APRIL 24, 2005




CH. Starkette CEO de Tresors, at the Havanese Specialty,  2002 



Basic grooming tips


Hugging a Havanese feels like embracing the clouds. With their silky and soft coat, they are the closest you can get to a real-life plush toy. But, to have keep them looking their best, they do require some time and dedication. "The dog should be shown as naturally as it is consistent with good grooming", reads the AKC standard. Therefore, "natural" and "non-shedding" do not mean without grooming and care.

Some people prefer to have their Havanese (if they are not being shown or already finished their championships, of course) in "puppy-cut", keeping their coat shorter, sort of the way they looked when they were puppies. I have to say that I just love a Havanese in full or show-coat. To me, their coat, is one of the attributes that really stands out with the breed. Somehow, the softness of their coats, and that natural way of carrying it, perfectly shows their lovable, joyful and mischievous temperament.

However, as you can see for yourselves in these pictures, Havs look adorable with long hair, puppy coat: their smiles and their personalities are what make these guys the best breed in the world.

Adorable Havanese models showing-off their puppy-cuts
(To see a bigger picture, please click the thumbnail)

proud owner of
Karen Horne-Grant of
Long Island, NY

owner of Carolyn Angus'heart
British Columbia

owner of Bruce + Katie Say's life
Prairiwind's Drivin' Miss Oopsa Daisy
lives in California


Here are some tips -regarding the grooming routine, and the brushing- that have helped me keep my babies coat in good shape. It´s been a learning process, so I owe many of them to people that have lots more experience with long-coated breeds. Also, there are some really good sites and works on this subject that I'll mention in the LINKS area. I trust you'll find them useful. Moreover, please do refer to their sections on teeth and nail care, very important part of their grooming routines.



  Get him/her used to a grooming routine from day one

Although very little grooming might be required prior to six months, get your Hav puppy used to the grooming routine as early as possible. It is during these early months that you should get him used to all aspects of grooming care -- bathing, brushing, nail clipping, dental care, etc. This is also a golden opportunity to accustom him to lying on his side either on the grooming table or wherever you plan to groom him.

Begin with only a few minutes expectation at first, and slowly lengthen the time period. Be firm, but patient and kind. Play with his feet, cut his nails, clean his ears and teeth,  and brush him, so the whole routine feels natural to him. Your best bet is to start slowly, winning her trust.  Havanese love to please, so she'll get into the routine fast. If she feels uneasy at the beginning, don't worry. She'll get used to the routine sooner than you might expect. In my case, all of them, Lola, Charlie and Candela, fall asleep while I brush them! Well, Candela "almost" falls asleep...

On the other hand, the opportunity you have to be with your dog, to share this time together, caring for them, is one of the advantages of having long-coated breeds. If you see it like that, like an opportunity to relax and to share with your companion some "quality time" together, I guarantee you that the whole thing will become something you look forward to, instead of a dreadful affair.

A tip that was -and still is- very important in my case, is to give them a treat when you're done. All of mine run to the place where I keep their goodies as soon as the grooming sessions are over!


  Grooming place


Basic grooming table

Some people prefer to groom their Havs on grooming tables. To me, this table is essential for shows and to blow-dry their coats after a bath. However -and this is totally personal- I like to place them in my bed, turn on the CD player or watch a good TV show, and brush them thoroughly.



After watching the DVD of the Grooming Seminar, I bought a new Ionic Dryer.  It has worked great.  Make sure that the one you buy has different temperature settings, and it allows you to set the cool air without having to keep the botton pressed!  Great with the arms that you attach to the grooming tables.


  Brushing and combing

This is, perhaps, the most important step in the grooming of a Havanese. The ideal would be to brush them daily, but three to four times a week is enough to keep the coat in good shape. By brushing, I mean, "deep" brushing, not just a light one.

