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Can they or can't they? Do Havanese really have a herding instinct or is that just folklore?

Mitzi- Hey..I can do this The Havanese is a very intelligent trainable dog with incredible versatility. I am still trying to find out how many different things they can do if they get the chance, so we keep trying new activities just to see what our Havanese will do. Some historical references tell us that Havanese may at one time used for herding chickens, ducks and geese in Cuba. That really does not seem to mesh with other parts of the history books which indicate that Havanese were the pampered pets of wealthy upper class. If you honestly look at that, if a dog was owned by the upper wealthy classes and a ladies companion who joined her riding in her carriage and basked in sun drenched patios, was he really likely to be in the barn herding and getting down and dirty with the flocks? The answer is very likely not. There have been other suggestions that the herding dog of Cuba was not a Havanese but a different small breed; this theory does not negate the possibility that Havanese may have been used for herding as well. If you fast forward a few years to the Cuban revolution; at which time many Havanese may have been left behind and subsequently became the dogs of the working class, farmers and peasants , there was little money and animals could not be kept solely for companionship and pampering. Any pets kept had to earn their keep or otherwise perhaps end up in the stew pot. It may make some sense that in post revolution Cuba, Havanese may have been trained as working dogs for herding. This in no way makes them a herding breed, but it may simply be an indication of their versatility, trainability, and desire to please their masters. Many dogs of many breeds display innate herding characteristics. Many of these are not from recognized herding breeds. Conversely, not all individuals of herding breed have natural working ability.

I have always wanted to try our Havanese in herding and see if any had a natural herding instinct. Until recently, all the local places that offered herding classes only had sheep for stock. Although I was interested, I was loathe to put a 10 pound dog on sheep, and so we waited. Finally, one farm added in a flock of Runner Ducks so off we went. I was really excited to see what our Havanese would do when introduced to the ducks. The first exposures were very interesting. We already knew that Mitzi had some herding instinct from other behaviours she exhibits and she proved us right. She has excellent verbal control and a lot of obedience and agility distance training, so she was able to do a lot her first time out with guidance. Her second exposure she was little less bold but by her third time out, she was well on her way. She was right in there and quickly figured out that she could make the ducks move and stop and make them change direction. Two months into herding, Mitzi continues to do very well. She is starting to respond to new commands as well as to figure things out on her own. Right now, she is just starting to work on splitting a flock and driving them into pens. She loves herding and whines with excitement as soon as we get to the farm.


Cricket getting praise for a job well done Cricket went totally crazy over the ducks. She was dancing and barking while impatiently waiting her turn. It's safe to say that Cricket's herding instinct is alive and well. Her first time out, she was a little overenthusiastic with her ducks. It's a good thing the tail feathers were firmly attached. Her second time, instinct really kicked in. It was fascinating to watch Cricket circle, bunch, chase after strays and bark at obstinate ones, this time working from a bit more respectable distance. Cricket had a one month break in her training so she is a bit behind Mitzi. She needs to sort some things out but she figures things out on her own quickly and relies on herself rather than looking for commands. She is still a little overbearing with the ducks but that's improving. Her trade mark move is to dash in front of strays and stamp her fore paws and emphasize her stand with a bark,. She is quite pleased with herself when they respond. Cricket could be a lot of fun to work when she gets a bit more control and knows what to do. Both girls are developing their own style of working the ducks. At first they were working just a small group of 2-3 ducks, but now are quite confidently learning with a larger group of 5 or 6.


Rags-learning with his Sheltie partner Zoom Rags looked, sniffed and followed his ducks around a bit. After a few minutes, he decided they were not very interesting, nor very threatening, so he just ignored the ducks and went about his way investigating the barn. His second exposure was about the same. On his third time, we started working him with another dog and he did a little bit better, picking up confidence and technique from his Sheltie buddy "Zoom". After 6 weeks, Rags just never picked up much enthusiasm for herding. We introduced Rags to sheep on a long line working behind another dog just to see if that would spark anything, but he remained totally disinterested. He would much rather spend his time on the farm playing with Blackie the barn cat.

6 months after started herding classes; Cricket and Mitzi continue to improve and I am learning how to read and understand stock. Not an easy task for a city girl. I confess, I even have trouble figuring out how the stock gates work. The girls were both doing well enough this spring, that we took the plunge and introduced them to sheep. Mitzi is happier with her ducks. Cricket, now a bit bored with ducks, came alive with the sheep. There was absolutely no hesitation and she was delighted to be able to boss these big critters around. Her signature paw stamp and bark still get her results and she is full of confidence and drive and has some very natural instinct. She knows what to do much better than I do. Cricket and Mitzi both earned their herding Instinct Certificates in April 2007 with the Manitoba Herding Dog Association.

September 2007 - One year after starting Herding classes, Mitzi and Cricket participated in their very first CKC herding trial. Both did very well. I am proud to report that Cricket and Mitzi both earned their Canadian Kennel Club "HT" titles (Herding Tested) in September 2007. Cricket earned her title working Sheep and Mitzi earned hers working ducks. They are the first Havanese to earn CKC herding titles.

Cricket in a determined effort not to let this pair escape her flock.