Get to Know the Havanese: The Cutie from Cuba

Cuba's national dog might be its favorite export -- he's certainly the most adorable one!

Caroline Coile  |  Feb 10th 2014

With the tousled look a of a street urchin, you might not realize at first that the Havanese was once the preferred breed of Cuban sugar barons and aristocracy. Because despite his high ancestry, this is a humble and friendly fellow who’s glad to treat you like royalty.

More interesting things about the Havanese

  • The Havanese descends from the barbichon, or bichon, family of Mediterranean breeds — although the Havanese itself originated in Cuba. The breed’s direct ancestor was the Blanquito de la Habana (or “little white dog of Havana”) which in turn descended from the Bichon Tenerife.
  • The Havanese has also been called the Havana Silk Dog or Spanish Silk Poodle.
  • Their ancestors came to Cuba with ship traders from Tenerife. They became popular as pets of the wealthy and were first called Habeneros. When they were taken back to Europe they were called White Cubans. They became extremely popular in Europe. Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens even owned them.
  • The Havanese is the national dog of Cuba, and the only breed originating in Cuba.
  • The coat of the Havanese is lightweight, offering insulation against the hot Cuban climate.
  • The breed came to America in the 1950s.
  • During the Cuban Revolution, many wealthy Cubans were able to relocate to the United States and Europe, but only a few could bring their dogs with them.

  • In the 1970s, the North American gene pool consisted of only 11 dogs. Additional Havanese were imported from other countries, and the breed has slowly made a comeback.
  • The AKC recognized the Havanese in 1999.
  • Their adorable looks and personality have made them one of the fastest growing AKC breeds in terms of popularity. They are currently the 28th most popular AKC breed, up from 64th most popular a decade ago.
  • Owners include Barbara Walters, Venus Williams, Donald Trump Jr., Heidi Klum, Robert Verdi, Queen Anne, and Ernest Hemingway.
  • The Havanese is actually a dwarf breed, sharing the same genetic mutation for dwarfism found in Dachshunds and Basset Hounds.
  • The coat is non-shedding, but requires a lot of brushing. It is one of the few breeds that forms natural cords, or long mop-like felted mats resembling yarn. It is the only AKC corded breed that isn’t always a solid color. Most Havanese are brushed out, rather than corded, however.

  • When competing in dog shows, the Havanese coat is supposed to look tousled and slightly unkempt, and should never be perfectly coifed. But it should, of course, be clean and tangle free!
  • The breed has been used as a circus performer and is an adept service and therapy dog.
  • The Havanese is in the AKC Toy group. No Havanese has won the Toy group at the Westminster dog show — but then, he hasn’t been competing there for very long.

Do you own a Havanese? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.