The Havanese is a companion dog native to the island of Cuba. These dogs are known for being affectionate and intelligent. Although this breed was unknown in the United States until quite recently, they have rapidly gained a tremendous following. One advantage that this breed has over some others is its tolerance for the hot and humid climate that predominates over much of the American South and West. Now, these fluffy dogs are becoming one of the most fashionable dogs in America, and are on their way to becoming one of the most popular of all dog breeds. A descendant of the Bichon Frise, the Havanese is sometimes also known as the Bichon Havanais, the Bichon Havanese, the Havanese Silk Poodle, Havanese Silk Dog, the Havana Silk Dog, and the Habanero.
The Havanese is of relatively recent origin, but its immediate ancestor, the Blanquito de la Habana, was quite old. While little of the history of the history of the Havanese is known precisely, much is known of the breed’s general ancestry. The Havanese is a member of the Bichon family of dogs, and is primarily descended from a number of these breeds, as well as the Poodle. Bichon is a French word meaning, “small white dog.” The breeds which are typically considered to belong to this family include the Bichon Frise, the Bolgnese, the Havanese, the Coton de Tulear, the Bolonka, the Lowchen or Little Lion Dog, the Maltese, the now-extinct Bichon Tenerife, and a number of other rare or extinct breeds. There are many experts who highly dispute the Maltese and the Lowchen in the Bichon group, as these dogs may be far older.
The original ancestry of these dogs is disputed. Some claim they are descendants of the French Barbet or the German/French Poodle, and that these dogs were developed in France later spreading around Europe. Those who hold this belief also believe that the Bichon Frise was the original Bichon. Others claim that these dogs originated in either the Canary Islands, especially Tenerife, or Malta from native dogs and that the Bichon Tenerife or the Maltese was the original Bichon. There is also a third group who believe that these dogs originated in France from the Barbet or Poodle, were brought to the Canary Islands to become the Bichon Tenerife, and then brought back to mainland Europe. Until either new genetic tests are performed or new research comes to light, this debate will likely continue. As the Bichon Tenerife is now extinct and new records may not exist, it is possible that it will continue forever.
Whatever the origins of the Bichon family, by the end of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, these were by far the most popular court dogs of the nobility of Western Continental Europe. These dogs were particularly popular in Spain, Italy, and France. Bichons could be found in almost every castle and manor of these three countries. Such was the situation when the Americas were discovered in 1492. At this point, Bichon breeds, especially the Bichon Tenerife, were popular with the upper classes across Spain, particularly in the Canary Islands. Cuba was one of the earliest Spanish colonies in the Americas, and rapidly became one of the most important. Sugar plantations brought a huge amount of wealth to their owners and the Spanish Crown. Havana quickly developed into one of the busiest, richest, and most important port cities in the entire world. For many years, Havana was the most important shipbuilding center of the Spanish Empire, surpassing those of European Spain, Mexico, and South America.
Many of the earliest settlers of Cuba were of the nobility and wealthy merchant classes, and came to make a fortune in the new world. They chose to bring along their devoted Bichon dogs. A disproportionate number of early Cuban settlers came from the Canary Islands, which shared a similar climate and colonial culture with Cuba. It is therefore generally believed that the Bichon Tenerife, itself a native of the Canary Islands, was the primary breed which the Spanish brought to Cuba. There are indeed several records of Bichon-type dogs arriving in Cuba with Spanish nobility. As the Bichon Tenerife was native to the tropical and subtropical Canary Islands, these dogs had a less difficult time adapting to Cuba’s climate than many European breeds would have. During much of the age of discovery, Spain also ruled most of Southern Italy, including the islands of Sicily and Malta, which were home to the diminutive Maltese. This breed had spread to Spain as well, and a number of these dogs are known to have been imported to Cuba as well. It is also possible that the Bolognese, a Bichon native to the Italian city of Bologna, the Bichon Frise of France, and several now-extinct Bichons from mainland Spain also made their way to Cuba.
