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Havanese: History and Appearance


There is little information available in regards to the history of the Havanese, and some of it is based on speculation.

The Havanese is a very old breed of dog, descending from the Bichon Family. It is believed that the Havanese comes from the Mediterranean in the first century, A.D., and may have originated in Malta. The breed was brought overseas to the New World by travelers. The theory is that these descendants came from Spain and Italy.

After arriving in the New World, the Havanese found a home in Cuba. Sea captains would bring the little dogs to Cuba as gift for the wives of wealthy merchants or businessmen. Several of these wives took to the little dogs, and began breeding them. They became the favored pet of wealthy Cubans. They were often referred to as the Havana Silk dog, because of their silky, long hair. The coat was believed to protect the breed from the hot sun, and was kept long for that reason.

As Colonial Cuba developed, the European aristocracy that visited the country took a liking to the little dogs. They became quite popular in 18th century England, and were owned by Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. They were shown in European dog shows as well. Some Havanese were even featured as circus performers.

In Cuba, the wealthy class that owned the breed was disappearing, and instead of being the pampered pet of the wealthy, the Havanese became a valued family pet.

The Havanese were brought to the United States by Cubans fleeing the Cuban Revolution. At that time, the breed was nearing extinction. It is believed that only 11 dogs were brought to the United States. Several Cuban families formed the Havanese Club of America and continued their efforts in preserving the breed. The Havanese began to re-emerge at the end of the 1970’s. Because the breed was preserved with little alteration to the standard, the Havanese is little changed from how it appeared all those years ago.

In 1996, the Havanese was accepted into the American Kennel Club. It was classified in the toy group in 1999.

Today, the Havanese is still fairly rare in the U.S. Because the dog is less common, puppies can be extremely expensive, and it is important to find a breeder selling a true Havanese, and not a mixed breed with a similar look.


The Havanese has its own signature features and appearance. Though it is a toy breed, it is somewhat sturdy. The Havanese is longer than it is tall, and has a flowing coat of silky hair. Still retaining much of the same appearance from its days in Cuba, the breed is expected have a certain “style.”

The Havanese should have a minimum height of 8 ½ inches, and a maximum height of 11 ½ inches. The dog is small, but should not have a “delicate” appearance. The dog’s profile is considered to be rectangular.

The Havanese has large, almond shaped eyes that are set a distance apart. The eye coloring is usually a deep chocolate brown. The dog has high set ears that are medium length and reach roughly half way to the nose when extended. The Havanese has an expressive way of lifting the ears when alert. The muzzle is rectangular and medium length as well. The nose is broad and should be dark brown. The pigmentation on the nose should be solid. The teeth meet in a scissors bite.

Despite its small size and “toy” status, the Havanese is a well-muscled and sturdy dog. The body of the Havanese is slightly longer than its height. The dog has a broad chest, and slight tuck up of the abdomen. The tail is high set and carried in a loose curl. The forelegs are straight, with round feet and arched toes. The hind legs should be muscular, straight, and the dewclaws should be removed.

The Havanese is known for its beautiful double coat. The entire coat is soft, with no coarse outer hair or wooly undercoat. Instead, the outer coat carries more weight, and the hair in both coats is silky and fine in texture. The hair should be plentiful, long, and slightly wavy. It should not be so thick or overgrown that it hides the dog’s profile.

The Havanese is one of the rare breeds where every coat color and variety is considered acceptable. Colors can be white, cream, brown, black, or any multi-colored pattern. The coat is expected to appear in its natural state, though it can be brushed or corded. Only a bit of trimming around the eyes and back end is suggested for hygienic purposes, and any other grooming should be done in a manner that is minimal and retains the dog’s natural look.

One of the most distinctive features on a Havanese is its gait. The dog has a “spring” to its step, which is considered typical and unique to the breed. The Havanese seems to “bounce” along when moving, though the movement is fluent and graceful. The Havanese has an expression that is alert, intelligent, and playful.

Showing a Havanese

When in the show ring, the Havanese must meet specific criteria. The dog must not fall either over or under the size requirements. It is important that the dog’s coat remains in its natural state, with silky, fine, wavy hair that is kept long. A coat that is coarse, wiry, overgrown, or overly groomed is cause for disqualification. It is also important that the dog has black or dark chocolate pigmentation in the eye rims, nose, and lips. The dog should have a sturdy appearance that suits its playful nature, but should never be heavy boned or delicately featured.

The gait of the Havanese is considered to be of the utmost importance, as it is considered a signature trait of the breed. The dog should be alert, and move freely with a “spring” to its step. It is expected to have a friendly temperament.

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