The Six Critical Elements of Havanese Breed Type

    Outline - Topline - Gait - Expression - Coat - Temperament
    Havanese head photo

    Since acceptance into the AKC Toy Group in January 1999, the Havanese has steadily become an increasingly popular breed. Their mischievous expression, small but sturdy body, silky coat that comes in a rainbow of colors, and charming personality have helped them not only win the hearts of many pet owners, but also have allowed the Havanese to become competitive in both the Toy Group as well as Best in Show rings.

    But what differentiates the Havanese from the numerous other small, longhaired dogs that are recognized by the AKC?

    At first glance, there are a number of other breeds that share characteristics with this Cuban native. The Havanese is a member of the Bichon family, which is also comprised of the Bichon Frise, Maltese, Bolognese, Coton de Tulear, Lowchen, and Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka. Though some of the Havanese’s ancestors are shared with these breeds, the six critical elements of Havanese breed type differentiate the Havanese from the other Bichon breeds: outline, topline, gait, expression, coat, and temperament.


    Havanese Outline

    The Havanese should be recognizable by its outline alone, but no single aspect should stick out from the rest. This is a breed of moderation, and all parts should fit together harmoniously.

    The silhouette of the Havanese should be rectangular, with the height being slightly shorter than the length. It is important to remember that the landmarks to use for the length measurement are the point of shoulder and the point of rear. While specific measurements are not outlined in the AKC standard, the word “slightly” is important to keep in mind. This means that while the Havanese shouldn’t be square, they also shouldn’t be significantly longer than they are tall. The length of the Havanese should come from the ribcage and not the loin, which should be short and muscular.

    Havanese Outline – Head Carriage

    The Havanese outline isn’t complete without high head carriage, whether standing or moving. While shoulder layback should be moderate, sufficient layback needs to be present to create the length of neck required for high head carriage while moving. The neck length should complement and balance the rest of the dog rather than be a distracting attribute. This must be evaluated during the table exam, as the abundant coat can make an adequate length of neck appear too short upon first glance.

    Havanese Outline – Tail

    The correct Havanese tail, both in set and in carriage, is critical to the outline of the breed. The tail must be set high to finish off the straight, slightly rising topline. The carriage arching forward complements the natural high head carriage while the dog is moving or standing. As the tail is loosely arched over the back, it is also completely acceptable for it to drop while the dog is standing still and relaxed, though it should never be tucked.

    The tail plume can fall forward over the back or lie to either side of the body, which can create optical illusions; either shortening or lengthening the appearance of the dog. Puppies will naturally have less coat on their tails, which can cause a slightly higher tail carriage without the weight of the hair seen in an adult dog. Regardless, the puppy’s tail should still arch forward and over the back and show no evidence of pointing straight up.

    The final component of outline, the topline, is so important to breed type that it is its own critical element of breed type!

    Havanese Topline

    The Havanese topline is one of the most misunderstood components of the Havanese. The AKC standard calls for a straight, but not level topline, rising slightly from the withers to the croup. It is as important that the topline be straight as it is that the topline have a slight rise.

    This characteristic topline is a result of the balanced front and rear angulation and the shorter upper arm in comparison to the scapula. It is the presence of a shorter upper arm with good return that drops the front ever so slightly, causing a slight rise. The correct Havanese topline must be caused by this unique Havanese conformation and not by structural faults such as short forelegs or straight rear angulation.

    It is important to evaluate the topline both on the exam table as well as the on the move, as the straight, slight rise should be present both while standing and when in motion. On the table, it is imperative to feel the topline from the withers to the croup to ensure it is straight and only slightly rising to the high-set tail. This is most easily accomplished by gently using fingertips to feel it in a continuous motion, starting at the withers and ending at the tailset.

    Havanese Gait

    The spring in the Havanese gait is a result of the breed’s structure combined with its happy-go-lucky personality. At a trot, the slightly shorter upper arm creates a slight lift in the front in order to balance the rear action. This, combined with the joyous nature of the breed, gives them a jaunty air and a lightness on their feet. The spring in the movement should never be so excessive that it becomes a bounce and detracts from soundness or the forward motion of the dog.

