The animal kingdom is filled with surprises. Go to one horse barn, and dogs might live in fear around horses, smartly avoiding them and their flying hooves. Go to another and you may see a dog sentry outside a horse’s stall door or trotting contently alongside his horse buddy and human master on a long, leisurely trail ride. You can apply generalities as to what dogs are likely to make good horse companions, but since dogs know nothing of human logic, be prepared for at least one canine friend to prove you wrong.
I Only Want to Be With You
Horses and dogs seem to go together and have throughout history -- from herding and sorting cattle on ranches, to grueling foxhunts across English moors. A true horse companion, though, is distinctive. Companion dogs are happiest when they are at a horse’s side. Some may prefer to sleep in the barn just to stay with the horse 24/7. This obvious preference for constant and consistent companionship is what distinguishes a companion dog from a dog that is simply able to co-exist comfortably and safely around a horse.
You can presumably increase your chances of finding your horse a suitable canine companion by searching within specific breed categories. Start with herding breeds. It may seem dichotomous to look at instinctive herders, because you certainly don’t want the dog herding the horse. Still, herding dogs are bred to be comfortable around large farm animals, and the herding instinct can come in handy in an emergency situation. Be prepared to work with a trainer to only allow herding in specific instances or on your command. Corgis make surprisingly good horse dogs, although they may not be suited for long trail rides that tax their short legs.
Other popular herding dogs for horses include the Australian shepherd and Australian cattle dog, and the German shepherd and border collie. The Pyrenean shepherd may well enjoy staying out in the pasture, constantly protecting his equine friend. Some herding breeds that originated in cold, northern climates, such as the Finnish lapphund, may also do well, but they have independent tendencies so fare better in wide, open spaces -- and cooler climates.
Be a Sport and Hound Me
If you want easily trained dogs that fit in naturally with the outdoors, look toward retrievers -- Labradors -- and pointers. They are among the smart sport breeds that are commonly used for hunting and other outdoor activities. Hound breeds such as American and English foxhounds are laid back with a temperament well suited to horses. You may need to rein in their innate instincts to chase, but they do have good stamina for tagging along on excursions with their equine mates.
The Mutts Have It
As is often the case with both equines and humans, sometimes a dog and a horse will simply find one another and form an inexplicable bond. Terriers, for example, are high-energy dogs but are typically comfortable around horses -- and vice versa. Back in the days when fire trucks and passenger coaches moved quite literally with horse power, Dalmatians accompanied them, and that kinship appears to have outstripped the Technical Revolution to hold true in modern times. Regardless of breed, you and your horse need a dog that is calm, quiet, obedient, loyal, intelligent and agile. If you can find these traits in a Doberman or poodle, make the introduction and let your horse and the dog decide.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.