August 17, 2017

Introduction to the Havanese

A sturdy little dog, the Havanese takes its name from Havana, Cuba, and it’s the national dog of that nation.

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The Havanese is an outgoing, funny, intelligent dog and known for being easy to train. The breed has a colorful history. It’s thought that the dogs were originally from Tenerife in the Canary Islands off the coast of Portugal and were brought to Cuba by sailors. They were later bred with Poodles to produce the breed known today.

At various times the breed was used by ordinary people to tend their chickens and other animals; and it was kept by members of high society in Cuba. After the Cuban Revolution few dogs were able to leave the country and the gene pool was small outside Cuba.

The breed rebounded and today is one of the fastest growing breeds recognized by the AKC. It currently ranks 25th in popularity among breeds registered by the AKC. The Havanese makes an excellent family dog and they are very good in apartments.

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History of the Havanese

The Havanese is a member of the bichon family of dogs which includes the Bichon Frise, the Maltese, the Coton de Tulear, the Bolognese, and other small,
companion dogs with dark eyes and a tail that usually curls over the back. The breeds are typically non-shedding. (Many breeds belong to larger “families” of dogs such as the molossers and spitz families of dogs. The breeds within a family share common ancient ancestors and some similar modern day traits, though you may have to look closely to recognize similarities. DNA can often confirm relationships between breeds.)

Tenerife, in the Canary Islands off the coast of Portugal, was a popular stopping point for ships in the 15th and 16th centuries. Sailors stopping there before heading out to sea found a population of friendly small dogs living with the locals. Whether the dogs were native to Tenerife or they had been brought there earlier from Europe or other islands in the Mediterranean is unknown. Many of the islands in the Mediterranean had their own populations of dogs but they had histories to account for their presence. The island of Malta was well-known for the small Maltese dog, with a history going back some 2000 years. Since the dogs found on Tenerife appeared to be somewhat related to the Maltese, it’s possible they were brought there from Malta or had some connection to the Maltese dogs. Ships may have brought Maltese dogs to Tenerife prior to the 15th century.

Whatever the case, sailors visiting Tenerife, bound for the New World, definitely brought the small, appealing dogs with them to Cuba. Spanish colonists in Cuba kept the little dogs as companions. Small farmers kept the dogs to watch over their chickens and other small farm animals – and to play with their children. The little dogs were also popular with the nobility at other times.

In Cuba the dogs were crossed with Poodles and other bichon-type dogs to produce the Havanese that we have today. The breed has had various names over the centuries such as Blanquito de la Habana (“little white dogs of Havana”) and the Havana Silk Dogs, because of the breed’s silky coat.

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Few dogs were able to leave Cuba during or after the revolution in the 1950s. The Havanese was established in the United States with the AKC with only 11 dogs at this time. However, the breed was able to grow and expand using dogs that were available internationally. Today the breed is one of the fastest growing breeds registered by the AKC and it ranks 25th in popularity.

Havanese Health-Related Issues

The Havanese is a charming, lively, active dog and they are generally considered to be quite healthy and sturdy. Most Havanese live between 14 and 16 years and the breed has few serious health problems. However, like all dogs, they can have some issues.

Health problems that sometimes occur in the breed include cataracts, retinal dysplasia, liver disease, heart disease, and luxating patellas (similar to a slipped kneecap in a human). The Havanese can also have problems with tears that leave stains on their face. This is often easy to notice on a dog with a white coat.

The Havanese Club of America provides more extensive information about health issues in the breed on their web site. As you can see on the health page, breeders test for a number of health issues and the results are very good for most of the dogs tested. However, there are not tests for every health problem and issues can still appear even with generations of testing.

Havanese breeders are encouraged to have their dogs tested for the following conditions if they are considering breeding them:

If you are considering getting a Havanese puppy or dog, you should talk to the breeder about these tests and other health issues in the breed. Ask about health guarantees. Breeders cannot guarantee that dogs will never have a health problem. No one can do that. But they should have reasonable guarantees that explain the obligations of both the breeder and the buyer.

Havanese Temperament

The Havanese is a lively, funny dog that loves to spend time with his people. While they are friendly to other people and they don’t generally bark at strangers much, they much prefer to be with their families. They are good with children and they get along well with other pets. The Havanese loves affection and they are happy to show you how much they love you.

This is an intelligent breed and they are considered easy to train most of the time. Like some other Toy breeds, they can take a little longer to housetrain that bigger dogs but if you are patient, they will learn. They respond well to praise and reward. They do well with obedience training. Although they are very cute and appealing, it’s a good idea to remember that the Havanese is still a dog. He will happily take advantage of you and start running the house if you let him, so some rules are a good idea.

The Havanese loves to perform and they enjoy learning tricks and commands. They are natural show-offs. Though this is a small breed, they can enjoy great success at agility, rally, obedience, musical canine freestyle, flyball, and other dog sports. They also enjoy doing work such as being assistance dogs and therapy dogs if you take the time to train them.

The Havanese is not a dog that you can leave outdoors all the time. They are mostly an indoor dog today, though they enjoy playing outdoors and they require some daily exercise. The Havanese tends to become very attached to their families and can become very close to one person. They usually hate to be left alone. They can have some issues with separation anxiety so good socialization from a young age is recommended. You can check with your local kennel club or a local pet store to find classes in your area for puppy preschool or puppy kindergarten. These are classes that let puppies/young dogs and their owners come to mingle and meet other people. They are a good way for puppies and young dogs to meet other dogs and people and see new things so they can build confidence. You can also check with local kennel clubs and pet stores to find beginner obedience classes.

