Also known as the Cuban Shock Dog, the Bichon Havanais, the Havana Spaniel, the Havana Bichon or simply the Havana, this breed has been a high-status family pet on the island of Cuba for several centuries.


With the arrival of Castro’s Communist regime in 1959, the Havanese fell out of favour and became rare on the island.

The breed has been saved for the future by the efforts of the Cuban emigrant living in the US and, through them, by American breeders themselves. The Havanese Club of America was founded to support and protect it, and a survey in the 1980s calculated that there were then about 500 of these dogs registered in the country.

The precise origin of this member of the bichon family is disputed. One view sees it as a descendant of the Bichon Frise, brought to the West Indies from the Canary Isles by Spanish colonizers. Another view portrays it as arriving from Italy with Italian sea captains and derives it from either the Bolognese or Maltese dogs. A third envisages a more complex beginning, with northern Italian emigres from Emilia taking Bolognese dogs to Argentina, where they were crossed with some kind of small Poodle. Some of these new companion dogs later found their way to the West Indies and, when they reached Cuba, were developed into what we know today as the Havanese. As yet, there is no hard evidence to decide between these three opinions.

Some historians are of the opinion that its brown color, Havana brown — the well known brown color of the Cuban cigar — is the reason this breed is called the Havanese. The use of “Havana brown” to describe a liver brown color is well known in several breeds of other types of pets. Although there are records that the breed existed in Cuba, its modern development is said to be centered in the United States.


In temperament this is an alert, intelligent, responsive dog which is reported to be unusually non-aggressive when kept in groups of its own kind. It is, however, wary of strangers, and makes a good watchdog.


The Havanese is a healthy, long-lived, sturdy breed that is comfortable in a wide range of temperatures. The preferred colour is white, but it also appears in cream, gold, silver, blue, brown and black, and various combinations of these. It has a slightly longer, more tapering muzzle than the other bichon breeds. In height it is only 8—11 in (20—28 cm), and it weighs no more than 7—13 lb (3—6 kg).

Gallery of Havanese