The Havanese is truly one of the most delightful of the small breeds. They are exceptionally intelligent and quick-witted.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of dog is that? Where did you get a Bichon that wasn’t white?
Havanese is part of the Bichon canine family, but are a distinct breed. Havanese comes in all colors and combinations of colors.
I’ve never heard of that breed. Are they recognized by the AKC?
They were admitted to the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1995 and are at present in the miscellaneous class. They will eventually be admitted to the toy class. You can learn more about the Havanese on the AKC Internet site.
Can I get one from the pound or from a pet store?
No. Pure-bred Havanese can only be purchased from breeders. They are a rare breed and the total population in the U.S. is only around 4,000.
Do they shed?
Havanese are non-shedding dogs.
Do they have to be professionally groomed?
No. Although most people prefer to have their Havanese groomed professionally.
How often do they have to be groomed?
Usually every two or three months. However, it is essential to brush their coats two to four times a week. Also, regular eye, ear, and teeth care are required. Nails need to be trimmed every couple of weeks.
Are they good with children?
Havanese are extremely sociable and seem to like almost everyone. They are exceptionally good with children even when not raised with children in the house. However, it is a good idea to supervise any situation where dogs and young or unfamiliar children are together.
Are they too small or fragile for a home with children?
No. Actually, Havanese is a very good small breed for families with children. They are a sturdy dog, similar to a small terrier, and lack none of the terrier’s hard stamina. In fact, a Havanese may be a better choice than some of the more fragile small breeds.
What type of activities can I do with a Havanese?
Havanese was bred as companion animals. They love to be a part of the family. As well as conformation showing, several Havanese owners compete with their dogs in obedience and agility trials. Havanese is quick to learn tricks and love showing off to friends and family.
Are they just another “yappy” small dog?
No. They’ll alert you when someone is at your dog and to strange noises outside your home. Otherwise, they are quiet. Although, some Havanese are more “vocal” than others.
Characteristics and Temperament
The Havanese’s love of attention comes from their adorable little “show-off” natures.
They are curious and busy constantly. They are natural clowns and enjoy interludes of rowdy, madcap play.
The Havanese’s expression tells you that they miss nothing going on around them; they love to sit somewhere high — especially on the back of sofas and chairs. They never let strangers approach unwelcomed.
They thrive on human companionship and are at their best as a participating member of the family. They love children and will play tirelessly with them at any game in which children delight.
If raised near water or exposed to water at an early age, they become powerful swimmers, diving in and out of the water like tiny seals. The Havanese also have a natural herding instinct. In Cuba, they were used to herd the family chickens and geese.
If the Havanese were listed in Daniel F. Tortora’s book, “The Right Dog for You,” they would rank as follows:
- Activity Level:
- Indoors: very active
- Outdoors: moderate
- Behavioral Vigor: gentle
(This dimension relates to the force of behaviors regardless of how often they are produced.)
- Variability/Constancy: moderate
(This dimension relates to the “stick-to-it-iveness” of a breed.)
- Territoriality: low
Havanese are low in territoriality and generally only consider the owner’s home and property as their own.
- Strange dogs: submissive
- Familiar people: submissive
(Submissive dogs approach most familiar and unfamiliar people and dogs with submissive displays.)
- Emotional Stability/Vacillation: stable
(This dimension is defined by how frequently an animal changes from one emotional state to another.)
- Learning Rate: fast to very fast
(The ease with which a breed is able to form associations between two or more events determines its trainability.)
- Obedience: very good
- Problem-solving: very good
Obedience training is achieved with very little effort. Fast to learn and anxious to please, they are a charming, open-hearted breed.
- Watch/Guard Dog: alert/unsuited
Havanese are good watch dogs, making sure to alert you when a visitor arrives but will take their cue from you and welcome the guest when all seems well with their owner.
- Sociability/Solitariness: very sociable
(The number of people a breed can tolerate in one location. A very sociable dog can tolerate, even enjoy crowds. A very solitary dog would get irritable, fearful, or aggressive in a crowd.)
- Social Dimension
- Owner/family: open-family
(Open-family dogs can discriminate between family members and non-family members. However, they readily accept new members into the family after one or two playful experiences with them.)
- With strangers: very friendly
(Very friendly breeds are described with the following terms: “likes everybody,” “very friendly,” and “likes people.” These breeds may be very playful and jump on people who enter and continuously nuzzle, smell and rub up against visitors. They are basically indiscriminate in their friendliness. They can be a pleasure to people who love dogs but an annoyance to people who do not.)
- With children: exceptionally good
(Breeds that are exceptionally good with children can usually withstand the physical taunts of children; be calm in response to rapid movements; react unemotionally to loud and sometimes peculiar noises and modulate their physical strength in relation to the size of the child.)
