Havanese vs. Shih Tzu: Which Breed to Get?

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Havanese vs. Shih TzuWhen it comes to choosing the perfect companion dog, Havanese and Shih Tzu might be your two top choices. That said, picking just one is a tough choice. Both of these breeds are similar – they blessed with gorgeous teddy-bear looks and silky hair that looks adorable in a top-knot between their ears.

While similar in some aspects, the Havanese and Shih Tzu are quite different in others. As such, before making a decision, make sure to read through the below – it should help you find out which of the two is the right breed for you.

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Havanese vs Shih Tzu: A Detailed Comparison

Let’s start by comparing the two breeds side-by-side based on a couple of different factors.


The first significant difference between the Shih Tzu and the Havanese lies in their heritage and history.

The Havanese is one of the bichon-type dogs that are likely closely related to our beloved bichon frise. The Havanese most likely comes from the same original Tenerife dog that gave us the bichon frise, making its way to Cuba as a popular sailing dog. However, some argue that the Havanese trace their origins back to ancient and highly prized little dogs from Malta.

Whatever the case, the Havanese’s charming personality and heart-melting look soon made it a favorite amongst the wealthy, just like the other bichon types. Even Napoleon Bonaparte and Queen Victoria were known to love the breed. It was possibly crossed with poodles and other dogs in Cuba, giving the Havanese a greater range of colors. It was called the Blanquito de la Habana or the “Havana Silky Dogs.”

Affluent Cubans fled Cuba with their dogs after the revolution, bringing the breed to the United States. Starting with only 11 dogs, they were able to increase the population and establish one of the USA’s most popular breeds today.

In contrast, there is a lot of controversy in the doggy world over the origins of the Shih Tzu. They probably shared some ancestry with the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso. That said, many argue that the Shih Tzu was a distinct breed for up to a millennia.

The Shih Tzu most likely developed with Tibetan Monks who considered them Buddha’s sacred beasts. In fact, the colored patches on their back are said to be the saddle Buddha rode on, and the white on the top of their head is called “Buddha’s kiss” or blessing.

The monks likely gave them to Chinese royalty as gifts. There, the “little lion dog” became the exclusive dog of royalty, and keeping a Shih Tzu outside the palace was forbidden.


The most notable difference in looks between the Shih Tzu and the Havanese is the shape of their head. In fact, if faced with a Shih Tzu and Havanese together that have their coat cut similarly, the easiest way to know which is which is to look at the nose.

The Havanese has a long, tapered muzzle with a cute, button black nose. On the other hand, the Shih Tzu has a domed forehead and a short, pushed-in, or brachycephalic nose, much like a pug. They also have a very pronounced underbite that would be considered a fault in the Havanese.

They are similar in size, being both small but sturdy. The Havanese and the Shih Tzu ideally stand 9 to 10.5 inches tall and weigh roughly between 10 and 16 pounds. They both have long silky coats. Shih Tzu owners may it cut into a “teddy bear cut” or a “puppy cut” to make it more manageable. Meanwhile, Havanese owners may spend time cording the coat, a practice that is common with breeds like the Puli.

Both are long and double-coated breeds with soft, wavy, hypoallergenic coats. Both can be any color, so long as their nose, eyes, and eye rims are dark. They most often have white on their bellies, chests, muzzles, and white lines running up their forehead. Typically their ears and backs are colored, with tails that curve over their back.

Keep in mind that the American Kennel Club and the UK Kennel Club do not have the same breed standard for the Shih Tzu.

Aging Profile

As similarly sized dogs, the Havanese and Shih Tzu have very similar aging profiles. Both are eligible for new homes from about 8 weeks and will begin teething at roughly three months (be sure to puppy proof your home!). They will reach sexual maturity between six and eight months and should be adults between ten and twelve months.

At first glance, their lifespans seem very similar too. A Havanese lives between 13 and 16 years on average, while the Shih Tzu has a lifespan between 10 and 16 years. However, one major difference between the Shih Tzu and Havanese is their health and, as a consequence, the vet’s bills you may have to pay.

The Havanese is usually quite a healthy breed. Some issues can emerge, such as luxating patellas (shifting kneecaps), eye problems, liver issues, or heart problems. They may even have joint issues such as hip dysplasia, more common in much larger dogs. However, unless you are adopting, if you make sure to find a good breeder, you can find a puppy where most of these health issues have been screened out of the bloodline.

The Shih Tzu can be much more of an issue regarding health and vet costs. Since they have been so popular, Shih Tzus have unfortunately suffered from unscrupulous breeding practices. With the problems that come from such a short nose, the Shih Tzu is subject to many more health issues than the Havanese. These include:

  • Breathing and skin problems in the facial folds due to the nose being bred too short
  • Very prevalent eye problems, ranging from cataracts to infections and irritations of the cornea
  • Ear infections
  • Allergies and common skin dermatitis problems

Severe issues such as heart problems are also very prevalent among Shih Tzus. For this reason, unless you are adopting, it is vital to seek out only the best breeder for your Shih Tzu and ask for a complete health screening. It is also better to look for a breeder who breeds for a slightly longer nose, as this can decrease the number of respiratory problems, even if it isn’t quite as cute.


