Today’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel descends from a spaniel breed favored by Britain’s King Charles II in the 17th century. The original King Charles-type spaniel was slightly different from today’s Cavalier King Charles, but similarities exist. The Cavalier King Charles wasn’t recognized as a distinctive breed by the American Kennel Club until 1995. Classified as a toy breed, this silky-soft, even-tempered dog is a good choice for city dwellers who live in small apartments, but the breed adapts just as well to rural settings where the dog has room to run. Like other breeds, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is prone to a few specific health disorders and has particular grooming needs.
The Cavalier King Charles spaniel stands 12 inches to 13 inches tall and weighs between 13 lbs. and 18 lbs., according to Liz Palika, author of Howell Book of Dogs. Large, dark eyes and long, droopy ears give the dog a sweet, innocent look. The Cavalier’s hair is long and soft, ranging in color from white and black, or tan, to shades of red and chestnut. Long hair (feathering) around the feet is desirable in show line dogs. As a companion dog, a Cavalier's coloring is unimportant, but in the show ring, the Cavalier should adhere to one of four main color designations known as Blenheim (brown and white), ruby, black and tan, or tricolor. This small dog runs with ease on short but strong legs.
Temperament and Training
The Cavalier King Charles spaniel loves people and makes an affectionate pet but has a tendency to be shy if he's not exposed to different people and a wide variety of situations as a young dog. Housebreaking can be a challenge, says author Palika, and requires consistency and positive reinforcement. The Cavalier responds well to group obedience training but, due to its small size, the dog responds best in a class with other toy and small breeds. As a descendant of sporting spaniels, the Cavalier has a natural inclination to chase birds or rabbits and can quickly be led astray if not contained in a fenced yard or on a leash.
Hip dysplasia, a degenerative joint disease often seen in large-breed dogs, also affects the Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Puppy buyers should ask breeders about the hip health of the puppy’s parents. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals tests and rates joint health in dogs, and test results are on record with the AKC. The Cavalier is prone to hearing and vision disorders and mitral valve heart disease in addition to a disorder called EFS, or episodic falling syndrome. EFS results from excessive exercise, anxiety or frustration. Cavaliers with EFS may exhibit coordination problems, stiff back legs, momentary non-movement, falling when trying to stand up, spasms, bulging eyes, drooling and other muscle-related symptoms.
Without regular grooming, the Cavalier’s long soft fur can easily snarl and matt. Brush every other day, at a minimum, or daily if the dog plays outdoors around weeds or water. Occasional bathing, no more than once a month with a gentle dog shampoo, is sufficient unless the dog is dirty. A leave-in conditioner can help reduce tangles and matts. Dirt and moisture can accumulate under the long earflaps and in the ear canals, increasing the risk of ear infection if not wiped away regularly. Clean the Cavalier’s ears at least once a week, and wipe the ears with premoistened ear wipes after the dog swims or gets wet.
The Cavalier King Charles spaniel does well in families with children and other pets, but author Palika does not recommend leaving the dog unmonitored with small children. Like other breeds, the Cavalier can snap or bite in self-defense when held too tightly or abused. The Cavalier is a top choice for training as a therapy dog because of its passive temperament and desire to please. The average lifespan of the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is 9 to 14 years. For the betterment of the breed, only the healthiest and most even-tempered specimens should be bred.
- AKC Meet the Breeds: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Howell Book of Dogs; Liz Palika
- cavalier king charles spaniel image by Maria Bell from Fotolia.com