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Havanese History

black and white photo of a dog


As is true of the history of many breeds, Havanese history is a mixture of fact and probability. The breed has existed in Cuba, the country of origin, since the 1800s. The Bichon Havanese, as it is called in Cuba, is the National dog of Cuba and its only native breed.

In her book Bichon Havanese, Cuban breed authority, Zoila Portuondo Guerra, states that Havanese descend from an earlier breed called the Blanquito de la Habana, also known as the Havana Silk Dog. She further states that the breed goes back to Spanish water dogs and Bichon-type lapdogs, although other Spanish dogs of similar type may have played a role in their development.

havanese history
Havanese History: Cuban CH “Puppy” (1988-2002), the first Bichon Havanese Champion of Cuba, was honored on this 1992 commemorative postage stamp celebrating Cuba’s only native purebred dog.

The Bichons brought to Cuba adapted to the island’s diet and climate. Eventually, the conditions resulted in a different dog, smaller than its predecessors, with a completely white, silky textured coat and a very loving disposition. That dog was the Blanquito de la Habana. During the 18th century, the Blanquito de la Habana was recognized in England as the White Cuban.

In the 19th century, poodles (or Caniches) were brought to Cuba, from France, Germany, and other countries. With the arrival of these poodles, the transformation of the Blanquito de la Habana began. The result of cross-breeding poodles to the Blanquito was a slightly larger dog of various colors, but retaining the silky coat and Bichon type. That dog is the Havanese, the Cuban interpretation of the Bichon lapdogs from Europe.

havanese history
Havanese History: “Portrait of a Young Woman” painted by Vincente Escobar (1757-1854), a Cuban portrait painter, shows a young woman holding a Blanquito de la Habana. The original painting is in the archives of the Salas del Museo National de Cuba in Havana.

Like the Blanquito before it, the Havanese was the pet of the Cuban colonial aristocracy until the beginning of the 20th century. After that, the Havanese became the beloved pet of the people of the island. During the Cuban Revolution, some of the dogs were brought to this country by their owners who migrated to Southern Florida, while others migrated to Costa Rica and Puerto Rico with their dogs, thereby preserving the breed. The Havanese remaining in Cuba were not as fortunate, and few survived the Revolution.

During the Cuban Revolution, some of the dogs were brought to this country by their owners who migrated to Southern Florida, while others migrated to Costa Rica and Puerto Rico with their dogs, thereby preserving the breed.

At that time in the United States, Mrs. Dorothy Goodale learned of the existence of the Havanese and began to seek information on this breed of dog that she had never heard of before. She was looking for a smaller dog as an alternate to the larger dogs she had bred when she was younger. She decided to advertise in a Miami newspaper to try to locate some of the dogs. Through these advertisements, she located two or three families who brought their Bichons from Cuba to the United States. Mrs. Goodale was able to acquire six Havanese, complete with pedigrees, from these families. They consisted of a bitch with four female puppies, plus an unrelated young male dog. Subsequently, she was able to purchase five additional male dogs from a Cuban exile who was moving from Costa Rica to Texas and was no longer able to keep his dogs.

havanese history
Havanese History: An 1860 engraving from France showing the Petit Chien Havane (Little Dog of Havana).

By 1974 Havanese were being bred in the United States by American breeders, using the 1963 FCI Standard for Bichon Havanese. Mrs. Goodale subsequently modified that standard. Mrs. Goodale and a group of other breeders founded the Havanese Club of America in 1979.

Beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century, breeding of Havanese in Cuba has increased. Zoila Guerra Portuondo founded the Cuban Club of the Bichon Havanese (CCBH) in 1991. CCBH is a member of the Cuban Kennel Club which belongs to FCI.

havanese history
Havanese History: Poulka de Dieghem, a chestnut brown bitch, was exhibited at the Tuileries in Paris in 1907.

The Havanese was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1996, and a total of 1,307 HCA registered Havanese were granted AKC registration. As so often happens when AKC recognizes a new breed, the popularity of the breed has exploded since recognition. When Havanese began showing for championships in January of 1999, they were virtually unknown by breeders of other breeds of dogs. After a few months, the Havanese was being noticed by other breeder—a lot of other breeders. Breeders of larger breeds who were thinking of downsizing to a smaller breed were especially noticing them. According to the AKC Registration Statistics, in 1999 a total of 626 individual dogs were registered with AKC. In 2001 the Havanese was ranked 75th of 146 breeds. In 2011, Havanese were ranked 32nd of 173 breeds with 4,466 dogs registered that year.

Havanese have become popular as competitors in companion events. They train easily and are willing performers. Many now compete in Obedience, Rally and Agility, and also participate in Tracking Trials, Flyball competition, and Musical Freestyle dance. Early on in Agility competition,the Havanese were dubbed “The Flying Furballs.” There are several OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion) and MACH (Master Agility Champion) titled Havanese, with others working toward those titles. With their joyful attitude, they do well in every venue. They excel in Therapy work where their small size, loving disposition and happy attitude make them favorites. Numerous Havanese have earned the AKC Therapy Dog title.

The future of the Havanese is bright, with demand for the breed as both pets and show dogs continuing to be strong.


Originally published in SHOWSIGHT Magazine, August 2012.



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