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Havanese Grooming

The Havanese stands between 8 ½ and 11 ½ inches tall at the shoulder (between 9 and 10 ½ inches tall is considered ideal). They typically weigh between 10 and 16 pounds. They are slightly longer than tall. The coat is a double coat (with an undercoat and an outer coat). It is left long and untrimmed. The tail is plumed and carried arched over the back. The breed is known for their beautiful, large dark brown eyes, though dogs that are chocolate in color can have eyes that are a little lighter.

The breed’s coat is silky to the touch (both undercoat and outer coat) and soft and light in texture. The outer coat is a little heavier. The coat is long, thick, and wavy. Puppies have a coat that is shorter and softer than adults. All kinds of colors and markings are seen on Havanese. They are all equally good.

The Havanese’s coat will separate and grow into cords if it is encouraged. The cords are long, like tassels. It takes a long time for the coat to grow into cords. Corded coats take some special care – they take a long, long, long time to dry when you bathe the dog, for example. But some people like a dog that looks like he has dreadlocks.

Other pet owners prefer to have their Havanese in a pet clip. You will probably need to see a professional pet groomer to have the coat cut every 6-8 weeks if this is the look you like. Or you can keep your Havanese with a long coat. This requires more work at home on your part but the breed’s coat is beautiful.

Whatever style you like, you should brush your Havanese several times per week and keep the coat looking clean and attractive. The Havanese has a reputation as a breed that doesn’t shed but, in reality, they shed some small amount, according to owners. Brush the coat or it will mat. Even if you are trying to get the coat to grow into cords, it’s necessary to brush it and keep it from matting.

This is a breed that has a lot of hair around the face so you should check your dog’s face at least once per day to make sure he doesn’t have crumbs, dirt, or other things stuck to his facial hair. Check nails and ears weekly and brush your dog’s teeth often.

Some people prefer harnesses for Toy dogs because the dogs have such small necks. However you should be aware that anything that rubs your Havanese’s coat will probably cause it to mat. If your Havanese wears a harness when you take him for a walk, expect mats where the harness rubs the body. You can use a lightweight collar for your Havanese, especially if he doesn’t pull on the leash too much. Some people with Havanese puppies even use cat collars because of their light weight. Check your puppy’s collar every few days to see if he is outgrowing it.

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Havanese Fun Facts

  • The Havanese comes in lots of colors. Examples of coat colors are white, cream, fawn, red, chocolate brown, beige, gold, silver, blue, and black. The coat can be a solid color or it can have markings in one color or more than one color. Markings can come in sable, brindle, black & tan, tri-color, Irish pied, parti-colored, belton, or piebald, black and white, beige black, and white.
  • The Havanese is known as a “velcro” dog and likes to stick close to his owner’s side, wherever he goes.
  • The little bichon dogs that sailors found on the island of Tenerife are now extinct.

Common Havanese Mixes

Here are some of the Havanese mixes we found online:

  • Cairnese
  • Cavanese
  • Cheenese
  • Crested Havanese
  • Ewokian
  • Hava-Apso
  • Hava-Welsh
  • Hava-Wheat
  • Havachin
  • Havachon
  • Havamalt
  • Havanestie
  • Havapeke
  • Havashire
  • Havashu
  • Havaton
  • Poovanese
  • Puganese
  • Schnese

Havanese FAQs

What is a Havaneses’ Life Expectancy?

According to a 2004 breed health study conducted by the Kennel Club in the UK, the median age at death for Havanese was 10 years and 3 months, with the oldest dog reportedly dying at age 18 years and 2 months. However, the sample size was very small (43 living Havanese, with 3 deaths reported). In the United States, the Havanese is commonly reported to live between 14 and 16 years.

Are Havaneses easy to train?

Yes, the Havanese is considered to be very intelligent and very easy to train. They and their owners participate in events such as obedience, agility, rally and other dog activities. However, owners report that the Havanese can take longer to house train than some breeds. This is not uncommon for many Toy breeds so please don’t give up.

Do Havaneses shed a lot of hair?

No, the Havanese is often considered to be a non-shedding or “hypoallergenic” breed. While some owners say that the breed does shed a little hair and is more accurately called “low shedding,” they do not shed much hair. The Havanese does need to be brushed and the coat has to be maintained. Otherwise you can expect a lot of matting.

If you are interested in getting a Havanese because you have an allergy to dogs, please make sure to meet the individual dog that you are considering. You may be able to tolerate one dog more than another.

Do Havaneses make good apartment pets?

Yes! The Havanese makes an outstanding apartment pet. They do not bark much. They are friendly and outgoing. They like other pets. They are small and they have modest exercise needs. The breed is very adaptable and they enjoy spending time indoors with their people. They love to be with you no matter what you are doing. Whether you are reading, watching TV, or puttering around the house, the Havanese loves to be there, too.

Are Havaneses good with Children?

The Havanese is very good with children of all ages. The Havanese is perfect for older children who want a companion. They are also good with smaller children who like to play – as long as they play gently. They are playful and intelligent. They love to perform and do tricks so you could easily teach your children how to train your Havanese. It’s a good way to teach children how to take care of a dog, too.

It’s always important to teach all children how to play gently with a dog so they don’t pull on tails and ears or do things to provoke a dog into biting. Thousands of children are bitten by dogs every year and most of those cases could be prevented with a little education. Take normal precautions.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a freelance writer and a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine, Dog News. She is the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, the Dog Writers Association of America Adoptashelter.com award-winner for 2013. Additionally, Carlotta is the author of Canine Cuisine: 101 Natural Dog Food & Treat Recipes to Make Your Dog Health and Happy, as well as other books about pets. She is a guest writer for numerous website and blogs and a frequent pet food reviewer.

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  • If you are interested in getting a havapoo beware. Very hyper and require lots of attention. Very hard to potty train. So sweet and cute but wish I had learned more about them before talking my sis into getting one. Dog sitting now is something I dread and I love dogs. Way to hyper.

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