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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The Havanese is a bright and lively little dog who likes to think up his own games and then play them with you. It's certainly possible to spoil a Havanese, but they're pretty resistant to becoming tyrants and generally respond well to a little judicious indulgence.
The Havanese is the national dog of Cuba. He is descended from the now-extinct Blanquito de la Habana ("little white dog of Havana"); the Blanquito descended from the Bichon Tenerife, which is also now extinct.
Once nearly extinct on his home island of Cuba, this little cousin of the Bichon Frise, the Maltese and the Coton de Tulear has a popularity that has grown well beyond his fan base in Little Havana. He comes in many colors and patterns, his long coat can be silky or fluffy, and all he wants is to be with you and make you laugh. He also loves children, cats and other dogs, and is even fairly quiet for a small dog. Just don’t expect him to spend a lot of time alone: this is a dog who needs company all his life.
The Havanese’s coat is a challenge, requiring daily brushing and occasionally needing professional grooming. Havanese don't shed much, but don't confuse that with being non-allergenic. If you have allergies, try to spend as much time as possible with Havenese dogs before you decide to bring one home.
The Havanese can be an excellent family dog, and while care does need to be taken that these little dogs — only 10 to 15 pounds — don't get hurt by too much roughhousing, they're famous for loving to play with children.
The Havanese has a classically winning temperament, always willing to please and quick witted. He is easy to train, and has an aptitude for performing in obedience competitions. The breed’s history of circus tricks aids him in agility.
Havanese attach strongly to their families, as they should: their job was always to be a companion. Because they are small but not yappy, Havanese are good travel companions and appropriate for the RV lifestyle.
Named after Havana, the capital city of Cuba, these little dogs have borne many monikers throughout their history: Spanish Silk Poodle, Bichon Havanais, Bichon Habanero, Havana spaniel, white Cuban and Havana Silk Dog. The Havanese is a member of the widely traveled Bichon family, which includes the Bichon Frise, Maltese, Coton de Tulear and Bolognese. It shares those breeds’ typically happy, friendly temperament and soft, abundant coat. The Bichon breeds originated in the Mediterranean and from there made their way around the world, bringing smiles wherever they went.
The Havanese landed on the Caribbean island of Cuba, brought by Spanish settlers, probably in the 18th century. There the little dogs developed their own distinctive Cuban style, with a silky, insulating coat and a tolerance for heat. Unlike many of the Bichon breeds, which are known for their white coats, the Havanese may be any color or combination of colors.
After the Cuban revolution in 1959, the breed fell on hard times. A few came to the United States with Cuban refugees, and in 1979 the Havanese Club of America was formed. It has grown from nine members to approximately 400 members, and the Havanese was admitted to the American Kennel Club’s Toy Group in 1999. Since then, his popularity has exploded because of his great charm. Currently, he ranks 31st among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, up from 43rd in 2005 and 86th in 2000.
Life with a Havanese is a special treat. Expect to find yourself accompanied at all times by a funny, friendly, smart best friend who adapts to your lifestyle and schedule. Often mischievous, occasionally naughty — shredding paper is a favorite pastime — the little dogs from Cuba will fly across your furniture, take over the couch and bed, alert you to visitors or intruders, and interpret and adjust to your every mood.
The Havanese has a sense of humor and loves the attention he gets when he does funny things. He is a clown and performs all the time.
His willingness to please, ease of training, and quick wit combine to make the Havanese a joyful companion. The only thing he's not too excited about is being alone. Sturdier than most toy breeds, the Havanese also has a deeper voice. His bark is not yappy but sounds like it's from a bigger dog. Always alert, he makes a good watch dog.
Thanks to his cheerful and loving temperament, he's wonderful with children and is good at obedience and agility. The Havanese makes a terrific therapy dog because of his easy temperament, not to mention he fits onto any size lap.
A wonderfully happy breed, the Havanese has a unique gait, referred to as springy, that announces his cheerful temperament. He springs along and makes you laugh. He’s easygoing, easy to train, and quick-witted. Between his sturdiness, his willingness to please, and his spinning and jumping habits, it’s no wonder that he excels at tricks and was a circus dog.
Watching Havanese play is a giggle. They like to tear around the house or yard and will play for hours with anyone who has the patience and stamina to keep up with them. Even though they’re small in stature, they’re very sturdy and agile. They are also happy to settle on a lap — anything is fine with a Havanese as long as it involves attention.
He’s cute and fun, but he’s not perfect. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And like many toy breeds, especially those in the Bichon family, Havanese aren’t always easy to housetrain, but consistency and strict supervision will win the day. Avoid giving them too much freedom to roam the house too soon.
