Tips to keep dogs safe around horses, livestock
Whether working cattle, or trotting happily alongside you and your horse on the trails — if you have a dog, life on the farm, or time at the barn, means you’re likely never alone. And while it may seem commonplace, cattle dogs and barn dogs live a unique lifestyle, being nearby 1,000-pound livestock, horses and heavy farm equipment. Their lifestyle requires grit, wit and intelligence. Help ensure your dog’s safety and well-being; learn what to do should your dog be injured at the farm, and training tips for a dog’s safety.
Dealing with on-farm pet injuries, plus steps to take
When it comes to injuries stemming from large animals and livestock, they can range from mild, requiring dogs only rest for a few days, to life-threatening. “We’ve seen dogs with head trauma from horses or cows, and even limb amputations after getting too close to a mower bar. We’ve definitely seen some things,” said Paul DeMars, DVM, DABVP, clinical associate professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
All dogs (even those well-trained) can be at risk for injuries stemming from horses and livestock, as their instincts ultimately play the largest role in their behavior.
“My dogs are well-trained, agility dogs. They are always good and are well-trained not to chase horses. However, I had a dog that fell victim (to injury from livestock),” said Kris Hiney, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University associate professor and Extension equine specialist.
Hiney was out one evening feeding, with one of her three agility-trained dogs by her side — a Border Collie named Avispa — when her horse at the other end of the field began galloping not toward her and the feed bucket, but straight toward her dog. She gave her command for Avispa to recall, but his Border Collie instincts kicked in, and he crouched into the grass. As the horse neared, the horse lowered his head and curled up his front legs, intentionally coming down directly onto Avispa.
Hiney quickly bundled up Avispa and went to an emergency veterinary clinic. He pulled through and is fine today.
“The reality of horses and dogs is something not to take lightly,” said Hiney. “Some owners may not realize how badly a dog can get hurt. A lot of horses are dangerous with dogs. Cattle don’t seek them out as much, unless dogs are in their space. It is 100% instinctual, as even well-trained dogs who do this for a living can get kicked, and they can be severely injured when working cattle.”
Should your dog experience an injury, DeMars recommends monitoring immediately if they are:
- Up on all legs and mobile.
- Favoring any limbs.
- Experiencing any seizures.
- Completely conscious.
“If the animal is unconscious, get them to your veterinarian right away,” said DeMars. “Even if an animal is up on all four legs, there still could be internal bleeding. Taking your dog to your veterinarian is always the best answer.”
Steps to take, should your dog be injured:
- Share pictures with your veterinarian. Before driving to the clinic, use your cellphone to take pictures of the injury or wound, and share with your veterinarian. This will help the office prepare for your dog’s arrival and for swift treatment.
- Have a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic on speed dial. If your dog experiences head trauma, he requires precise care and likely, 24-hour monitoring, which is not always an option at a primary veterinary clinic. For such cases, it is best to immediately take your dog to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic or university veterinary school.
- Refer to your stocked first-aid kit. Assist wounds to help stop any bleeding. If it’s a leg injury, wrap the leg just as you would wrap a horse’s leg (apply a sterile lube, then gauze and then cover with vet wrap or bandages, going in the direction of front to back with gentle support — not too tight or too loose).
- In some cases, use direct pressure. If your dog experiences heavy bleeding, he could be suffering from a ruptured artery. Apply direct pressure to help stop excess blood loss. Get to your veterinarian, fast.
For years, Hiney has trained dogs for agility. She has three Australian Shepherds and one Border Collie. When it comes to working cattle,Hiney says, “Just because they’re a herding dog doesn’t mean they are naturally good around livestock. It means they have intense interest in livestock, and that interest has to be channeled through training.”
While any dog can learn to be good around livestock, it is important to realize that cattle dogs, for instance, the Blue Heeler, Catahoula and Corgi, will be attracted to it and stimulated by the livestock’s movement. “A lot of people think dogs can help while working cattle, but only a trained dog is helpful. An untrained dog creates more chaos and anxiety from both livestock and people. If your dog isn’t trained, he needs to be secured. Tie or pen them up safely out of the way, with water,” recommends Hiney.
Training tips from Hiney to increase your dog’s safety:
- For cattle dogs, talk to dog trainers who do herding and cattle dog training. Professional cattle dog training offers a safe space for your dog’s learning, by working with livestock that are “dog broke,” meaning they know how to move from a dog’s pressure. They also can start them on sheep and goats, for a safer option. While a cow dog is bred instinctually to herd, they will benefit both mentally and physically from professional lessons and training to channel their instinctual habits into more strategized skills.
- For barn dogs, seek out training options. Check your surrounding area for professional dog training classes. Keep in mind, well-mannered dogs are often welcome at horse shows and barns; however, a misbehaving dog nipping or barking is a quick way to be shown the door. In today’s world, there are even online dog training options available, and the internet is filled with helpful training videos as an option, too.
- Teach dogs the basics. Dogs among livestock and horses should know commands for recall, down and stay. Teach them the boundaries of what they can and cannot do. They will look to you for the correct answers.
- Don’t let “funny” and “cute” behaviors fly. Allow no recreational cattle or horse chasing, barking or nipping at all, if you can avoid it. This “playtime” can easily turn problematic.
- Use positive training methods that reward good behavior. Use treats, toys and your undivided attention to make training the most rewarding and fun part of their day. This will keep them happy and engaged with you to make the best choices.
- During training, keep them on a long line before rewarding them with off-leash. For their safety’s sake, not returning to you cannot be an option. Using long lines (essentially a long leash) can prevent bad habits from forming. This is a best practice before letting your dogs off-leash.