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Finding your Havanese – Tips for Adopting from a Breeder or Rescue

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Havanese Dogs" by David Anderson. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: David Anderson

Having reached this part of the book, you are probably quite excited about finding the right Havanese for your family. After all, it is difficult to beat a small dog that just wants to have fun with you and be a part of the family. There will be some training and socialization required, but first you will need to determine what age Havanese you would like to adopt, then find the right breeder if you decide on a puppy.

Adopting from a Breeder

As with finding any other pure breed puppy, you have to spend a considerable amount of time looking for a reputable breeder. Given the fact that most Havanese outside of Cuba are the descendants of just 11 dogs, you want to make sure this has been taken into account during the breeding process.

Finding a Breeder

One of the most important aspects to locating your Havanese is finding a breeder who actually cares about the puppies. You want to make sure that they put as much care into getting just the right parents for the puppy and are willing to spend a considerable amount of time talking to you about the adoption process, what to expect from your canine, giving you advice even after you have the puppy at home, and a slew of other important aspects. The first task to finding the right breeder is to find someone who gives the parents and newborn puppies the attention and care that is required. You want to ensure that the breeder is putting in the necessary hours to help the puppies and to prepare them for life.

Havanese with ribbon
Photo Courtesy – Sharon Russo

Breeders who take the time to post a lot of information and updates about the dogs are the best starting points. You have very good odds that you are going to end up on a waiting list with these breeders, but for the right breeders it is worth the wait. The right breeder is going to focus on making sure the puppies and parents are happy and healthy, which will mean your puppy will get a great start in life.

After you have scanned the different breeders, you are going to need to begin asking questions and gathering information. Be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time both on email and on the phone (up to an hour by phone) for each breeder you contact. Make sure to set aside enough time to call and ask questions for each breeder you are considering. This ensures that you have a good understanding of the breeder’s values and the key aspects of the dog based on what the breeder offers in terms of information. Of course, you should compare their answers against each other to make sure they are being honest and up front with you. Here are some things to consider asking each breeder to get a good feel both for the kinds of puppies they raise and for how honest and caring the breeder is.

  • Ask each breeder about the required health tests and certifications they have for their puppies. These points are detailed further in the next section, so make sure to check off the available tests and certifications for each breeder. If they don’t have all of the tests and certifications, you may want to remove them from consideration. Good breeders not only cover all of these points, they offer a guarantee against the most harmful genetic issues.
  • Make sure that the breeder always takes care of all of the initial health requirements in the first few weeks and months, particularly shots. Puppies require certain procedures to be started before they leave their mother to ensure they are healthy. Vaccinations and deworming typically start around six weeks after the puppies are born, then need to be continued every three weeks. By the time your puppy is old enough to come home, the puppy should be well into the procedures, or even completely through the first phases of these important health care needs.
  • Ask if the puppy is required to be spayed or neutered before reaching a certain age of maturity. It is possible that you may need to sign a contract that says you will have the procedure done, which you will need to plan for it prior to getting your puppy. Typically, these procedures are done in the puppy’s best interest.
  • Find out if the breeder is part of a Havanese organization or group. The most notable group is the Havanese Club of America. Considering the fact that Havanese groups have only recently started to become more common, there are not that many organizations; however, the dog does have a rich history, so you can find a few out there.
  • Ask about the first phases of your puppy’s life, such as how the breeder plans to care for the puppy during those first few months. They should be able to provide a lot of detail, and they should do this without sounding as though they are irritated that you want to know. It will also let you know how much training you can expect to be done prior to the puppy’s arrival so you can plan to take over as soon as the puppy arrives. It is possible that the breeders typically starts house training (in which case, you are very lucky if you can get on the wait list with them).
  • See what kind of advice they give about raising a Havanese. They should be more than happy to help guide you in doing what is best for your dog because they will want the puppies to live happy, healthy lives even after leaving the breeder’s home. You want a caring breeder who is more interested in the health of the puppies than in the money they make. Yes, you could end up paying a considerable amount of money, but you should also get recommendations, advice, and additional care after the puppy arrives at your home. Breeders who show a lot of interest in the dog’s well-being and are willing to answer questions about the dog’s entire life span are likely to breed puppies that are healthy.

