The national dog of Cuba was once known as the Blanquito de la Habana (“little white dog of Havana”) or the Havana Silk Dog for his soft, flowing locks. Now known simply as the Havanese, this toy breed is smart, affectionate, and loves to clown around. The Havanese doesn’t need much space and he doesn’t require a lot of exercise; he’s a portable lap dog that fits well into the lives of people living in cities and apartments.
“The Havanese is very popular,” says Scott Neabore, DVM, who owns Neabore Veterinary Clinic in Haddonfield, N.J. “I often see Havanese mixed with other things, like poodles and Cavaliers. It’s a nice little small-breed dog.” Common hybrids include the Havachon (Havanese plus bichon frise), Hava-Apso (Havanese plus Lhasa apso) and poovanese (poodle plus Havanese), and many others.
Their long, fluffy coats tend to hide just how small Havanese dogs—and Havanese puppies—are. Under that luxurious mane, the breed stands at just 8.5 to 11 inches high at the shoulder, and weighs 7 to 13 pounds. The body is a bit longer than it is tall, and the tail is set high and arches over the back. The soft, wavy coat, which comes in many different colors, is sometimes “corded,” or formed into dreadlocks. A Havanese’s large, dark brown eyes seem to glint with a hint of mischief, cluing passersby in to his playful, intelligent nature. The walk of the Havanese is distinctive in its bounciness; that spring in the step first manifests in puppies, and doesn’t disappear with age.
Havanese puppies have a tendency to change colors, with their coats darkening, lightening, or changing hue entirely around 1 year old. Because of that, it’s not always possible to predict what a puppy might look like as an adult.
Charming is an understatement when it comes to the Havanese. This smart, sweet, eager-to-please, and easy-to-train dog is a natural extrovert that loves entertaining. He’s an excellent addition to a family, and gets along well with children and pets of all sizes. This dog’s loving nature also makes him popular as a therapy dog and emotional support animal. Despite his diminutive size, a Havanese can be an excellent watchdog, alerting his owner to any potential threats.
Havanese dogs will be happy in a studio apartment, a sprawling mansion, or anywhere in-between. Mostly, these sociable animals want to have others by their side and prefer being in a lap to pretty much any other state. If left alone for long periods of time, a Havanese pup can get bored, and barking can become an issue (although Neabore says this breed does tend to bark less than many other small dog breeds). The breed is an excellent choice for seniors, families, and others looking for a constant companion. While the Havanese is energetic, he’s not especially active (he generally gets the workout he needs just bouncing around the house), so owners looking for canine camaraderie while hiking, backpacking, camping, and other outdoor endeavors may want to consider other options.
Havanese dogs respond well to training. It’s an excuse to spend time with—and please—their owners, and positive reinforcement works well with this sensitive breed. Neabore warns, however, not to overdo it with treats. With small dogs, a little indulgence goes a long way, and as such a Havanese can easily become obese. “People tend to feed them a lot of treats, and they don’t realize that giving a 12-pound dog a potato chip is like you eating a whole bag of potato chips,” he says. “They tend to get overweight more easily than … a large-breed dog.”
He adds that smaller breeds are naturally more fragile; if a Havanese dog is stepped on or dropped, injury may easily occur. So owners need to be especially careful when handling them and even when walking around the house.
When you adopt this sprightly pup, you can expect it to be around for a long time—the Havanese lifespan is 14 to 16 years. While this breed is known to be fairly healthy, it is prone to a few diseases, including deafness, eye disorders, heart disease, and bone and joint issues. Havanese owners should talk to their veterinarian about potential issues and how to minimize risks.
In addition, as a small breed, Havanese can be susceptible to dental issues, says Neabore, and regular teeth-cleaning at the vet’s office—or brushing teeth at home—can help. “These small-breed dogs have the same number of teeth as any other dog, including those giant breeds, but they’re all smooshed into a tiny little mouth. They get a lot of plaque and tartar between the teeth, so they get dental disease really easily,” Neabore says. “That’s something people need to pay really close attention to.”
Named for the capital city of Cuba—Havana—the Havanese dog was once commonly found in the laps of Cuban aristocrats and wealthy residents.
It’s thought that this small, entertaining breed was brought to Cuba by Spanish or Italian seafarers sometime in the 1600s, according to the American Kennel Club. Ancestors of the Havanese hail from the Bichon family (he’s likely a cousin to the white Bichon frise), while the Havanese itself has been further refined thanks to centuries of doting by the Cuban elite. Many Havanese arrived in America in the late 1950s, under the arms of Cubans fleeing the Cuban Revolution.
- Two famous authors who have fallen for the Havanese are Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. (Dickens named his pup Tim.) Other famous owners include Barbara Walters, Jane Fonda, and Venus Williams.
- Thanks to their trainability, Havanese dogs have been used in jobs such as sniffing out mold and termites, and they can even herd chickens and ducks.
- These natural clowns also make excellent circus performers.