Although found on plantations throughout Cuba, Bichon-type dogs were always most popular in and around the city of Havana, which has long been the population, political, and economic center of Cuba. Because relatively few of any one variety of Bichon arrived on the island, they were all interbred. Additionally, these dogs had to adapt to the climate and living conditions of the island of Cuba, which were hotter and wetter than those of Europe. The conditions on Cuba also were favorable to more types of and more virulent canine disease which would have put increased selection pressures on these dogs. Finally, breeding preferences of Cubans would have likely been slightly different than those of Europe. By the early 18th Century, the Cuban Bichons were significantly different from their ancestors to be considered a new breed. These dogs were probably most like the Bichon Tenerife from which they were primarily descended. However, they possessed silky hair which is almost certainly a result of a significant amount of Maltese ancestry.
These dogs were also noticeably smaller than most Bichons, also a trait likely introduced by the Maltese. It is most probable that these dogs were solid white as this is what reports indicate, although it is possible some may have had other colors as well. This breed became known as the Blanquito de la Habana, which translates to Little White Dog of Havana. Some English language reports also referred to them as Havana Silk Dogs. These dogs were owned almost exclusively by the wealthiest Cubans. Unlike many companion dogs, the coat of the Blanquito de la Habana was never cut short in its native country. It was generally believed, and possibly accurately, that their long fur protected them from the hot sun in much the same way as an Indian sari, and that their facial hair protected their eyes from the glare.
Spain placed severe trade restrictions on their colonies, and as a result few Blanquitos de la Habana ever left the island. A few of these dogs did manage to arrive in Europe, where they found many royal admirers. Painters depicted Blanquitos de la Habana in the palaces of France and Spain where they were cut and shaved to resemble Poodles, as well as in England where they were known as the White Cuban and left in their natural state. Queen Victoria supposedly had two of these dogs, as did Charles Dickens; the noted author of “A Christmas Carol”. Dickens’s dog was a favorite of his seven children and fittingly, the author named him tiny dog Tim. Never numerous, the Blanquito de la Habana eventually disappeared from Europe.
In the 1800’s, the Cuban aristocracy wanted to emulate the upper classes of Continental Europe. Partially as a result, they sought to acquire Poodles from Germany and France. Upon their arrival in Cuba, these Poodles were crossed with the existing Blanquito de la Habana. These Poodle/Blanquito de la Habana mixes were so popular that the original Blanquito de la Habana went extinct. The resulting dogs tended to have multiple colors and patterns, probably as a result of Poodle blood. Since these dogs were no longer solid white, the name Blanquito no longer was especially appropriate, this breed became known as the Bichon Havanais or the Habanero, which are Bichon Havanese or Havanese in English. The Havanese is clearly primarily descended from the Blanquito de la Habana, and is much more similar to that breed than the Poodle other than color.
The Havanese continued to be the favorite breed of the Cuban upper classes throughout the 1800’s. The breed remained popular during the Cuban revolution and subsequent independence. When the island’s economy transitioned from being primarily agricultural to being agricultural/tourism based, the breed was owned by Cuban hotel magnates. The developing Cuban middle class treasured the breed just as much as the upper class had. The Havanese was treasured as a loving family companion, who loved to play with children. The breed faced a major disaster in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In the 1950’s, a guerrilla revolution led by Fidel Castro raged, eventually toppling the U.S.-backed regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. During the 1960’s, Castro’s communist policies destroyed the existing Cuban social order, causing the majority of Cuba’s upper class to immigrate to the United States. Many thousands of thousands of Cubans fled, most of which settled in the city of Miami and its surrounding areas. There was a general belief that Castro’s regime would quickly be ended and as a result most of these families left their beloved Havanese in Cuba under the care of faithful servants. However, this would not be the case and Castro’s regime would stay in power until 2006 when he gave power to his brother Raul.
