Havanese: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A white Havanese dog frolicking in the grass

Hans Surfer / Getty Images

The Havanese is a small toy dog breed from Cuba with a rounded face, floppy ears, and either curly or straight long hair. Havanese dogs have playful, affectionate personalities. Their good-natured temperament and intelligence make them great family dogs. The breed dates back to the 1500s and is a popular choice for learning tricks, performing in dog sports, and showing in competitions. The clever Havanese is also known to make up its own games and train its owners to play them. They may also be used as visiting therapy dogs, especially those that are 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: Double coat that is long, silky, and straight or wavy with ringlets

Coat Color: One or two colors including black, silver, white, cream, tan, fawn, gold, sable, or red

Life Span: 14 to 16 years

Temperament: Intelligent, playful, bright, even-tempered, companionable

Hypoallergenic: Yes

Origin: Cuba

Characteristics of the Havanese

If you want a small dog with a relatively easygoing temperament, the Havanese might be right for you. These dogs tend to be great with children and other pets. The friendly and gentle personality of the Havanese makes them suitable for many types of homes, including apartments. They're also a great choice for travel and RV living as they are small and do not bark much.

It's best to adopt this breed if you have plenty of time to spend with your dog. A Havanese will not do well if left alone for long periods of time. These dogs crave companionship, and they're known to develop separation anxiety or destructive habits when lonely and bored.

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. This old, native breed was developed 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 it later became popular among prominent 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

Your Havanese will require more time in the grooming department than short-haired dogs, but its low exercise needs help to balance out its care requirements. This breed is intelligent and tends to learn basic obedience easily, as well as special tricks and dog sports when desired.

Exercise

As a moderately active little dog, the Havanese should get daily exercise, but this breed does not need more than about half an hour per day. Routine walks and playing inside the house are usually enough to keep the Havanese happy and healthy. With the proper outlets for their energy, these dogs are content to cuddle on your lap when they're not playing, making them great companions for apartment living.

Grooming

Because of its silky coat type, routine grooming is an absolute necessity for the Havanese. Brush your dog often—at least once or twice per week. Your Havanese will need brushing more often if its coat is kept long. If you don't have the time to provide regular brush sessions, this breed may not be right 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 do well in hot weather. It's best to keep the coat longer in the winter, as they can tolerate cold weather moderately.

Despite its silky fur, the Havanese does not shed much. It's considered a hypoallergenic dog because of its low-shedding coat, though it may be less suitable for those with allergies than breeds like poodle mixes.

Training

Like all dogs, the Havanese should receive basic training. These dogs are intelligent and attentive, therefore they tend to learn quickly. General training will contribute to your dog's overall happiness and help it become a well-mannered member of the family.

One drawback is that the Havanese can take a while to housebreak. You will need to be consistent during this period or provide a doggy door to give constant access to the outdoors. Many of these dogs don't like to get wet, so it's helpful to have a covered area available. On the other hand, if your dog grows up around water, it can be a good swimmer—but in general, the Havanese should be an indoor pet.

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 still occur in the Havanese breed.

The following are some conditions to be aware of: 

  • Deafness: This is often a congenital condition in the Havanese.
  • Luxating Patella: This is a loose knee joint that can lead to lameness and knee arthritis.
  • Elbow and Hip Dysplasia: While dysplasia is often thought to be a problem for large dogs, the Havanese are also prone to this condition in the elbows and hips. This malformation in the joints can cause pain and lameness.
  • Hypothyroidism: The Havanese has a high rate of underactive thyroid glands, and it may require treatment throughout the dog's life to help regulate its metabolism.
  • Allergies: The Havanese can have skin allergies to fleas, grass, and pollen, causing the dog to scratch and chew itself. Canine allergies can usually be treated with medication.
havaneses as pets illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

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; this can quickly lead to weight gain. Canine obesity can reduce a dog's lifespan and lead to other health conditions. Discuss any weight gain with your veterinarian, and determine both feeding and exercise schedules based on your dog's age, weight, and activity level.

Avoid giving human food to your Havanese. Be aware that they are tricksters, and they're known to "train" their owners to share food. It's important to be consistent and ensure everyone in your family knows that the Havanese should only eat dog food.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Havanese

Check your local animal shelter and rescue groups for Havanese dogs in need of homes. There are a number of nationwide rescue groups for this breed, as well as responsible breeders for those set on adopting a puppy.

These dogs typically cost between $1,000 and $1,500 from breeders, though some prices can be upwards of $2,500 depending on the dog's pedigree and availability in your area. Always research local breeders to ensure you adopt from one that provides comfortable living conditions for their dogs and shares their medical history.

Start your search with breed-specific rescues, the national breed club, and the AKC:

Havanese Overview

Pros
  • Low shedding

  • Gentle and cheerful

  • Gets along well with children and other dogs

Cons
  • Housebreaking can take time

  • Shouldn't be left alone for long periods

  • High-maintenance grooming

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you think this breed is right for you, talk with other Havanese owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more about adding one to your family. If you're interested in similar breeds, check out:

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

FAQ
  • Is a Havanese a Good Family Dog?

    With its gentle demeanor, trainability, and playful personality, the Havanese makes an excellent family dog. This breed is known for getting along very well with children and other pets (especially when raised together).

  • Are Havanese Dogs High-Maintenance?

    The Havanese has some high-maintenance grooming needs and can be difficult at first when house training. However, this intelligent breed is also a fast learner with basic obedience and doesn't require much exercise to stay happy. For owners willing to commit to regular grooming, the Havanese is otherwise low-maintenance.

  • Do Havanese Dogs Shed?

    The Havanese is a very low-shedding breed. It has a hypoallergenic double coat that needs regular brushing, but also tends to catch any shedding hair underneath its top layer.

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