Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Breed Column
AKC Gazette - June, 2003

This month's guest columnist is Stephanie Abraham.


A Cavalier is a toy spaniel, and most breeders are proud of this designation. Yet both the historical origins of the breed and its modern-day standard demand that the Cavalier not lack in sufficient bone and substance while maintaining its essential toy status.

The AKC standard advises height between 12 and 13 inches and weight between 13 and 18 pounds. (It goes on to say that "these are ideal heights and weights, and slight variations are permissible.") Remember that the standard's weight and height recommendations encompass both genders. We have seen male Cavaliers with sticklike bone who are hard put to make 11 inches. The tendency in many rings today is to see rather fragile animals that are not even 12 inches tall and whose weights are commensurately less than ideal. Toy dog or not, this is not a desirable variation. The standard also specifies that "weedy and coarse specimens are to be penalized."

The historical evolution of the Cavalier is of considerable interest in relation to "form and function" dynamics today. While toy spaniels have been known for more than 500 years and were repeatedly included in early artists' depictions of court and society life in England, the Cavalier did not spring full blown into the world. He is a product of the breeding together of similar but somewhat disparate types. The toy spaniel of King Charles I (who ruled Britain from 1625 to 1649) was a lapdog and companion, to be sure, but also served as "a little cocking spaniel" who flushed woodcock and had to be capable of going all day in the field. Fifty years after the demise of Charles I (he was beheaded in 1649), the Duke of Marlborough's Blenheim or "springing" spaniels were portrayed somewhat larger by the artists of the day, and it is said that the duke insisted that his dogs be able to keep up with a horse.

Mrs. Neville Lytton, in her seminal Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors (1911), states that the early black and tans had water spaniel blood behind them (possibly the Spanish Truffle Dog). Indeed, even today, after ideal type has been fixed in the modem Cavalier, most specimens enjoy water and are always game to chase anything that flies, be it bird or butterfly.

It behooves us as breeders and exhibitors and judges to remember that the standard's ideal Cavalier has bone that is "moderate in proportion to size," "stifles well turned," and a hindquarters construction that "should come down from a good broad pelvis, moderately well muscled." While the Cavalier must always be kept in his toy proportions; his heritage suggests that he was not mere decoration, and to this end we must be careful not to turn him into a creature who can neither "keep up with the horses" nor chase a woodcock out of a hedgerow. -S.A.

Thanks, Stephanie.


- John D. Gammon, AKC Gazette Breed Columnist