Perched on a lap, trotting jauntily at the end of a leash, or working his way through a repertoire of tricks, the Havanese is typical of the dogs bred specifically as companions - he basks in human attention and affection.
A rare breed closely related to the Bichon Frisé, the Bolognese, and the Maltese, the elfin Havanese was favored by the ruling class in Cuba. The Bichon-type dogs originated in the Mediterranean; the dogs that founded the Havanese branch of the family arrived in Cuba with merchants hoping to open trade with Cuban businessmen. The dogs were presented to the wives as gifts, and they rapidly became symbols of wealth in the island nation. The dogs were bred only for the ruling class; peasants were forbidden to own them. The only way to acquire a Havanese was to get one as a gift - they were never bred for sale.
The Cuban Revolution drove the island country's wealthy families into exile, and many left their dogs behind. However, some did make it to the US, and they have been the foundation of the breed's resurgence. About 4000 Havanese live in the US today.
The Havanese is a sturdy dog measuring 8.5-11.5 inches tall and, although the standard does not specify weight, he weighs seven to 13 pounds. He is a bit longer than tall, has drop ears, a broad skull, and flat cheeks.
His body has rounded ribs, a straight topline rising slightly over the rump, and a tail that rides over the back. His jaunty gait springs from well-constructed shoulders and legs.
The double coat is the dog's most prominent physical feature. The outer coat can be curly or wavy. Both outer and inner layers of the coat are soft, and the hair is long (six-to-eight inches in mature adults) and profuse. Unlike some other long-coated small dogs, the Havanese is shown in a natural coat - no trimming is allowed except on the feet, and the hair may not be parted down the middle of the back. However, braids are allowed on either side of the head. Unlike the always-white Bichon, the Havanese can be white, cream, champagne, gold, black, blue, silver, or chocolate or a combination of two or three colors.
The biggest drawback to the breed is his coat. Those who do not have the time or the commitment for serious coat care should find another breed or realize that the dog will spend a lot of time in a grooming salon. The Havanese should be groomed two-to-four times each week. The coat should be brushed or combed in layers from the skin outward. In winter and in dry climates, a light oil or coat dressing prevents static buildup and split hairs.
The coat must be free of mats before bathing. Mats can be removed by moistening with coat oil and rubbing with the fingers until the tangle separates. The coat should be shampooed liberally and rinsed completely before application of a coat conditioner according to instructions on the container.
Pet owners can brush the coat frequently to keep it free of mats, then take their Havanese to a groomer for bathing.
The Havanese Club of America surveys breeders to discover the types and frequency of diseases in their dogs. When progressive retinal atrophy, an eye disease that can cause blindness, was discovered in the breed, HCA required
breeders to have their dogs' eyes tested by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation and to include the CERF number on pedigrees.
Havanese are also susceptible to juvenile cataracts, which can also impair vision, and luxating patellas (slipping kneecaps), ear infections, tearstains, and dry skin. To reduce the incidence of luxating patellas, HCA requires that
puppy knees be checked before the age of six months; any puppy showing signs of the condition cannot be used for breeding.
The Havanese is a hardy dog overall, with a tolerance for a wide range of temperatures and a relatively long life-span of 12-15 years.
Breed fancier Schalene Dagutis describes the breed temperament in her Havanese FAQ: "The Havanese is truly one of the most delightful of the small breeds. They are exceptionally intelligent and quick-witted. Their love of attention comes from their adorable little "show-off" natures. They are curious and busy constantly. They are natural clowns and enjoy interludes of rowdy, madcap play.
"The Havanese's expression tells you that they miss nothing going on around them; they love to sit somewhere high - especially on the back of sofas and chairs. They never let strangers approach unwelcomed. They thrive on human companionship, and are at their best as a participating member of the family. They love children and will play tirelessly with them at any game in which children delight."
The Havanese is a good breed for first-time dog owners and for families with young children, and he is smart and agile enough for those who want a small dog for obedience or agility competitions. He does well in multiple-dog households, for he is not a scrapper, and he's a delightful apartment dog because he's easy to train and not noisy.
Those who would like to add a Havanese to their family must be patient. The breed club has jealously guarded their dogs, and puppies are not plentiful. The AKC registered only 941 adult dogs and 355 litters in 2000. For information about the breed and to locate a breeder visit the AKC website.
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