Grooming a Havanese Coat

Frequent grooming makes home upkeep easier for this spunky breed.

Q. We’re thinking of getting a Havanese puppy. If we want to keep him trimmed up instead of letting his hair grow long, how often will we have to have him clipped?

A. Originating in the Mediterranean along with several other Bichon-type breeds that are all descendants of an ancestor known as the Tenerife, the Havanese was developed in Cuba where it became the country’s national dog. It is believed to have arrived on that Caribbean island with either Spanish or Italian traders who often dealt in contraband to sell to aristocratic families.

It’s highly likely that these furry little bundles of joy opened doors when presented as gifts to the wealthy senoritas. Once known as the Havana Silk Dog, Caniche, Melita and Spanish Silk Poodle as well as by the Cuban term Habaneros, they quickly became the darlings of the sugar barons and other wealthy families.

At the turn of the century and the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, many Havanese were taken to Europe where they became the canine fad of the moment, owned by such notables as Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. But when they fell out of favor, many ended up on the streets or performing in circuses like their Bichon Frise cousins.

When the Cuban Revolution threatened their existence back in their homeland, many were smuggled out by exiles whose efforts preserved the breed, eventually introducing their pint-sized treasures to American fanciers who became smitten. The ever-resilient Havanese soon gained popularity in the United States, accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1999 and currently ranking 36th in popularity out of the club’s 156 breeds.

Although the Havanese is a member of the AKC’s Toy Group, there is nothing dainty or delicate about this sturdy and spunky little character. Known for their intelligence, trainability and stamina, these dogs have a talent for herding and scent discrimination as well as loyal companionship. Active and playful with a jaunty spring in their step, they make wonderful family pets but their watchdog tendencies may cause them to bark at strangers and unfamiliar noises.

Their non-shedding coat makes them suitable for allergy sufferers, but regular grooming is necessary to keep those abundant tresses in top condition, more for their owner’s ease of maintenance than to protect them from the elements.

All that fluff serves both as insulation from becoming chilled and a barrier to overheating. In the show ring, the Havanese is presented in its natural state, with no noticeable trimming except a slight rounding of the feet. The hair atop the head may be left natural or pulled back to hang in a neat braid over each ear.

As to getting a haircut for your Havanese, most owners choose to keep their pets trimmed in a style variously known as a puppy cut, teddy bear or drop coat trim. Groomers often use a #1, #1 ½ or #2 guard comb on the body but for a shorter coat, a #4 or #5 blade may be used.

The legs are left a bit longer and the entire trim should conform to the dog’s curvy body structure, emphasizing its alert stance. The coat should appear smooth and even, without any choppy clipper or scissor marks. The face should be left fluffy, this dog’s beautiful eyes left visible by either creating a softly shaped crown or tying it up in two braids.

The dog should end up looking like an adorable stuffed animal. Such styles are limited only by the talent and skill of your groomer, so you may have to shop around to find the right stylist for your pet.

While this sort of haircut will make upkeep of your Havanese far easier than keeping it long, it does require a good brushing and combing a couple of times a week to keep mats and tangles from forming. We prefer to see our Havanese clients every four to six weeks.

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