If you own a horse and a dog, you might have dreamed of taking them both out at the same time. Maybe you have that one friend at the barn whose dog is perfectly well-behaved and comes along to hack without problems … but your wild child is not quite ready yet?
Here are some tips on how to train your dog to hack with you.
One-on-one training first
Before you ever take your dog to hack with you, he needs to learn to stay close without a leash. This will be a lot easier if you take him out by yourself. You can even take him on the exact same paths that you and your horse use. This way he can become familiar with the space already.
If your dog is a bit naughty and has a history of running off, put a long and thin line on him at first. Only when your dog can follow you without your horse, it is time to introduce him to going hacking with you. Many dog trainers offer specific recall training for dogs that will teach them to stay close on walks.
Get a helper
The first week you take out your dog and horse together, see if you can get a friend to help you out. Have a long line on your dog, and ask your friend to come along and be your safety net in case your dog wants to run off or gets distracted. It will be very difficult to control your dog from horseback the first couple times, and the last thing you want to do is chase him while riding.
If he tries to take off, you need to go back to step one: Walking together without the horse. If he is doing well and your friend does not need to dash for the leash and reel him in, you can try your very first outing by yourself!
A tired dog is a trainable dog
The more exercise your dog already had, the less likely he is to run off and look for his own fun. The first time you take your dog to hack with you without a helper on foot, it is a good idea to make sure he is tired already: Maybe play a game of fetch with him in the barn, or take him out on foot by yourself before getting your horse ready. Keep the first outing together very short: We don’t want to give your dog too many chances to take off!
When you get back to the barn, have something special ready for him, for example a bone or a bullystick. That way he will learn that good things happen when he returns with you, and will make an effort to stick close and not wander too far from the horse.
We have discussed dogs that might take off so far – but what about dogs that come too close to the horse? Take a bag of big and visible treats with you to ride (cheeseballs for example work great). As you are riding, toss them out to the side or behind you. You should be able to get your dog at a distance of at least 10ft that way. For dogs that are very insistent on coming close to horse (such as herding dogs), you might have to do a few weeks of this practice before your dog understands to not get underfoot.
Bored dogs are naughty dogs
Dogs are eternal fun-seekers. They are always looking for the next kick, the next good time and the next party. The less “boring” you make your hacking time for your dog, the more likely he is to stay with you.
If you for example like to stop for a while and just enjoy the moment with your horse during your outing, chances are a dog new to hacking will wander off during that time to find his own entertainment. Keeping a steady pace with no breaks will keep your dog engaged and busy. The faster you are going, the less time he has to think about what else he could be doing, and the better he will stick with you.
Hacking with multiple dogs
If your riding friends also have dogs, it is fun to take them all out together. Before attempting that you want to make sure that every dog can follow the horses by himself. If they cannot stay with you on their own, they sure won’t stay with you when there are canine friends around to be mischievous with!
Never take dogs along that have had any kind of fight in the past. Even some of the friendliest dogs just do not get along, that is normal and comes down to individual characteristics and breed traits. If you are on horseback and dogs start to fight in the middle of going hacking, breaking them up quickly without scaring the horses will be difficult at best.
If your dog is a bit of a couch potato, start gradually with taking him hacking. Dogs can become sore and get muscle strains just like people and horses. Take your dog every second or third day at first at maximum – do not start out taking him every single day right from the start. Give him rest days in between hacking and if he seems sore or tired, add another couple days.
Do not take young puppies under a year (they can be hurt by repetitive exercise) or senior dogs along to longer trips with your horse.
When to call it quits
While most dogs can be trained to be great hacking companions, some breeds are less prone to succeeding. If you have a dog who repeatedly runs off or chases wildlife, he might just not be the right dog to take along. The danger of losing him on your outing is too big, and every year dogs are lost forever or hit by cars because they take off on their owners.
In general, dogs with a high prey drive might never become great hacking dogs. Such include for example Huskies, Sighthounds (such as Greyhounds) and some Terriers. Once they catch the sight or scent of a rabbit or deer, they cannot hear you through their intense prey drive and will disappear.
Steffi Trott runs SpiritDog Training, an online dog training resource website committed to supplying dog owners with modern, positive, science-based, and effective training methods.