Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Breed Column
AKC Gazette - March, 1999

We Cavalier breeders spend a lot of time fretting over the genetic transference of characteristics that conform our dogs to the breed standard. In our quest to bring forward good genes for type, brains and health, we also drag in predisposition for other characteristics that we had not planned for or even considered. Some of these manifestations are endearing, some are irritating, and others are just quirky.

My interest in this was piqued when I read an article by Sheila Smith about the famous Black and Tan sire Salador Charlock and how many of his descendants shared a propensity to wrap their front legs around your neck and "hug" you. Years ago, we imported a Ruby Charlock daughter who did this hugging thing until her death at age 15. She produced a daughter, Jewel, who does it, too - as does Jewel's daughter Lolly and Lolly's daughter Tina. The puppies start doing it as soon as they are picked up and as instinctively as a Pointer pup going into its first stance.

We have a line of whole-color Cavaliers that will swim into a pond and retrieve a thrown stick the first time they are offered the chance; another line must be taught to swim and (with some exceptions) taught to retrieve.

Another anomaly comes from a foundation bitch whose coat, although correct in texture, color and amount, has an odd smell that I would compare to that of wet putty or drying paint. We have her two daughters whose coats have the same odor, as do several of their offspring. It is a faint smell, but most definable. (I've read of this familial tendency in Afghan Hounds, too.)

I know of three generations of bitches of a certain line that were all born with one short toe on one of the front feet. It was barely discernible, but a joint was missing, to be sure. And then the trait disappeared, not to be seen again in others of the line. No doubt, a gift from our "Charlie" forbears, which commonly had fused toes and short toes - but why out of the blue? And why do some traits hang around for a few generations and then disappear, while others persist through the life of a bloodline?

Several of our older ones descend from a line long notorious for refusal to go out in the rain. Anything more than a heavy dew and these Cavaliers plant themselves resolutely by the door, ponying their paws up and down as though already walking on hot coals and refusing to budge. This can be maddening at times, but some of them have been at it for 15 years, blithely watching the others dash out into rain, snow or sleet. It is part of their character - and we secretly like it, which they probably know!

Some lines produce top-of-the-bed, under-the-cover sleepers, while others are end-of-the-bed, top-of-the-cover dogs. Dogs of certain lines are born kissers, and will wash your face and ears at the slightest provocation. Others would rather die than lick your face, yet think nothing of eating their own stools.

Some dams will predictably produce litters "sent from heaven" - puppies that eat, sleep and stay in the whelping box until mom practically pushes them out. They are easy learners about eating and housebreaking and are quick to respond to their names. Just as predictably, puppies of other litters will learn to escape the whelping box the moment their little brains start ticking. Trying your patience, they will tromp through food with no regard for housekeeping or manners, and one pup will always be screaming bloody murder because a littermate is trying to rip its ear off.

Bitches from some lines even whelp differently than those from others. We have the angelic ones, which lie on their side and whelp with so little fuss you would scarcely know anything was happening. From another line, the girls stand on their hind legs, front feet gripping the top of the box and screaming at the top of their lungs as they deliver standing up.

Whether some of these traits are learned behavior, genetic predisposition or a combination of the two is anyone's guess. These anomalies do keep breeders' lives interesting. Whether to our delight or our dismay, they always remind us of the genetic wonders and blunders encountered in building a line of Cavaliers.

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