Form and Function:  Setting the Standard


The Judges’ Education Committee of the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club has been working on a handy reference guide to the breed. Known familiarly as “the trifold,” it is a photographic representation of salient points of the breed standard.

The JE Committee has well over 200 years experience, collectively, in Cavaliers. Therefore, it was very interesting to me that our initial opinions about what represents a correct or ideal cavalier in photos sometimes differed, one to another. How then, is a judge or a breeder to know what is “right” in a Standard that leaves much to subjective judgment?

The Cavalier standard is a good one. Based on the UK model, where the breed originated, it delineates most of the features of the cavalier that we know so well.  But---what exactly IS  “full muzzle, slightly tapered”?  One committee member thinks it means a shorter muzzle, one a longer one. The specificity of the nose being about 1 ½” long is incontrovertible…but aren’t there variations depending on whether or not you have a larger or a smaller dog?  When we are told that the “skull is slightly rounded, without dome or peak; it should appear flat because of the high placement of the ears...”  does that mean that all cavaliers at rest should have flat skulls, or do the skulls just appear flat when the ears are up at attention?  Exactly just what IS a large, round, but “not prominent” eye?  We probably know one when we see it…but trying to get photos of just the right eye shape and dark color was not an easy task. What, exactly, is the definition of ‘moderate {length of} coat’?  Some believed it was should be rather profuse, others were emphatic that it should not.  What became so evident while this project was nearing completion, is that while the standard really is that elusive “blueprint” for the breed, a model of the ideal dog, not everyone views it from identical perspectives. Some things in it really leave no room for interpretation—“Bad temper, shyness, and meanness are not to be tolerated.” Other aspects are less clear.

In many instances, breed history may clarify meaning. For example, the Cavalier was always meant foremost as a companion and lap spaniel. To that end, his owners wanted the soft, gentle expression in the face gazing up at them—hence, generous dark eyes and a plush muzzle. They wanted to feel the silky coat against their skin—nothing harsh or bushy.  They liked the glamorous or ‘royal’ look of long ears with “plenty of feathering.”  A lap dog could not be too large—hence, the evolution of the breed favored small size which the modern standard has defined within specific desirable ranges of height and weight.

Evaluating both the written standard and the history and development of the Cavalier, both breeders and judges should come close to consensus on the mythical perfect example of the breed. As the Judges Education Committee worked on the trifold, evaluating the standard plus form and function in historical context, we were happy with the photos chosen to represent true breed type.

-----Stephanie Abraham *P.O. Box 346* Scotland, CT 06264

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