Start training your Havanese puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 10 to 12 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Havanese doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Havanese, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. The Havanese has the potential to develop a number of health problems. They include Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, luxating patellas, various eye problems, deafness, hypothyroidism, and heart problems. Here’s a brief rundown on a few of the conditions you should know about.
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease affects a wide range of small breeds, including Havanese. The blood supply to the head of the femur (the ball in the ball and socket joint of the hip) is inadequate, which causes the head of the femur to degrade. Patellar luxation happens when the knee cap pops out of normal position. It can range in severity from mild (causing very little problem for the dog except for increased risk of knee injury and arthritis later in life) to severe (which may require suergery).
Cataracts are an opacity that forms in the lens of the eye, and either clouds or blocks vision. Sometimes, surgical treatment is recommended. However, if the cataract isn't causing pain or other medical issues, understand that most dogs, including Havanese, get around just fine when they're blind.
Congenital deafness is screened for with the BAER test, but there is no treatment. However, dogs adapt better to deafness than people do. They can be trained to respond to hand signals.
A skeletal defect called osteochondrodysplasia can occur, as well as progressive retinal atrophy, liver shunts, heart murmurs and missing incisors.
One group of breeders has formed the Havana Silk Dog Association of America, which registers only Havanese that meet certain requirements, including a conformation test, photographic proof that the dog is not chondrodysplastic, hip and patella certifications from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, and an OFA or GDC test for congenital deafness based on the BAER test.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for genetic defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
Before individual Havanese can be included in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database, the Havanese Club of America requires them to have a clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation; hip and patella evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, PennHIP or OVC; and an OFA or GDC clearance for congenital deafness (BAER). Conscientious breeders will do additional testing such as SA320 liver shunt and cardiac exams. The HSDAA is also a CHIC member and has similar requirements. You can search the OFA and CHIC websites yourself to see if a pup’s parents are listed.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a Havanese puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every Havanese visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. Some have allergies; some get hurt while darting about. Sometimes predators view them as prey, so be watchful with them when they’re outside.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Havanese at an appropriate weight (generally between 7 and 13 pounds) is one of the easiest ways to promote overall health and longevity.
The Havanese has a double coat that can be silky or fluffy. If it's not cut, it will grow to about six to eight inches.
The amount of grooming a Havanese needs depends on whether you prefer a long or short coat as well as whether the coat is silky or fluffy. A Havanese kept in full coat requires daily grooming and brushing and a weekly bath while a Havanese kept in a short puppy cut needs professional grooming every six to eight weeks and a bath every two weeks. Between professional grooming sessions, the coat should still be brushed several times a week to remove mats or tangles. With the dog shampoos available now, you can bathe a Havanese weekly if you want without harming his coat.
The Havanese coat will cord naturally or can be trained to cord—that is, to mat into ringlets—but not everyone finds the look appealing. It takes time for the cords to form, usually six months. Once they do, the dog must still be bathed, but it doesn’t have to be brushed. It is important to dry the coat thoroughly, however, or it will mildew and stink.
The Havanese is referred to as a non-shedder, but all dogs shed at least a little bit. Never believe anyone who tells you that the Havanese is hypoallergenic. All dogs produce dander (dead skin cells) and their saliva also contains allergenic substances.
Havanese are prone to tear staining. Use a warm, wet cotton ball or wash cloth to clean around their eyes. Their nails grow rapidly and need to be trimmed regularly.
All toy breeds have dental issues, and the Havanese is no exception. Brush his teeth regularly with a vet-approved pet toothpaste and have the veterinarian check them during office visits.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Find a breeder who is a member in good standing of the Havanese Club of America and who has agreed to abide by its code of ethics, which include screening all dogs being bred for genetic diseases, selling only with a written contract and guaranteeing a home for any dog they breed if the owner becomes unable to keep him.
Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource in helping you train and care for your new dog. The HCA has guidelines on how to interview and select a Havanese breeder.
Ask to see the results of genetic screening tests for a pup’s parents. The Havanese Club of America and the Havana Silk Dog Association of America recommend purchasing puppies from breeders who provide the following documentation for both parents: a BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test for hearing; current certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF); and hip and patella (knee) certifications from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. According to the HCA website, breeders on the HCA Breeders List must provide proof that their dogs have passed the above tests, and many do additional testing such as SA320 liver shunt and cardiac exams.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also remember that buying a puppy from one of those “instant pet” websites leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Havanese puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The price range for pet Havanese ranges from $1,400 to $2,000. For that price, the puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Havanese might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Havanese may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Havanese in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Havaneses available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Havanese. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Havanese rescues in your area. Most people who love Havaneses love all Havaneses. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Havanese Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Havanese rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Havanese home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Havanese, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Havanese to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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