How to make a good horse show dog?

How to make a good horse show dog?

I’m being brave and taking Pascale to the horse show with me this weekend.  Typically Eliot is my go to travel dog, but he came within milimeters of biting a child in the face at the last show I took him to.  I wish I was joking, but it’s the truth.  Also, he get super anxious during the packing up period (which can take hours).  I think it’s better for everyone that he stays at home in an environment where he’s very comfortable.

Pascale on the other hand, loves children.  She also gets along well with other dogs, and travels in the car well.  Since I don’t like to travel 100% by myself and the weather is mild enough to leave her in the car if needed, I’m taking her to the show with me on a trial run.

So I’m asking readers for any tips to create the perfect horse show dog!

My plan is to bring the puppy pen for her while I can’t be right there.  She is crated during the day at home, and does very well with that kind of confinement.  I figured I’d get some extra special chewies go give her for her “quiet time” in the pen at shows.


My biggest concern is the hotel.  At home, Pascale is a bit protective of her property.  She gives a nice deep warning bark when someone approaches the house or if she hears something that sounds like a knock on the door.  She also likes to go in the yard and give strangers hell sometimes (our house backs right up to a storage facility with a shared fence).  Truthfully I don’t mind these warnings at home, but in a hotel they aren’t acceptable.


The plan is to reprimand the barking if and when it happens, tire her out at the horse show as much as possible, and bring a suitcase for her toys and treats.  Do you have any other suggestions for me?


Also, what are your favorite and most annoying traits of a horse show dog?  I think dogs can make a great addition to the horse world, but it has to be done responsibly.  Cross  your fingers we don’t get kicked out of our hotel before the show even starts!

35 thoughts on “How to make a good horse show dog?

  1. I have zero tips for you on the barking (huskies don’t bark, and shepherd/huskies only bark once … before they sneak up behind you and tear out your Achilles tendons and watch you bleed to death on the floor … I think. I’ve never actually seen what happens if someone disregards the single bark, and hope I never have to!) Huskies do, however, howl mournfully when left alone in a stall while their owner is off showing. That seems to really upset the horses stabled next door. No idea why. Silly horses. 😉

    My tips all revolve around making sure your puppy is very well socialized and friendly. Horse people are easy to forgive a dog for a few transgressions, if they are friendly dogs. Don’t leave your dog unattended unless you know for certain they will be okay. If I have to leave mine, I lock them in the trailer or the truck (depending on the heat of the day). They are happy back there, and just sleep. No howling. They’ve spend enough time left alone in vehicles to know their job in there.

    I usually don’t bring treats or chews because of the other dogs at shows. I don’t want someone else’s dog to try to claim one of my dog’s chews and get into a fight.

    For other people’s dogs? As long as they aren’t loose, sniffing around too close to my dogs, look rabid, or making too much noise, they don’t even register to me.

    1. Keeping high value treats away from the horse show is a good idea! I will just leave them in the hotel, which is what I’m mostly concerned about. I LOL’d at your one bark anecdote haha.

  2. I’m going to be following this! Pig is a veteran at shows and hangs out tied to the trailer sleeping in the shade all day without causing any issues. I’m a little worried about how the puppy is going to do because she’s waaaaay more interested in being besties with everyone and everything around her, and she’s a barker.

  3. I’ll be the contrarian here. The only good horse show dog is the one that isn’t there. It is absolutely not fair to a dog to drag them out to a public venue and expect them to behave better than at home with no supervision because the owner is too busy horse showing.

    The worst wreck I ever saw at a show was caused by a dog. It wasn’t a bad dog. It just did dog things around a horse that was totally used to dogs and the rider was lucky she didn’t get killed.

    I won’t take my dogs to a horse show. It’s not a goddamn dog show.

    1. I won’t go *quite* that far, but have similar thoughts: if I don’t notice the dog, it’s doing great. The best horse show/endurance dogs, IMO, are the ones who you don’t even know are there.
      But I am happy to be supportive of folks bringing their well-behaved dogs – so long as they don’t bother my horse, scare me, or otherwise interfere with our ride.