Health Tests and Certifications

With the unique history of the Havanese, there are a number of genetic problems. This is just part of having such a tiny genetic pool. There were only a limited number of Bichons in Cuba that evolved into the Havanese breed over time, then there were only 11 dogs that left the small island and became the ancestors of the vast majority of dogs off the island today. To properly care for your puppy, you should know which diseases to watch for and how to best care for your dog.

To start, you want to see what kinds of health problems are known to exist in the parents. The following are the health tests for the Havanese:

  • Hip dysplasia evaluations (OFA evaluation)
  • Elbow dysplasia clearance (OFA evaluation)
  • Hypothyroidism (OFA evaluation)
  • Von Willebrand Disease (OFA evaluation)
  • Thrombopathia (Auburn University)
  • Eye examination by someone who is a member of the ACVO Ophthalmologist (they should be registered with either the OFA or the CERF)

There are no strict certifications, but if your breeder is part of the Havanese Club of America, it means that they are working toward a set standard to ensure the puppies and parents are in the best possible shape. Being a member of these organizations means that the breeders are obligated to meet a minimum set of requirements. If they do not meet these requirements, the breeders are not allowed to be members of the organizations. This ensures that breeders who belong to these organizations are reliable and predictable in the way they treat the puppies.

Contracts and Guarantees

As a dog breed that neared extinction and has made a comeback from a shallow genetic pool, contracts and guarantees are not uncommon. These are meant to protect the puppies as much as they protect you.

Havanese on leash
Photo Courtesy – Alyssa Pawlowks

If a breeder has a contract that must be signed, make sure that you read through it completely and are willing to meet all of the requirements prior to signing it. The contracts tend to be easy to understand and comply with, but you should be aware of all the facts before you agree to anything. Beyond putting down the money for the puppy, signing the contract says that you are serious about taking care of the puppy to the best of your ability by meeting the requirements set forth by the breeder. Since they focus on your behavior toward taking care of your dog, it is a good sign that breeders want to verify that you are serious about taking care of your puppy. The contract will likely include spaying or neutering the puppy once it matures. It may also say that the breeder will retain the registration papers of the puppy, although you can get a copy of them.

The guarantee states what health conditions that the breeder ensures for their puppies. This typically includes details of the dog’s health and recommendations on the next steps of the puppy’s care once it leaves the breeder’s home. Guarantees may provide schedules to ensure that the health care started by the breeder is continued by the new puppy parent. In the event that a major health concern is found, the puppy will need to be returned to the breeder. The contract will also explain what is not guaranteed. The guarantee tends to be very long (sometimes longer than the contract), and you should read it thoroughly before you sign the contract. Guarantees are less common for Havanese than for many of the more common pure breeds though, so you may not find many breeders with one already in place.

Puppy Genetics – The parents

Given the focused lineage of Havanese outside of Cuba, the puppy’s genetics should be relatively easy to track, especially for breeders who are part of the Havanese organizations. Take the time to review the complete history for both parents so that you know what to expect and watch for as your puppy grows and ages. From the personality of the parents to their habits, you want a decent understanding of how your puppy is likely to behave.

It is also important to ask the breeder specifically about the parents to get a feel for how the breeder perceives them. You will have questions about the parents once you finish reviewing the paperwork, and the breeder will be able to provide a much more detailed and emotional picture of the parents.

Selecting Your Puppy

Choosing a Havanese puppy is very similar to selecting a puppy from any other breed. A lot of it is entirely up to you and what you want in a dog. The experience can be highly entertaining and enjoyable – and ultimately very difficult. As much fun as choosing the puppy is, you do need to be careful and serious so that you are not swayed by things that you may find bothersome later.

