AKC Toy Group


Photo copyright © MyDogPhoto.com. All rights reserved.

Photo copyright © MyDogPhoto.com. All rights reserved.

The charming little Havanese is a member of the long-haired Bichon family of dogs, which includes the Bichon Frise, Maltese, Bolognese, and Coton de Tulear. Originally bred in pre-Christian Europe as lap dogs for the aristocracy, long-haired Bichons were brought to Cuba by Spanish sea captains as presents for wealthy Cuban women. Eventually these dogs became what we now know as the Havanese, small, fluffy companions that also sometimes doubled as herders for the family poultry flock. By the 1950s, when political unrest was taking its toll on Cuba, only a very few people still had Havanese and the breed was considered nearly extinct. Luckily, a couple in Colorado started actively looking for and breeding Havanese that had been smuggled out of Cuba, and saved the breed from extinction. Today, some 4,000 Havanese live in the United States, and they are best known for being perky, affectionate, and especially good with children. The AKC admitted the Havanese to the Toy Group in 2001.


The playful little Havanese is a sturdy dog that is covered with long, untrimmed, silky, wavy hair (an overly curly coat is undesirable). The coat can be of many colors and patterns, including cream, gold, red, champagne gray, black, blue, silver, chocolate, white, brown, or any combination of these colors, plus brindle or sable patterns. The coat may look hot, but because it is soft and light, it actually reflects heat and is an adaptation to several centuries of living in the tropics. Likewise, the heavy facial hair protects the dog’s eyes from harsh tropical light. (That’s why you never see Havanese dogs in the show ring with their hair up in a little topknot, although some appear with two little braids over the eyes.) The coat may also be corded into long tassels. The dark, almond-shaped eyes add to the soft, intelligent, and slightly mischievous expression. The nose should be broad and squarish. A scissors bite is ideal; the pigment on lips and nose should be uniformly black for all dogs except the chocolates, which should have dark brown pigmentation.

The topline rises slightly from withers to rump due to the short upper arm of the dog, and the high-set, plumed tail curls loosely over the back. The unique Havanese gait is springy and lively, and these dogs should flash the pads of their front feet when gaiting. The Havanese is exceedingly cute, but should never appear pampered or fragile. Their general look should be one of sturdiness, agility, and a willingness to play.

Key Facts

  • Height:  8-1/2 to 11-1/2 in.
  • Size:  Very small
  • Weight:  8 to 14 lbs.
  • Availability:  May take some effort to find
  • Talents:  Watchdog, agility, competitive obedience, tricks, and therapy dog


Though small, the Havanese is sturdy enough to be a child’s playmate. The breed is vulnerable to eye diseases, such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and juvenile heritable cataracts, as well as patellar luxation (dislocated knee caps), Legg-Calve Perthes disease, chondrodyplasia, unilateral and bilateral deafness, and hip dysplasia. To check for cataracts, the Havanese should be examined annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist and CERF (Canine Eye Research Foundation) certified. All breeding stock should have recent CERF or OFA eye certification, OFA or PennHIP x-rays of hips and patellas at age 2, and BAER (hearing) tests. It is recommended that all puppies be BAER tested before being sold. (Hip and BAER tests are done once, unlike the CERF exam, which must be done every year.) The dog is shown either groomed or corded, but never clipped or trimmed, except minimally around the corners of the eyes, the genitals, and the anus, for hygienic purposes. The coat needs brushing approximately every other day, and the dog should be bathed about every two weeks. May be difficult to housebreak. Many light-colored Havanese experience tear staining. Daily gentle cleansing and saline eye drops can help, but there can be many causes for the staining.


The operative word here is “charm.” Smart, playful, and bouncy. Enthusiastic companions for children and other pets in the home, and exceptionally easy to train. Despite their energetic nature, Havanese don’t need a lot of exercise, and can be quite happy living in an apartment or a house with a very small yard. Havanese are very curious. They enjoy showing off, and love to romp around in what one breeder calls “madcap” play. This love of play has, at times, made them popular circus dogs. Havanese are very needy dogs and should not be left alone all day; they must be with their people or they will not be happy. Another dog in the home to keep the lone Havanese company may help reduce the stress, but it’s best if someone can be around at least part of the day.


  • Children:  Good with children
  • Friendliness:  Fairly friendly with strangers
  • Trainability:  Very easy to train
  • Independence:  Very dependent, needs people a lot
  • Dominance:  Low
  • Other Pets:  Generally good with other pets
  • Combativeness:  Friendly with other dogs
  • Noise:  Average barking
  • Indoors:  Moderately active indoors
  • Owner:  Good for novice owners


  • Grooming:  Regular grooming needed
  • Trimming and Stripping:  Some trimming and/or stripping of the coat needed (little skill required)
  • Coat:  Long coat
  • Shedding:  Average shedder
  • Exercise:  A little exercise needed
  • Jogging:  A poor jogging companion
  • Apartments:  Good for apartment living
  • Outdoor Space:  Does all right without a yard
  • Climate:  Does well in most climates
  • Longevity:  Average (10 to 12 years)

Useful Links

AKC® Havanese Breed Standard


Havanese Breed Club


Search for a Breeder


Rescue Organizations


Books about the Havanese


Havanese Gifts