A few Cuban immigrant families were able to bring their Havanese dogs to America. In the early 1970’s, an American dog breeder named Mrs. Goodale took an interest in these charming dogs, which were significantly better adapted to the heat and humidity of South Florida than most traditional American companion dogs. This breed may also have increased resistance to diseases which are fatal to so many dogs living in a subtropical environment. Mrs. Goodale became determined to save this breed from extinction and put out ads in Florida papers to see if any refugees would be willing to sell her their Havanese. Mrs. Goodale was only interested in dogs with pedigrees, to avoid the possibility of contaminating the few remaining dogs with foreign blood. Mrs. Goodale was only able to find two or three Cuban families with pedigreed Havanese, and from them she acquired a female with four female puppies and an unrelated young male. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Goodale was able to acquire an additional five pedigreed males from Costa Rica. Already an experienced dog breeder, Mrs. Goodale began to work with these 11 dogs, and had produced her first lines by 1974. Except for a few very recent exports from Cuba, all Havanese in the United States and Europe descend from these original 11 dogs.
The Havanese continued to attract a number of admirers in America, especially among Cuban immigrants and their descendants who missed the Havanese that they had left behind in Cuba. In 1979, a number of Havanese breeders formed the Havanese Club of America (HCA). The club’s goal was to become the national parent club for the Havanese, and to eventually get the breed recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The breed also attracted admirers in Europe who began to breed their own dogs. Around 1980, several German breeders discovered that odd-coated puppies were being born in litters of normal Havanese. These dogs had feathering on some parts of their bodies but were primarily short and smooth coated. Breeders from around the world investigated and discovered that this was not a chance mutation but a recessive trait carried in many Havanese. Initially these dogs were called Smooth-Coated Havanese, but somehow became known as Shavanese. These dogs are considered undesirable by most Havanese fanciers and cannot be shown. According to Havanese organizations, these dogs should also not be bred. However, these dogs are otherwise healthy and make just as excellent of a companion dog.
By 1991, Havanese numbers had increased to the point where the breed was granted official recognition by the United Kennel Club (UKC). This registry is primarily focused on healthy, working dogs that are also physically compliant with breed standards, but in recent years has become the champion of many other rare breeds as well. However, the UKC did not include the HCA as its official breed club. Instead, the UKC uses the Original Havanese Club (OHC) as the breed’s parent club. The Havanese has long had a dedicated following of breeder’s who are determined to produce only the highest quality dogs. In 1996, the HCA achieved its primary goal of almost 20 years when the AKC officially recognized the Havanese as a member of the toy group.
For many years it was feared that the destruction of the Cuban upper and middle classes would result in the extinction of the Havanese in its homeland. Luckily, this has not proven to be the case. Those few upper and middle class Cubans who remained in Cuba kept their Havanese and continued to breed them. Additionally, many servants who were tasked with safeguarding the Havanese of their employers became just as enamored with these loving and friendly dogs. A number of breeders worked to preserve these dogs, although without the benefit of an organized club. In 1991, El Club Cubano del Bichon Habanero was founded in Cuba to promote and protect these dogs. This club is under the guidance of the Federacion Cynologique Internationale (FCI). As trade restrictions with Cuba have been lifted by most countries, a number of Cuban Havanese have been exported to nations around the world, which has dramatically increased the gene pool of this breed. These dogs have also had immense success in the show ring around the world. There is great hope among many American Havanese fanciers and breeders that thawing relations between America and Cuba will result in many of the native Cuban Havanese being imported to America. There is a belief that these Cuban dogs will improve the genetics of American Havanese, as well as help to eliminate potential genetic defects. In recognition of the breed’s long association with the island, the nation of Cuba has declared that the Havanese is the National Breed of Cuba.
To the surprise of no one who has had close contact with the Havanese, this dog rapidly developed a huge number of fanciers after its recognition by the AKC. This breed is quite small and well-adapted to urban life, meaning that people in a wide range of living situations can own one relatively easily. This breed is also extremely physically attractive, and definitely has the cute factor, especially as a puppy. The Havanese is also considerably better suited to life with children is the case than most similar dogs, and in fact often loves their company. Despite the breed’s suitability for life in hot climates, it has become especially trendy in New York City in recent years.