  4. Buttons and Lucky don’t go to horse shows where I’ll be showing or doing something important, because they’re too hard to manage when I am dealing with horses/children. Neither are spectacular on leash and both are EXTREMELY friendly- to the point where they try to drag me over to the nearest person to say hello. Buttons is also a hideous whiner when left alone.

    When I took Buttons to the horse show where I was with work’s mobile unit, I brought her crate with me. When she gave me some signals that she was starting to get overwhelmed, I’d open up her crate and she’d go in and chill for a little while.

    My absolute biggest pet peeve is when dogs jump up on horses’ legs. I think most reasonable people know to either keep their dogs far enough away that this isn’t an issue, or train the dog not do that, but it’s happened to me at various horse events a time or two!

    1. Eeeek! Jumping up on horse legs is NOT okay. I may bring P’s crate instead of the pen. The crate is a pain in the ass to lug around, but she knows it and is 100% comfortable in there.

  5. I agree with Austen — if your dog is cute and friendly (and Pascale sounds like it!) then people will be very forgiving of minor transgressions. Total strangers asked me if they could feed Ellie a bit of pulled pork sandwich when I took her to the Woodside 3DE and I was like “uh sure….” and down her hatch when half a pulled pork sandwich!

    Anyway, I also am not useful on this front because my dog came imbued with almost perfect manners. She is extremely interested in other dogs but leaves them alone if I tell her too, and doesn’t complain about being locked in tack rooms or sitting alone for long periods of time. She also doesn’t bark! Amazing.

    Good luck! It’s nice to have a smaller furry friend with you at a horse show sometimes. 😀

  6. I’ve never taken my dogs to a show. Showing can be stressful enough without the extra variable. I’d hate to be in the ring showing and see my Dane loping around outside the pen somehow. Hahaha. But that would be my luck. If I took them, I’d leave them at the hotel possibly. Finding a hotel that allows two dogs with a combined weight of over 200 lbs is a miracle.

  7. I started socializing nugget and taking her to shows since she was a pup. She knows the drill. I don’t take the others because they are not as well behaved and therefore stressful. Bring the crate at least just in case. My biggest pet peeve is people who don’t leash or contain their dogs. It puts my dog’s life in danger and is not fair. My dog will be in her bed at my stall and I have to protect her from wandering dogs whose owners are a tent over. I’m sure you will figure it out after this show— what you need etc.

  8. I’m someone who is not a dog owner and not comfortable around dogs I don’t know (having been bitten once….at a horse show of all places) so co-existing with horse show dogs is a necessary evil. My biggest pet peeve would be dogs off leash at a show.

  9. Just to reinforce what’s already been said. Leashes, people, leashes! I love dogs, but my horse isn’t always a fan. I would hate to see anyone get hurt trying to wrangle a loose dog around my horse. She does not tolerate them well.

  10. I don’t bring my dogs to shows when I’m riding. I have to deal with a lot of nerves, and can only worry about the four legs I’m sitting on. Typically when I bring one or both to the barn and I ride, they get locked up/tied up for that same reason. That being said, I brought them out to the barn last night and got on my horse, and all four of us had a lovely walk around the property together. So, it can be done. But my horse has spooked and bolted multiple times because of people who let their dogs roam around the arena while I was riding, so I try to ensure that when my boys are around they are on their best behavior (to be fair, they’re both really well behaved normally). Really, the worst thing about horse show dogs (or any dogs) are irresponsible owners, IMO. Good luck with your pup – I hope she turns out to be an excellent show pal!

  11. I can’t even imagine showing AND keeping track of a dog. I just don’t have the bandwidth, lol! That said, well-behaved leashed dogs at a show don’t bother me at all. Good luck with P’s first show!

  12. having a dog at a show would be more of a distraction for me than a benefit, but other people’s dogs are invisible to me unless they’re being loud or obnoxious.

  13. A professional. And I am serious about this.

    Look, I consider myself a pretty good dog trainer but when we got Guinness, he was such a well behaved puppy. We had him out at the barn, around the horses and never had a problem. Until things slowly started to get worse and he started chasing the horses and then nipping at the horses and refusing to come when called (even though his recall was 100% anywhere else). Clearly this is unacceptable behavior but we needed him to be able to be around the horses. So we found a professional dog trainer in our area who also had horses. She took him for a week and we found that while my boyfriend and I are pretty good with dogs, none of our commands are as good as they should be. When we got Guinness back, his recall was 100% ANYWHERE and he would stay wherever you put him for as long as you needed. We had no problems taking him out with horses after that.