    It is important to note that the upper arm shouldn’t be so short that it restricts the front legs from reaching forward freely. The breed must have moderate reach and drive, with both excessive and insufficient reach and drive being equally contrary to breed type. The head is naturally carried high and is balanced by the tail carried arched over the back.

    The Havanese must carry its tail up and over the back while moving and cannot be awarded if the tail is carried down or tucked. The slight rise to the topline must be held on the move. There is minimal-to-no convergence toward a centerline of the front or hind legs when moving. While a flash of the pad may be seen on the down and back, it is not a requirement. It is more important to evaluate for sound action than to watch for a flash of the pad.

    Expression of the Havanese

    Correct expression is critical to Havanese breed type and is created by the sum of the individual parts of the head along with the joyful personality of the breed. Havanese should have a twinkle in their eyes as if to say they are excited for whatever adventure comes next.

    The almond eye shape is essential to expression. Havanese is the only member of the Bichon family of breeds whose standard calls for an almond-shaped eye, thus, a round eye gives a more generic “Bichon” look rather than the desired mischievous Havanese expression. Similarly, the large size of the eye is critical to add the softness to the expression described in the standard.

    Havanese head

    As almond-shaped eyes can trend smaller, the balance between the shape and size of the eye is delicate yet crucial to Havanese type. Although not explicitly stated in the standard, the eyes should be set moderately far apart to fit with the broad skull, muzzle, and nose. Narrowly set eyes give an incorrect pinched expression. To preserve the desired expression, Havanese should also have very dark eyes. While there is an allowance for chocolate dogs to have a slightly lighter brown eye, a dark eye is always preferred regardless of coat color.

    It is important to note that with the skull and nose, being described as broad and the muzzle as full, the Havanese head should be robust to fit with the sturdy body. To achieve the desired expression, the muzzle should be slightly shorter than the skull, and it is imperative that the head planes be parallel. Every other Havanese standard around the world calls for the muzzle and skull lengths to be equal, so it is essential to note that a muzzle of equal length to the skull is a fault per the AKC standard. It is important that the muzzle not become too short, however, as this changes the unique Havanese head to a more generic Toy dog head, often with more extreme stop than desired as well.


    Unlike most long coated breeds described to have a silky texture to the coat, the Havanese must have a double coat. Both the outer and undercoat are relatively light, which serves an important function for the breed. As the outer coat is only slightly heavier, the abundant soft undercoat lifts it slightly away from the body. This gave protection from the heat, allowing them to thrive in their native Cuba.

    The untrimmed coat is plentiful, but should never stand-off away from the body enough to prevent the natural lines of the dog from being seen. While in many long-coated Toy breeds it is common to cultivate a coat to a length where it drags on the ground, this is atypical and undesirable for the naturally presented Havanese.

    The lightness of the Havanese coat causes natural breakage of the hair. This allows the underline of the dog to be seen. When lifted, the coat will slowly float down rather than fall heavily when dropped.

    Havanese with corded coat

    A correct Havanese coat will cord, and corded coats must be given equal consideration as brushed coats. The presence of the desired wave in the coat with the two slightly different textures is what allows the Havanese coat to cord naturally. The slightly heavier outer coat wraps around the lighter undercoat, and these clumps are easily separated into sections that develop into cords. Havanese cords are softer and silkier than the cords of other breeds, though the cord itself will never feel as soft as a brushed coat. To best evaluate the texture of a corded coat, feel at the base of the cord where there will be a segment of uncorded hair near the skin. The corded coat is to be evaluated by the quality of the hair and not the length of the cords.

    It is important that the Havanese remain an untrimmed breed, to the point where obvious trimming is to be so heavily faulted that the offending dog should not be considered for placement.