The Havanese is skyrocketing up the AKC registration statistics, and has a population that is growing faster than that of almost any breed. In 2000, the Havanese ranked 86th out of all AKC registered breeds. In 2010, the Havanese ranked 31st, ahead of such well-known breeds as the West Highland White Terrier, Weimaraner, Basset Hound, and the closely related Bichon Frise. There is some concern that the breed’s rapid rise in popularity will result in poor breeding practices and unhealthy animals with uneven temperaments. Breed clubs and responsible breeders are doing everything they can to prevent this. The Havanese has always been bred as a companion dog, and excels at this role. Essentially every Havanese in America and across the world is a companion dog. However, this breed is extremely intelligent and trainable and has also excelled at obedience trials and agility competitions.
The Havanese is similar in appearance to other Bichon breeds, but is still distinctive. The words most commonly used to describe a Havanese would likely be “cute,” “adorable,” “beautiful,” and “fluffy.” As one would expect from a toy breed, the Havanese is quite small. The AKC standards call for a dog which is ideally between 9 and 10 ½ inches tall at the shoulder, but may be between 8½ and 11½ inches tall at the shoulder. UKC standards call for a dog which is between 8½ and 10½ tall at the shoulder. Most Havanese weigh between 7 and 14 pounds.
This is a well proportioned dog. While the Havanese would not likely be described as a particularly sturdy dog, they are considerably less delicate than most toy breeds. This is a moderately boned dog which should never under any circumstances be described as frail or fragile. This breed is somewhat short legged and long bodied, but not to the extent of a breed such as a Dachshund or Basset Hound. The tail of a Havanese is of moderate length, and is held over the body, often lying slightly on the back.
The face of a Havanese is largely obscured by the breed’s copious hair. Underneath that hair is a moderately sized head and muzzle. Both the head and the muzzle are refined in appearance, and are neither as severe and narrow in appearance as those of the Poodle nor as rounded as those of the Bichon Frise. Although many Havanese fanciers would probably dislike this comparison, Havanese with their hair cut very short resemble a cross between a Chihuahua and a Spitz. The eyes of the Havanese are rather large and oval shaped. They should always be dark in color. Many Havanese have their eyes partially obscured by hair, however many owners choose to trim this out of the way. As is the case with the head, it is often difficult to see the ears of a Havanese as distinct from the body due to copious hair. These ears are dropped down, and hang close to the dog’s face. These ears are of medium length.
The Havanese is perhaps most famous for its unique coat, which is the dog’s defining feature. The Havanese has a double coat, both layers of which are very soft. There are few if any breeds which have as soft a coat as the Havanese. The hair over the entire body of the dog is very long, although it should not reach the ground. Fur on the neck and head form a distinctive hood which blends into that of the body. Often a curtain of hair covers the eyes, which may be held back with rubber bands for show dogs or cut off on companion animals. The hair tends to form bands which are especially noticeable when the dog is wet. Havanese tend to have wavy hair, although every dog will have a different amount of waviness. There is a distinctive plume of hair on the tail. Havanese which are used as show dogs may not have any trimming except for very small amounts around the feet and eyes for sanitation purposes. Pet Havanese are often trimmed to a shorter and more manageable puppy cut.
In recent years, Havanese are occasionally born with an aberrant coat. These dogs are known as either Smooth-Coated Havanese or Shavanese. While every Shavanese is different, in general their hair is considerably shorter than those of normal Havanese. It isn’t exactly short, and is proportionally similar to the coat of an English Springer Spaniel. These dogs also have long feathering on their tails and legs. Their faces have much less hair and are clearly visible. These dogs are identical to other Havanese in all other aspects. These dogs are ineligible to be shown, and most breeders refuse to breed them.
