Named after Cuba’s capital city, the Havanese was once considered a prized companion of the country’s aristocracy. Small in size and stature, this breed possesses endearing traits such as a friendly and outgoing temperament, a silky-to-the-touch coat and expressive eyes. It is these qualities that have helped the Havanese become one of the U.S.’s most popular pups.
This small-sized dog breed comes in a wide variety of colors and currently ranks as the 24th most popular dog breed among those registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC). Typically, the Havanese life span can reach 14 to 16 years, while Havanese size averages about 7 to 13 pounds.
- Breed Group: Toy
- Height: 8.5-11.5 inches
- Weight: 7-13 pounds
- Life Span: 14-16 years
- Coat: Long, silky, light
- Color: Varied colors and patterns including white, chocolate, black and tan, black, gold brindle, fawn and red brindle
Havanese History: A Cuban Aristocratic Ancestry
The Havanese is a member of the Bichon group of dogs, whose common ancestors are thought to include the Bichon Frise and the Maltese. Breed enthusiasts believe their ancestors may have been brought to Cuba—where they became popular—either by Spanish colonists or Italian sea captains.
The Cuban gentry embraced the dogs, allowing them to live a work-free existence. Over the next 300 years, the Havanese dog breed was refined.
By the start of the 18th century, European nobles who had been drawn to Cuba returned home with the Havanese dog in tow. By mid-century, the dogs had increased in popularity within Europe, even winning the hearts of those like Queen Victoria and writer Charles Dickens.
Another famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, had become smitten with the Havanese when he lived outside Havana between 1940 and 1960. When Cuba became a communist country under Fidel Castro in 1959, it prompted wealthy Cubans to flee to the United States with their Havanese dogs, where they and Americans maintained the breed. The Havanese finally became recognized by the AKC in 1996.
Havanese breeders registered on the AKC’s website typically price their puppies between $1,800 and $2,500, although some may be priced higher or lower. Havanese puppies are just one option, of course; Havanese rescues have older dogs in need of loving homes.
What Does a Havanese Look Like?
Weighing 7 to 13 pounds and standing no taller than about 11½ inches, the Havanese is a small, but sturdy dog with a well-developed and deep chest, rounded ribcage, and slightly arched neck that blends effortlessly with the rest of the body.
The dog’s front legs are straight and point forward. The muscular hind legs, which are somewhat angulated, are the force that drives this small dog’s lively gait. The signature tail, which stands high and curls forward, has a long, silky plume that can either fall forward or to either side. Their ears, which normally hang down, are lifted when the dog is alert and have a distinctive fold.
With large, almond-shaped eyes, this pup’s expression has been described as soulful and intelligent. Havanese typically have dark brown eyes, although in chocolate pups they can be a lighter brown. The eyes are rimmed in black, except in the chocolate-colored dogs, who have brown-rimmed peepers.
The Havanese dog breed also has a luxuriously soft and silky, long flowing coat. It’s also light, keeping the dog cooler, which was an advantage in subtropical Cuba. The breed comes in a wide variety of colors and markings. Some of these include white, chocolate, black and tan, black, gold brindle, fawn and red brindle.
Not only is the Havanese a cute, loving little dog, but this pup is also highly intelligent. These outgoing canines make for cheerful, sociable pets with a bit of a mischievous streak.
The Havanese is good with kids, and their small size and larger-than-life personalities make these vivacious dogs a favorite with apartment dwellers. While this breed doesn’t require a lot of space, they do need an outlet for their high energy. A fenced backyard for interactive games, or simply tossing toys down a hallway, will keep them happy.
The Havanese breed demands a lot of attention. This is a people-pleasing pooch, and left alone too long, they’ll become bored and unhappy. They want to go wherever you go and is small enough to be a portable pet.
Havanese dogs don’t typically bark a lot, unless bored, which also can increase chewing behaviors. Because Havanese are so amiable and outgoing, they also do well as therapy dogs.
Keeping Havanese Dogs Healthy: 5 Issues to Watch Out For
The Havanese is a relatively healthy small breed. Yet there are a few Havanese health issues to be aware of when considering adding this pup to your family.
Havanese dogs are bred to be with their people; when they are not, they can get very nervous. Separation anxiety is a condition where a dog becomes so distressed when left alone that they become destructive, howl, refuse to eat, pant and generally miserable. Separation anxiety can be addressed in adult dogs by working with a certified behaviorist, or by training puppies early.
