Although he’s born to be a companion, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog breed retains the sporty nature of his spaniel ancestors. If he’s not sitting on a lap or getting a belly rub, nothing makes him happier than to flush a bird and then attempt to retrieve it. One of the largest of the toy breeds, he’s often as athletic as a true sporting breed and enjoys hiking, running on the beach, and dog sports such as agility, flyball and rally. Some have even shown their prowess as hunting dogs. The more restful members of the breed find success as family friends and therapy dogs.
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The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a beautiful small dog that undoubtedly is a contender for the title of "top tail-wagger." In fact, among the characteristics that Cavalier breeders strive to attain is a tail in constant motion when this breed is moving.
If the characteristic wagging of the Cavalier's plumy tail doesn't melt your heart, surely his large, dark round eyes will. Warm and lustrous, with a sweet expression, they hold the power to extract constant petting and unlimited supplies of food from people under their spell. Not surprisingly, this breed can easily become fat, which spoils its lovely lines, so be strong and offer a walk or playtime instead of the potato chips and pizza your Cavalier is angling for.
Cavaliers pad through the house on slippered paws, always following in the footsteps of their people. With a Cavalier in residence, you'll never be alone — not even in the bathroom. Because they're so attached to their people, they do best when someone is at home during the day to keep them company. They are a housedog and will never thrive in an environment where they're relegated to the backyard or otherwise ignored.
When it comes to training, Cavaliers are generally intelligent and willing to try whatever it is you'd like them to do. Food rewards and positive reinforcement help ensure that training goes smoothly. Cavaliers have a soft personality, so yelling at them is counterproductive and likely to send these sweeties into the sulks or into hiding. Instead, reward them every time you see them doing something you like, whether it's chewing on a toy instead of your Prada pumps or not barking in response when the dog next door barks. They'll fall all over themselves to find more things that you like.
As with many toy breeds, Cavaliers can have issues with housetraining, but if you keep them on a consistent schedule, with plenty of opportunities to potty outdoors, they can become trustworthy in the home.
- Cavaliers have a dependent personality. They love to be with people and shouldn't be left alone for long periods of time
- Your Cavalier will shed, especially in the spring and fall. Regular combing and brushing is required.
- Because he's a spaniel at heart, he may try to chase birds, rabbits and other small prey if he isn't kept on leash or in a fenced yard.
- Cavaliers may bark when someone comes to your door, but because of their friendly nature, they aren't good guard dogs.
- Cavaliers are housedogs and should not live outdoors.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
While the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a relatively new breed, recreated less than a century ago, his prototype is the toy spaniel that has existed for centuries as a companion to royalty and nobility.
Cavaliers are descended from the same toy spaniels depicted in many 16th, 17th, and 18th century paintings by famous artists such as Van Dyck and Gainsborough. The spaniels in those paintings had flat heads, high-set ears, and longish noses.
These little spaniels were great favorites of royal and noble families in England. Mary, Queen of Scots had a toy spaniel who accompanied her as she walked to her beheading, and her grandson, Charles I, and great-grandson, Charles II — who gave their name to the breed — loved the little dogs as well. It's said that King Charles II, who reigned from 1660 to 1685, never went anywhere without at least two or three of these little spaniels. He even decreed that the spaniels should be allowed in any public place, including the Houses of Parliament. It's claimed that the decree is still in effect today in England, although no one has tested it recently to see if it's true.
After Charles II's death, the King Charles Spaniels' popularity waned, and Pugs and other short-faced breeds became the new royal favorites. The King Charles Spaniels were bred with these dogs and eventually developed many of their features, such as the shorter nose and the domed head.
There was one stronghold of the King Charles Spaniels that were of the type that King Charles himself had so loved — and that was at Blenheim Palace, the country estate of the Dukes of Marlborough. Here, a strain of red and white Toy Spaniels continued to be bred, which is why Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with this coloration are called Blenheim today.
Since there was no standard for the breed and no dog shows yet, the type and size of the toy spaniels bred by the Dukes of Marlborough varied. In the mid-19th century, however, English breeders started holding dog shows and trying to refine different dog breeds. By that time, the toy spaniel was accepted as having a flat face, undershot jaw, domed skull and large, round, front-facing eyes. The King Charles Spaniels depicted in paintings from earlier centuries were almost extinct.
In the 1920s, an American named Roswell Eldridge started searching in England for toy spaniels that resembled those in the old paintings. He searched for more than five years, even taking his search to the Crufts Dog Show, where he persuaded the Kennel Club (England's equivalent to the American Kennel Club) to allow him to offer 25 pounds sterling — a huge sum at the time — for the best dog and best bitch of the type seen in King Charles II's reign. He offered this prize for five years.
In 1928, Miss Mostyn Walker presented a dog named Ann's Son for evaluation and was awarded the 25-pound prize. Roswell Eldridge didn't live to see the prize claimed, as he had died just one month before Crufts. Interest in the breed revived, and a breed club was formed. The name Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was chosen to differentiate the breed from the flat-faced King Charles Spaniel (known as the English Toy Spaniel in the United States).
The club held its first meeting on the second day of Crufts in 1928 and drew up a breed standard, a written description of how the breed should look. Ann's Son was presented as an example of the breed, and club members gathered up all of the copies of pictures of the old paintings that had little dogs of this type in them. One thing that all club members agreed upon from the start was that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels would be kept as natural as possible and trimming and shaping of the dog for the show ring would be discouraged.
