Havanese: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Havanese dog breed information
@Hans Surfer/Moment/Getty Images

The Havanese dates back to 1500s Cuba and is a small and sturdy dog with a playful, affectionate personality. Overall, these smart dogs are good-natured and make great family dogs. They are highly trainable and can learn tricks and perform in agility and obedience competitions. This clever dog will also make up its own games and train you to play them with him. The Havanese may also be used as a visiting therapy dog, especially if the dog has been well-socialized to not be timid with strangers.

Breed Overview

Group: Toy

Height: 8.5 to 11.5 inches

Weight: 7 to 13 pounds

Coat and Colors: The breed may have one or two colors including, but not limited to, black, silver, white, cream, tan, fawn, gold, sable, and red. Its coat can vary drastically from silky straight to very wavy with ringlets.

Life Expectancy: 14 to 16 years

Characteristics of the Havanese

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability High
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Havanese

The Havanese is the national dog of Cuba, an old breed and only native breed that was developed in Cuba when its canine ancestors came to Cuba from Spain in the early 1500s by way of Tenerife in the Canary Islands—the "islands of the dogs." The breed is believed to share lineage with the bichon. The Havanese was a beloved pet of Cuban aristocrats and later became popular among wealthy Europeans, including Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. This purebred dog is rare to find in Cuba now as the island is overrun with mixed-breed strays.

The Havanese has been in the U.S. since the Cuban revolution in 1959 when only 11 dogs were left to save the breed from extinction. It has thrived in the U.S. and Europe, and the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1996.

Havanese Care

Because of its silky coat type, routine grooming is an absolute necessity for the Havanese dog breed. Brush your Havanese often, at least once or twice per week (more often if the coat is kept long). If you don't have the time to do this, the Havanese may not be the dog for you. Many Havanese owners choose to keep a shorter coat, in which case haircuts may be necessary every few weeks. Their coat protects them from the sun and they tolerate hot weather well and cold weather moderately.

Despite its silk-like coat, the Havanese does not shed much. Be aware that less shedding does not mean the dog is hypoallergenic.

Like all dogs, the Havanese should receive proper training. These dogs are intelligent and attentive, therefore they tend to learn quickly. General training will contribute to your dog's overall happiness, as well as your own.

As a moderately active little dog, the Havanese should get daily exercise but does not need a lot of it. With the proper outlets for their energy, these dogs are content to cuddle on your lap or play indoors. In fact, they can be great for city and apartment living.

If you want a small dog with a relatively easygoing demeanor, the Havanese might be right for you. This breed tends to do quite well with children and other dogs. The friendly and gentle temperament of the Havanese makes this breed suitable for many types of homes, including apartments. They also can be a great dog to have for travel and RV living as they are small and do not bark much.

However, a Havanese will not do well if you must leave it alone for long periods. They crave companionship, are known to have separation anxiety, and may develop destructive habits due to being unhappy and bored.

One drawback is that the Havanese can take longer to housebreak. You will need to be consistent during this period or provide a doggy door so the dog has access to the outside. Many of them don't like to get wet, so it's good to have a covered area available. On the other hand, if they grow up around water, they can be good swimmers. In general, the Havanese should be an indoor dog.

Running havanese dogs
@Hans Surfer / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed.

The following are some conditions to be aware of: 

  • Deafness: This is often a congenital condition in the Havanese.
  • Patellar Luxation: This is a loose knee joint that can lead to lameness and knee arthritis.
  • Hip Dysplasia: While this is often thought to be a condition for large dogs, the Havanese are also prone to hip dysplasia. This can cause pain and lameness.
  • Elbow Dysplasia: Havanese are also prone to elbow dysplasia and may need surgery.
  • Hypothyroidism: The Havanese has a high rate of underactive thyroid glands and may it require treatment through the dog's life.
  • Allergies: The Havanese can have skin allergies to fleas, grass, and pollen, causing the dog to scratch and chew itself.

Diet and Nutrition

Feed your Havanese two meals a day with a total of one-half to one cup of dry dog food. Don't leave out food for free-feeding or you may discover weight gain; obesity can reduce a dog's lifespan and lead to other conditions. Discuss any weight gain with your veterinarian and what type of feeding schedule, food, and exercise is appropriate for your dog.

Avoid giving people food to your Havanese. Be aware that they are tricksters and can train you to feed them some of your food if you aren't vigilant. Be consistent and ensure everyone in your family is as well.

Pros

  • Gentle and cheerful
  • Gets along well with children and other dogs
  • Doesn't shed much

Cons

  • Has high maintenance grooming needs; requires frequent brushing if the coat is kept long, or haircuts every few weeks to keep the coat short
  • Takes longer to housebreak than other breeds due to its aversion to getting wet
  • Suffers separation anxiety if left alone for long periods, and may develop destructive habits

Where to Adopt or Buy a Havanese

Check your local animal shelter and rescue groups for Havanese dogs in need of homes. A number of nationwide rescue groups for Havaneses provide online resources to find a dog, including:

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

As with any breed, if you think the Havanese dog breed is right for you, be sure to do plenty of research before obtaining one. Talk to other Havanese dog owners, reputable Havanese dog breeders, and Havanese dog rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

There is a wide variety of dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.