Step 1: Start with a teeny tiny puppy. Ideal teeny tiny puppies are not any type of hound, herding dog, or Chihuahua, but really any teeny tiny puppy will do.
Step 2: Take your teeny tiny puppy to the barn with you while you ride. Bring a supervisor to supervise the teeny tiny puppy.
Step 3: YELL AT YOUR SUPERVISOR WHEN THEY THINK IT IS HILARIOUS TO LET THE TEENY TINY PUPPY OFF THE LEASH AND RUN AFTER YOU AND YOUR HORSE AROUND THE RING. IT IS NOT HILARIOUS.
Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 for as long as it takes for a horse to eventually try and kick your teeny tiny puppy. Ideally your teeny tiny puppy will only be just barely clipped by said horse, but teeny tiny puppy will still learn her lesson: horses are to be respected.
Step 5: Stop bringing your teeny tiny puppy to the barn for a while. Wait five years. Teeny tiny puppy is now no longer a teeny tiny puppy, but an adult dog. Who likes to sleep a lot. And whom you still refer to as a puppy. Bonus points if your grown-up puppy is hopelessly attached to you.
Step 6: Take your grown-up puppy to the barn again, this time with a different supervisor – one who can be trusted not to let the grown-up puppy chase the horses around. Marvel at how grown-up puppy will excitedly explore for a few minutes, but quickly just settles down to sleep.
Step 7: After a few unexciting visits with your supervisor, take your grown-up puppy to the barn by yourself, on a day when you’re not riding. Let your grown-up puppy sit somewhere, leash tied to a chair or crosstie, and watch you groom or whatever. Marvel at how grown-up puppy could not care less.
Step 8: Now that grown-up puppy has learned that the barn is super boring (except for when she gets to make new human friends there), take her alone and, when she’s ready, let her off her leash. Teach her that she is fine to do whatever she wants, as long as she doesn’t go inside the arena without your permission. She will probably flop down in the grass and fall asleep.
Step 9: PROFIT! Congratulations, you have now created the perfect barn dog!
In all honesty, not every dog is ever going to be able to be a good barn dog. Old Man Dog loves going to the barn but he’s huge pain to have there – if anyone in the vicinity ignores him for even two seconds, you are going to get yelled at until he is sure that you know he is there and y’all had ALL better be paying attention to him! The most important thing you can do is make sure your dog is desensitised to everything – other dogs, angry stompy horses, sudden loud noises, even people. (A good barn dog does not run up to and jump on every single person who walks in the barn. All well-trained dogs should be polite but it’s especially important for a dog who’s going to be hanging around high-traffic areas without close supervision.) For this reason it can be helpful to start as a puppy, but puppies are also high-energy and overly curious, so it’s best to relegate someone else to dogsitting duty instead of juggling your horse and your puppy at the same time. If your dog gets distracted, you need to be sure that you can get her attention back on you quickly. In my experience, shyer or more timid dogs often make the best barn dogs, because they’re not wandering around trying to get their nose into everything.
Also, please keep your dog on a leash if you have any doubts whatsoever. The only reason Sleepy Puppy is allowed off-leash is she will never stray further than about fifteen feet from me. She also has a really, really excellent ‘stay’ command – I can walk away for ten minutes and she will be exactly where I left her. I didn’t let her off leash at the barn until very, very recently, and even then, only when I am not riding. If my dog is with me and I am mounted, she is ALWAYS either in my car with the windows rolled down, or attached to something, even if it’s just a lunge line looped around the leg of a chair. Many dogs will do just fine running along beside you while you ride – and I envy those of you who have them! But Sleepy Puppy is quite small, making her more liable to get stepped on, and as I said, she has been kicked by a horse before. I don’t doubt she would behave if I took her trail riding with me; nonetheless, keeping her leashed while I am mounted is just a personal preference.
Basically, just be sensible and patient. It can take a really long time to get even the calmest, most obedient dog in the world to the point where you can have them around the horses with no worries whatsoever. But there’s nothing quite like it when you’ve got all your best animal buddies, equine and canine, together with you! (Plus, think of the holiday card photos!)
Also, I apologise to anyone who clicked that TVTropes link.