The Kennel Club was reluctant to recognize the new breed, but finally, in 1945, after years of work by the breeders, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was recognized as a separate breed.
In the 1940s, two male Cavaliers were imported into the U.S. from England — Robrull of Veren and Bertie of Rookerynook. It wasn't until 1952, however, that Cavaliers had their true beginnings in the U.S. In that year, Mrs. (Sally) Lyons Brown of Kentucky was given a black and tan bitch puppy named Psyche of Eyeworth by her English friend, Lady Mary Forwood. She fell in love with the breed and imported more.
When she found that she couldn't register her dogs with the American Kennel Club, she started contacting people in the U.S. that had Cavaliers. At that time, there were fewer than a dozen. In 1954, she founded the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, USA (CKCSC, USA), the official breed club and only registering body for Cavaliers in the United States for more than fifty years.
During these years, the members of the CKCSC, USA decided against pushing for full recognition of the breed, feeling that the club's strict code of ethics prevented the breed from being commercially bred. They feared that too much recognition of the breed would lead to it becoming too popular and therefore too attractive for breeders who wouldn't maintain the standards they had established. Mostly, they kept the AKC Miscellaneous status so that members who wanted to show their dogs in obedience could do so.
In 1992, the AKC invited the CKCSC, USA to become the parent club for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The membership said no. A small group of CKCSC, USA members formed the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club (ACKCSC) and applied to the AKC for parent-club status. This was granted, and the AKC officially recognized the breed was in March 1995.
The CKCSC, USA is still an independent breed registry, but the ACKCSC is the parent club for the breed within the AKC.
This small but sturdy dog stands 12 to 13 inches at the shoulder and weighs 13 to 18 pounds. There is no such thing as a "toy" Cavalier, and you would do well to avoid buying a Cavalier from a breeder who offers dogs half that size.
The gregarious Cavalier takes as his role model humorist Will Rogers, who famously said he never met a stranger. The Cavalier is eager to meet everyone who crosses his path, and if that person sits down and offers a lap (or a treat), so much the better.
Like any dog, Cavaliers come in a range of personalities, from quiet and sedate to rowdy and rambunctious. They might or might not bark when someone comes to the door, so they're a poor choice as a watchdog — except, that is, for watching the burglar cart off the silver. There are exceptions, of course — some Cavaliers will inform you of every event in your neighborhood and bark ferociously when strangers approach — but overall you're better off buying an alarm system than counting on your Cavalier to alert you to trouble.
Cavaliers are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Cavaliers will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Cavaliers, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Mitral Valve Disease (MVD): This is a common condition in Cavaliers. It starts with a heart murmur that becomes increasing worse until the dog has heart failure. Heart disease in older dogs of any breed is fairly common, but Cavaliers are prone to developing MVD at an early age, sometimes as young as one or two years old. Research into prevention of this condition is ongoing. Because it appears to have a genetic component, responsible breeders have their breeding dogs evaluated regularly by veterinary cardiologists to try to prevent this condition from continuing to future generations.
- Syringomyelia (SM): This condition affects the brain and spine and appears to be common in Cavaliers. Symptoms range from mild discomfort to severe pain and partial paralysis. It's caused by a malformation of the skull, which reduces the space for the brain. Symptoms typically appear between the ages of 6 months and 4 years. The first signs you might notice are sensitivity around the head, neck, or shoulders, with the dog sometimes whimpering, or frequently scratching at the area of his neck or shoulder, usually just on one side of the body, without actually making physical contact with the body ("air scratching"). They may try to scratch even when walking. For this reason, if your Cavalier is scratching, it's important to take him to the vet to rule out SM.
- Episodic Falling: This condition often is confused with epilepsy, but the dog remains conscious during the falling or seizure. It's brought about because the dog can't relax its muscles. Symptoms can range from mild, occasional falling episodes to seizure-like episodes that last for hours. Symptoms usually start before five months but may be noticed only later in life.
- Hip Dysplasia: Many factors, including genetics, environment and diet, are thought to contribute to this deformity of the hip joint. Affected Cavaliers often are able to lead normal, healthy lives. On rare occasions, one may require surgery to lead a normal life.
- Patellar Luxation: The patella is the kneecap. Luxation means dislocation of an anatomical part (as a bone at a joint). Patellar luxation is when the knee joint (often of a hind leg) slides in and out of place, causing pain. This can be crippling, but many dogs lead relatively normal lives with this condition.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye): This condition usually is caused by an autoimmune reaction to the dog's tear glands, leading to a reduction of tears. Once diagnosed, this condition is easily treated by administering drops in the eyes every day. If left untreated, it can result in blindness.
Their size and generally quiet nature make Cavalier King Charles Spaniels good candidates for apartment or condo living. They are moderately active indoors, and a small yard is adequate for their exercise needs.
Walks on leash or a securely fenced yard are musts with this breed. They have no street smarts and will run right in front of a car if they catch sight of a bird or other interesting prey. Your Cavalier will enjoy a daily walk or romp in the yard and will tailor his activity level to your own. Because he's a rather short-nosed breed, avoid walking him during the heat of the day and never leave him out in a hot yard without access to shade or cool, fresh water.