    So now we have one really amazing dog at horse shows who you will not even notice because he walks politely on his leash, doesn’t bark, and lays quietly at my feet when we’re not doing anything. The only reason you might notice him is that he’s gorgeous. 😉 I will say that this dog is not good with small children and I politely decline requests for young children to pet him (I’ll offer up the golden instead) and I’ll steer him away from situations that might be problematic.

    But we also have one only good barn dog. She too will walk quietly on the leash, not bark, not chase, and sit quietly at my feet but she also wants to go say high to everyone she can. I really wish we could send her to the same trainer we sent the first dog too but alas, it’s not in the cards. Thankfully, she is very friendly and the most she’ll do is lick you to death. I still watch carefully to make sure that I am not putting her in situations that might be harmful to her or anyone else.

    And of course, I am super conscious about their behavior at shows. If they make so much as a peep we leave the spectator area and go back to the trailer. I know dogs can cause problems at horse shows but I am determined that mine never will. So really, I don’t think it’s necessarily the dogs that are the problems, it’s the owners of the dogs. I’ve definitely run into problem owners at shows even in our own barn! Like a JRT who always gets loose or is let loose and an Australian shepherd who is the nicest dog ever at home but gets over protective at shows and actually bit me when I walked past his trailer (and he knows me!).

    Good luck at your show with Pascal! I am sure everything will go smoothly. Most dogs are more than okay at horse shows.

    1. Man, if I had a money tree I’d love to send Pascale off to a solid pro for a few weeks. She’s super smart and trained OK, but only because I’ve been lazy. She has the potential to be a super duper robot (but loving) dog.

  14. I agree with Aimee. I’m a huge dog lover – I have 4! They are all great dogs and good with horses, but I NEVER bring them to shows. I don’t think it’s the best for the dog, or competitors.

    I’ve had at least 3 dressage tests ruined by barking dogs. A girl on CoTH had a serious injury on cross because a dog barked right before the fence and scared her horse. I watched. Dog at Rolex chase a horse on course. Not saying your dog would do any of this-but the chance is always there.

    Is your dog familiar with horses? Other dogs? Sometimes if they are t seeing them canter and jump can really set them off.

    The other thing is the day should be about you and your horse. Bringing a dog is just bringing another thing to stress about.

    All that being said, NEVER leave your dog unattended. Never leave them
    In the trailer. People think their dogs are quiet but they bark the entire time the owner is gone. Marrow bones are cheap and keep your dog occupied for HOURS.

    Good luck!

    1. Oh yes, she’s super familiar with horses. She goes to the barn with me on weekends and is very well socialized. I agree not to leave your dog alone at shows. What we typically do at our barn is leave them in safe pens near the stabling home base. There is usually someone around and the dogs that get left are well behaved. My backup plan is always the car if it’s an appropriate temperature, because my dogs just lay in the back seat and sleep.

  15. I bring my lab to horse shows. When I go to the ring, I put her bed in front of the stall and tie her lease to the stall front. She just sleeps till I get back. Plus, I show with a large group, so typically, we have an aisle to ourselves and I don’t have to worry about her around strange horses/dogs/people. There’s usually someone from our barn around the stalls at all times, just in case

  16. Its just the dog and I so she comes everywhere with me!

    Best if they already have lots of barn experience so they aren’t set off being around a new animal/ movement.

    Try to wear them out a little so they feel inclined to sleep during the time you can’t entertain them.

    If they bark when you leave you could try a bark collar. I have one that does the high frequency noise and works super well if I need to employ it.

    Make sure they will be warm enough in this winter weather! If you have stalls you can probably put a heated blanket in with them set on low.

    Have fun 🙂

  17. I love dogs, and I love dogs at shows… but it’s really annoying when they are off-leash and roaming around. I don’t like dogs I don’t know underfoot, in the way or stealing my Doritos.