The best way is to brush the coat in layers, starting at the root, close to the skin, with the dog laying on her side. After you finish one layer -making sure it is tangle free- , then you part the hair some two inches up, and start working the second layer.

In my case, I always start with the hind leg on that side, then the buttocks, the stomach, the chest, and I work my way up towards the backbone. After I finish one side, I turn them over to the other side, and start all over again.

I leave the head area for the end. What I do is that I get a cushion, put their front legs on top, so the head is closer to me, and start combing and brushing it. I prefer to keep their head hair on a top-knot so it doesn't get in their eyes -thus irritating them- and it does help keep it cleaner.

As with any long coated dog, some food, or any kind of "memento" from the places they have been discovering, will get in their face.  Also, when they drink water and eat, the hair around the muzzle might get "cakey" and hard.  A good idea is to spray some of the conditioners mentioned before brushing the area.  Another product that comes in handy for that area is to use a waterless shampoo in between baths. 

Some areas tend to mat more than the others.  Therefore, special attention should be paid to the neck area, the armpits, behind the ears, the area close to the tail- and the small tangles that tend to form close to their "private" parts.

I imagine that each person has their own little routine, but I find that the ideal is to have one, so you don´t leave any part of the coat un-brushed, and your Hav already knows how the whole thing will go. I mean, Lola starts waving her tail when I get to the head part - I think I do too-, Candela starts to kiss me and Charlie just looks at me like saying: "Move it Mom, I want my treat!".

At any rate, each layer must be sprayed with a coat conditioner, a grooming spray or a detangler. Diluted cream rinse also works well. This prevents the coat from breaking and it helps loosen any mat or tangle.

Chris Christenssen's Ice on Ice is wonderful for brushing

The best brushes are the pin brushes without the tips that tend to tangle and break the hair. I use a small one for the head area and a bigger one for the rest of the body, specially in Charlie´s case, because he's the one who has a fuller and more profuse coat. 


A good brush is the best investment you'll made in your Hav's coat.
  Do not go for the cheaper ones. 
Here are some of the ones that have worked for us.


Plush Puppy
Bristle and Plastic Metro
Anti-Static Brush
Little Wonder from Chris Christenssen
This size is really useful for the ring!
Plush Puppy
Half Plastic, Half Bristle Brush
New shape of Chris Christenssen
All Systems Pin Brush small Chris Christenssen brushes


After I finish brushing them, I always comb them with a greyhound comb to make sure that all of it has been properly brushed.


Greyhound comb


A good brushing is always important and it is essential before bathing them. Never bathe your Havanese without brushing him first. Should you wet her hair without combing it first, all the tangles would turn to mats, making it a lot harder to remove them and a lot easier to break the coat.


"Flea Comb"


Every day, to avoid the stains around the eyes, and to keep your Havs face clean, remove the "stuff" that gets close to the inner corner of the eye.  You might use a flea comb or a face comb.  Afterwards, I clean the area with a cotton with tear stain remover.



  The "M" word: Mats

Unfortunately, mats are part of the deal when you have a long-coated dog. The most important thing is not to panic. Take it easy, be patient, and you'll see how you conquer. Of course that the best thing is not to let them form or to eliminate them as soon as they appear, but sometimes, specially when the puppy is in the "blowing coat" stage (changing his puppy coat into an adult coat, it may happen any time when they are around a year old), it is easier said than done. Somehow they do seem to appear from one minute to the next!

Also, every coat is different, some do tend to mat more easily than others. In our case, for instance, even though Charlie is the one who has the more profuse coat, he is also the one who mats the least. (Thank God!).

Anyways, the most important tip I can give you is: Divide and you'll conquer! Take it "one mat at a time", and do not even look or think about the rest of the coat until you're done with it. There are lots of products in the market that help a lot. Their effectiveness will depend on you taste and on the type of coat of your Havanese. You may find that the product that does wonders for one, doesn't seem to work for the other.

