Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Breed Column
AKC Gazette - September, 1997

Ask any five Cavalier breeders to describe the perfect head and you'll probably get five slightly different answers, although most fanciers agree on the eyes. On this point the standard is so clear that there's little room for interpretation: large, round, dark brown and spaced well apart.

But skull space, muzzle length and head size are harder to understand just by reading the standard because much of our standard was written to describe a moderate dog in all respects and to preclude any excuse for exaggerating any characteristic. In order to have eyes "spaced well apart" that look forward set in a flat skull, the skull must also be rather broad, which the standard does not specify. This implied need for a wide skull is not "moderate" and confuses more than a few judges.

It's no secret that the English feel Americans have taken several of their breeds and remade them to exaggerate certain attributes. That's why, when we wrote the standard, we tried to avoid any word, such as "broad," that might be construed as meaning "too much."

The English standard asks for a skull "almost flat between the ears." Our AKC standard says "slightly rounded but without dome or peak; it should appear flat because of the high placement of the ears." Both standards describe the same topline of the skull and are intended to describe the same appearance. The English understand that too flat brings with it small eyes and a hard expression due to a lack of forehead, which is called a "hammerhead shark" appearance.

But in our country, where too many exhibitors seem to feel that if almost flat is good, really flat must be really great, we describe a gentle curve that appears flat. This flattish skull is one of the traits that separates our breed from brachycephalic breeds such as the Pekingese, the Brussels Griffon, the Pug or the Chihuahua. Unlike these breeds, the Cavalier is mesocephalic, with the large, wide backskull of the short-faced breeds but a longer jaw and nasal bones, so the foreface is prominent. Some judges say, "too much backskull," when what they really saw was an overdone head too large for the body, and too short a nose. The actual skull width was fine, but not the rest of the head.

In the English standard the length of muzzle from base of stop to tip of nose is about 1 1/2 inches. Ours was changed from "at least 1 1/2 inches" to the current "approximately 1 1/2 inches." The idea was ensure the same (strong) hint at moderation: not short-faced but not so long-faced or down-faced as to lose the soft expression. Breeds calling for long, lean heads or long muzzles generally have eyes that are set obliquely or on the sides of the head. Wide-skulled breeds generally have eyes that look directly forward, like human eyes.

The original English standard called for a shallow stop, but that was in comparison to the English Toy Spaniel; a Cavalier's stop did look shallow next to an English Toy's. Again, it was simply understood that there must be a nice break to give the correct expression, no matter how the old standard was written.

We took a chance by calling for a moderate stop "neither filled nor deep," in the blind faith that breeders and judges would not take it one bit further. We never expected to see shorter muzzles, deeper stops or narrower skulls in order for our breed to "fit in" with other toy breeds with head shapes that differ from that of a correct Cavalier.

Both the English and the AKC standards use the term "well-filled below eyes" to describe the lovely cushioning that softens the face.

The Brits say "muzzle well tapered" and we say "full muzzle slightly tapered." It's the same idea: Although the face is rather plush with well-developed lips, the tapering from eye to nose keeps the lip line clean and pretty without being pendulous or houndy.

A good bit of underchin is important in preventing snipiness or a face that seems to fall way underneath, although underchin isn't mentioned in the standard. The really classic heads have a certain amount of chiseling and modeling that is not the same as cushioning. This detail also isn't mentioned in the standard but is readily seen on the best heads.

Cavaliers must be pretty, elegant, royal-appearing toy spaniels. There is certainly more to them than their heads, but without a correct head, who wants to look at the rest?

- John D. Gammon, AKC Parent Club President & Gazette Breed Columnist