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Grooming Advice

The coat of the Havanese may be clipped or kept long. Show dogs must have long hair, but family dogs can be trimmed short for no-fuss grooming.

As the owner of a Havanese you are going to do a lot of grooming. Having the right equipment will make all the difference in whether this is a pleasant experience for your puppy or not. You will need to groom your puppy whether you keep him in his natural long-haired state, or whether you choose to have him in cut shorter in a puppy clip. Some people think a shorter coat is easier to manage, but easier does not mean maintenance free! Here is a list of what I would say are the essentials; items I think you absolutely cannot do without – other grooming tools are useful and good but for starters make sure you have these:-

• A good quality Pin Brush – not one with bobbles on the end of the pins as they split the ends of the hair. Ideally the pins will be precision machined brass (which causes less static than steel). They need to have rounded ends to the pins so they do not scratch the skin. Before you groom your dog with the brush (and ideally in the shop before you buy it even) try the brush on your forearm. Brush your arm reasonably firmly – if your arm feels scratched and sore then that is how your puppy will feel all over if you use that brush. Good quality pin brushes will not scratch you and will ease tangles out without causing too much pain to your puppy.

  • A comb – again use one with rounded ends to the tines rather than sharp

  • A good shampoo and conditioner

  • A “Grooming Spray”

  • A bottle of eye cleaner and cotton wool pads

  • “Thornit Powder” or other ear plucking powder.

  • Ear cleaner

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste

  • Nail clippers/grinder

  • Blunt ended scissors for cutting the hair from around the pads of the feet.

  • Styptic Powder




A word about why Havanese grooming is so essential

Havanese dogs are double coated; they have a top coat and an undercoat. Many double coated dogs have a distinct difference in texture between their top and under coats – most undercoats are soft but the top coat is course – when dogs like that moult the soft coat easily falls away from the courser top coat. A Havanese has no distinct difference in texture between its top and under coat – both are soft. What this means is that as hairs loosen at the root to drop out, they do not drop but instead become entangled. If left, matts will occur. Matts are not only unsightly, but also uncomfortable and unhealthy for your dog – matts can harbour dirt and mite. The only way to avoid matts is thorough LINE BRUSHING – parting the hair and brushing in sections, ensuring that the whole length of each hair, from skin to end, is brushed. This not only detangles the hair enabling it to stay cleaner and free of debris, but it also massages the skin ensuring good blood flow to the hair follicles and proper distribution of natural oils to maintain a healthy shiny coat. Do not be tempted to use an undercoat rake on a Havanese – undercoat rakes are designed to pull out the soft undercoat of breeds of dog with a distinctly courser top coat – certainly not for Havanese coats.


Grooming - Daily if possible 

Although your new puppy will not ‘need’ a daily grooming initially, in order to train him to keep still and behave whilst you are grooming him, it is wise to go through the motions of grooming each day, ready for the time when he ‘really does need’ it.

Line brushing is a lot easier if your dog will lie on its side and allow you to lift his legs to reach his tummy etc. Start to teach him to lie like this as a puppy so that, by the time you really need him to lie like that for line brushing, he is comfortable with it.

Keep it short and sweet, but practice often remembering to praise and treat good behaviour often.  Also practice having him stand – make sure that the surface you are using is not slippery or he may get spooked. If you have a rubber surfaced grooming table – great… if you do not, improvise using a bath mat or something – just make sure your puppy will not skid about.


Holding your hand under the crease of your puppy’s back legs will discourage him from sitting down. When your puppy will lie or stand still you can start line brushing using your PIN BRUSH.  Basically line brushing just means systematically brushing all the hair – where you start and where you finish is a matter of preference, and indeed it is good if you do not always brush starting and ending in the same place, because doing things differently could lead to brushing the hair at a slightly different angle which helps to ensure you do not miss any parts.


Hair splits less, if static is minimised – this is what the Grooming Spray is for. You can buy a grooming spray or you can mix a little conditioner with water, and spray that on sections of hair so as to slightly dampen (but not saturate) the hair you are brushing.

To brush the legs you can either have the dog on their back or have the dog standing:

if the dog is on its back, I hold the leg up. Start where the leg meets the body, brushing small sections away from you, so the hair is being brushed against the way it would naturally fall if the dog was standing up. Go carefully and do not tug (matts appear most often in the armpit areas). On each brush stroke make sure you get the brush right into where the skin starts, but without scratching the skin. Assuming you do not find any matts, work your way through, brushing small sections from the armpit, until you reach the foot. Once you have finished one leg with the pin brush, go over it again with the COMB to make sure you have detangled everywhere on the leg. Brushing the legs this way, against the natural fall of the coat, creates a very fluffy look; when you have finished you may want to stand your dog up and comb through again, following the natural fall of the coat.