Learn more about separation anxiety in dogs here.
The Havanese dog breed is known to have problems with luxating patella, where the kneecap pops in and out of place. Luxating patella can cause painful osteoarthritis. Surgical treatment is available, and keeping your Havanese thin to reduce wear and tear on the joint helps.
A portosystemic shunt is an inherited disease. It causes abnormal blood flow in the liver, which results in stunted growth, abnormal behavior such as disorientation, and seizures. Treatment is aimed at surgically correcting blood flow in the liver.
Cataracts form in the lens of the eye, causing the lens to go opaque. Cataracts can lead to blindness and glaucoma, but can be cured surgically.
Learn more about cataracts in dogs here.
Havanese dogs are susceptible to heart problems, including leaky mitral valves, which can cause coughing, pale gums, collapse and loss of energy. Medication is available to manage heart disease in dogs.
Caring for Your Havanese Dog
Havanese dogs are generally easy to care for. Whether you and your new pup reside in an apartment or a single-family home, here are a few tips on caring for this breed.
The Havanese has a thick, silky coat that doesn’t shed much. Clipping it short will prevent it from matting, but if you let it grow long, be prepared to brush your dog’s hair daily to prevent tangles. It is wise—and just plain adorable—to tie up their hair above and out of their eyes.
Tear staining is a common problem in lighter-colored Havanese dogs, so keep the hair around the eyes trimmed and use a wipe to clean the eyes daily, or consider utilizing a tear stain remover, like TropiClean Spa Tear Stain Cleanser for Dogs. Trim the nails monthly.
This breed is also known for experiencing problems with tartar and gingivitis, so brushing their teeth daily or every other day with enzymatic toothpaste and a finger brush is recommended to reduce the incidence of gum disease.
Learn how to properly brush your dog’s teeth here.
How much you are feeding a Havanese is just as important as what type of food you are feeding. Obesity is a common problem in small breeds and can predispose dogs to other diseases, such as arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. You usually can tell that a Havanese is at a healthy weight when you can feel their ribs with your hands but not see them. Use the feeding chart on the dog food bag or can as a guide to how much to feed your Havanese. It also is helpful to talk with your veterinarian about dog food portions and for a weight recommendation for your Havanese.
The best dog food for Havanese dogs is a complete and balanced commercially formulated dog food, like Purina Pro Plan Savor Adult Shredded Blend Small Breed Dry Dog Food or Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Small Breed Adult Dry Dog Food. It’s important to note that every dog is an individual, so your veterinarian can help you determine the best dog food for your Havanese, as well as foods to avoid.
If you choose to cook at home for your dog or feed raw, consult with a veterinary nutritionist to formulate a complete and balanced diet.
Even though the Havanese is an indoor dog, the breed has a decent amount of energy and will need walks and playtime with their humans every day. Plan to walk your Havanese and/or play with them for at least 30-45 minutes every day to help maintain the health of your dog.
Training Your Havanese
Most Havanese dogs are social butterflies who love meeting new people, although some can tend toward shyness. Early socialization and visiting new places is important in helping grow their confidence. A lightweight leash and harness work best when out and about with this small dog.
Havanese training comes easily as these pups are typically smart and highly trainable, and love learning tricks that make their humans smile. They can even excel at competitive obedience and agility trials. While treat rewards work great, your Havanese may be so eager to please that praise is enough to inspire the learning.
Like many small dogs, Havanese potty training can come slowly. Crate training can help enormously by convincing your Havanese that in order to get attention and freedom, they must “go” in the right spot. Purchase a size-appropriate crate, like the MidWest iCrate Collapsible Wire Dog Crate, and learn about crate training here.
Also, it’s hard for your dog to signal a need to potty when they’re being carried everywhere, so be sure to give them plenty of four-paws-on-the-floor time.
Punishing your dog for pottying in the house may only prompt them to better hide their accidents next time. Instead, “pay” them with a toy or treat when they eliminate in the right spot, and couple this with a “potty command.” These dogs dislike getting their long, silky fur wet, though, so be sure your “potty spot” offers some cover from rainy weather. That can make the difference between potty training success and having indoor accidents.
For potential pet parents seeking a small dog who’s friendly, smart and playful, the Havanese is a fabulous choice. Work with a knowledgeable and reliable breeder, adopt from a Havanese rescue or keep an eye out for the breed at your local shelter to find your next furry family member.