Havanese Training 101 – The Basics of Training your Havanese Puppy

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Havanese Dogs" by David Anderson. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: David Anderson

Havanese are able to figure things out much faster than most small dogs and even a large percentage of the canine realm. Despite a ton of energy, training is far easier with a Havanese puppy than with most breeds. You aren’t going to have to work through the kind of headstrong nature of many working dogs, and your Havanese is going to start to understand what you are trying to communicate relatively quickly in order to please you.

Still, working with a smart, energetic puppy can be tiring. By making sure to follow through with a few actions, you will find that your Havanese will pick up on the training much quicker. Keep in mind that training your puppy is a long-term commitment. Even if your Havanese isn’t rebellious, the puppy is intelligent and will look for easier ways to do things. Your puppy won’t want to anger you, but gentle begging and puppy eyes can be very effective, and they will learn that if you give in during a training session.

Firm and Consistent

Havanese soccer ball
Photo Courtesy – Sara Mullen

There are many times in life where you will feel something is close enough. This is never a good idea with intelligent dogs. They study their people and figure out ways to get what they want with as little work as possible. Wanting to please you will still drive a Havanese, but if you are willing to give an inch, they will take it and see how much further you can be pushed. Exceptions and leniency are seen by your puppy as having some control over the situation, and that is not what you want them to learn when they are young. It just makes it that much harder to make them take you seriously later.

Keeping a consistent and firm approach during training will make life for easier for you and your puppy. Even if you are tired at the end of a long day at work, you have to enforce the rules. No matter how cute or friendly your puppy is being, you must make sure that all of the rules you have been teaching remain firmly in place. If you don’t feel up to it, have a family member do the training. If you don’t have anyone to help you, you can change up the training a bit to make it more enjoyable. It is fine to change things up if you are having a rough time, as long as you remain consistent. Interacting with your Havanese can make for a much more enjoyable experience and can even cheer you up. Consistency and firmness do not mean that you have to do the same activities all of the time. You just need to make sure that your puppy understands that you are in charge and there is no negotiating on that. This will keep your puppy on the right track to be a great companion instead of a little dictator.

Gain Respect Early

Being firm and consistent in your approach to training will start gaining you respect from your little canine early in your relationship. This is something you will need to keep building over time. Without respect, your Havanese is going to think you don’t mean what you say and will start to try to get its own way. As long as you are firm and consistent, respect should be a natural part of the bond. That does mean that you cannot multi-task while you are training your puppy, or even just playing with your puppy. The Havanese wants your full attention and will find a way to get it, even if it means breaking the rules to get your attention.

Positive interaction is the best way to gain respect. Playing and training your puppy every day helps build a healthy, positive relationship that will teach your puppy where they fit into the pack. Your puppy learns that it is part of the family, but that you are the one in charge.

Operant Conditioning Basics

Havanese jumping
Photo Courtesy – Terry Russo

Operant conditioning is the scientific term for actions and consequences. What you have to do is provide your Havanese puppy with the right consequences for each behavior.

The best way to use operant conditioning is through positive reinforcement, particularly since the Havanese are so attached to people. This type of training is more effective with working dogs and dogs that have a long history with people because they want to please their people. They want to work with you and fulfill their tasks. Knowing that they are doing something right encourages their behavior a lot more than knowing when they do something wrong. With so much energy, they will be able to keep trying until they get it right.

There are two types of reinforcements for conditioning that you will be using in training your Havanese:

  • Primary reinforcements (Operant Conditioning)
  • Secondary reinforcements (Classic Conditioning)

Primary Reinforcements

A primary reinforcement gives your dog something that it needs to survive, like food or social interaction. Both of these can be effective for Havanese – they love spending time with you and having treats. That is exactly what makes them so effective during training.

Initially, you will rely on primary reinforcements since you do not have to teach your Havanese to enjoy them. However, you have to keep a balance. Meals and play time should never be denied to your puppy, no matter how poorly the puppy performs. These things are essential to living, and you will have to give them – that is non-negotiable. It is things like treats and extra play time that you use to reinforce good behavior.

Err on providing too much attention and affection over too many treats. Because of their small stature, Havanese need to keep a well-balanced diet to remain healthy. If you rely on treats instead of attention, you are setting yourself and your pup up for serious problems later.

Secondary Reinforcements

You use repetition to get good at your hobbies, sports, and other physical activities – this is secondary reinforcement. Without a doubt, Pavlov’s experiment with dogs is the most recognizable example of secondary reinforcement. Using the bell, Pavlov taught the dogs that when the bell rang it meant it was time to eat. The test dogs began to associate the ringing of a bell to meal time. They were conditioned to associate something with a primary reinforcement (food). You can see this in your home when you use a can opener. If you have any cats or dogs, they probably come running as soon as the can opener starts going.

Havanese black and white
Photo Courtesy – Ava Brown

Secondary reinforcements work because your Havanese will associate the trigger with something that is required. This makes your puppy more likely to do as you tell it to do. Dogs who are taught to sit using a treat only will automatically react by sitting down when you have a treat in your hand. They won’t even wait for you to tell them to sit. They know that sitting means more food, so they automatically do it once you make that association. Of course, this is not the proper training because they need to learn to sit when you say sit, and not when you have a treat. That is the real challenge.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to train Havanese puppies with the right trigger because they are both intelligent and eager to please. While they may enjoy food, you can show them that the trigger is the word, not the food. They will get it much faster than many other dog breeds.