- Owner/family: open-family
They are non-shedding and odorless and their soft coat is easy to keep with frequent brushing or combing and periodic bathing.
The coat ranges from a slight wave to curly. The color of coats range in shades of white, cream, champagne, gold, chocolate, silver, blue, and black or a combination of these colors.
The Havanese is a sturdy, short-legged small dog with a soft profuse, untrimmed coat. His plumed tail is carried curled over his back. He is an affectionate, happy dog with a lively, springy gait.
Size, Proportion, Substance
The height ranges from 8-1/2 to 11-1/2 inches, the ideal being 9 to 10-1/2 inches. The weight ranges from 7 to 13 pounds, the ideal being 8 to 11 pounds. Any dog whose weight deviates greatly from the stated range is a major fault. Any dog measuring under 8-1/2 or over 11-1/2 inches is a disqualification.
The body from the chest to the buttocks is longer than the height at the shoulders and should not appear to be square. Forelegs and hind legs are relatively short, but with sufficient length to set the dog up so as not to be too close to the ground.
The Havanese is a sturdy dog, and while a small breed, is neither fragile nor overdone.
Medium length proportionate to the size of the body. Eyes are large, almond-shaped and very dark with a gentle expression. In the blue and silver coat shades, eyes may be a slightly lighter color; in chocolate coat shades, the eyes may be a lighter color.
However, the darker eye is preferred. Eye rims are black for all colors except chocolate shaded coats, whose eye rims are self-colored. Small or round eyes; broken or insufficient pigment on the eye rim(s) are faults. Wild, bulging or protruding eyes are a major fault. A total absence of pigment on one or both eye rims is a disqualification.
Ears are set neither too high nor too low and are dropped, forming a gentle fold and covered with long feathering. They are slightly raised, moderately pointed, neither fly-away nor framing the cheeks.
Skull is broad and somewhat rounded with a moderate stop. The cheeks are flat and the lips clean. The length of the muzzle is equal to the distance to the stop to the back of the occiput. The muzzle is neither snipey nor blunt.
Nose and lips are solid black on all colors except the true chocolate dog, whose nose and lips are solid, self-colored brown. Dudley nose, nose and lips other than black, except the solid, self-colored brown on the true chocolate dog are disqualifications.
Scissors bite preferred; a level bite is permissible. Full dentition of incisors preferred for both upper and lower jaws. Crooked or missing teeth are faults. Overshot or undershot bite, wry mouth are major faults.
Neck, Topline, and Body
The neck of moderate length, neither too long or too short. Topline is straight with a very slight rise over the croup. Flanks are well raised. Ribs are well rounded. The tail is set high, carried curled over the back and plumed with long silky hair. While standing, a dropped tail is permissible.
Forelegs are well boned and straight, the length from the elbow to the withers equal to the distance from the foot to the elbow. Dewclaws may be removed. Feet are compact, well arched, well padded. Any foot turning in or out is a fault.
Legs are relatively short, well boned and muscular with moderate angulation; straight when viewed from the rear. Dewclaws may be removed. Feet are same as front feet. A fault is same as the front feet.
The Havanese is a double-coated breed with soft hair, both in outer and undercoat. The hair is very long and profuse, shown completely natural. The coat type ranges from straight to curly, the wavy coat is preferred. The curly coat is allowed to cord. The adult coat reaches a length of 6 to 8 inches.
No preference shall be given to a dog with an excessively profuse or long coat. Short hair on all but puppies is a fault. It is permissible to braid the hair on each side of the head above the eyes, but the coat may not be parted down the middle of the back.
No scissoring of the hair on the top of the head is allowed, nor trimming or neatening of the coat of any kind permitted except for the feet which may be neatened to avoid the appearance of “boat” or “slipper” feet. Coat trimmed in any way except for neatening at the feet is a disqualification.
All colors, ranging from pure white to shades of cream, champagne, gold, black, blue, silver, chocolate, or any combination of these colors including parti and tri. No preference is given to one color over another.
The gait is unique and “springy” which accentuates the happy character of the Havanese. The forelegs reach straight and forward freely from the shoulder with the hindlegs converging toward a straight line.
The tail is carried up over the back when gaiting. Hackney gait, paddling, moving too close in the rear, and tail not carried over the back when gaiting are faults.
Any dog under 8-1/2 or over 11-1/2 inches.
The total absence of pigment on one or both eye rims.
Dudley nose; nose and lips other than black, except for the solid, self-colored brown on the true chocolate dog.
Coat trimmed in any way except for neatening at the feet.
The Havanese coat should be long, somewhat flowing, with an abundance of undercoat. Caring for the show coat requires regular grooming to keep it in peak condition. The following is a summation of how to care for a show coat and a pet coat.