Both coat varieties of Havanese can come in any color or coat pattern. Part of the breed’s charm is that members are so variable. Although anything is acceptable, breed members are most commonly white or light on their stomachs and legs with brown, black, and tan markings on their faces and backs.
The Havanese is the ultimate companion dog, and has been used almost exclusively for this purpose since the first Bichons arrived in Cuba in the 1500’s. Prior to that, the ancestors of these dogs had been royal companions for many centuries and perhaps millennia. This breed wants to be with people all of the time, and does not handle separation from them particularly well. Perhaps the best way to describe the temperament of a Havanese is charming.
As one would expect, the Havanese tends to be extremely affectionate with its masters, and is often fawningly so. This breed is known for being extremely sensitive and responsive to its master’s moods and wishes. It is definitely fair to call the Havanese a snuggler. Unlike many toy breeds, the Havanese is rarely snappy and generally gets along well with children. Many Havanese delight in the company of children, and become close friends with them. Of all toy breeds, the Havanese is perhaps the most suitable to be around children. Many dog experts still do not recommend the Havanese for homes with very young children who may accidentally injure the dog, though the breed is regarded as among the least fragile of all companion dogs. Havanese are generally more accepting of strangers than is the case with many small dogs. As a rule, they are neither shy nor timid around them. However, this breed is often suspicious upon a first meeting and will not usually run up to strangers tail wagging.
Most Havanese are quick to make friends, and are smart enough to recognize a new friend after only a few meetings. Socialization is very important to the Havanese, who may become shy if not trained properly. If you are looking for a small breed that is friendly enough to take to children’s soccer games and family gatherings, the Havanese is one of the best available options if properly socialized and trained. The Havanese will generally provide an alert bark at the approach of someone at the door. However, this breed is neither intimidating nor aggressive enough to be a good guard dog. The Havanese is intensely devoted to its owners and absolutely craves their company. This breed fairs very poorly in the absence of its favorite people, and owners who must leave a Havanese alone for more than a few hours on a regular basis should probably consider a different breed. This breed is considerably less dominant than most and as a result makes a good choice for a novice dog owner who is willing to take the time and effort to work with them.
The friendliness and lack of aggression the Havanese shows to people carries over to other animals as well. This breed tends to get along very well with other dogs. Although proper socialization is always important, the Havanese is more accepting of other dogs than most breeds. This breed is not known for having dominance, territorial, or possessiveness issues. While the Havanese does not crave canine company in the same way that a Beagle does, breed members both enjoy and prefer a doggy friend. While it is not necessarily advisable to keep a Havanese with a much larger breed, these dogs are better around larger dogs than most toy breeds as they are both less fragile and less timid. While all dogs will chase small animals and cats if they have not been properly trained, the Havanese gets along much better than most. This breed is well-suited to homes with cats and other creatures and will rarely show them aggression.
The Havanese is an extremely trainable dog. They are both extraordinarily responsive and incredibly intelligent. This breed is capable of learning complex tricks and seems to delight in performing. There is a reason that the Havanese has been used as a circus dog. This breed is also a regular entrant in obedience and agility competitions and performs extremely well. While many Havanese will learn quickly and easily, some breed members are slightly stubborn and present a few additional difficulties. Even the most stubborn Havanese will likely respond very well to treats and positive reinforcements. If you are looking for a dog which you can teach tricks and to be incredibly well-behaved, the Havanese is more than capable of both.
The Havanese does pose a challenge when it comes to housebreaking. As is the case with many small breeds, the Havanese has a small bladder and has a more difficult time holding in its urine. You will have to spend more time and effort housebreaking a Havanese than you would most breeds, and you will have to deal with an occasional accident over the life of the dog. That being said, the Havanese tends to be slightly easier to housebreak than is the case than many toy breeds, and is not notoriously difficult or impossible to train.
