Ana Oliveira
Dr Ana Oliveira (DVM, University of Lisbon)
Photo of adult Havanese

The Havanese is a toy dog breed from Cuba. Havanese dogs are small and compact, with a stunning silky coat and a cheerful attitude that makes them a great choice for a companion dog. They have a characteristic springy gait that goes along with their spirited personality and friendliness.

Curious, funny, and charming, Havanese dogs love people and other animals. They make good therapy and assistance dogs, as well as performing artists and athletes. These “Velcro dogs”, as they are often nicknamed, can suffer from separation anxiety, as they are very dependable and may become overly attached to their owners.

About & History

The Havanese are named after Havana, the capital of Cuba, where the breed developed in the 1800s. Brought by the Spanish colonists from the island of Tenerife, the ancestors of the Havanese belonged to the Bichon family, which includes the Bichon Frise, the Maltese, the Coton de Tulear, and the Bolognese. Some say that all Bichon dogs descend from the Tenerife dog, although some writings by Aristotle point to Malta as their place of origin.

Being an island, and due to trade restrictions imposed by Spain, Cuba remained isolated for long periods of time, which led to interbreeding. This allowed the Havanese to fully develop as a standalone breed. Loyal and friendly, the Havanese became the favourite companion of the Cuban aristocracy in the 19th and early 20th century. Wealthy Europeans visiting Cuba also fell in love with this breed, taking some dogs back to Europe, where it became trendy. Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens were known fanciers of the breed.

It was not until the Cuban Revolution in 1959 that the number of Havanese dogs started declining, reaching the brink of extinction. By then, some rich Cuban families fled to the US and took 11 Havanese dogs with them, which are thought to comprise most of today’s gene pool of the Havanese. In the 1970s, thanks to a couple who started breeding them, the Havanese breed was brought back to life, being recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1996. Nowadays, the Havanese dog breed is rising in popularity, being considered one of the fastest growing breeds in the US.

Easy to train and people-oriented, Havanese dogs are versatile and may be used in different activities and jobs. Not only is it a devoted companion lap dog, but it is also used as a therapy and assistance dog, particularly for the deaf, as well as a performing dog in circuses and other performing shows. They are also used as trackers, and they even help in mold and termite detection. Havanese dogs are also good sporting dogs and athletes, excelling at obedience and agility competitions, as well as flyball and freestyle.


Havanese Large Photo

The Havanese dog is a short-legged, small, and sturdy dog with an abundant coat that comes in all colours. Their coat may be solid or have markings (sable, brindle or tricolour). Some of the most popular solid colours are:

  • White
  • Cream
  • Fawn
  • Red
  • Chocolate Brown

Havanese dogs are slightly longer than tall, they have an abundant silky coat with a soft and light outercoat that acts as a cooler and protects them from the sun. Their tail is arched and has a long plume; their eyes are dark and expressive. Havanese dogs are light, with weights ranging from 3 to 6 kg (7-14 lb), and short (23 to 27 cm or 9 to 11 inches tall).

Character & Temperament

Havanese dogs are smart, lively and affectionate. Considered by some as an ideal family pet, Havanese dogs love people and crave their attention. They are particularly fond of children, with whom they love to have fun and play. The Havanese dog breed is known for inventing its own games and showing off its tricks and abilities to those around it. They are also friendly towards other animals, cats included. They have an amicable nature and sweet disposition, being a devoted companion and lap dog.

The Havanese has strong social needs and cannot stand being alone for a long time. They need to be close to their family and they often choose one person as their favourite, following him or her around all the time. They are often called “Velcro dogs” because of their overattachment to people. When alone for long periods of time, they suffer from separation anxiety, becoming extremely unhappy and bored, which may lead to destructive behaviours and excessive barking.

Besides their small size, Havanese dogs are quite active and they love games. It is not hard to meet their energy needs, though, as an active game or playtime around the house will suffice, and no vigorous exercise is required. Of course, they will love a long walk to explore their surroundings, as they are curious dogs. Their favourite game is shredding paper, especially toilet paper, which has the potential to keep them entertained for hours. They also like to find high places to stay and just watch the world around them.