You can also use toys and attention as a way of getting your Havanese to do the right thing. If you have a regular schedule and you are willing to change it a little to give your puppy a little extra attention for doing something right, that will be just as effective as a treat because they love attention. You can take the pup on an extra walk, spend a little more time playing with a favorite toy, or take some time to cuddle with the puppy.

Sometimes punishment is required too, but you need to be very careful about how you do it. Trying to punish a Havanese can be tricky; however, denying your Havanese attention can work very well. Simply put your puppy in a penned off area where the Havanese can see you but cannot interact with you. The little guy will whine and whimper to let you know that he or she wants out. Don’t give in because this is the punishment. Just ignore your puppy to teach the lesson about proper behavior.

Punishments must happen during the event. If your Havanese chews something up and you don’t find out for several hours, it is too late to punish the puppy. The same is true for rewards. To reinforce behavior, the reward or punishment must be almost immediate. When you praise or punish your puppy, make sure you keep eye contact. You can also gently take the puppy by the scruff of the neck to ensure that you keep eye contact. You won’t need to do that when you are praising your pooch because they will automatically keep eye contact. Havanese can be absolutely driven by hearing your praise.

Why Food Is a Bad Reinforcement Tool

The small Havanese stature means that food is not something you should use often. It does not take much for a Havanese to gain excess weight. With affection and attention being such successful motivators, it is best to use them as much as possible instead of getting your Havanese accustomed to treats for rewards. Use treats sparingly.

Havanese garden
Photo Courtesy – Crystal Singleton

Another reason to use treats sparingly is because you don’t want your puppy to respond to you primarily when you have food. If your Havanese associates training with treats, you may have a difficult time training your Havanese to listen to you without them.

Treats can be used in the early stages when your puppy’s metabolism is high and has not been conditioned to respond to secondary reinforcement. This will give you something to help your puppy learn to focus as you train the puppy to understand other incentives. It should not take too long before you can start transitioning away from treats as a reinforcement tool. Treats are also the best way of training certain types of behavior, such as rolling over. Your puppy will automatically follow the treat, making it easy to understand what you mean.

Treats are also best for the beginning commands (Sit, Stay, and Leave it). Your dog does not understand words yet and will quickly make the connection between what you are saying and why the treat is being offered. Leave it is very difficult to teach without treats because there is no incentive to drop something if your puppy really wants the object that’s already in their mouth. Treats are something that will make the puppy drop whatever is in the puppy’s mouth as their attention and desire re-focus on the food.

Small Steps to Success

The first few weeks, maybe even the first couple of months, are a time with a very steep learning curve. Your puppy is not going to understand what you are doing in the beginning as you try to convince your little Havanese to use the bathroom outside. The best way to train the puppy is to realize that you need to start slow – don’t begin with expectations that your puppy will be housetrained within a week (that won’t happen). Your puppy must learn the daily routine (which you will be doing at the same time). Once the schedule and environment are less exciting, your Havanese will have an easier time focusing during training sessions.

Training should begin from Day One. Even though your puppy is just getting to know the environment, you need to start putting some of the rules in place. As your puppy gets familiar with the world, you can teach the Havanese about its area and that the crate is for sleeping. Learning to go into the crate on command has some obvious benefits, particularly if you leave home every day. This is when you start using treats to train the puppy to go into the crate and do other basic activities.

Starting from Day One does not mean trying to do everything – you must start small. Give treats for little things that your puppy might do anyway, like explore the crate. Once your Havanese starts to understand the reward system, training will become easier.

Why Trainers Aren’t Always Necessary

Havanese really aren’t dogs that require trainers because they are more than happy to listen to their people. Even if you want to train your Havanese to do more complicated tricks, you probably don’t need a trainer, unless you are a complete novice with teaching puppies. Then the training is really more for you than for the puppy.

Havanese have been lap dogs for centuries, but unlike a lot of small dogs, they have enjoyed interacting with people and playing instead of just being lazy. They have energy and want to put it to good use. Watching them bounce around can be very therapeutic at the end of the day, which can make it as much of a way for you to unwind as it is a way for your puppy to learn.

If you have older dogs, they can be a great way of keeping your Havanese in check when you are gone – after your Havanese has been in the home for a couple of months. You will need to use the crate in the beginning, but with time, your older dog can be a great role model for how to spend the day in your absence. In the beginning, your absence should be very short, like going to get the mail. Then you can progress to slightly longer activities that take you out of the house for half an hour or so. With an older dog in charge, this can help your Havanese be more comfortable without you around the home.

If you don’t have much time once the basics are done, you should consider getting a trainer to make sure your puppy doesn’t forget them (though you are not off the hook). Since your Havanese will more likely react quicker to your training, it is well worth making sure you always have time for your puppy because no trainer is going to be as influential as you – your puppy loves you, not some stranger.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Havanese Dogs" by David Anderson, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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