The origin of the Havanese breed is an interesting one which crosses both oceans and empires. From their beginnings to ancient Greece through to Cuba by way of the Spanish Empire the Havanese has ridden as a footnote to some of the most important events in history. At one point the Havanese looked as if they might die out all together however thanks to the intervention of one foresighted American breeder the Havanese thrived to the point today were they are one of the most popular breeds in the United States.
The Havanese is an old breed of dog which comes from the Bichon family. This family also includes the Bichon Frise, the Coton de Tulear, the Bolognese and the Maltese. The word Bichon is French and means “fleecy dog.” The Bichon breed is related to the Barbet which is the French name for a poodle like water spaniel.
There are references to the ancestors of the dog we know as the Havanese in ancient Greece and they are mentioned in the work of the poet Plinius. Interestingly it was believed that if these dogs were placed on a person’s stomach they could cure stomach aches.
The Bichon breeds thrived in the 16th century as the Spanish Empire conquered much of the known world. The Bichon are an excellent sea fearing animal and they survived well on long sea journeys. Spain and Italy imported the Havanese to the New World and in particular to Cuba. Most sources credit the people of the island of Tenerife as being those responsible for bringing the Havanese to Cuba. Tenerife is an island similar to Cuba in that it was ruled by distant Spanish rulers. The island of Tenerife is part of a group of island which are now known as the Canary Islands.
There they became known as the Havana Silk Dog or Blanquito de la Hablana. The modern Havanese is directly descended from these Cuban dogs. The Havanese was very popular with the rich in Cuba and that tradition has carried on through to today. The early Havanese was all white in color were as the modern Havanese comes in a range of different colors including silver, cream, blue, black and gold.
The Havanese changed little until the 1800’s when they were interbred with German and French Poodles. This was the last change to the breed. Interestingly the breed almost died out due to the influence of America. Up until the 1900’s Cuba’s elite had been for the most part by Spain. The Havanese was the preferred pets of many of the socialites of Cuba. When America become the dominant influence on the island however that started to change. In a desire to keep up with their American neighbors wealthy Cubans started to adopt other dogs in preference to the Havanese. This saw their numbers drop precipitously.
Thankfully they were saved due to the attentions of an American breeder who with only eleven Havanese managed to save the species. The Havanese has responded well to their new country and is now a highly popular pet.