Havanese Dog Temperaments and Care

Updated on February 17, 2016
A female Havanese with her long fur trimmed in a "puppy cut."
A female Havanese with her long fur trimmed in a "puppy cut." | Source

You might not have heard of the Havanese or Havanese Silk Dog, but this breed has a long history that dates back to the 1500s. When Spanish colonists claimed what is now Cuba as a colony, they had brought their dogs with them, called Bichons. Over the centuries, these toy dogs came to be known as Havanese, named after the city of Havana. They developed their own characteristics and became the national dog of Cuba.

Their fur got long and silky, became wavy or curly with two layers. Some shorthaired Havanese do appear, but they are not considered show-worthy. The eye rims, nose, and lips are always black. Havanese were considered luxury items and the dogs of the upper class. When the Cuban Revolution took place in the 1950s, the upper class fled to America and Europe and brought their dogs along.

Today the Havanese is still considered a rare breed, but it is steadily growing in numbers and popularity. As well as show-dogs, Havanese are popular pets for apartment-dwellers. They are comparatively long-lived and healthy in comparison to some other toy breeds, though some are prone to dry skin and luxating patella. Their long, silky coats can be clipped for easier grooming. They don’t need a yard, but they will insist that you play with them indoors at least once a day.

The National Dog of Cuba, the Havanese, which took centuries to develop and was nearly wiped out during the mid-20th century. This is but a part of the story behind Havanese dogs, which today live mostly in the U.S. Because of the specific breeding that Havanese dogs have undergone, understanding the history of the Havanese may help you to better work with your own pet. Although some of the history is a bit hard to trace, there is plenty of good information out there about the Havanese standard to give you a good understanding of your dog.

Havanese Temperament

Havanese puppies.
Havanese puppies. | Source

With their almond-shaped eyes, small smile, and fine coat of long hair, Havanese standards seem more mischievous than cute. Their temperaments, however, are fun-loving and caring, making this breed one of the best for children and older adults. Bred into aristocracy in Cuba, the Havanese has gone through many career changes over the years, from companion to royalty to working poultry farms.

Because the Havanese breed is playful and alert, they are extremely trainable with a cooperative disposition. Typically, they will present little feistiness during training and the Havanese standard shows them to be very docile, friendly animals.

While small in stature—typically standing between 8-1/2-inches and 11-inches tall at the withers—the physical size of this toy dog breed belies its strength and muscular build. It can work as a guard dog. It will only barks if it thinks it is being approached by a stranger and will quickly stop the vocal warning upon learning that its owner acknowledges the approaching person.

Havanese Showdog Requirements

A Havanese show dog, with its fur left untrimmed, long, and brushed.
A Havanese show dog, with its fur left untrimmed, long, and brushed. | Source

In the show ring, the coats of the Havanese should appear brushed and clean. Any trimming of the coat, other than around the extreme bottom of the feet, will lose the dog points in competition. When judging the Havanese standards, its typical height will be between eight-and-a-half to 11-inches. Ideally, the animal should measure between nine and 10-and-a-half-inches, measured at the withers.

The profile of the dog should slope up slightly from the withers to the rump and the tail. It should be coated with hair to match the rest of the animal that curls downwards around its rump. The back, other than the slight rise, should be straight with no small arch in the middle. The tail should create a feather-like appearance with the hair falling either straight or to the side.

Coat types, according to Havanese standards, will be one of three types: smooth, curly, or wavy, with the most sought-after being soft and wavy. Some adults may have short hair. A short, tight curly coat can cost points in the Havanese standard competition.

The intelligent expression on a Havanese dog’s face will draw focus to the eyes. The eye pigment i is solid black around the rims, except on chocolate dogs whose eyes are rimmed in chocolate colors. A Havanese without black eye rims, except the chocolate, will not meet the Havanese standards for judging. The leather of their medium length ears should reach halfway to the nose and be set high on the head.

The ears, when the dog is on alert, will rise from their widest point on the skull to form a slight arch.

Care and Training

The Havanese dog is a very popular breed today, especially in the United States, where these puppies can sell for a premium price. This is good news to a breed that suffered a crisis in the 20th century, and has now come back with a vengeance.

One of the reasons that the Havanese dog was able to regain its popularity so effectively, is the fact that this dog makes a great companion or family pet for many. He can get along well with children and other pets in many cases, and despite his toy stature, he makes a pretty fierce and vocal watch dog. This breed is always on the hunt for someone to play with, and he needs plenty of quality time with his family, and playtime to burn off his abundant energy. A Havanese will remain playful and generally happy throughout his life, unlike some breeds that tend to get grumpier as they age. Havanese pups are fiercely loyal to their families, and have plenty of love to offer.