What you do is to saturate the mat (wet of spray it) with the detangler. First, I work the mat with my fingers, carefully separating the hairs. At this point it's better not to comb it, this would only contribute to the mats getting tighter. After I've work them with my hands, I brush the area softly and very carefully. I finish with a comb. Here the detangler combs -with rotating teeth- come very handy.


Rotating teeth comb or "untangler"


Do everything very smoothly to avoid breaking the hair. Do not think in the mats that are still out there. Concentrate on the one at hand and you'll see that it is not that terrible. You may even choose to do one side at one time, take a break, and then come back to finish the other. Again, the best way to go is to brush daily and to try to avoid tangles before they turn into mats. By the way, those tiny balls that may be left in a strand of hair when the mat is separated, have to be comb out or they will turn into mats all over again.

Another tip I've read to ease a tough mat is to use either powder/ corn starch on it.  It absorbs the humidity that might be helping tighten the mat.  Once you've sprinkled the mat with the powder, you should work the mat with your fingertips and finish by brushing the area.


Some products to help with the mats

I use them in moderation -just in the mat-, and always follow-up with a bath

Cowboy Magic Detangler   EQyss Survivor
Detangler Shine



Ear Cleaning

Havanese have dropped ears and as such are more prone to infections and dirty ears than some prick ear breeds.  Cleaning the ears, then, should be done regularly in order to avoid any problems.  It is a pretty simple procedure: hold open the ear area, and clean inside the ear flap with a moistened cotton ball or a cloth.  I use an ear cleaner in liquid form, pour a small amount, close the ear flap, give them a small massage, and then run a cloth that will pick up any accumulated dirt and/or wax.  

Some people advice to either pluck, with tweezers or with your fingers, the hair inside the ears.  Some don't.  I guess it depends on the amount of hair that each dog has in the area and if it is causing trouble.  Thank God, we've had no problems whatsoever with their ears, and none of them has that much hair in the area.

As with humans, it is very important not to probe too deep inside the ear canal.  Also, do not use a Q-Tip to clean them. There is no need and you might end up hurting your dog.



Cleaning the teeth

Dogs accumulate plaque which can promote tooth decay, the same way humans do.  Not only that, bacteria left may cause serious gum infections.  Therefore, routine cleaning of the teeth -twice or three times a week- is very important.  There are special toothbrushes -and flavor pastes- for them.   


Trimming the nails

This part of the routine is also very important.  It's amazing how fast some dogs' nails can grow.  Most of our Havs live inside the house, so the chance that their nails will be "naturally" filed is almost non-existent. 


Nail clipper
 plier style
Nail clipper
guillotine style


Long nails may cause a lot of problems like broken nails -painful and bleed profusely-, nails may curl and grow into the dog's feet or, this may even affect their posture.  A good indication that it is time for a pedicure is when we start hearing that "click, click" sound when they walk.  If dogs get used to having their feet handled from the time they are puppies, this will be a lot easier for both dog and owner.  

Remember that you just want to cut the excess.  Learning what is excess and where the nerves and blood vessels begin is key before doing it for the first time.  However, if an accident occurs and the "quick" (the vein that travels under his nail) is cut, have styptic powder (like Kwik Stop) at hand.

It is very important to get a good nail trimmer, and to start slowly, building yours as well as your Havs confidence.  Ah, remember to praise her a lot when you're done and a treat would not hurt either.

There are some great products out there.  However, not all work the same with all dog's coats at all times.  The only way is to try them and see what works with each type of coat.  Here are some brands, and PetEdge -great store, great service-, that have worked for us.  Other ones that we've tried and liked are Vellus, #1All Systems, some of the EQyss products.


I'll be adding more tips along the way. In the meantime, do visit the places marked in the LINKS area. Some people have lots of experience and have done wonderful jobs explaining the whole process. I feel like I learn something new every day. 

Believe me: the grooming time is now something I actually look forward to, instead of dread.