HISTORY: The Havanese breed descends from old-world Bichon types of small companion dogs such as antique versions of the Maltese and the Caniche. They are neither Terriers nor Spaniels. This group of small longhaired dogs is very old and originated in the Mediterranean in pre-Christian times. From the original antique “small dog", numerous varieties evolved. As the centuries passed, interesting variations developed into separate and distinct breeds, each with a slightly different temperament and appearance. Variations, in large part arose from the preferences of their human caretakers of the time, climactic influence as well as possible input from other breeds. The Havanese breed is part of the Bichon family, which includes the Bichon Frisé, Coton de Tulear, Bolognese, Maltese, Bolonka, and perhaps the Lowchen.
Much of the breed’s history is drawn from conjecture and historical possibilities rather than documented facts. There is no recorded date when the first Havanese ancestors reached the shores of Cuba. It is believed that during the 16th and 17th centuries, in the days of the expanding Spanish empire, Havanese were brought to Cuba by sea merchants and sold to prominent Cuban families or perhaps given as gifts to facilitate entry into influential homes for trading. Some theories support that there have been two Cuban breeds, the first said to be a tiny white dog emualting European fashion of the times, the now-extinct "Blanquito de la Havana". In this theory, the second Cuban breed, the “Habanero” (Havanese), slightly larger than his forbearer and with a coat of many colours, evolved from intermixing the Blanquito with small companion dogs brought in the early 19th century when immigration from Continental Europe ushered an influx of colonists to the island. We may never know for sure.
Regardless of origin, all accounts agree that ownership was jealously maintained by the upper social classes of Cuba. Havanese enjoyed lives of pampered luxury in the rooms and courtyards of villas, manors and country estates as companions to fine ladies and their children. After years of favour, their popularity dimmed as time went by, falling victim to the fickleness of fashion. The Cuban revolution of 1959 dealt another blow to dwindling numbers and nearly destroyed the breed. The fortunes of the Havanese have again turned around. Dedicated fanciers have ensured their survival for years to come and the popularity of the breed continues to grow once more. Today the Havanese is a charming pet for all, as delightful a companion as his ancestors were purported to be.
FORM AND FUNCTION: The Havanese is a sturdy, small, longhaired, drop-eared companion dog; 21-29cm tall (8.5-11.5 inches) covered with a long, ideally wavy, untrimmed coat. His plumed tail is carried over his back. He is an affectionate, happy dog with a lively springy gait. The Havanese have large dark almond shaped eyes with a gentle expression. The Havanese come in a great variety of colours, patterns and markings. This rainbow of colours is one aspect distinguishing the Havanese from his predominantly white cousins and adds to the beauty and charm of the breed. They are relatively quiet pets but can be quite active indoors. Even though the Havanese are small and considered a Toy breed, they are not meant to be tiny, fragile dogs. They may be small in stature but are muscular, and very lively with great stamina. They are always ready to join in any and all family activities. They are excellent jumpers and very nimble; many succeed well at agility and other dog sports. Although the Havanese may excel in many pursuits, the breed is first and foremost a companion dog.
HEALTH AND TEMPERAMENT: Temperaments are generally happy and congenial. The Havanese are intelligent, affectionate little dogs. As natural show-offs, they are often the center of attention. Havanese thrive on human companionship; they are “Velcro” dogs, always wanting to be with their humans and do best with a lot of time and attention. Typically good with children, they are very playful, yet gentle (a small child should always be supervised with any breed of dog). The Havanese can be good watchdogs because of their alert demeanor and their close relationship with their family; they will bark at strange noises but are not constant barkers. The Havanese is a small dog equally at home actively playing or snuggling on a lap. One owner summed it up very well. “The Havanese is extremely affectionate, very devoted and always entertaining". This very special little dog can bring years of love and loyalty when treated with love and kindness in return.
Overall, the Havanese is a healthy breed. All breeds have heritable disorders; some are more serious and widespread, others much more limited in their occurrence. Health testing of breeding dogs is recommended. The breed specific Canine Health Information Center “CHIC” requirements for Havanese include 1) hips (OFA,PennHip,OVC,GDC evaluation 2) Eye Clearance – CERF evaluation 3) Patellar Luxation evaluation and 4) BAER test for congenital deafness. Other frequently done tests include elbow, Legg Perthes, cardiac, thyroid, and liver testing. Ongoing research and proper health screening may help reduce health issues in the breed for future generations.While some health conditions can occur, the Havanese remains a relatively healthy breed with a life expectancy of approximately 12 to 15 years. The majority of Havanese experience few significant health issues.
