ASK A PRO – Taking Your Dog to the Barn

Lottie, Stacey’s newest puppy

“How do I teach my dog barn and trail manners so we can enjoy being outside together?”

This question is specifically for your mom – is that allowed? Last year she got a German Shepard puppy and I was impressed with how quickly the dog developed manners and horse smarts.

Yes, it is allowed! For those of you who don’t know me or my mother, her name is Stacey McCoy. This is one of the unexpected joys of starting this newsletter. I get to spend more time with some people I love… unfortunately that means also less time with others I love… Anyways, y’all know I think she is the best horse trainer in the world, but she is great with dogs too. (You can ask, but I doubt she would train your dog. EDIT: I checked in with her – don’t ask. She won’t train your dog, lol. She said call a pro.) Here are her tips for helping your dog be more pleasant to have around the barn.

Many barns do not allow dogs because the dog owners do not have any control over their dogs and its just easier to say no dogs than to say “your dog can’t come because you have no ability to recall the dog and your dog is a menace.” When your dog doesn’t “come” on command, then the dog runs rampant all over the farm, chasing horses, running underfoot, and causing barn owners to develop twitches and ulcers. Training your dog takes time and a commitment of significant energy, but it can be as rewarding as training your horse.

Farm “puppy’ with some of Stacey’s grandchildren.

FIRST, start at home. You should not take your dog to the barn until you have established some basic manners. Your dog should respond to come, sit, and stay. “Come” is the most important. I also like to teach “Drop it” or “Leave it” so when the puppy picks up brushes and starts running around or tries to share the horse feed in the ground tub I have a cue that tells them to stop what they are doing. You should not take your dog to the barn until you have the ability to recall them (“come”) from any circumstance. Get help from a qualified dog trainer if you are having problems with any of these. I have worked with and like Ashley at Ashley Hill’s Pet Center. But I am sure there are lots of good dog trainers in the area.

NEXT, head to the park or go visit some friends. You can set your dog up for success by making sure you will be able to give them your full attention. Expose your dog to new environments and give them the opportunity to practice their new cues before you head to the barn. Practice the come, sit, and stay commands. If your dog gets really good at recall at the park, then maybe head to a friend’s backyard or a different park. Find somewhere that is new and exciting that really gives you the opportunity to train them.

One “safe space” where Stacey’s puppy feels safe is on the farm golf cart.

FINALLY, your dog will be ready to head to the barn when they “come” every time you ask, no matter the situation you expose them to. Again, make sure that you have time to give them your full attention the first few times you go to the barn. Make those first trips to the barn more about your dog and setting them up for success than spending time with your horse. As time goes on they will require less and less attention but in the beginning target and reward the behavior you desire.

It’s good to have a place where the dog is comfortable that they can go when they get over stimulated to decompress. Sometimes this is a dog kennel or your car with the windows down, maybe a tack room or stall. Just a safe place that the dog can go, relax, and calm down.

At the barn, establish rules for the people who interact with the dogs. If it’s important for the dog not to jump up on people, then do not let people teach or allow them to jump up. It is important and appropriate for them to pet and enjoy your dog, but ask that they don’t let the dog harass them for treats or get pushy for pets. Similar to why you wouldn’t reward a horse for being pushy for treats. If you are thinking about using an electric collar, do not introduce it at the barn. The dog needs to be trained on the collar and what is happening because dogs respond differently to these collars. If you have never used a shock collar, then you should definitely work with a qualified trainer. This is not something that you want to YouTube because its hard to read your dog’s reaction.

Remember, the goal is to have a dog that is a joy to have at the barn for both you and others. You want your dog to enjoy you and want to spend time with you. You do not want your dog injured by a horse or end up afraid of you. If you are willing to commit the time and energy, then you will be able to make it happen. Don’t be ashamed to call a professional. Your dog and barn manager will thank you.

Hope that helps! – Stacey McCoy