Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Breed Column
AKC Gazette - December, 1996

A nice young couple looking for their first Cavalier had just concluded their visit. My thoughts turned to how different for all of us the experience could have been.

Their call began like so many: They wanted a breeding-quality bitch. They weren't interested in showing and had never bred a dog before. They would be in my area on business and would like to see "what we had available." I said we had nothing for sale at the time, but they were welcome to see our dogs and "talk Cavaliers."

Would they show up? Other breeders had offered them show/breeding-quality bitches, some as young as 8 weeks. If they did show up, could I walk the fine line between lecturing and mentoring?

The morning arrived, as did they. We immersed ourselves in Cavaliers. Hours went by as we explained the difference between pet- and show-quality, and the importance of using limited registrations for the former. We spoke of how slow-maturing Cavaliers can be, how their bites can change up to 18 months, and that markings and the Blenheim spot were but a small part of what one should look for in a show-quality dog. They seemed to understand the importance of checking for hereditary health problems and asked how anyone could be sure an 8-week-old puppy would eventually be right for breeding or showing.

Trying not to sound melodramatic, I explained that selling someone a breeding bitch was to entrust them with 20 years (and many generations) of hard work and study that had included a lot of joy but also much heartache and disappointment. We talked of the hard work involved in rearing puppies, the importance of proper socialization, and the commitment to placing them in good, permanent homes. We covered many topics as our visitors sat on the floor playing with the Cavaliers: the standard and the parent club, ethics, pedigrees and bloodlines, breed history and preserving the qualities that make a Cavalier so special. We discussed the reasons for breeding (and not breeding) and how even the best of the best can produce disappointing results. But mostly we talked of the responsibilities involved in producing more dogs in a world that already has too many.

We also learned a few things about our visitors. They had been interested in dog shows but had been told "only the pros can win " and novices don't stand a chance. They were a bit apprehensive about dealing with breeders who offered such wonderful dogs with no questions asked and no apparent concern for the buyer's intentions or the puppy's future. After some investigation, they learned this "show breeder" had produced over 500 Cavalier puppies with but a few champions in the lot. None of this seemed quite right to them, but as newcomers to the breed, they were too intimidated to question any of it.

The couple left with a list of books and many questions answered. They understood my concern for the breed and I realized they're not out to ruin it, but to be a part of it.

I'd be pleased to let them have one of my Cavaliers. I'm sure they'll do right by it and be a credit to the fancy. They know there may be a wait for the right Cavalier for them and that they have a lot of learning to do in that time.

Had I answered that first phone call with just a curt reply, they may well have joined the ranks of backyard breeders, and a long line of substandard Cavaliers might have been established. And if they had not taken the time to visit, I would have been branded in their minds a snobby breeder whose only concern was show dogs and champions. I had wanted to spend the morning catching up on grooming, paperwork and the weekend show news - a part of being a breeder that takes time, patience and effort - but the rewards of talking to these novices were many for me, my Cavaliers and the breed.

I've been privileged to be mentored by some marvelous breeders along the way. It's my obligation to try to emulate their efforts with novice breeders. Who knows? Someday I may buy a gorgeous young dog from someone who's a novice today.

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