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Tales From the Trails: Dealing With Those Doggone Dogs

October 2, 2023

If you often trail ride on public trails, as I do, you are bound to encounter many different types of dogs. Although most of my dog encounters have been fine, I am always on guard when we pass one. There have been several times when Dreamer and I have walked by a dog that was growling and lunging at us. Unfortunately, the dogs who exhibit that behavior (in my experience) are typically large and/or strong dogs. It always greatly concerns me when this happens because if that dog managed to escape it's human, it could be a very bloody encounter. I pay close attention to the dog, its body language and behavior, and I am prepared to do what I have to to protect my horse if an aggressive dog gets loose.

That begs the question, what does one do if a dog gets loose and comes after your horse? Well, as it so happens, I now have first hand experience dealing with that very thing.

On this particular outing, I was hand-walking Dreamer from the barn to the trailhead. There is a small section of road that we have to walk on in order to reach the trail, and when you get close to the trailhead there are buildings on each side of the road. As we were approaching, I saw a man and his dog in the open yard to the right of us (on the same side we were walking down, although they were not close to the road). The dog was near the man, and I even said out loud to Dreamer, "I hope that dog is tied. Surely that dog it tied."

We walked a few more feet and then it happened. The dog spotted us and started loping straight at us. Not only was this dog not tied in any way, it was not small either. In fact, it was a Doberman (at least I'm pretty certain it was).

Now, I am not breed prejudiced when it comes to dogs, so I was not thinking "Oh my God a Doberman! It's gonna kill me!" I feel the same way about dogs as I do about horses. Behavior is not the animal's fault, it's the owner's fault. However, I'm also not stupid, nor am I confident in anyone's ability to have trained their animal.

So, as this Doberman fearlessly and boldly ran right at us, I moved Dreamer off the road and further into the grass, positioned myself in front of him and put my hand out in front of me open palmed in a "stop right there" motion facing the dog. The dog ran around me and went right to Dreamer's hind end and started sniffing around his tail. This dog's body language was not screaming "danger", and he was not making any moves to bite. He appeared to be curious and playful, but I did not know or trust this dog and I certainly did not want him near Dreamer, both for the dog's safety and Dreamer's safety.

As the dog made his way to Dreamer's rear, I pulled Dreamer slowly around me while I moved towards his rear in an attempt to once again place myself between Dreamer and the dog. I kept my movements slow and deliberate, my demeanor calm and confident, and made sure not to have Dreamer move to fast which could have activated the dogs prey drive and caused him to bite, or it could have over-excited the dog, also potentially causing him to bite.

Every time I tried to grab the dog's collar, he evaded me. A few times, he actually went out onto the road, which made me extremely nervous for the dog's safety. At one point he ran back towards the man, but immediately turned back and came at us again. Although I remained calm, I was pissed at this point. Not at the dog, but at the man.

The entire time I was trying to keep this dog away from us, the man was just standing there calling to the dog. You would think that after calling several times and the dog not paying one bit of attention, that the man would have hurried his way over to physically remove the dog from our vicinity. But no. At one point I looked at the man and he said in a rather light tone, something like,"this thing isn't working". He was referring to a remote. The dog had a shock collar or e-collar of some kind on. Clearly the dog was incredibly focused on Dreamer and didn't give a hoot about what that guy wanted. Eventually, the dog went back to the man, and Dreamer and I continued up the short distance to the trailhead.

I hopped on Dreamer and we started walking down the trail. As we are walking by the building, I see out of the corner of my eye, the dog running at us again! I am FURIOUS now. How dare this man not have kept his dog, who CLEARLY has ZERO recall, under his control, especially after what just happened moments before!!!

I immediately dismount and once again place myself between Dreamer and the dog. We once again were doing the dance of dog to horse butt and me trying to keep between them. After a few moments of this, the dog goes back to the man, I hop back on Dreamer and we head down the trail.

This scenario could have ended very badly. The dog could have bitten me or Dreamer. The dog, me, or Dreamer could have been hit by a car. Dreamer could have kicked the dog. So many things could have gone wrong.

Now, I already knew what I would do in a situation just like this. I ran this scenario through my head many times over the years. And while each situation would be slightly different, this is how I prepared myself.

  1. Stay calm always. Letting the dog sense or see fear could be detrimental. Being fearful could cause your horse to panic.

  2. Voice. If you speak, keep your voice firm, low and calm.

  3. Read the dog. Keep your eye on the dog's movements, body language and vocal cues.

  4. Movement. Do not make sudden movements, do not cause your horse to make sudden movements. Keep everything calm, controlled, and even as much as you possibly can.

  5. Prepare to defend. Instances like this are one of the reasons I always carry a crop. If that dog had made a move to bite Dreamer or me, I would have either tried to grab and throw the dog down, kick it, or wail on it with my crop. I never want to hurt an animal, and I would feel very sorry for the dog, but if I have to choose between protecting my horse or the dog attacking my horse, I am going to choose my horse 100% of the time. I would sooner get bitten myself, than let a dog take a bite out of my horse.

I am appalled at the way the man handled (or really didn't handle) this situation. Dobermans already have a bad reputation as aggressive dogs. If I had panicked because of that belief, this could have ended very badly. He was not being a good ambassador for the Doberman breed by allowing his dog to harass us like that and doing nothing to stop it. It was dangerous and stupid.

As a PSA to all dog owners, and to this man in particular (although I'm sure he'll never see this): If your dog has zero (or very unreliable) recall, you have no business letting them off leash near a road and/or a public access trail. And if your dog does run up to a horse, you better move your butt and physically come collect your dog IMMEDIATELY.

Now, for you riders out there, listen closely. If something like this happens and the dog is biting your horse, you better get your butt off that horse and defend him/her. I have seen multiple videos of riders who stay on the horse's back while a dog is biting the horse, and yet they are pulling back on the horse to keep him/her still, not letting the horse either run away or maneuver itself to be able to kick the dog. This is the scummiest, stupidest thing you could do. You either need to let your horse escape, give it free rein to maneuver and kick that dog, or you need to physically restrain the dog yourself. I feel VERY strongly that it is a rider's duty to protect their horse. And this applies to any horse you ride, not just your own.

On a lighter note, on our way home, there was an off-leash dog (a collie, I think) standing by the side of the path. As soon as Dreamer spotted it, he stopped, stared, and gave that dog as wide a berth as possible to walk by it. Dreamer, like many horses, is brave when I am on the ground, but a coward when I'm on his back.

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