My horse is scared to death of dogs. Help!

7 tips for teaching your horse to be safe around dogs, from Pat and Linda Parelli.


Reader’s Question: My mare is scared to death of dogs. She sees one in the window of a house and gets all antsy. If someone’s walking a dog near us, or we have to pass a house with dogs, she’s practically out of control. I’ve only had her a few months, so I don’t know if she had a bad past experience. Help!

The Parellis offer some ways to help your horse become comfortable with dogsParelli’s Answer: It’s natural for horses to be afraid of dogs because dogs are predators. Some horses are comfortable around dogs because they were raised with them, while others are not as sensitive so the dogs don’t bother them.

A horse like yours, however, sounds quite unconfident and fearful and the dog situation triggers these reactions in a big way. Here’s what you can do:

1. Get her to be more trusting of you. As her leader, she needs you to take control of the situation and protect her. This starts well before she is near dogs. Are you able to back her up on the ground; how about going sideways? These are two important maneuvers because they cause a horse to think. Horses are designed to run, and not think, acting out of pure survival instinct. Unfortunately, this is dangerous for the rider. By teaching her to be responsive when you ask her to back up and go sideways, you can control her movement and, therefore, keep her mentally present.

2. Develop her self-confidence. In our program, we use different lengths of leads to play with our horses on the ground. The longer the line, the more you help the horse develop self-confidence. Holding the line short and close tends to make the horse feel more claustrophobic and want to climb on top of you. See if you can “send” her away from you and get her to touch things with her nose … a gate, a bucket, a barrel, et cetera. The more time you spend on this, the more her confidence will build and the more obedient and self controlled she will become.

3. Find a friend with a dog to help you desensitize your horse. Ask your friend to walk in big circles, about 100 feet wide. Lead your horse behind the dog, as far away as necessary for her to not feel too threatened. Walk behind the dog until you feel the horse begin to relax a little. She’ll probably blow and snort, and raise her head up and down. Don’t get too close; instead, let your horse choose to get closer to the dog. Your goal is to have her be less fearful and grow more curious, thus wanting to get closer. It’s important to not let the horse touch the dog and not to let the dog approach the horse. If this was you, think of the dog as a lion; you would feel much safer if it was moving away from you!

4. Repetition is very important in building confidence, so do this exercise for seven days in a row, taking as much time as necessary for your horse to settle and want to get closer. Even a step closer is a good place to stop. The second important concept is “approach and retreat.” Any time your horse feels more tense, increase the space between your horse and the dog.

5. After a few repetitions of the above, you can now play with your horse as the dog walks big circles around you. Ask your horse to focus on you by requesting her to back up, go sideways, et cetera. You need to act as if the dog isn’t even there … it’s not about the dog. It’s about your horse’s self-confidence and trust in you as her leader. If you pay attention to the dog, she will too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work to pet your horse to calm her down; it helps more to be proactive, focused and unconcerned yourself. For this reason, too, it’s safer to not ride your horse until she’s virtually unflappable.

6. Finally, do something every day to help your horse become less reactive in general. Things like jumping jacks, skipping around, et cetera, will probably startle your horse at first, but with repetition and by allowing her to move away from you as she needs, she’ll quickly learn not to feel threatened and will start building more confidence. She will develop the ability to think and stay calm instead of panicking and wanting to run.

7. After returning to riding and passing dogs, think about keeping your horse busy when you see a dog approaching … sideways away from the dog, et cetera. Pretty soon your horse will focus on you instead of the dog. When you have a plan, the leader comes out in you, calm and focused … and horses like that. It makes them feel safe.  More about Pat and Linda >>


  1. You can always depend on Pat and Linda to give sound, complete solutions to your problems. Its like anything else, you go to the best for your answers and the best is what you get. No more problem!!

  2. Yay again for Pat and Linda. As always, they hit the nail on the head, and communicate to you clearly, in a way that is step by step.

  3. Wow I’ve been a natural horsetrainer all my life and didn’t even know it. I always thought it was common sence horsemanship. Darn I should have made training dvds and done clinics a long time ago. Then maybe I’d be the big name in NH lol.

  4. I encourage my horse to move towards dogs. NOT chase him down and stomp on him, but just to move the dog back towards where he came from. That empowers the horse and lets him realize the dog is more scared of him than he is of the dog and yields immediate results in most cases. That being said, you have to be in control of your horse and be sure that the dog is not aggressive and won’t advance towards your horse.

  5. thanks alot! we have a horse who has this problem as well and its hard as most people at the barn, including the owners, have dogs. alot of pirelli methods are good.

  6. When I got my mare she was the same way. I just brought in one of our older dogs who is gentle and let her get used to her. Them I led her on the trail and stay calm when ever a dog comes by. it worked for me! Good luck!

  7. Dear Pat and Linda,
    My mare has been real jumpy lately and today she kicked the wall in the barn and broke it. What can i do about my horse being so jumpy and irritable lately?

  8. I was always afraid of my horse running from dogs so instead of allowing him to be chased by dogs I made him chase them. He has no fear of them now!

  9. My mare, a Spotted Saddle Horse is jumpy around dogs, or sometime anything. i do lots of ground work with her and sack her out on things, yet when I get in the saddle it happens unexpectedly. I am kinda jumpy myself now, readyin g myself for a spook so I don’t come out of the saddle. any suggestions?

  10. all the horses that my neighbors have including my own horse either hate horses or are curious. this made our dog terrified of horses, so when my horse sneaks up on the dog and the dog turns around my horse immediately expects her to growl even if my horse had only been curious. i would love ideas to help this before my horse chases dogs.


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