Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Riding Buddies

Riding with your dog can be the source of many happy memories throughout your life

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Together, dogs and horses can be a human’s best partners. From Dalmatians running alongside coach horses to fox terriers riding in saddlebags during the hunt to cow dogs and quarter horses teaming up to drive livestock, dogs and horses have a long history of friendly and fruitful interactions in partnership with people. If you want your dog to be your riding buddy, here’s how to get started.

Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh corgis, Jack Russell terriers and Australian shepherds are commonly seen at stables, but most dogs can learn to safely run alongside or interact with horses, just as most horses can become used to dogs. Both animals should have a calm, quiet and sensible character. With that as a foundation, you can teach each to behave politely and safely in the presence of the other.

Before you bring him around a horse, your dog should respond reliably to the verbal cues "sit," "down" (including at a distance), "stay" and "come," whether he’s on or off his leash. You shouldn’t have to repeat yourself multiple times before he obeys. Schedule a refresher training session if he needs to brush up on his skills.

When you’re comfortable with his behavior, take your dog to the barn with you while you feed the horses or muck out stalls. Practice obedience skills there so your dog becomes comfortable performing them while the horse is nearby. At the same time, your horse can learn to watch out for the dog. A kick from a horse can cause a fractured skull, broken leg or ribs, or even kill a dog.

Two herding cues that can be helpful are “come by” (clockwise) and “way to me” (counterclockwise), which tell the dog to move out and in which direction. If necessary, work with a trainer who has experience in herding to teach these cues.

Teach your dog to sit while you mount and not to cross in front of the horse while she’s moving. It’s best to ride in an area where it’s safe for the dog to be off-leash. Trying to use a long line while riding can end with horse or dog becoming dangerously tangled.

While mounted, practice cues such as "down," "sit" or "wait" until your dog responds instantly. It could save his life if you encounter wildlife, livestock, loose dogs or a farmer with a gun. Always remain alert for potential dangers.

To keep track of your dog if he runs ahead or is hidden by high grass, attach a small bell to his collar so you can hear where he is. It’s good practice to call him back to you regularly so you can keep tabs on him.

Is there a perfect “horse dog”? Some dogs are better than others when it comes to being around horses. Herding breeds such as Australian cattle dogs, border collies, English shepherds and German shepherds have a heritage of working around large animals, but it’s important to teach them not to nip at horses’ heels unless they are aiding you in loading the horse into a trailer.

Retriever and pointer breeds such as Labradors, German shorthairs, Weimaraners and Brittanys can also make excellent riding companions. Beagles, foxhounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, bassets and other hound breeds tend to be mellow around horses. Among the working group breeds, Doberman pinschers have a reputation for getting along with horses. Smooth and wire fox terriers and Airedales are among the terrier breeds often seen with horses.

Even smaller dogs such as cavalier King Charles spaniels, dachshunds, rat terriers and miniature poodles can make good riding companions. Bonus: If they get tired, you can just plop them in a saddlebag.

Q&A

Understanding the

canine genome

Q: I’m always seeing articles about new discoveries related to the canine genome. What exactly is the genome, and what does it tell us?

A: The canine genome is, well, what makes a dog a dog. A genome is the set of chromosomes found in every cell of every organism. The chromosomes contain the heritable genetic material that directs an organism’s development. The genetic material that makes up chromosomes is called DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid. The job of DNA is to code genetic information to transmit hereditary traits, such as eye color, coat color or size, to name just a few. This is done through genes, units of hereditary information that are found at fixed positions on a chromosome.

Scientists first sequenced the canine genome in 2004, using genetic material from a boxer named Tasha. But even before Tasha, they had a partial sequence of a poodle. To date, the genomes of more than 1,300 dogs have been sequenced, as have the genomes of wild dogs, such as wolves and coyotes.

The canine genome is important for a number of reasons. For one, dogs and humans share many of the same diseases. Comparisons of dog and human genomic maps have helped researchers to better study diseases that occur in both species, such as heart disease, deafness, cancer, blindness, diabetes, epilepsy and autoimmune diseases. They have also been able to develop diagnostic tests to help reduce or eliminate the incidence of genetic disease in dogs. Among the genetic disorders that have been mapped are narcolepsy and progressive retinal atrophy, a type of hereditary blindness. Scientists have even been able to trace the spread of certain diseases through the canine population.

Knowledge of the canine genome has also helped us learn why dogs do the things they do and where they come from. That’s fascinating! -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

How to help

kittens grow up

-- Kitten rental plan? Why not? The Humane Society of Silicon Valley in California thinks at least one thing in the Bay Area should be affordable. If you love kittens but aren’t sure you’re ready to commit to a cat, a kitten rental plan, er, fostering is the way to go. Kittens -- they usually come in small groups -- and all the supplies needed to care for them are free with a two-hour orientation to teach you the ropes of feeding and raising them until they’re ready to go back to the shelter for adoption. And if you fall in love? Talk to the shelter about a lifetime ownership plan. Silicon Valley isn’t the only place with kitten fostering programs. Check your local shelter and take home a kitten entertainment unit today.

-- If you love pointers, retrievers, spaniels or setters and find yourself in Tennessee, don’t miss the National Bird Dog Museum in Grand Junction, just 50 miles east of Memphis. The 25,000-square-foot museum is home to sporting dog art, photography, trophies and historical artifacts relating to more than 40 breeds of bird dogs. It’s also the seat of the Field Trial Hall of Fame, which honors the sport’s greats, both canine and human. Leashed dogs are welcome, and guided tours are available.

-- Dental disease is a common health problem in pet rabbits. Veterinarians commonly see tooth fractures, overgrown teeth, teeth with sharp edges ("Bunnicula," anyone?), infected tooth roots and gums, and tooth root abscesses. If your bunny isn’t eating or is losing weight, it might be related to a painful mouth problem. Bunnies can be born with dental problems, but other causes include a poor diet or chewing on inappropriate items. If your rabbit prefers only soft foods, drops food often, has difficulty closing his mouth or drools frequently, take him to the veterinarian. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.