The Havanese is somewhat energetic, and loves to play. These dogs have long been indoor companions and are active in the home. This means that their daily exercise requirements are moderate. As is the case with any other dog, the Havanese needs at least a daily walk, and would prefer some time to run off-leash in a secure area. However, this breed definitely does not need hours of vigorous exercise, and will fit right in with a less active family. The Havanese enjoys having a task such as running through an agility course, but this breed will be content without one. This does not mean that the Havanese’s exercise requirements can be totally ignored. Like all dogs, an unexercised and unstimulated Havanese will likely become bored, destructive, and nervous.
Most toy breeds are susceptible to a behavioral condition known as Small Dog Syndrome. Small Dog Syndrome is caused by owners who do not discipline a small dog in the way that they would a larger dog. There are many reasons for this, but most fall into the category or a negative behavior being cute or funny in a small dog, a small dog’s behavior not seeming to be as dangerous or onerous as that of a large dog, or the fear of disciplining a small dog. Dogs with small dog syndrome often believe that they are in command of the entire world, and behave as such. These dogs are vocal, aggressive, dominant, unstable, and out-of-control. That being said, the Havanese is inherently less susceptible to this condition than many breeds, and when properly trained will seldom develop it.
Almost all of the toy breeds tend to be somewhat vocal. The Havanese is somewhat of an exception. While this breed is far from silent, it would definitely be inaccurate to describe them as yappy. Luckily, the Havanese can be trained to control its barking. This breed does enjoy having a perch such as a sofa from which it can view the outside world and occasionally alert that world to its presence.
As one would expect from a quick glance at the Havanese, this is a breed that needs a lot of hair care. While it is possible for an owner to learn to maintain the breed’s hair on their own, this is an onerous proposition. The vast majority of Havanese owners choose to have their dogs’ professionally groomed. Most choose to have the breed cut into a very short, “puppy coat” that requires considerably less maintenance, such as a regular brushing. To maintain a Havanese in full show coat takes several hours of work every week. These dogs must be thoroughly brushed at least twice a week, and preferably more. They also must be constantly monitored for mats, parasites, and injuries that may go unnoticed beneath a copious coat of hair. The fur around the feet must be regularly trimmed, as well as that immediately around the eye. Many owners of show quality Havanese choose to keep the hair around their faces tied up in rubber bands. If you are looking for a dog which is low maintenance, a Havanese is definitely not the right choice for you.
This maintenance is worth it for many allergy sufferers, or for those who hate cleaning up dog hair. While no dog is truly non-shedding or hypoallergenic, the Havanese sheds less than almost any other breed. Allergy sufferers will find this breed more tolerable, and they will not leave hair over everything.
Everything above is not the case when it comes to the Smooth-Coated Havanese. These dogs require significantly less grooming. Some may require an occasional professional grooming session, while many will only need a regular brushing. On the other hand, these dogs are thought to shed. While this variety is so rare and new that much less is known about it, it is believed that they will shed and are not considered hypoallergenic. These dogs probably still shed considerably less than the average breed.
The Havanese is one of the healthiest and most long-lived of all dog breeds. The life-expectancy of a well-bred Havanese is approximately 14-15 years, and this breed regularly lives until 16 and even 17. These dogs are less likely to suffer from most common canine health problems than other breeds. However, the Havanese is not immune to health problems. Additionally, the breed’s exploding popularity may have resulted in the breeding of dogs with health problems. The HCA and other breed clubs are carefully monitoring the health situation of the breed. The breed is more likely to suffer from several age related conditions than most breeds, but this is probably more a result of the Havanese’s longevity than genetics.
One of the most common health problems experienced by the Havanese, and all toy breeds, is Luxating Patellas. This condition is caused when the dog’s patella, or kneecap, moves out of place. Although in rare circumstances Luxating Patella can be induced through trauma or injury, it is generally an inherited condition. Luxating Patellas usually first show up when a dog is between four to six months of age. Dogs suffering from this condition have experience pain, discomfort, and difficulty walking. The condition is treatable, but it requires surgery.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
Although the Havanese is not especially vulnerable to many conditions, the following health problems have been identified in the Havanese breed:
Juvenile Heritable Cataracts