Opposites Attract: The Connection Between Dogs and Horses

The sweet snapshot of a dog and horse rubbing noses can melt the hearts of even those who have a “cats only” pet policy.

A seemingly unlikely duo, the relationship between horse and hound harkens back to the legendary fox hunt. Although a dog, a predator by nature, and a horse, a prey animal, approach the world differently (for example, a horse’s nervous response to a squirrel’s movement in the distance varies from a dog’s immediate desire to catch the crafty trickster), the two share surprising similarities.

The stage is instantly set for dog and horse to become fast friends as riders will often bring their pups to the barn during practice. As dogs become familiar with the sights and scents of the barn, their confidence grows. Meanwhile, horses observe the trust between dog and owner and start to look forward to visits from their four-legged friends.

Both dogs and horses are excellent at communicating what’s on their mind. When they are sad, they may walk at a slower pace and when they need attention, they may become very vocal. While the adage “man’s best friend” is reinforced every time a dog initiates an evening cuddle session or plays the watchful guardian, horses are easy contenders for the title. Just like their canine companions, horses respond to touch and voice and are equally inclined to spread the love by licking their owners or caretakers.

A dog’s and horse’s ability to establish powerful emotional connections with humans and other animals is another factor that unites the barnyard buds. According to Dr. Heather O’Leary, veterinarian and owner of TessaLoo Veterinary Services, many dogs have shepherding genetics, and despite their relatively smaller size, they are often the ones caring for their equine friends.

With a little TLC and training magic, dogs and horses “can absolutely fall in love,” says Dr. O’Leary. Like humans, however, no two dogs or horses are alike. A key tip to keep in mind before introducing your dog to your horse is to honestly assess each one’s character. Having a dog and horse that follow basic commands makes the process easier. For example, it can be helpful to know if your dog is prone to overexcitement, or if your horse is usually nervous around unfamiliar animals. Dr. O’Leary provides some further tips on introducing the two: “Allow your dog to stay at a comfortable distance and have some fun (treats, toys) and let the dog move voluntarily towards your horse. This may take a few minutes, or several months! Be patient and kind, and respect your dog’s needs.” This way you ensure that your dog and horse get off on the right paw and hoof.

“With a little TLC and training magic, dogs and horses can absolutely fall in love,” 

Dr. Heather O’Leary, veterinarian and owner of TessaLoo Veterinary Services

As the two companions see each other on a regular basis, their level of trust continues to strengthen their bond. “Dogs recognize the members of their clan,” Dr. O’Leary explains. “Barn visits may inspire them to see their equine friends as part of that very same family. Dogs will mentally invite a horse into their herd and fulfill the job of protector, especially if a dog’s owner spends ample time with the horse.”

It’s no wonder then that two of the world’s most-beloved animals are constantly photographed as a pair. With a bond that’s independently theirs, this dynamic duo proves that the best of friendships can develop between the unlikeliest of pals.

—By Lauren Teneriello

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