As you look over the puppies, notice how well each puppy plays with the others. This is a great indicator of just how well your puppy will react to any pets you already have at home.

Also pay attention to the puppies’ interactions as a pack. If you notice that most of the puppies exhibit aggressive behavior or seem mistrustful, you may not want to select a puppy from the litter. Similarly, puppies who appear to be terrified of you, such as keeping their tails tucked or shrinking away, is an indication of the kinds of issues you may encounter in the future with your puppy and training. What you want is a litter that is full of friendly puppies, even if they do not greet you immediately. Sometimes they just want to play with their siblings or figure out what is happening first.

Next, take notice if there is a puppy that is excited about meeting you. Many people take that as a sign that the puppy is the right one for their family, but that is not always true. Keep in mind that the puppy or puppies that immediately greet you are more forward and demanding than the ones who sit back and analyze the situation first.

The puppies who hang back might be afraid, or, more likely, they just want to understand the situation before they get involved. They are not the alpha types that their eager siblings are. These are the more patient and tame puppies, ones that may be easier to train.

Pick the puppy that exhibits the personality traits that you want in your dog. If you want a forward, friendly, excitable dog, the first one to greet you may be the one you seek. If you want a dog that will think things through and let others get more attention, this mellower dog may be better for your home.

Adopting an Older Dog

If you do not want to put in all of the time and research into finding a breeder, waiting for a puppy, and then all of the necessary training, you may want to find an older Havanese. Missing a day or two of training with a puppy can pretty much put you back to square one, while a mature dog can go for a day or two between training sessions since they should already know the basics (at least housetraining). There are adult Havanese in shelters from breeders who took puppies back from people who did not meet the terms of their contracts, or from Havanese rescues.


There is something very satisfying about forming a bond with an adult Havanese. First, you get to skip all of the messy training that can be frustrating. Second, you get to feel like you are providing a home to a dog that really deserves it, and you can save the dog just as much as the Havanese saves you. They can be the companion you need because they are going to want to be with you all of the time. It will take a while to bond, but the dog will come with a lot less stress and frustration (or is more likely to be easier). All high energy, intelligent dogs need a lot of time and dedication to get them to be housetrained, but as long as your Havanese has already been housetrained, you can get right into the more enjoyable types of training.

It is possible that your Havanese may already know some tricks to. Exploring what they already know and starting a new training regimen is a fantastic way of bonding with your Havanese and lets them know that you are excited about spending time with them. It is an excellent way of adding them to the family.

Better still, they can help you start improving yourself. If you want to get more exercise, an older Havanese will help you get started immediately (instead of trapping you in the home trying to teach it the basics). You also have a wide range in possible activities, and your Havanese will be more than happy to join you as you explore new places or get a new look at old ones.


Havanese clubs have their own rescues in addition to their own breeders. You are not as likely to find this breed outside of the small clique because Havanese lovers are very adamant about how the dogs should be taken care of – and they take care of their own. The Havanese dogs that you get through the organizations and breeders have most of the necessary information that is required to sell puppies, meaning you will have the medical history and vaccination information on the dog (although if the human parent was negligent or abusive, the medical history and information may not have been tracked while the dog was with them).

There are several Havanese rescue sites that you can check out to find a purebred pet.

Warning about Small Children and Other Pets

The potential downside to an adult Havanese is that their personalities are already established, including potential problems. If they were not socialized when they were young, there could be problems between your new canine companion and your other pets and young children. They may not be an aggressive dog by nature, but their experiences in the past will influence how they interact with your family.

Given that they tend to be wary of strangers, don’t expect your new family member to be cuddly and fun from the beginning. They are going to need time to get accustomed to the new surroundings and habits of the family. It is best to introduce other pets and your younger children to them more slowly than you would a puppy.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Havanese Dogs" by David Anderson, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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