PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: June 15, 2009

The Havanese is Cuba’s only native breed and is also the country’s National Dog. Friendly and light yet sturdy, they’re popular family pets. 

Physical Characteristics

The Havanese is a short-legged, small, and sturdy dog with a gentle expression. The happy temperament of this dog is enhanced by it exceptional gait, which is springy and lively. The double coat of the Havanese has a soft undercoat and outer layer. The abundant outer coat is about 6 to 8 inches long, and can be straight or curly. The curly coat type can be found in just about any color and is usually corded.

Personality and Temperament

Fond of clowning and playing, the Havanese showers affection on children, strangers, its human family, pets, other dogs, and everyone else. It is also always willing to please and has a tendency to be vocal. This inquisitive and busy breed is happiest when it manages to gain a lot of attention.


The Havanese is not meant for outdoor living. A good game session or a short walk can meet the exercise needs of this energetic dog. Coat care involves brushing twice or four times every week. As it is non-shedding, its loose hairs get trapped in the mass of outer hairs. If they are not combed, they can get tangled.


The Havanese, which has an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years, may suffer from minor health problems like patellar luxation. Occasionally chondrodysplasia, elbow dysplasia, Legg-Perthes, portacaval shunt, deafness, and mitral valve insufficiency are noticed in the breed. To identify some of these health issues early on, your veterinarian may recommend regular knee, eye, hip, hearing, and cardiac tests for the dog.

History and Background

The Havanese (or the Havana Silk Dog) belongs to the Barbichon or the Bichon group of small dogs, which developed in the Mediterranean region in ancient times. Spanish traders gifted such dogs to Cuban women in order to maintain trade relationships. Wealthy Cuban families also pampered these small dogs as adorable pets.

Once introduced to Europe, the breed was referred to as Habeñeros or White Cubans. They gained the attention of fanciers as popular performing dogs and as pets of influential people. Their popularity as pets, however, declined, and many owners began using them as circus and trick dogs all over Europe.

The number of Havanese dogs greatly reduced over the years, nearly becoming extinct in both its native land and Europe. During the 1950s and '60s, when there were just a handful of Havanese left in Cuba, three Cuban families left with their dogs for the United States. These Havanese dogs would later become progenitors to the modern Havanese.

The Havanese gradually became popular among dog fanciers and pet lovers, and in 1996, the first Havanese was displayed in an American Kennel Club (AKC) show ring. The AKC officially recognized the breed in 1999, classifying it under the Toy Group.

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