A unique aspect of the breed is the topline, which rises just slightly from withers to croup, creating a topline that is straight but not level. Renowned for their flashy, lively gait, when on the move, their strong rear drive and slightly shorter upper arm produce a springy motion rather than a far-reaching one. The angle of the topline does not change while moving at a natural gait.
The muzzle is full and tapers slightly at the nose. It does not have the appearance of being short or snippy. Length of skull measured from stop to point of occiput is equal to the length of muzzle. The top of the skull is rather flat and the back skull is rounded.
The length from foot to elbow is equal to the length from elbow to withers. The forechest is pronounced. When in a standing position, the sternum lines up with the elbows, creating a deep chest. Ribs are well-sprung and the abdomen is moderately tucked up.
The Havanese has dark brown eyes and almond-shaped lids surrounded by black pigment. The ears, when extended, reach halfway to the nose. They arc slightly upward at the base and hang down on the sides of the head without touching the face. The tail is carried arched forward up over the back. While the tail’s long plume of hair falls on the body, the tail itself never touches the back.
Havanese are generally healthy and sturdy with relatively few serious health issues. They typically live 14 to 16 years. Havanese organizations, such as the Havanese Club of America, monitor genetic issues to prevent propagation within the breed.
Havanese suffer primarily from luxating patella, liver disease, heart disease, cataracts and retinal dysplasia. Havanese sometimes tear and may develop brown tear stains, especially noticeable on white or light coats.
The Havanese Club of America developed a system to encourage widespread participation of seven recommended tests for eye disease (CERF), congenital deafness (BAER), patellar luxation, cardiac diseases, hip dysplasia, hip joint disorder (Legg-Calve-Perthes), and elbow dysplasia. The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) program promotes testing and reporting of health test results for the Havanese breed. CHIC is a centralized canine health database jointly sponsored by the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Testing required for a Havanese to receive a CHIC certificate includes OFA BAER, OFA Hips, OFA Patellas, and annual CERF exams. This provides an outstanding research tool for performing searches on individual dogs and also links health testing results of the dog’s related pedigree information (parent, offspring, and sibling), when those related dogs have been health tested.
The Havanese is a member of the bichon family of dogs. The progenitors of the breed are believed to have come from Tenerife. Ship manifests from Tenerife bound for Cuba list dogs as passengers brought aboard, and these dogs were most probably the dog of Tenerife. Some believe the entire bichon family of dogs can be traced back to the Tenerife dog, while others theorize that the origins are in Malta, citing the writings of Aristotle, and other historical evidence of the early presence of such dogs in Malta. Whatever the actual origins of bichon dogs, these little dogs soon became devoted companions to the Spanish colonists in Cuba and were highly admired by the nobility.
As part of the Cuban Revolution, upper-class Cubans fled to the United States, but few were able to bring their dogs. When American breeders became interested in this rare and charming dog in the 1970s, the US gene pool was only 11 dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) only officially recognized the Havanese breed in 1996.
With dedicated breeding, and the acquisition of some new dogs internationally, the Havanese has made a huge comeback and is one of the fastest growing breeds of dogs in the AKC. The 2013 AKC statistics rank the Havanese as the 25th most popular pure-breed in the United States, a rise in popularity from 28th place in 2012.