The Havanese dog is characterized by a submissive temperament that is intelligent and eager to please his master. Unfortunately for Havanese owners, this doesn’t always mean that these dogs housebreak quickly and easily. In fact, the opposite is often true, and Havanese tend to take longer to get through the process than other breeds. To assist in the process, some breeders are now recommending the use of a litter box that contains a hard, cylindrical paper pellet. This pellet can attract the dog to the box, encouraging the pup to use the box earlier and more often. This has become a popular method of housebreaking a number of toy breeds, including the Havanese.

Because this dog has a lot of energy, a fenced back yard will allow him a safe place to run and play. He will also want to spend plenty of time with his family, in play and cuddle time, so make sure you have the time to give him. A Havanese that does not receive sufficient attention from him family may become destructive.

Due to his fierce loyalty and courage, you may also find that your tiny Havanese pup will be an effective watchdog as well. While his size might keep him from looking too intimidating, his noise can be an effective deterrent to intruders. If you are interested in finding a Havanese puppy for your next family pet, make sure that you purchase your pup from a reputable breeder. This helps to ensure that you get a puppy that is healthy and well-bred.


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      Vivien 3 months ago

      To "proud owner of a havi" who paid $2500 and has a brother who has havi from same breeder. May I ask who the breeder is? Have you experienced any issues of aggression in either of these two dogs?


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      Joyce 11 months ago

      Andy, my 7 month old Havanese has been with me for four weeks and is an absolute love. He is completely housebroken, on a great schedule and is very affectionate and smart. He has learned "sit" and "paw" in the last two weeks. He rides 100 miles a day going back and forth to work, is fabulous in the car except when I put his car seat in the back to accommodate a front seat passenger - he calls shotgun, and is only happy in the front. He is adjusting well to all the co-workers and students at my school and has even found a few dog friends. Overall he is just a wonderful dog. He will get some agility training in the future since he seems to be rather talented that way, but I couldn't be happier with him. GREAT breed.

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      Dianne 14 months ago

      I have a 5 month old Havi, and have had him for about a week. He's adorable, but stubborn. I live in NW Indiana, and taking him out at night is COLD, but he just looks at me. I don't know how to train him. He comes to me when he feel like it, but at other times he's just tooooo loveable. HELP

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      Steve 21 months ago

      My Havi house trained in 2 weeks by using the crate method. I was surprised how quick it went. He always wants to play games and be by your side. Such a cute personality. Best dog EVER!

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      EMMESS 23 months ago

      My Yumi is my first havanese. I must admit I had never heard of this breed. She is the sweetest funniest most lovable girl I have ever had. One thing I did notice is that she does not like to be hugged but, enjoys her belly rubs..She welcomes me with a toy in her mouth whenever I return from work or errands.She was a bit difficult to house train. I found that if I took a bit of her stool and placed it on a puppy pad she learned really quick after that. I did the same thing with taking her outside. I put some where ever I wanted her to go and low and behold she goes there every time. This might work for those having issues with housebreaking. I agree with the others who say it takes patient and it really does and boy is it worth it!..They are one of the best breeds out there.

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      Suze 2 years ago

      Our female Havanese is now two. She has settled into our lifestyle very easily. ( we are retired). She plays less with her toys inside but loves playing with a frisbee outside. We bought her a smaller and softer frisbee which she jumps and mostly catches it in her mouth. That is probably why she is not as interested in playing indoors. AND she does NOT shed. She loves to sit beside us or between us but not on our laps. ? I have it is normal with this breed. My breeder said males are more apt to sit on you then females. Any comments on that?

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      Beeluvrs 2 years ago

      My Havanese was difficult to house break, but it finally worked, after I decided to keep a leash on him at all times. He was born a year ago January, we got him in March and it was probably about May, before he was house broken. Keeping him on a leash all the time was easy, since he was happy to be near me. In keeping him in a leash, I was sure to catch him and take him outside. It was a breeze after I figured out the leash thing. If we take him some place new and there has been a dog there, he will lift his leg, but I'm prepared for that and stop him in his tracks. Once I've caught him, he won't do it again. He is very quick to learn and seems to understand an amazing amount of things. I could say a million wonderful things about him, but then I would be writing a book.

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      rnhende 2 years ago

      have a 5 year old male i got 4 weeks ago. great personality, very good dog. He was a show dog, then a stud dog. He was neutered 2 weeks ago. However, he is not house trained. I am using a belly band and going for frequent walks. The belly band is rarely wet, even overnite. However, I don't believe he is house trained yet. What is a reasonable time for house training? I have heard that toy breeds are hard to train and that adult males who were not neutered will take longer. What signs do I look for to begin to trust him. I want to minimize any marking in the house. I am also beginning obedience training and I find him willing to please some times and very stubborn other times. I have trained a lot of dogs, but it's been a long time (11 years), so I have forgotten what to expect.

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      Patty 2 years ago

      I have a 3 month old female Havanesse and she is very hard to potty train in a pad! one minute she does her business in the pad, the next she does it on the floor mat or even in her crate/bed!!! I also have a Shih poo male but he is well trained already! she barks constantly in I not next to her (even if I am in the same room) and I just dont know what else to do! :( Any tips will be greatly appreciated

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      Zoe 2 years ago

      I found the Havanese dog to be the easiest to house train. Being consistent is the key. They do not shed, they have hair not fur. I call them a velcro dog, they follow you where ever you go. The best breed!

