Information about the Havanese

As the national dog of Cuba, the “Havanese” a breed of Bichon type, developed from the now extinct Blanquito de la Habana (“little white dog of Havana”). The Blanquito descended from the also now extinct Bichon Tenerife, which was introduced to the Canary Islands by the Cubans. It is believed that the Blanquito was eventually cross-bred with other Bichon types, including the Poodle, to create what is now known as the Havanese. Sometimes referred to as “Havana Silk Dogs,” this was originally another name for the Blanquito de la Habana.

The Havanese is small in size and sturdy in structure with a tail carried over its back and ears that drop and fold. The coat is abundant, long, and silky and comes in all colors. The Havanese has a spirited personality and a curious disposition, and is notable for its springy gait, a characteristic that distinguishes the breed from all others. The Havanese is considered an ideal family pet and a true companion dog. They are highly adaptable to almost any environment, and their only desire is to be with their human companions. Because of their strong social needs, Havanese will not thrive in an environment where they are isolated for several hours each day.

The Havanese, while a toy dog, is sturdy and does not appear fragile or overly delicate. Weight can vary greatly, but most are from 7 to 13 pounds (3.2 to 5.9 kg). Height is 8.5 to 11.5 inches (22 to 29 cm), with the ideal being 9 to 10.5 inches (23 to 27 cm), at the withers. The body, measured from point of shoulder to point of buttocks, is slightly longer than the height at the withers, giving the dog the appearance of being slightly longer than tall. The length of the body results from the long ribcage, not the loins.

A unique aspect of the breed is the topline, which rises just slightly from withers to croup, creating a topline that is straight but not level. This breed is renowned for their flashy, lively gait. When on the move, their strong rear drive and slightly shorter upper arm combine to produce a springy motion rather than a far-reaching one. The angle of the topline does not change while moving at a natural gait.

The muzzle is full and tapers slightly at the nose. It does not have the appearance of being short or snipy. Length of skull measured from stop to point of occiput is equal to the length of muzzle. The top of the skull is rather flat and the backskull is rounded.

The length from foot to elbow is equal to the length from elbow to withers. The forechest is pronounced. When is a standing position, the sternum lines up with the elbows, creating a deep chest. Ribs are well-sprung and the abdomen is moderately tucked up.

The Havanese has dark brown eyes and almond-shaped lids surrounded by black pigment. The ears, when extended, reach half way to the nose. They arc slightly upward at the base and hang down on the sides of the head without touching the face. The tail is carried arched forward up over the back. While the tail’s long plume of hair falls on the body, the tail itself never touches the back.

The breed standard notes that except for slight trimming around the feet to allow for a tidy foot, they are to be shown untrimmed; any further trimming, back-combing, or other fussing is against type and will not be allowed to the point of precluding placement in dog shows. The breed standard specifies that the tail may not be docked. The American Kennel Club Standard allows head furnishings above each eye to be held in two small braids secured with plain elastic bands. However, many owners prefer to clip their pet’s hair short for easy upkeep.

Although there are a few arguments on whether the original Havanese were all white or of different colors, modern Havanese are acceptable in all coat colors and patterns. All colored dogs should have a black nose and black pigment around the eyes, with the exception of chocolate (brown) dogs, which may have dark brown pigment on their nose instead. Examples of coat colors are white, cream, fawn, red, brown, Orange, silver, blue, and black. The coat may be one solid color or have markings in one or more other colors. For example, sable, brindle, black & tan, Irish pied, parti colored, belton, or piebald, black and white.

The coat is long, soft, lightweight, and silky. The Havanese coat is slightly wavy, profuse, and undulating. Unlike other double-coated breeds, the Havanese outer coat is neither coarse nor overly dense, but rather soft and light. The undercoat is sometimes completely absent. The Havanese coat should be very soft, almost cool to the touch, like unrefined silk (compared to the Maltese coat, which feels like refined silk). However, in some dogs the coat can become too silky, looking oily. On the other end of the spectrum, Havanese coats can be too harsh or cottony, giving a frizzy appearance.

Because of the tropical nature of the Havanese, the fine and lightweight coat is designed to act as a sunshade and cooling agent on hot days. This means that, though the coat is abundant and may appear warm, the Havanese must be protected from the cold.

The coat can be shown naturally brushed out, or corded, a technique which turns the long coat into cords of hair, similar to dreadlocks in humans. This corded look may be difficult to achieve for the first timer, so it is always recommended that someone interested in cording their Havanese consults someone who has done it before.

The Havanese is a toy dog so it is a great dog to play with. It is smart and can be easily trained. It is best to train this dog at a young age, because some habits will stick as they become older. The Havanese gets very attached and are very loyal to their owners but does not mind spending time away from their owners, as they are very self entertaining dogs. The Havanese is an ideal dog to have in a low maintenance household. This breed does not require as much regular exercise as other breeds may. The Havanese is satisfied when their owner is satisfied. Havanese are not very vocal unless abusive body movements are shown. They are very friendly dogs, and do not typically bark at strangers, but some individuals are more shy than other individuals. They do not mind being kept outside as they are fine with playing with their toys but they prefer being inside with their owner. They love to perform in front of others and have a great need for affection.

Some individuals do have a peculiar trait called “run-like-hell”. It is a primeval manic attack where, after a walk, or play time, they will start to growl and hiss and make other gutteral sounds, and then start racing to-n-fro, stop, growl and bare their teeth at their owner. Just as suddenly as it appears, it ends and the dog quickly returns to its friendly character.

Havanese are generally healthy and sturdy with relatively few serious health issues. They typically live 14 to 16 years. Havanese organizations, such as the Havanese Club of America, monitor genetic issues to prevent propagation within the breed.

Havanese suffer primarily from luxating patella, liver disease, heart disease, cataracts and retinal dysplasia. Havanese sometimes tear and may develop brown tear stains, especially noticeable on white or light coats.

The Havanese Club of America developed a system to encourage widespread participation of seven recommended tests for eye disease (CERF), congenital deafness (BAER), patella luxation, cardiac diseases, hip dysplasia, hip joint disorder (Legg-Calve-Perthes), and elbow dysplasia. The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program promotes testing and reporting of health test results for the Havanese breed. CHIC is a centralized canine health database jointly sponsored by the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Testing required for a Havanese to receive a CHIC certificate includes OFA BAER, OFA Hips, OFA Patellas, and annual CERF exams. This provides an outstanding research tool for performing searches on individual dogs and also links health testing results of the dog’s related pedigree information (parent, offspring, and sibling), when those related dogs have been health tested.

The Havanese is a member of the Bichon family of dogs. The progenitors of the breed are believed to have come from Tenerife. Ship manifests from Tenerife bound for Cuba list dogs as passengers brought aboard, and these dogs were most probably the dog of Tenerife. The entire Bichon family of dogs can be traced back to the Tenerife dog. These little dogs soon became devoted companions to the Spanish colonists in Cuba and were highly admired by the nobility.

As part of the Cuban Revolution, upper-class Cubans fled to the United States, but few were able to bring their dogs. When American breeders became interested in this rare and charming dog in the 1970s, the US gene pool was only 11 dogs.

With dedicated breeding, and the acquisition of some new dogs internationally, the Havanese has made a huge comeback and is one of the fastest growing breeds of dogs in the American Kennel Club (AKC).