Thursday, May 8, 2014

Training the Barn Dog

Arya starts obedience classes this week, and one of my fond hopes is that she'll become a well-behaved-enough dog to start coming to the barn regularly. It would make life easier and happier if I could just scoop her up after work and head to the barn with her, or bring her on weekends. Right now I feel rotten about crating her beyond when I'm actually at work, so I don't have the heart to come home and then leave her again.

So snuggly.

So, I ask: have you ever trained your dog to come to the barn? Have you had success with it? What strategies have you used? What skills/training tools are important to have?

I know that barns are often free zones for dogs, and my barn is welcoming to dogs as long as they're well-behaved. I also know that Arya is only six months old and though sweet and smart, very puppy-ish. If she doesn't have the chops to be a good barn dog, so be it, but I think she could handle it beautifully.

I did bring Arya by briefly last week just for a taste of it. She loved sniffing around, she ate one or two manure balls, and she was mildly curious and very wary of the horses. She mostly liked the BM's dog (who is very large and solid and can be intimidating, plus has a loud pseudo-aggressive manner to new dogs). In all, I think it was a good success.

The barn manager's dog has a command that sends him to sleep on the bench in the ring while she's riding or working with horses. That would be ideal, I think. Hannah has provided some excellent suggestions for reading and training materials, especially in regards to the "place" command, which I think would adapt itself well to this.


  1. You got it -- sounds like barn manager's dog has the equivalent of a really solid go-to-place.

    I think you saw some of Lilo's early days at the barn? I am fanatic about not giving the dog a chance to get into toooooo much trouble, so she started out on-leash or tethered 100% of the time she was out of the car and I did a _lot_ of rewarding her for chilling on her mat with a stuffed Kong. As she proved her trustworthiness, she started getting some off-leash time, to come along while I was turning horses out, etc. I personally am not comfortable riding while my dog is loose -- I don't feel like I have enough mental bandwidth to do either critter justice if I'm worrying about them both -- so I have no advice on that front.

    IMO the two most important behavior for a barn dog (any dog! but especially a barn dog!) are the recall and the drop-at-a-distance (which is just a really solid down that you've proofed within an inch of its life). Lilo's moonwalk has also proven way more useful than I expected when I taught it to her on a lark. But basically, I want the dog to reliably: come to me, freeze/assume an unthreatening position/stay put, and get back out of the way. Practice practice practice, set up for success and proof in incremental stages, and reward heavily. (I can elaborate on any of this, but I'm already writing you a novel and I bet your puppy class instructor will talk about it ad nauseum, so!)

    What makes Lilo a good barn dog is that she is 1) really handler-focused and 2) really respectful of horses. Both of which are kind of weird in a pit bull! I suspect Arya, being more confident and younger and maybe kinda houndy, will take longer to progress to being reliable off-leash, but a farm is a great place to practice stuff on a long line or loose in the indoor when nobody is riding. I bet she will do great. :)

    1. I remember those early visits very well - trying to duplicate them, basically. We'll do another short visit Monday morning and keep easing in.

      I'm honestly not sure if I'll ever be comfortable riding while she's loose. I would love, someday, a dog that could trail ride with me...but so many variables! Perhaps something to save for when I have my own land + perimeter fencing.

      We're working on a recall (calling her from all areas of the apartment to a whistle, back and forth between us; she comes to me very enthusiastically! so far so good) and "leave it." Down is on hold for now, but I think it will go well when we tackle it. "Off" is a work in progress. I like the idea of a "back."

      I hadn't thought about practicing on the longe line in the indoor but that is a great idea. I'll incorporate that. Even with all the horses back from Florida there are plenty of times I'm the only one around, I'll aim for one of those. Thanks. :)

  2. My two dogs are crappy barn dogs, but they still go daily. They're huskies and one is a very true to her breeding and will run off at the first chance and probably never come back (there's too much to smell out there!!). My other dog wanders off, and though he returns eventually, it's stressful not to have tabs on him all the time. Luckily, neither is aggressive towards horses or other dogs -- which is something I worked on diligently.

    My barn owner is very gracious and allows me to bring my pups and tie them wherever I wish. It's still awesome to have them out at the barn, and the smells and experience often wear them out better than a run would!

    Good luck with the pup! I would recommend a good "leave it" command, a good recall, and a good "stay" for a barn dog. That and a good friendly attitude should have you with a good buddy. :)

    1. Animals running off is my #1 fear! I've never really been worried about injuring myself while out trail riding - but the idea that Tristan would wander off terrifies me. Ditto my dogs!

      Arya is good with other dogs, decently good with cats (curious and bouncy but not aggressive, work in progress), and I think it's just going to be a matter of drilling her on her training.

      Thank you for sharing!

  3. Going through this with the new puppy that I have the primary things I have been working on are getting him to understand he can't get to close to the horses feet/ in general, training him to stay out of the ring, and a good out command. This can mean out of the field, the ring, the aisle, the tackroom whatever it might be.

    We need to work on a leave it and stay though. Sonny has been a great barn dog and seems to have really good barn sense. My other dog is kind of a terrorist (he's a terrier) and I daily debate if she should go with me. He will run off, tear through the barn, and chase barn cats.

    Barn cat respect is another thing to add to the list! Animals wrecking havoc will get themselves kicked out of the barn in no time!

    Interested to hear how it goes and how you approach things

    1. I have been thinking about "out" and wondering how best to make it specific...out meaning what? I think it's something I just have to set up for success. Honestly, I'm nervous enough that I'd rather have her sleeping in a corner of the ring than send her out of it, if that makes sense?

      Arya lives with a cat at home and she is curious and happy about him, and appropriately wary. She's still so puppy-ish that she annoys the cat by her very existence but we're getting there!

      I'll keep everyone updated. :) Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jeeze, is it awful that I was going to say the best making of a barn dog is to let it get kicked once? Everyone else's responses :P

    1. Ahahaha. Nope. It's actually not the worst idea ever. Our puppy class teacher last night told us to let the puppy get smacked pretty good by the cat at least once or twice and she would remember that cats are not to be messed with. I think for a dog that's not wary enough about horses, getting kicked (or chased a bit) without serious injury would not be the worst lesson! So far Arya seems very nervous and appropriately wary around the horses, but if she gets too presumptuous...we'll see!

  5. I worked on recall with Kenai ad nauseum. The miracle tool for this pursuit was the PetSafe Yard and Park Trainer with a 400 yard range. This remote e-collar really helped him to learn recall and respect recall. Yes, he's a husky, but damn is he good off leash. He is the only husky I have ever met that is like this and it isn't for lack of work on our part! That remote collar and vigilance on my part to pay mind to everything he did for a few years has turned into the best possible barn dog (unless I'm lunging the horses and he's not preoccupied! Then he "helps" lunge them.). I highly recommend getting one of these collars and using it to train your dog in All The Things. Kenai is adept even at going on trail rides with us off-leash and listening. In addition to the collar, I incorporated hand signals and whistles for letting him know when to return to me and when I just wanted a visual check in.


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