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      dougalhead 2 years ago

      Merris, we are English but currently in Spain, we have just purchased our first Havi from a lovely Spanish breeder who has one golden bitch left. They come with a passport. Google muguiris.com

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      Merris 3 years ago

      Could any one help me. I would dearly like to purchase a Havanese as I have just lost my Olive. I live in England and non of the Assured breeders in the whole of the UK have any available.

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      Proud owner ofa havanese 3 years ago

      I have a havi and she's extremely smart. She learned quickly how to sit give her paw and lay down. She was potty trained quickly (outdoors only) and now once she's done doing her business she grands her leash and runs back to our house. She's adorably cute. My husband paid $2,500 for her. My brother has a havi as well and he is also very well trained. Great dogs. I had a Maltese prior to my havanese but he was hard to train and barked constantly. My havanese does not bark and my brothers does only when someone rings the door bell.

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      Terri 3 years ago

      Not all dogs shed. You are incorrect. Labradoodles, depending on how much lab they have in them...do NOT shed at all. We have two 30 pound ones that are brothers. Although their coats are different....neither shed at all.

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      jim jones 3 years ago

      I have had a purebred havanese for over 2 years now & shes the love of my life. These dogs do not shed (if you think one hair falling off the dog a year is shedding then yes....but most shedding dogs litter anything they touch with hair...not true with the Havanese)

      They are very astute at figuring you out & your routine; they have needs but as long as you give them what they need once a day they can be left alone. They have funny quirks of grunting & growling while playing, making toys "come to life" and playing a game of chase where you can run after them or just watch them run their asses off. My havanese will only bark when i am home (otherwise shes quiet). Once playtime is done they will just lay by your side....often just lightly brushing up agsinst you until you can feel the heat from each other....adorable. Grooming is a must & i get my havanese groomed every 4-5 weeks. These dogs were specifically bred as companion dogs. If i put her in a sac and carry her on my back she wont make a peep for hours as long as she's doing what im doing. You'll understand if you get one.

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      Doglover3 3 years ago

      I want a havanese very badly

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      Ashley 3 years ago

      They do shed, but they are hypoallergenic, because they were bred to have hair instead of fur. Just saying..

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      Peter 5 years ago

      I Have a pure breed havi and intend on buying another one . Great little dog very healthy and comes from a great breeder. If I decide to breed her I WILL in no way expect the dollar value that JERI BORTON has talked about...

      Śome people just want to breed dogs for fun IT'S not always about money...

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      lis886 5 years ago

      I have a Havanese in the U.S. She did *not* cost $1000, and she has papers following both parents back 3 generations.

      She is a very sweet, playful dog that loves to play fetch with an assortment of toys. She's energetic, though it's in short bursts. A quick game of fetch or a short walk does the trick, but in a couple of hours you'll need to do it again. Mine has access to a fenced yard and yet still needs at least two walks a day (though not particularly long ones). She doesn't shed but does require daily brushing as her soft, fine hair mats easily.

      She's also quite vocal.

      She's reliably housetrained now, but it took many weeks, consistency, and patience to train her. Consistency was key. With a routine, she learned the pattern. Once she had the pattern , she caught on and now even asks to go out when she needs to.

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      Maris 5 years ago

      I have a female havanese and she has also recognized what the bathroom is for! I put pee pads but she plays with them instead. It is hard to potty train her. She is 4 months

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      Michaela 5 years ago

      *jari* my havanese doesn't shed at all. Everything in this article is pretty spot on. Described most elements of my havanese. Even though she isn't fully house broken, she has recognized what the bathroom is for. So in that regard, i have started putting pee pads in there instead. Coco is the love of my life and the best obident dog I've ever had.

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      Jeri Borton 5 years ago

      I have a Havanese and I am on the list to get another one from a well respected breeder in Europe. I just read this article and cannot believe some of the ignorant things that I just read. Havanese do shed! All dogs shed as do all people. They just do not shed like a regular dog does. If you cut their hair it changes the silky texture. They are smart and sensitive little dogs. They are also so quite expensive to purchase. If you are buying a good, pure bred one with all of its papers and the papers of its mother and father, expect to pay at least $1,600 and up for a companion dog. If you want show quality it will be at least $1,000 more. There are no special deals for these dogs. If you finds one then there is something wrong. If it sounds to good to be true than it is. Perhaps it is not a purebred Havanese??? There are a lot of those out there, or it is an inbred havanese!!!! Be careful around children with these dogs because the children can hurt the dog not the other way around. They are velcro dogs and do not like to be left alone.

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      ollie 6 years ago

      ok you keep saying how to choose the right one so how do you choose you keep on only talking about breeders not the breed

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      liola 8 years ago

      i love havanese there my fav dogs