The Havanese have captured the hearts of many dog lovers with their known for their luxurious coats, lively characters, and irresistibly cute appearance. Yet, beyond their endearing facade, lies a captivating history that traces back from the volcanic terrain of Tenerife to the bustling avenues of Havana.

A Tale of Two Islands: Tenerife and Hispaniola

The history of Havanese dogs can be traced back to Tenerife, an island famed for its volcanoes and greenery. The Bichon Tenerife’s dense dual-layered fur and petite structure allowed it to thrive. These dogs may have descended from similar breeds with shared characteristics that first emerged in the Mediterranean.

When European colonists arrived in the Caribbean around the late 15th century, they brought Bichon Tenerife with them. The Bichon Tenerife likely interbred with local dogs after reaching Hispaniola (which is Haiti and the Dominican Republic today). This mixing resulted in a new type of bichon with a lighter build and a wavy coat.

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Havana: A New Home and a New Name

The colonists eventually settled in Cuba and Havana became a major port city with their influence. It's here that history of Havanese dogs truly takes off. Wealthy Cubans, particularly those in the aristocracy, fell in love with these bichons from Hispaniola and began breeding them selectively, favoring smaller sizes and emphasizing their silky coats.

Selective Breeding: Cultivating Desired Traits

Wealthy Cubans weren't content with simply owning bichons. They desired dogs that embodied their refined tastes. Selective breeding programs were implemented, focusing on specific traits:

  • Size: Smaller dogs were favored, leading to a more compact and delicate build compared to their bichon ancestors.
  • Coat: The silky, wavy coat of the bichons was further refined. Breeders preferred a luxurious, flowing coat that required regular grooming - a task the dedicated staff in aristocratic households did eagerly.
  • Temperament: The playful and intelligent nature of the bichons was nurtured. Gentle and even-tempered dogs that thrived on human interaction were ideal companions for the Cuban elite.
  • Highly Trainable: The intelligence of the bichons was honed further. The Havanese loved its masters and was quick to learn tricks and commands. This made them not only enjoyable companions but also allowed the aristocracy to showoff their dogs' intelligence.

Through generations of selective breeding, the Cuban aristocracy played a crucial role in creating a distinct breed from the bichon stock. These refined dogs, known as "Blanquitos de la Habana," became a hallmark of Cuban high society. Their presence was a symbol of wealth, social status, and a discerning eye for quality.

The influence of the Cuban aristocracy wasn't purely aesthetic. Living in a tropical climate, these wealthy families appreciated the bichons' natural tolerance to heat and their low-shedding coats. The characteristics made the dogs the best indoor companions which didn’t fall ill as much as other breeds. Additionally, the bichons' small size made them well-suited for the often-grand, yet still residential spaces of the Cuban elite.

While size, coat, and temperament were the most prominent targets of selective breeding, other factors also affected the breed’s look. The Cuban climate might have played a role in favoring dogs with a higher tolerance to heat. But their homes, while grand, were still residences. This may have influenced their preference for dogs that wouldn't need a lot of space to exercise.

A Breed in Peril: Revolution and Near Extinction

The Cuban Revolution of 1959, led by Fidel Castro, marked a turning point not just for Cuba's political landscape, but also for the fate of the dog breed. Here's a closer look at the challenges the Havanese faced during this period:

Their Owners Fled With Them: Wealthy Cubans, who were the primary breeders and owners of Havanese, were the first to flee the island. Many fled fearing political persecution, taking their cherished companions with them. This sudden and significant decrease in breeders left the Havanese population vulnerable.

Shifting Priorities: The revolution ushered in a new era of social reforms, with a focus on social equality and wealth redistribution. Naturally, "luxury" items like purebred dogs were no longer favorable. As a result, breeding programs dwindled, and many Havanese were simply abandoned on the streets.

Limited Resources: The revolution also led to economic hardship. Food scarcity became a reality, making it difficult for people to care for their pets. Additionally, veterinary care became less accessible, leaving the breed susceptible to diseases.

Loss of Knowledge: The experienced breeders who left Cuba took with them a wealth of knowledge about breeding practices and maintaining the breed standard. This lack of expertise further hampered any organized breeding efforts within Cuba itself.

These factors led to a dramatic decline in the Havanese population within Cuba. By the 1960s, the breed was considered critically endangered, with estimates suggesting only a few dozen purebred Havanese remained on the island. But this was not the end of the breed!

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A New Beginning: The Havanese in America

The United States became a major refuge for Cuban exiles and their Havanese dogs. American breeders, captivated by the breed's charm and gentle temperament, began breeding programs to preserve and popularize the adorable pups. The American Kennel Club (AKC) finally recognized the Havanese in 1983, solidifying their place as a distinct breed in the United States.

From their humble beginnings in Tenerife to their rise in the heart of Havana, the history of Havanese dogs is inspiring. Today, these delightful dogs can be found in homes around the world, bringing joy and companionship to families everywhere. Their playful personalities, intelligence, and ease of training make them ideal companions for people of all ages and lifestyles.

Keeping Your Havanese Healthy and Happy With PawDarling Pet Insurance

The ancestors of the Havanese breed were healthier than their descendants. Today, the breed is prone to health issues that can take a toll on them. At PawDarling we offer a range of pet insurance plans that can accommodate the breed’s unique medical needs. These can include:

  • Luxating patellas (slipping kneecaps)
  • Cataracts
  • Liver disease
  • Dental issues

Contact us to discuss insurance options today! We will be more than happy to recommend packages that can meet your pet’s unique needs and your budget.