The goal in grooming the show coat is to retain as much of the length and fullness to the coat as possible. The following tools are recommended for grooming:
- Small or medium pin brush
- Small slicker brush
- Half fine/half medium comb
- Nail clippers (scissors or guillotine type)
- Coat oil or similar dressing
- Tweezers or hemostat
One of the most important steps in grooming a Havanese is brushing. For growing and maintaining a coat between shows, it should be brushed two to four times per week. The coat should be brushed in layers.
Each layer should be sprayed with a coat oil or similar dressing before brushing to lessen the static electricity which will break off the hair ends. The correct brush is the small or medium pin brush depending on the size of the dog. You may also use a slicker brush on the feet.
Begin by brushing the hair under the chest. Spread the body coat out to the sides and spray the hair with light oil or coat dressing.
Using the pin brush, begin at the stomach and work up to the front legs, brushing the hair in layers from the skin out. After the chest hair is brushed, comb through the rest of the coat.
After the hair has been brushed, use the half fine/half medium comb; combine thoroughly through the coat. If you should find a mat, moisten it with coat oil and rub apart with your fingers. Then brush using the pin brush and comb out.
See to it that the nails are trimmed and the hair has been removed from the ear hole. Use either your fingers, tweezers, or hemostat to remove the hair from the ears; removing only a few hairs at a time.
Finally, put one drop of mineral oil into each eye to avoid irritation from non-tearless shampoos. Set the dog into the tub. Wet thoroughly with very warm water, excluding the head. Pour shampoo onto the wet coat.
Gently squeeze the shampoo through the coat and rinse thoroughly. Then shampoo the head in the same manner as the body.
Next, apply a cream rinse and rinse again. Squeeze excess water from the coat and remove the dog from the tub. Blot lightly with a towel. Set the dog onto a grooming table and dry using an electric dryer.
Use the layering method as in brushing and fluff the coat as it dries. After the drying process is complete brush the dog lightly. Scissor the hair from between the pads. Then, place the dog in a standing position.
Comb the hair out on each foot and scissor around the pads into a round shape.
The hair on the head may be either brushed back and allowed to fall in a natural manner or parted in the center and combed to either side allowing the eyes to be partially visible. The hair may also be parted in the center, gathered, and plaited down either side.
At no time is the Havanese to enter the show ring with hair drawn to the top of the head in one or two ponytails.
First, follow the same instructions as the long coat for bathing and blow drying. Then, use scissors or electric clippers to trim the hair from around the edge of the foot. Follow the entire outline of the dog’s body and legs, shortening the hair to 1-1/2 to 2 inches in length.
Shorten the hair on one-third of the tail, leaving the rest in a natural plume. Also, leave the hair on the ears natural. Round off the top of the head and cheeks leaving more hair over the eyes.
Do not trim the hair on the top of the head in the style of a topknot or the exaggerated manner of the Bichon Frise.
The head of the Havanese should be trimmed to show its natural outline, except for a bit over the eyes. The whiskers and the beard should be left natural; blending the outline where the whiskers meet the hair of the cheeks and throat.
The Havanese is recognized by at least the following organizations:
- Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI)
- United Kennel Club (UKC) — only those Havanese registered with the Original Havanese Club (OHC).
- American Kennel Club — for which the Havanese Club of America is the parent club
- American Rare Breed Association
The Havanese is part of the Bichon canine family of small breeds which probably originated in the Mediterranean area in pre-Christian times.
All Bichons are descended from the same bloodlines that produced the Barbet, or water spaniel; the Poodle; the Portuguese Water Dog; and others.
The Barbet or “Barbichon” — later shortened to Bichon canine family — consists of several distinct breeds, including the Havanese. In order of popularity in the U.S., these breeds are: 1) Maltese, 2) Bichon Frise, 3) Havanese, 4) Lowchen, 5) Coton de Tulear, and 6) Bolognese.
During the days of the Spanish empire, Bichons travelled to Cuba with sea captains who used them as presents for the women of Cuban households. By gaining entry into wealthy Hispanic homes, which were otherwise closed to outsiders, the captains were able to establish lucrative trading relationships with rich Cuban families.
Once in Cuba, the Havanese (Habeneros in Spanish) lived exclusively in the mansions of the highest social class of people. Havanese was never raised commercially or sold but was sometimes given as precious gifts to a friend or someone who had performed a valuable service.
Like the Victorian-age wealthy Hispanic women who owned them, the dogs were not seen in the streets or public areas. They lived in the rooms and interior courtyards of their tropical homes and occasionally rode in carriages with their owners.
The Havanese found its way to Europe where it became very popular and was recognized by the European Kennel Club. It was known in England as the “White Cuban.” Queen Anne is said to have admired a troupe of performing dogs that danced to music in almost human fashion.