JUDGING CONSIDERATIONS: Minimal shedding does not imply low or no maintenance. The long luscious Havanese coat does require regular attention to look its best. Coat care is moderate; most Havanese can be well maintained if brushed/combed thoroughly at least twice a week along with periodic bathing. The Havanese is shown in the Canadian Kennel Club Toy group. In keeping with his casual and carefree nature, the Havanese is to be exhibited naturally and untrimmed. The feet are allowed to be tidied. The Havanese is not meant to be a primped, highly-coifed or manicured breed. A clean dog, thoroughly brushed and combed should be ready to go.
The Havanese is moderation in all things, he is a well balanced little dog with no extremes. The outline of the Havanese gives the appearance of a rectangular dog (slightly longer than tall) with a slight arch over the loin and a well feathered tail carried over the back. The arch over the loin is muscular not skeletal (the back is not roached). Legs are lean, well boned, straight and parallel with moderate angulations. The Havanese is small but sturdy. He should not be fine boned and fragile, nor should he be heavy boned and coarse. He should be moderate of bone and balanced of build.
Fringed drop ears frame the bright, intelligent, gentle eyes. Pigment is full and dark. Havanese are not a snub-nosed breed, they have a good length of muzzle ideally equal to the length of the head. Dentition, while often overlooked in Toys, is important. A scissors bite with complete dentition is desirable. All the qualities of the head - skull, muzzle length, eye shape and colour, ear set, pigment and mouth combine to create the expression.
The coat is untrimmed, long and abundant but still reflecting the dogs outline. The coat should be soft and lightweight, with a subtle airiness (not bouffant or standoffish). The ideal coat is wavy; even the slightest wave should be noticeable around the ears, rump and tail. The adult coat can take 2-4 years to fully mature. The coat can hide many qualities and faults. Careful hands-on examination will help determine if what is seen at first glance is what is actually there.
The movement should be lively and elastic, clean movement both coming and going with the legs moving straight and freely. A springy step is spritely and light-footed; it is a lightness of movement. A smooth floating gait is not characteristic of the Havanese, nor is a mincing bounce. A dog that moves well both at a slower and faster speed is usually well put together, though depending on angulation and natural stride and gait, one dog may move more slowly or faster than another.
Some extremes of temperament, coat, bone and size are being noted. Take care to ensure these are not mistaken for what is correct; rewarding these is a detriment to the breed. Some temperament issues are emerging in poorly bred individuals with extremes of shyness or aggression; both equally incorrect. There appears to be an increasing emergence of large, heavy boned, rugged bodied specimens that are incorrect for the breed. In a ring of large dogs, a Havanese of ideal size may look small by comparison. If the height seems questionable, please wicket for accurate measurement. Heights above or below tolerance limits are breed disqualifications. Recent trends to overgrooming for show are disturbing and show disrespect for the breed and standard. Coats that are ironed, stripped and sculptured present an inaccurate image of this natural little dog. The Havanese has a natural charm and is meant to be a casual carefree companion in demeanor as well as appearance. Other elements and details as seen in the standard will also contribute to the dog as a whole; however, the basic elements of breed type (Temperament, Head & Expression, Outline & Structure, Coat and Movement) will provide the backbone of most general assessments.
HAVANESE FANCIERS OF CANADA: The Havanese Fanciers of Canada club formed in 1998 to promote awareness of our special breed, to safeguard its uniqueness and responsibly guide its future in Canada. Havanese Fanciers of Canada (HFC) is the national breed club; recognized and accredited by the Canadian Kennel Club. The club's aims and objectives are to protect and responsibly promote the Havanese breed in Canada. The club aims to educate the public, promote responsible ownership, encourage spaying/neutering of pets/companions, encourage responsible breeding practices in accordance with the CKC standard, provide guidance and resource for members, provide ongoing education and breed activities. HFC also provides a breed rescue service to protect, care for, train and rehome Havanese in need. The club maintains an extensive educational website at www.havanesefanciers.com. Please contact the HFC at email@example.com for questions or additional information. Note: The CKC Havanese standard is currently under review, watch for updates in 2010.
Written by Suzanne McKay for the Havanese Fanciers of Canada previously published in CANINE REVIEW December 2009