Havanese are believed to be one of the breeds of dogs descended from the Tenerife Dog more than 5 centuries ago. These dogs lived on Tenerife Island which is part of the Canary Islands. They formed a group of small white dogs with long curled tails and a wavy or curly coat. These dogs comprised the “Bichon” family. It is thought that the Bichon type dogs, bred to Maltese and Poodle, created the “Havanese.” These inter-breedings, going back as far as the 1600’s, were a result of the dogs traveling together on-board sailing ships throughout the Mediterranean and eventually to the far-off shores of Cuba.

It is interesting to note that the “Bichon” family was exclusively white in color until the introduction of the Poodle to their lines. The Poodle, a breed of many colors, is the answer to why we see Havanese in a variety of colors and color patterns today.  During the 1500’s many ships’ logs noted the Tenerife dogs were brought to Cuba. This migration continued through the centuries. Captains of the ships often gave these dogs as presents to the wealthy Cubans to encourage good will in trade contracts. Cubans bred these dogs which found their way back to Europe. They accompanied their owners from Cuba as they vacationed in Europe.

After Britain’s Queen Anne, in the late 1600s, saw the Havanese in a circus performance, she acquired two for herself. She is the earliest recognizable owner of Havanese on record in England or Europe. European aristocrats flocked to Havana for vacation because Havana became the cultural center for the New World – Spain’s crown jewel.

In France, Havanese were clipped like Poodles and at least one was found in Louis XVI’s court in the late 1700’s. The English allowed the Havanese coat to be more natural and called them “the white Cubans.” They were bred to be special gifts and were considered to be a status symbol as they were affectionate lap dogs with non-shedding silky coats and sunny dispositions.

In England, during the Victorian period of the late 1800’s, Havanese enjoyed great popularity.  Havanese were shown in England as far back as 1863. Charles Dickens, in the mid-1800’s, owned a Havanese named Tim. More recently, another famous author, Ernest Hemingway, also owned one or two Havanese.

For many centuries the Havanese have been a beloved family dog in Cuba.  In 1959, Fidel Castro came into power and violently decimated Cuba. Many Cubans fled for their lives. Hundreds of thousands left Cuba from 1960 to 1979 and many Havanese were left behind with friends and relatives. Too often, their pedigrees and paperwork were lost. The families thought they would be able to come back for them but that was not meant to be. It was very difficult and dangerous to smuggle anything out of Cuba, however, a couple of families were known to have escaped Cuba with their dogs. They were the Perez and Fantasio families. They became the first breeders of Havanese in the United States and they worked together to preserve the breed. Another individual, by the name of Ezekiel Barba, was able to escape to Costa Rica with his dogs.

In the United States, Dorothy and Bert Goodale, in the 1970’s, saw a picture of two small white dogs on the cover of a Spanish magazine at their dentist’s office. The Goodales were experienced dog breeders and when they saw the pictures of the Havanese they fell in love with them. They managed to acquire six Havanese and then five more from Ezekiel Barba. With these dogs, Dorothy established a selective breeding program from four distinct bloodlines. Thus, they began the remarkable journey of recovering the Havanese breed and preventing its extinction.

In the mid 1970’s Dorothy developed the first official breed standard for Havanese in this country. It closely followed the 1963 European standard. In 1979 she founded the Havanese Club of America and began the breed registry. In 1996, the AKC allowed Havanese to be shown in the Miscellaneous class and they were officially accepted into the Toy Group in 1999.

Dorothy Goodale died in 2008; Bert preceded her in death. Dorothy was the author of Havanese A Complete and Reliable Handbook. It is an interesting and historical read.

In Cuba the Havanese continued to be bred, to some degree. In fact, a Havanese appeared in 1992 on Cuban postage stamps.  Havanese have been bred now throughout the world as a result of refugees from Cuba emigrating to many countries. It is interesting to note that Havanese can be found on postage stamps internationally. They are seen on stamps in countries such as Poland, Guinea, Madagascar, Mongolia, Oman, Romania and Hungary.  The Standard for Havanese varies throughout the world. The AKC Standard appears elsewhere on this website. Today, the Havanese remains a family favorite world-wide. They are perky, silly, and loving little dogs with heart big enough for any family. Their numbers are increasing in conformation as well as in all companion and performance events. Havanese are smart, quick to learn, and happy friends more than willing to play and listen. They prefer to be close to their owners at all times. The fact that they are relatively non-shedding and considered to be hypoallergenic makes this breed even more sought after.

Throughout their history, Havanese have survived moving to foreign lands, being pampered social status symbols, living the life of luxury, and working as trick dogs in itinerant circuses.  They have lived through wars and have been refugees under dire circumstances. Havanese have been left behind to the point of near extinction. These little dogs have proven to be survivors of the times via their loyal patrons.

Once you own a Havanese, it is easy to understand why people have loved these dogs for so many centuries and have tried so hard to protect this breed against all odds. It is a breed like no other. They are laughter, sunshine, solace and so much more.

They are Havanese.