As happened to many other dog breeds, the Havanese’ popularity waned over the course of time. For a while, they were used in circuses as trick dogs throughout Europe, but eventually, they became almost extinct — even in their native Cuba.
Only three families are known to have left Cuba with their Havanese during the political turmoil of the 1950s and 1960s. It is assumed that by that time there might not have been very many of these dogs kept by anyone.
These three exiled families worked alone in Florida and in Costa Rica for over a decade to preserve the breed.
After raising Irish Wolfhounds and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers for many years, Dorothy and Bert Goodale of Colorado began looking for a small breed to raise which would have the calm temperament and intelligence they cherished in the larger breeds.
After a few years of investigation, elusive references to the Havanese had their attention, but no one knew where the Goodales might obtain them.
In the mid 1970s, they chanced upon an advertisement which resulted in the purchase of six pedigreed Havanese: a mother, four daughters, and an unrelated young male.
Completely enchanted with the outgoing, intelligent, and affectionate nature of the breed, they endeavored to locate more of the little exiles.
Mrs. Goodale placed advertisements in Latin papers in Miami offering to purchase Havanese. After several months, she had received only one response. A Florida man wrote to say that a friend of his had five Havanese that he wished to sell.
Mr. Eziekiel Barba had fled Cuba and settled in Costa Rica. Because of failing health, he had decided to move to Texas to live with his daughter and could no longer care for his “brood” of Havanese.
The Goodales arranged to purchase Mr. Barba’s five dogs. This second group had the same look and gentle temperament as the first. All these dogs, as adults, averaged around 10 pounds and stood about 9 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder.
Using the 1963 FCI breed standard (the only standard available), Mrs. Goodale began a breeding program to prevent the extinction of this breed.
Currently, there are approximately 4,000 registered Havanese in the United States.
The Havanese is also making a comeback in its native Cuba. The Bichon Habanero Club is working from a foundation stock of approximately 15 dogs and is closely supervising the breeding program.
In fact, this year (1997) the first Havanese was exported from Cuba to the Netherlands.
Special Medical Problems
The Havanese is a healthy, long-lived breed. However, like all dog breeds, they are susceptible to some medical problems. Regular veterinary care is essential.
The Havanese Club of America’s (HCA) Health Committee recently completed a health survey among its members. A computer database will be established to house the information relating to health issues. In time, this information may help in making better breeding decisions.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
PRA is characterized by degeneration of the cells of the retina, leading eventually to loss of sight. The latest HCA health survey indicated that some Havanese do suffer from PRA.
In order to control the disease in Havanese bloodlines, breeders are now required to include The Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) registration on pedigrees. Any affected Havanese should no longer be used for breeding purposes.
A cataract may be defined as a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. Any spot on the lens that is opaque, regardless of its size, is technically a cataract. Some cataracts are clearly visible to the naked eye, appearing as white flecks within the eye, or giving a milky-gray or bluish-white cast to the lens behind the pupil.
Cataracts are relatively common in older dogs (over 8 years). Junior cataracts develop in much younger dogs. A cataract is important only when it causes impaired vision. Blindness can be corrected by removing the lens (cataract extraction).
While this restores vision, there is some loss of visual acuity because the lens is not present to focus light on the retina. The operation is recommended for the dog who has so much visual impairment that he has difficulty getting around.
Slipping or dislocating kneecaps can be inherited, or acquired by trauma. In order to register a Havanese puppy with HCA, the knees must be checked before the age of six months. If there is evidence of luxating patellas, owners have issued a restricted registration, and the dog may not be used for breeding purposes.
Like all floppy-eared breeds, Havanese is susceptible to ear infections. Regular cleaning of the ear will eliminate recurring ear infections.
Brown stains in the corner of the eye — or Poodle eye — is peculiar to some light colored toy breeds. Its exact cause is unknown in many cases. One theory is that the pooling space at the corner of the eye is too small to collect a lake of tears.
Another theory is that a low grade infection of the throat works its way up into the lacrimal duct and causes scarring.
To help reduce tear stain, scissor the hair from the inside corner of the eyes and treat with a tear stain remover or a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide (one part to ten parts of water).
CAUTION: Peroxide must not be allowed to enter the eye. Mineral oil should be instilled first to protect against accidental contact.
When no underlying disease is found, symptomatic improvement often results after giving the dog a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics (Tetracycline). Tetracycline, which is secreted in the tears after oral administration, also binds that portion of the tears which cause them to stain the face.
When the improvement is due just to the binding action of the drug, the face remains wet but not discolored.
Surgery may be considered as an alternative. The operation removes the gland of the third eyelid (nictating membrane). This makes a better lake at the inner corner of the eye. It also reduces the volume of tears by removing the tear gland in the third eyelid.
The HCA health survey indicated that some Havanese suffers from dry skin problems, which apparently affects dogs with black or dark champagne coats.