Friendliness aside, Havanese dogs can also act mischievously and they know how to manipulate their owners to get what they want. They are easy to train, except for housetraining, for which dogs of the Bichon family are known to struggle. They are not a dominant breed and despite their easy-going temperament, they can be shy with strangers, so early socialisation is encouraged. They are adaptable and easy to carry around, so they will love to go everywhere their family goes and participate in all activities.


Photo of Havanese puppy

Havanese dogs are not very difficult to train, as they are eager to please and love to learn new tricks. Because they need their owner’s attention and approval so much, they will learn fast in order to impress. Housetraining, however, is an exception, as this dog breed is known for being quite slow learning where their bathroom is. Crate training is a must.

Harsh treatment or punishment does not work with these dogs, as they will shut down completely. Food rewards and turning the training session into a game will work best for the Havanese to keep engaged. Because they can be shy, socialisation is very important, so they grow up to be sociable and friendly with strangers.


Havanese dogs live long lives of 14 to 16 years. They are generally healthy but may be prone to certain diseases, such as:


Hypothyroidism is a health condition of the thyroid gland in which there is a deficiency in the production of the thyroxine hormone. A study claimed that the Havanese has the second highest rate of 140 breeds. The degree of the symptoms vary and these include weak hair and thinning coat, weight gain with no increase in food intake, lethargy, and sensitivity to cold and heat. Hypothyroidism is diagnosed by performing a blood test and treatment is based on thyroid replacement therapy.

Luxating Patella

Common in many small and toy breeds, luxating patella or patellar luxation is a condition of the kneecap, in which it slips out of place, causing pain and lameness. It may affect both legs, or just one. Though it is not a very serious health issue, surgery may be recommended.


Cataracts in the Havanese breed may appear as early as 1 year old, though the most common age is 3-4 years. It is a heritable condition linked to a recessive gene, which means that both parents need to carry the defective gene for the offspring to be affected. The earlier cataracts are diagnosed, the better the prognosis. Ultimately, cataracts cause blindness.

Liver Disease

Liver disease in Havanese dogs results from a congenital problem called portosystemic shunt. This is a condition in which blood does not go through the liver, bypassing it and flowing directly into the circulatory system, with no detoxification.

This is a normal condition during fetal development. Upon birth, the bypass closes off. In dogs with a liver shunt, the bypass does not close and symptoms of poisoning occur. Early diagnosis is crucial and treatment is surgical.

Heart Disease

The most common heart problem in Havanese dogs is cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes less efficient in pumping the blood into the system. Symptoms include lethargy, weight loss, cardiac cough, especially after exercise and fatigue. There is treatment available to halt the progression of the disease and alleviate symptoms.


Havanese dogs may suffer from allergies due to a hypersensitivity to allergens in the environment. Dogs with allergies will get itchy and have red skin, some may have red and watery eyes. Allergies may also occur due to certain allergens in food.

Skin allergies may be treated with antihistaminic drugs, in order to alleviate the symptoms but avoiding the allergen is the best way of preventing allergic reactions, be it an environmental or food allergen.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Havanese dogs are quite active for a toy dog breed. They have plenty of energy to spend and love to play, especially with children. Nevertheless, meeting their exercise needs is not hard, as their small size allows for short exercise sessions indoors. Still, they enjoy their daily walk and having fun in the park or backyard as much as any other dog. They have been known to be good athletes, too.


This is a demanding dog breed when it comes to grooming. The Havanese dog has a silky long coat that must be regularly combed, as it is prone to tangling and matting. They should be combed at least twice a week, although daily combing would be best. Trimming is also a good option, giving the dog an everlasting puppy looks. The Havanese sheds little, making it a great choice of pet for allergic people.

Havanese dogs tend to have excess tears and tear staining, probably due to hairs coming into their eyes. Wearing small braids will keep hair out of their eyes and are a good solution to prevent watery eyes. Because Havanese dogs have dropped ears, owners should check their ears and clean them regularly to prevent infections that result from the accumulation of water and dirt.

Famous Havanese

Havanese dogs are popular pets among celebrities and famous people.

  • Queen Anne and Queen Victoria were fanciers of the Havanese breed
  • Charles Dickens, the English writer, was said to own a Havanese
  • Ernest Hemingway, the American writer, also had a Havanese dog


Havanese dogs have many desirable traits that make them a favourite for cross breeding:

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