An ear is an ear to most of us. A body part that barely needs a footnote. But there is more to that story…
Some have argued that the ears of the Cavalier are his crowning glory—the epitome of glamour as they frame his face with elegant and profuse feathering. Indeed, one could speculate that the ears emulated the 17th century coiffure of the extravagant Cavalier (Royalist) courtiers at the time of Charles I --the paintings of the period (notably those of Anthony van Dyck) immortalize the similar hair styles of both man and beast. It is no wonder that Charles I and his son Charles II were so fond of these little dogs whose happy dispositions and lavish ‘locks’ emulated those of the king’s courtiers of the times, in stark contrast to the sober shorn Puritans who sought to destroy the monarchy.
The ears of the Cavalier spaniel do serve a practical need, guarding the delicate middle & inner ear mechanisms. Because they are heavy ‘drop’ ears, they allow little air underneath, necessitating attention from breeders to prevent excessive buildup of wax and normal detritus. Quite apart from the condition of the so-called ‘normal’ ear is the pathological ‘Glue ear” (Primary Secretory Otitis Media). This is likely a hereditary condition causing mucoid middle ear infection, deafness, neurological manifestations, and pain. Ongoing studies to identify and treat this affliction are sponsored through the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club Charitable Trust (www.ackcsccharitabletrust.org).
The leathers of the Cavalier ear are, according to the breed Standard, ideally long. However, breeders know that leather length can vary widely among bloodlines. Some dogs have shorter leathers but profuse feathering; others have long leathers and scant feathers. The Tricolor is said to have the longest ears of all the four colors of the breed, but that may be an apocryphal tale. We have seen utterly glamorous ears in all the colors. But short ears with scant hair coat do detract from the image of the individual dog idealized in artwork, historical reference, and the modern Standard. Both Tricolors and the Black & Tans are required to have rich tan markings inside the ear. Blenheims and Rubies have bright solid ear colors, chestnut and red, respectively.
The breed Standard is quite specific in its description of the proper ear:
Set high, but not close, on top of the head. Leathers long with plenty of feathering and wide enough so that when the dog is alert, the ears fan slightly forward to frame the face.
The Cavalier at attention does ‘use’ his ears so that they fall forward to highlight his face. This attitude also is conducive to the appearance of the proper flattish skull—dogs who are bored, timid, or dull, may give the illusion of a domed skull because the ears are ‘down.’ Conversely, those dogs whose ears are set too low on the skull can give the illusion of correct placement if they really use their ears appropriately. Thus, ear carriage in the breed is of critical importance to maintain the royal appearance and enhance the expression of the individual specimen.
Not just an appendage on a pretty face, the Cavalier ear is unique in its storied and practical associations.
--Stephanie Abraham P.O. Box 346 Scotland, CT 06264