Tips on Choosing the Right Dog for You

Labrador Retriever
American Fox Hound
Border Collie
German Shepherd
Parson Russell Terrier

Horse people want dogs for different reasons: companionship, protection and sporting competition are just a few. Because of this, it’s difficult to generalize what breed or what dog characteristics are the right match for horse owners.

Still, American Kennel Club (AKC) spokesperson Lisa Peterson offers a few suggestions for equine-compatible large dog breeds and small dog breeds:

  1. Labrador Retriever, the AKC’s No. 1 breed for the past 16 years.
  2. Dogs that were originally bred to work with horses, such as the American Fox Hound and English Fox Hound.
  3. Small hunting dog, such as the Beagle.
  4. Schipperke, popular in the 1970s among the hunter and jumper crowds.
  5. Herding dogs: Border ColliePembroke Welsh Corgi and Cardigan Corgi.
  6. German Shepherds, which are intelligent, easily trained and loyal.
  7. Terriers: Parson Russell Terrier (formerly known as the Jack Russell), Norwich TerrierCairn Terrier (like Toto from The Wizard of Oz) and Fox Terrier.

If the breed is less important than the dog’s individual characteristics, a few desirable traits include:

  • Small dogs tend to make better buddies with horses. “These dogs don’t seem to be quite the threat as a Labrador or a German Shepherd. It depends on the individual animal,” says animal behaviorist Robert DeFranco.
  • “You want a dog that is a naturally active breed,” Peterson says.
  • “In the area of grooming, you want a dog that doesn’t have a lot of long, flowing hair,” in which shavings and hay can get tangled, Peterson says.
  • “Some dogs have higher prey instincts than others,” DeFranco says. A lower prey drive is better for dogs that will be around horses. Hunting and herding dogs like the Labrador Retriever, Border Collie, German Shepherd and Australian Shepherd are examples of breeds with high prey drive, but these are really common “horse” dogs, which goes to prove that even a dog with high prey drive can be managed and his attention redirected.

Back to Must Love Dogs…and Horses.

This article first appeared in the July 2007 Issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.



  1. My dog is a GSD/Dobie mix and he has a high herding instinct. Where I had my horse for a summer, there were lamas. My dog rounded them up to a corner. I didn’t teach to ask him to do this. It was pretty cool. Until later that afternoon when my horse and I were out for a hack and my dog came and nipped her on the hocks. And was barking to get her to go where he wanted. I quickly corrected the behavior and I put him through a little dog manners course I set up.

  2. I think that the most important thing to remeber when picking a dog is that they have horse sense; not neccesarily what breed they are!

  3. I know my German Shepherds often loves my horse. I’ve often found her racing my horse from the other side of the fence, although I don’t take her out with me on rides, i’ve found that with my horse, she is like she is with her best friend, they go every where together, swimming, trail riding, even just sitting in the shade on a hot day.


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