and at shows.

German shepard dog and a horse

Golden Retrievers and Golden Retriever Mixes

Golden Retrievers are a fan-favorite in the horse world for a good reason. They’re kind, gentle, eager to please and have lots of energy.

  • Size: Most are large (70-90 lbs).
  • Pros: Golden Retrievers and Golden Retriever mixes are a great size for horse life, make great trail companions, and quickly learn new commands.
  • Cons: They’re not a great choice if you can’t offer them lots of exercise.

Golden retriever pup and horse

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 40 lbs.
  • Pros: Border Collies and Border Collie mixes are loving, gentle, and great around strangers, making them good at busy lesson barns or shows. They’re also excellent trail companions.
  • Cons: Ensure you can give this breed a consistent and stimulating job. Otherwise, they can become destructive.

Border collie and horse

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 aren’t intimidated by large animals.

  • Size: Most are small (25 lbs).
  • 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 keeping them under control is important.

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 and are very friendly toward 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.

Australian shep and horse

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 dog breeds do you commonly see at a hunter/jumper show?

Like hunter/jumper horses, any breed can be found at these shows.

Large, friendly breeds like Golden Retrievers are common, as are some 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.

Horse and dog running

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: How do you get your dog used to horses?

Introducing your dog to horses can be a challenging process. It’s important to ensure the introduction takes place in a safe and controlled environment.

Start by having your dog observe the horse from a distance, then gradually move closer as long as your pup seems comfortable with the situation.

Offer treats or toys to help keep your pup’s attention focused on you rather than the horse.

Next, allow your dog to approach the horse at a comfortable distance for both animals. If either one appears anxious or uncomfortable, back up and give them more space.

Finally, make sure that your dog is kept away from horses during feeding time and exercise.

This will help ensure that the horse and dog remain calm and respectful of one another’s space.

By taking your time and introducing them slowly, you can make sure both your dog and horse enjoy a safe and friendly relationship.

For more tips and pointers on relationship building between the species, check out our previous post, Dogs & Horses: Can They Actually Get Along?

Q: What are the best horse guard dogs?

Retriever with multiple horses

Source: Canva

Any breed with guarding instincts will excel at this, like any shepherd (German, Anatolian, Australian, etc.), Great Pyrenees, or Maremma Sheepdogs.

Q: Which small dog breeds are good with horses?

Having small dogs around horses can take a bit more care and attention.

Small dog breeds have a reputation for excessive barking and being underfoot. Thanks to these qualities, many tiny dog breeds are not particularly suited to life with horses.

Some small dog breeds, including the Welsh Corgi and miniature Australian Shepherd, have temperaments well suited to equestrian life.

Also, don’t underestimate the personality of a mixed-breed dog! Many mixed-breed dogs have easy-going temperaments that make them an excellent choice for a life with horses.

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.

Rotty and mini horse

Source: Canva

Q: Are Rottweilers good with horses?

Rottweilers have a similar temperament to German Shepherds, so they can be trained to fit in with 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 are intelligent, not to mention they get along great with other animals.

Horse and dog running through water

Source: Canva

Q: Can you introduce an adult dog to a life with horses?

There are so many fantastic adult dogs out there waiting for a home! Although it’s ideal to start introducing a dog to horses when they are a puppy, it’s not an impossible feat once they reach adulthood.

One benefit of an adult dog is that their personality and temperament can be more readily apparent than with a puppy. Look for a dog that is open to new people and experiences. One that has basic commands mastered is also ideal.

Some dogs are naturally more vocal than others, but excessive barking in the horse world is frowned upon. Look for an adult dog that is on the quiet side.

Start introductions between the two species slowly. Feel free to contact a professional dog trainer with questions or concerns. It might also be worth consulting a dog trainer in your search for a dog. Trainers are very familiar with the personality and behavioral traits of individual dogs. They can give you valuable insights into how to find the perfect dog for your active horse life.

Parting Thoughts

With the proper training, dogs can be an excellent fit for your equestrian lifestyle.

If you don’t yet own a dog, consider adopting one from a shelter. Most are potty-trained, have basic commands, and are leash trained, 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!

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, trot on over to: 


Dog Breeds – Types Of Dogs – American Kennel Club (akc.org)

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About the author


With a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Central Florida and an editing certificate from the University of Washington, my decade-long writing journey has been a kaleidoscope of diverse experiences. I've had the privilege of contributing to a spectrum of platforms, including newspapers, print and online magazines, literary journals, and individual clients on subjects spanning from horse care, gardening, motorcycles, to exploring East Asia.