The Havanese is a cheerful, merry, and confident little dog that loves to play and clown around. They are highly attached velcro dogs that often have a favorite person they refuse to be separated from. So don’t expect to ever go to the bathroom again alone after you get a Havanese.

They are relatively active, but not excessively. Their extreme attachment means that these are not dogs that can be left alone for long hours. The Havanese is best suited to owners who work from home or who are retired, as they are devoted companions. They adore children and get on well with other animals, although socialization is always important for any dog.

They are sometimes shy with strangers, but they are not big barkers and do not need too much space. This makes the Havanese ideal for apartments or places with small yards.

The Shih Tzu is also a fantastic companion, but it usually has far more of an independent streak. These are generally sweet, gentle, and easy-going dogs. Like the Havanese, they prefer cuddling with their owners to almost any other activity and are usually very friendly with strangers. They typically get on well with other animals. They are quite a gentle breed, even if they are less compliant than the Havanese.


The Havanese is that rare mix of both highly intelligent and highly trainable. They thrive on attention and positive reinforcement, so they learn tricks quickly and are highly versatile for a companion dog. They do well as therapy dogs, in sports like obedience or agility, and they can even function as working service dogs or detectors for mold and termites.

Ultimately, the Havanese want to keep their owner happy, and they are very smart, so they are great at adapting to most tasks within reason.

Conversely, the Shih Tzu is a moderately intelligent breed with a stubborn streak and is less trainable overall. This does not mean they cannot be trained; they will need consistency, patience, and plenty of rewards.


Both breeds are prone to tear staining and need daily maintenance of their eye area as bacteria can build up and cause infections from the constantly damp fur. Their long hair and double coat mean that they are both quite high-maintenance when it comes to grooming.

Many pet parents who do not show their dogs may choose to keep the coat clipped slightly short to make it easier to maintain.

Since the long coat can be prone to matting and causing a visual obstruction, keeping it trimmed is a good option. That is unless you are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to maintain the long natural silky locks that both the Havanese and the Shih Tzu possess.

Whatever the case, it’s crucial to establish a grooming routine as early as possible. Daily brushing is necessary if you choose to keep a long coat. Havanese owners may also learn how to cord their dog’s coat, which will also require a degree of consistent maintenance.

Furthermore, as teeth can be a problem, especially for the Shih Tzu, teeth brushing and doggy mouthwash should be part of their daily grooming. Make sure to clip their nails at least once a month, as overgrown nails can pull on the ligaments and tendons in their little legs, making luxating patellas more likely.

Luckily, neither the Shih Tzu nor the Havanese are big shedders, although their coats require quite a bit of effort.

Other Factors

Some other factors to consider when choosing between a Havanese and Shih Tzu are:

  • Neither breed needs a lot of space or exercise, and both can do well in apartments. However, the Havanese is slightly more alert and active and will enjoy a sport or activity.
  • Both breeds should have about 30 minutes of daily structured exercise, such as a walk.
  • Shih Tzu puppy prices typically start at about $500 and go up to $6,000. It may be tempting to buy a puppy on the lower end of the price spectrum, but with the likelihood of serious health issues, it is a better investment to get a more expensive but properly health-screened Shih Tzu puppy.
  • On the other hand, the Havanese is usually cheaper than the Shih Tzu, starting at around $850. Still, you can get one of the best-bred puppies for around $2,500, which is considerably less than the most expensive Shih Tzus.

Havanese vs. Shih Tzu: Which Should You Get as a Pet?

You can get either a Havanese or a Shih Tzu if:

  • You work from home or are retired or if somebody is home most of the day
  • You have older and responsible children
  • You need a low shedding, hypoallergenic dog
  • You need a dog that usually gets on well with other animals
  • You live in a small space and want a relatively quiet dog
  • You do not want a watchdog
  • You want a dog that does not need excessive exercise aside from about a 30-minute walk
  • You have plenty of time for grooming

If the above applies to you and you need to choose one, get a Shih Tzu if:

  • You are prepared for possibly higher vet bills or to invest in a more expensive puppy from a reputable breeder; pet insurance is advised for a Shih Tzu especially
  • You love their cute squished faces
  • You don’t particularly want to do any activities that involve too much training; you simply want a dog to keep you company

On the other hand, get a Havanese if:

  • You want a highly trainable dog that can easily learn tricks or work as a therapy or service dog
  • You may not have a lot of time for exercise, but you would like a slightly more active dog that really enjoys playing
  • You are interested in the exotic corded look
  • You are looking for a more reliably healthy breed


Aside from their history, the Shih Tzu and the Havanese have much in common. They are almost identical in size, with long silky hair that can come in any color. They are also devoted companions who need to be close to their owners as much as possible. However, they differ in their facial structure.

The Havanese is generally a healthier breed that is a bit more active and highly trainable.

Considering Other Breeds Too?

Make sure to read how the Havanese compares with other breeds too:

Whether you are looking for food for your dog or other pet supplies, Chewy.com has them all. Right now, they are even running a promotion where you get 40% OFF your first Instinct Raw Frozen autoship order.