Havanese History

"My little dog - A heartbeat at my feet." - Edith Wharton



The Havanese is a very old breed with an oft-debated history that is as colorful as the little dogs themselves. While the breed was established and written about by the 1700s, it was known by many different names. However, the description of a small, silky-coated dog has never changed over the past three centuries. In 1993, it was officially designated the National Dog of Cuba. Although it is their only native breed, it is not indigenous to the island. (Cuban postage stamp of a Havanese.)

The Encyclopedia of Dogs by Jones & Hamilton states that the ancestors of the Havanese traveled to Cuba during the days of the Spanish Empire. The Lampton's Observers Book of Rare Breeds writes: "Toy Havanese" — A member of the Bichon group. Essentially a toy dog, long-coated and spirited. Believed by some to be a descendant of the Maltese and Tenerife Dog. They are for the most part companion and trick dogs."

In the ten years following Columbus’ arrival in 1492, settlers going to Cuba were farmers primarily from Tenerife (the largest of the Canary Islands) and the "Segundo's" or second sons of the Spanish aristocracy. Ship's logs reveal that small dogs were brought along on these early voyages. It makes sense that these would have been the common ancestor to the Bichon family of dogs.  However, Cubans think the breed came from Malta and Bologna. In any case, they developed without much outside influence.

These loving dogs, much admired for their diminutive size, soon found their way into aristocratic palaces and estates. Cubans believe these dogs were first brought to their shores by sea captains who were thought to have presented them as gifts in return for the hospitality of wealthy Señora’s.

By the 18th century, Cuba had become an elegant cultural center and popular travel destination of the European aristocracy. On their return to Europe, socially well-connected owners brought back with them their little Dog of Havana. It’s no surprise that these charming pampered dogs found favor in the courts of Spain, France, and England! Many paintings from the period prominently feature a favorite Havanese dog. The dogs were exhibited in the early European shows and type was well-established. (1529 portrait of Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, considered an early portrayal of the descendants of the modern Havanese.)

As early as 1700, Britain’s Queen Anne appears to be the earliest Havanese owner of note- after seeing a troupe of them perform at Court she obtained two for herself. Then in the 1800s, Queen Victoria, an avid animal lover, acquired two directly from Cuba. They were also popular among Britain’s literati. Charles Dickens had one named Timmy of whom he wrote about. The philosopher Thomas Carlyle also wrote about his dog Nero, who lies buried in his garden to this day.

Meanwhile, the Cuban aristocracy of sugar barons sold out to a new class of professionals. The adaptable little dog of Havana then became treasured family dogs, watching over both children and small poultry flocks kept for eggs in suburban Havana. Yet the breed was not particularly popular in Cuba during most of the twentieth century.

The Cuban revolution in 1959 greatly threatened the breed, with the class owning Havanese being the first to flee the country leaving their beloved dogs behind. Eleven dogs were smuggled into America after the revolution and by the end of the 1970s, a gene pool was being rebuilt. In 1979, the Havanese Club of America was formed.

In 1996, the AKC recognized Havanese in the Toy Group. Its popularity soared as Americans discovered the charms of this little Cuban dog. All the Havanese in the world today, except for those in Eastern Europe and Cuba, originated from those unwitting little immigrants.

Throughout this fascinating history, Havanese breed type has remained virtually unchanged from the darling little dogs seen in those grand 18th-century paintings.     


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Havanese are happy, personable dogs that get along with almost everyone, including people of all ages and other animals. They are long-lived, sturdy, and attentive with a kind loving spirit.

Known for their comical antics, Havanese love to play! Yet they have a serious side, too. Living for affection and cuddles, they are faithful and devoted companions eager to please, bonding readily with their human family.

They are quite smart! With high trainability and enjoyment in learning new things, they are quick to understand what is expected of them. Havanese are excellent candidates for activities like Obedience, Agility, and Nosework. Or just cute tricks at home! With watchful consistency, they are fairly easy to housetrain. Did we mention smart? They can learn each toy by name!

Havanese were purpose-bred to be human companions so it isn’t any wonder that they are happiest when a cherished member of the family. In fact, they can become standoffish without enough interaction from their human family, so are decidedly not backyard ornaments.  Discerning, they might be slightly aloof with strangers but warm up quickly. Havanese make wonderful Emotional Support or Therapy Dogs!

Their alert and lively expression tell you they don’t miss much going on in their environment, often choosing a favorite elevated perch! This means they are fine watchdogs, yet being non-aggressive and small they are definitely not guard dogs. They do alert bark but are not generally problem barkers.

Though the Havanese is considered a Toy breed, they are not meant to be a fragile dog. They are small but muscular, and lively with great stamina.

The Havanese has a double coat of long, luxuriant outer hair over their bodies. Allergy-friendly with no doggy odor, Havanese are great for people with mild dog allergies, most tolerating them very well. Non-shedding means they do not go through the typical seasonal shed that other breeds do. As the undercoat loosens it can get tangled with the outer layer and develop mats however basic grooming a few times each week will keep them tangle-free and looking regal. Many people choose to have their Havanese groomed into a short coat for ease of maintenance.

The Havanese comes in an amazing palette of colors (visit the Havanese ABC’s link below to see them all) and patterns not seen in any other dog breed- white, cream, champagne, gold, red, apricot, black, gray, silver, sable, blue, chocolate, and anywhere in between; Irish, Pied, Parti- and Tri-colored- to name a few! They can have solid or broad markings of any of these.

Havanese ABC's.

AKC breed standard

Havanese Club of America

Havanese Fancier's of Canada

"Rare and Designer Havanese"


Country of Origin: Cuba
Type: Companion Dog
Height: 8½ - 11½ inches

Weight: 7 - 15 lbs.

Life Span: 14 - 16 years.
First Registered by the AKC: 1996 

Group: Toy Group

AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 23 of 193 (as of 2020)

With Children: Generally wonderful with children. 
With Pets: Good with other pets.
Special Skills: Therapy and Emotional Support dogs. They excel in Agility, Tricks, and Obedience.
Watchdog: High. Havanese are very alert. They will bark to alert that someone is coming to the door.
Guard dog: Low. Non-aggressive. Although they have been known to defend, they are small.
Activity: Medium 

Care and Training:  Havanese requires moderate exercise thus play sessions are an easy outlet for their energy. Mental stimulation is important, as with any dog.
Learning Rate: High.

Obedience: High.

Problem Solving: High.
Special Needs: Semi-constant human companionship and regular grooming are musts.
Living Environment: Indoors! They are not meant to be kept outside. The best situation for a Havanese is an individual or family who can spend a lot of time with it.
Health Issues: Mainly healthy and hardy. Concerns can be juvenile cataracts, cherry eye, and luxating patellar; cherry eye. "Cherry eye" is when the membrane at the inner corner of the eye becomes prolapsed and bulges. This is mostly an aesthetic condition that ophthalmologists do not usually recommend surgery to repair; however it is easily correctable via minor surgery, or sometimes with an eye ointment.