  18. I think you’ve got the right plan in mind for Pascale!!! Until you get there you won’t know what she’s like but she sounds like she’ll end up being a good horse show dog 🙂

    I think the most important part of taking your dog to a show is having help! Sounds like you guys have a doggie daycare system in place at your barn so all dogs are able to be watched when you’re riding? Jello’s the only dog I’ve ever taken to shows b/c she’s polite, decent enough on a leash, and can curl up and sleep in the car if the weather is nice. But having someone to hold her has been key for those days it is to hot to leave her in the car!!! I’ve never taken a dog to a hotel so don’t have any advice for that- but I tend to find that new places that dogs haven’t labeled as “theirs” make them less protective. Guess you’ll find out how quickly the hotel room becomes Pascale’s home!!!! Good luck!!!!!!!

  19. Good luck at the show! I do the double containment system of crate in a stall, trailer or car. He can’t be boarded due to medical issues and no one I know within a close distance will take care of him for the same reason. He’s not completely happy about it but he settles down after a few minutes. I think he would be better if I had adopted him as a puppy but he was already 5 or older when I did.

  20. This is a good question. My greyhound was an AMAZING horse show dog. She went with me everywhere. She was silent, stayed on her leash, slept at the trailer, and was generally totally unnoticed. She thought course walks sucked though – all that horrible walking! As she aged I stopped taking her and she was much happier for it.
    I almost always leave my dogs at home – and I usually take at least one of my dogs with me every single day to work, usually Monster Dog. Monster Dog would be horrible at shows because she hates to be left (partly what makes her such a good daily companion dog); I have a feeling she’d bust out of whatever I left her in, or bark her head off. Although she does sleep very peacefully in the truck whenever I am at stops, so she might do that at shows… but I don’t feel like risking it is worth it. I don’t want to be that jerk with the loose dog trying to find me!

  21. Cash is a pretty good horse show dog – happy to do chores with me in the wee hours, and then happy to hang out on-leash or in his play pen during the day when i’m gone. However, he barks and howls if he is put somewhere where he can’t see anything – ie. in the trailer or in a stall, so I have a mesh play pen I set up under our gooseneck trailer so he can see the comings and goings of the day, and not annoy everyone around him.

    Basically that is my advice and belief when it comes to a horse show dog – if they annoy/endanger people, they shouldn’t be there. Also, know your dog, work with your dog and set up the best situation for your dog to be in (which it sounds like you are definitely doing) haha I am happy to see dogs at shows though, and have never had a problem with them being there.

  22. I have seen “puppy jails” at horse shows before. With a grassy area blocked off for the dogs to stay contained.
    Here is one a friend posted that she saw at a horse show. (It’s from instagram so I am going to try and embed it). If it doesn’t work I will see if I can get another method.

    A photo posted by Kate (@kmcarthur11) on Feb 26, 2014 at 10:43am PST

  23. My dog always goes to shows, but she’s like family for me. She knows horses and has been traveling with me since she was a baby. When I take her, she stays inside the trailer on the bed and is safe. The bed has pillows and blankets so it’s just like sleeping on my bed at home. My Mango is a small dog and I worry about strange dogs being off leash and attacking her so if I am riding, she is inside and locked up. She doesn’t bark and I take her to watch when I am not riding. If you are thinking about taking your dog to a show for the first time, I would suggest not making a show their first debut. Take them to a riding lesson (if you haul to one) or an open riding night that is casual. This way your dog can be in a horse show like environment without you being stressed out. Practice tying them to the trailer or leaving them inside while you ride and see how they react or if they bark. Some people can’t leave their dogs in or at the trailer because they bark so I think every human and dog pair is different.

    And as for bad dogs at shows, I think it’s often the fault of careless owners. The fact that you are concerned shows that you will be a great horse show dog mom ; )

  24. My opinion may be unpopular… also, I have (& adore) both children & dogs.

    Dogs @ shows are like children @ weddings – better left safely @ home for the enjoyment of everyone.

    Although everyone thinks their dog is charming & delightful, their presence is not always appreciated by other competitors who may bite their tongues to keep the peace.

    Why is it okay to impose your companion on them?

    I would be willing to bet that horses (as pets) would not be very well received @ dog shows either.

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