    Coat Color & Markings

    Coat color and markings are completely immaterial, and should never factor in decisions in the conformation ring or whelping box. The only requirement is that all colors have black pigment on the eye rims, nose, and lips, except chocolate dogs, which have brown pigment.

    Havanese Colors (AKC)

    Black YES
    Black & Silver YES
    Black & Tan YES
    Blue NO
    Blue Brindle NO
    Chocolate YES
    Cream YES
    Fawn YES
    Fawn Brindle NO
    Gold YES
    Red YES
    Red Brindle YES
    Red Sable YES
    Silver YES
    White YES
    Black Brindle YES
    Silver Sable NO
    Silver Brindle YES
    Fawn Sable NO
    Chocolate Brindle NO
    Chocolate Sable NO
    Gold Brindle YES
    Gold Sable YES
    Black & Tan Brindle NO
    Black & Silver Brindle No

    Havanese Markings (AKC)

    White Markings YES
    Tan Points YES
    Cream Markings YES
    Parti-Color YES
    Silver Markings YES
    Irish Pied YES
    Silver Points YES
    Parti Belton YES


    The temperament of the Havanese is of utmost importance. This is a cheerful and gregarious breed that is happiest when they are with people. This joyful personality is important to breed type, as it has a critical influence on the dog having the correct light spring to its gait. Regardless of the structure, if a Havanese doesn’t have the required spirited and cheerful personality, it will not move correctly. The ebullient personality means Havanese should not be robotic while in the ring, and often may dance around rather than standing still like statues.

    While Havanese are an outgoing breed, do not overcrowd or baby talk dogs while on the table, nor stoop down while they are on the ground. These actions may make a dog with an otherwise acceptable temperament apprehensive. Puppies that are unsure of themselves can show a slight hesitancy. This should not be penalized as long as they recover as they acclimate to being in the ring. Shyness that results in the inability to touch the dog while on the table or the dog being unwilling to carry its tail up and over the back while gaiting should not be tolerated. There should be zero tolerance for any evidence of any aggression toward people or other dogs.

    Final Thoughts

    These characteristics are what makes the Havanese unique among all of the other AKC recognized breeds and what made every Havanese owner fall in love with the breed. Each time a judge walks into the ring or a breeder evaluates a litter of puppies, these six critical elements of breed type should be at the forefront of their mind to ensure they do their part to preserve our charming little Cuban.

    Are you looking for a Havanese puppy?

    The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.

    Want to help rescue and re-home a Havanese?

    Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.

    Havanese Dog Breed Magazine

    Top Notch Toys is the only publication to offer dedicated Digital Breed Magazines for ALL recognized AKC Toy Group Breeds.

    Read and learn more about the intelligent Havanese dog breed with articles and information in our Havanese Dog Breed Magazine.

    Havanese Breed Magazine - Top Notch Toys
    • Adam King has been involved in the Havanese breed for over 20 years. He received his first Havanese as a Christmas gift from Rita Stern (Silverdale Havanese) as a teenager, and was immediately smitten with the breed. “Pete” (Silverdale’s For Pete’s Sake) would go on to become Adam’s first owner-handled champion before he was a year old, as well as his Junior Showmanship dog. A second Havanese from Rita, “Gracie”(CH Silverdale’s Amazing Grace ROM), was added shortly thereafter, who became the foundation bitch for Askin Havanese. In a limited breeding program, Adam has produced over 30 AKC champions (11 of which he finished from the Bred-By-Exhibitor Class), with several more actively working on their championships, and he has been named a Breeder of Distinction by the Havanese Club of America. He is a member of the HCA Judges’ Education, Illustrated Standard, and Health Committees. In addition to Havanese, Adam has been involved in Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Miniature Bull Terriers, and English Toy Spaniels. Professionally, he is a veterinary ophthalmologist and practices in Chicago. Currently, Adam is approved by the AKC to judge the Toy Group in addition to breeds in the Sporting, Terrier, and Non-Sporting Groups as well as Junior Showmanship.

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