If the dog is standing I start at the foot, holding the hair out of the way with one hand and, with the brush in the other hand, brushing sections downwards. Work your way up the leg to the body.


To brush the body:-

If the dog is on its back, imagine a line running down your dog’s tummy from head to tail (the mid-line). Work on small sections of hair at a time, brush all the hair working outwards from the mid-line. Remember to get the brush right to the root of the hair as when tangles and matts start to form, that is where they usually start. When you think you have finished with the brush, go over the same area again with your comb. When you have brushed all of the underside of the dog, section by section, let the dog stand or lie down on his side and continue to brush small sections working your way towards his spine.

If the dog is standing reach under the dog to brush the underside in small sections, and then comb through the area. When the underside is done continue the remainder of the dog as above.


Dealing with Mats

Your dog will get mats at some time so you need to know how to deal with them. With most mats it is a case of locating the mat and then, using your comb tease out that part at the very ends of the hair. Keep going slowly and gently to tease out sections getting closer and closer to the hair root. There are various de-tangling products on the market. You can also use a little cornflour or conditioner on the mat and to tease it out as mentioned above. 






Always brush your dog before bathing him – if you do not any knots and tangles that are there will tighten and get far worse once wet, so they will be more difficult to remove. Before you put your dog in the bath or sink put a non-slip mat down for him to stand on so he does not skid about. Choose a shampoo that is very gentle.  Also be aware that not all shampoos are tearless, so be very careful around the eyes. If shampoo gets into the eye it can cause more problems than just a little stinging – it can burn and cause ulcers in the eye. If shampoo does get in your dog’s eye rinse the eye very thoroughly with clean cool water.


Once you have shampooed you may choose to condition – I like to do this because well-conditioned hair is less prone to tangles. The type of conditioner you use will depend on what your dog’s coat is like at the time; if the coat is quite fluffy and you want to tame it you will want a different product to if the coat is smooth and silky – the confusing thing is that the same dog will probably require both sorts of treatment at different stages. When you try new products try to get samples before you splash out on buying a lot of a product which may not suit your dog. Just as there are many different shampoos and conditioners for humans, so there are many different ones for dogs. Dogs’ skin has a different pH to that of humans, so although some people use human shampoo on dogs, it could cause skin problems. For us an itchy scalp is irritating, but imagine if instead of just your scalp, the itching was all over. Remeber to always dilute shampoo and conditioner, never use neat, unless it is a specialist product for a specific task and is meant to be applied undiluted. Diluting shampoos and conditioners will also lead to the pH moving towards the neutral range.


The final stage of every bath-time is thorough rinsing and drying. Any excess product left in the coat is likely to cause itching, and scratching those itches will cause matting…. so if you want to avoid mats make sure you rinse very thoroughly. As regards drying, the weather will dictate whether you can air dry your dog or whether you really do need to use a dryer. If you do use a dryer, use a warm rather than hot setting and keep checking its temperature with your hand so it doesn’t become too hot and burn the skin.

Remember, wet dogs can chill quickly if the weather is cold. Once your dog is no longer saturated but merely damp (almost dry), groom him again to remove any tangles that have found their way into the coat during rubbing shampoo in etc. I like to finish with a spray of mink coat oil which helps tame flyaway hair and helps to restore oil to the coat which the bathing has partially stripped out of the coat.


Ears & Eyes

Some Havanese dogs need to have any long hairs plucked out of their ears to keep the ear canal clear. Excessive hairs can cause debris to accumulate which can lead to problems. Havanese with lighter growth do not need routine plucking. You will find opinions divided on this topic!

Whilst plucking sounds a painful and tricky task it is actually quite simple with the right product. I use Thornit powder, which seems to weaken the hair root….. you dust a little into each ear and wait 20 or so minutes…. then, with your thumb and forefinger pull the hair out. I would not say it is a pleasure for the dog, but it is not particularly painful (I know this as I have tried the product on my nephew’s eyebrows, and he was amazed that I did not even need tweezers to remove hairs). After you have used the Thornit powder clean the ear with an ear cleaner.


The eyes of Havanese dogs often suffer a little because of their long fringes hanging in their eyes. In their native Cuba their fringes protect their eyes from fierce sunlight…… but here in the UK they do not need that protection. I tie fringes back using a french plait because it holds the ends out of the eyes but it does not pull on the roots of the hair too much. If the hair is pulled too tight it can fall out in that area (traction alopecia), so do not pull topknots tight.


As regards keeping the eye area clean and reducing tear staining, I use an eye cleaner such as “Pretty Eyes”, but there are many other products on the market. Soak a cotton pad and place over the hair around the eye and hold it there for a short while to soften any debris. If necessary repeat until any debris is soft enough to wipe away from the eye. Often, whilst the debris has become soft, it still sticks to the hair stubbornly – this is when you use the face comb – just to remove any soft debris which is not coming off easily with a cotton pad. Use separate cotton pads for each eye to avoid transferring any infection should there be any.



Just like human beings, your dog’s teeth accumulate plaque, which can harden into tartar. If the teeth are neglected, bacteria can grow causing infections. Regular brushing can help maintain your dog’s teeth and gums, as well as keeping his breath fresh. You should brush his teeth 1-2 times a week, but there are also other ways – There are some wonderful products available to help keep your dog’s teeth healthy – Plaque-off is a seaweed based powder which you sprinkle on the dog’s food. It works by changing the saliva so plaque does not stick to the tooth enamel in the same way. Another is Petzlife -which can be obtained in either gel or spray. Besides helping your dog avoid getting plaque, Petzlife can remove plaque that has already built up on teeth.


If you start at a young age by scratching the muzzle and handling the mouth you should soon be able to rub the teeth and gums with your finger. Then you should be able to easily progress to gently brushing the dog’s teeth with a small soft toothbrush or finger brush.

Never use human toothpaste as it contains detergent, which will foam in the dog’s mouth and if swallowed may upset the stomach. A better alternative is to use canine toothpaste.  This special enzymatic toothpaste is available from your vet or pet supply store in an assortment of palatable flavors like chicken, liver and malt.


Be very careful about giving your dog bones – the only bones a dog should have are those which do not splinter and large enough that they cannot be swallowed or become wedged across the mouth. Stagbars (pieces of deer antler) are completely natural, ethically sourced and ideal for puppies as well as older dogs. Chewing releases “happy” chemicals in the dog’s brain which help to make the dog calm and contented. This is why, chastising a dog harshly for chewing something they should not have can cause the dog stress such that he looks to alleviate that stress by… you guessed it…. chewing! You may also give nylabones, or (my Hav’s personal favourite) Dentastix, which she has last thing at night. Chewing helps the teething puppy but do not leave a puppy unattended with anything it might chew pieces off as the pup could choke. Instead, if the puppy is going to be unattended opt for a chew he cannot get pieces off – a Stagbar or chew toy (inspect chew toys frequently to make sure they have not become so well chewed that there is a danger that pieces may come off.


Trimming Nails

Nail care is a basic grooming issue. Your dog’s nails should be trimmed about twice a month. Long nails interfere with the dog’s gait, making walking awkward or painful. They can also break easily. With black nails it is very difficult to see where the quick of the nail is. If you cut a nail down to the quick it will bleed and your dog will not like it. I use a Pedipaws which is a rotating emery cylinder with a nail guard to stop the hair getting caught by the rotating head. The Pedipaws grinds rather than cuts so you do not ever go too short to make the nail bleed. If you accidentally cut the quick of the nail, it bleeds, so treat it with styptic powder as calmly and rapidly as you can. If you have great difficulty with cutting nails, most vets or groomers will do a nail clip for a nominal charge.


Pet Clip

Many pet owners do not want the work of keeping a Havanese in full, show coat, so prefer a shortened coat that will be easier to brush and maintain. The most popular option is to have the coat clipped or scissored to a uniform length all over. Your groomer can help you decide which length is best according to your grooming skills and inclination as well as the appearance that you wish to maintain. If longer hair appeals to you, but there is just too much of it, you can have it layered 3 to 4 inches all over, with the feet rounded and the hair around the eyes trimmed. This is easier to manage, but must be combed out several times a week.


Anal Glands

Dogs have two scent glands located at the periphery of their anus. If you imagine the anus as a clock face they are located at approximately 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock. Normally the glands will empty without you having to do anything, by the pressure created when the dog defecates. However, if the dog is constipated so does not pass any stools for a while, or if the dog’s stools are loose (so that insufficient pressure is placed on the anal glands) then the anal glands may not empty without intervention. In such circumstances the anal glands become enlarged and very uncomfortable for the dog. You may notice a strong fishy smell around the dog’s rear end, and you may notice the dog scooting his bottom along on the ground in an attempt to empty the anal glands. If you notice any of these things I would advise you to take your dog to the vet or your local groomer who will charge a small fee for emptying the anal glands and who, if you wish to deal with it yourself in the future, can show you how to do it yourself. If you suspect that the anal glands may need emptying do not just put it off – it is very uncomfortable for the dog and if left infection can occur. If, on a frequent basis, the anal glands are not emptying without intervention then speak to your vet about it – it may be that you need to think carefully whether any food or treats you are giving are right for your particular dog – your vet will be able to make appropriate recommendations.

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