Background and History
It is thought that like many companion dogs in the Toy Group, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel may have first originated in the far east and found itself into the homes of aristocratic Europeans by way of the silk road as trading gifts. This led them to appear in Italian portrait paintings in the 15th and 16th century, famously the Medici family paintings provide just one example of this.
The forebears of this breed are then found in the painting of the Scottish royalty and nobility, before finally appearing as the dog of choice for English royalty in the 16th century. This became more prominent during the reign of King Charles II (1660-85) who is likely to have returned with them from his exile in the Puritan Commonwealth in Europe.
King Charles famously proclaimed that this King’s Spaniel had universal access, and these dogs frequently accompanied him to Parliament, leading to some disenchanted parliamentarians complaining that he cared more for his dogs than he did for his people,
But it was not only this royal patronage that made them so popular. During various plagues there was a belief that these little companions could stave off diseases as having them in your bed attracted fleas to the dog and therefore preventing them afflicting the human dignitaries. Like the now extinct Turnspit Dog and other toy breeds such as the Shih Tzu, this little dog was also prized as a foot-warmer and effectively furry water-bottle.
Another landmark moment for this breed took place in the early 1700s. Following the decisive Battle of Blenheim the Duke of Marlborough was gifted Blenheim Palace. The Duke was a huge dog and hunting enthusiast and he clearly had a huge enthusiasm for these little Spaniels. But he did not want them simply as lap dogs, but worked them in a similar vein to Cocker Spaniels as retrieval dogs proving that under the veneer of a cute lap dog, this little dog is still very able to fulfil the traditional role of a Spaniel in flushing out and retrieving game. This contribution is recognized to this day
This tradition lasted at Blenheim until the 1920s and this proved vital for today’s breed as elsewhere during Victorian times, the King Charles Spaniel was interbred with oriental flat-faced breeds like Pugs, Pekinese and the Japanese Chin fulfilling the vogue at the time for companion dogs to share for squashed facial features and a flatter shape to the skull.
But in the 1920s there was an effort to return to the original Spaniels as featured in the older paintings with rounder skulls and more pointed, longer muzzles. This was spearheaded by an American called Roswell Eldridge who offered prize money for those breeders who could offer dogs mostly closely aligned with this pre-Victorian version of this toy Spaniel.
Breeders responded to this financial incentive and were significantly helped by the stock at Blenheim Palace which had continued to perform as working dogs and therefore preserved these features. A club was formed in 1928 to further promote this effort and in 1945 the project was successful in this version being recognized as a distinctive breed and named Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with the flatter-faced version known as the King Charles Spaniel.
It was not long before the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel began to become the most popular of the two versions in the United Kingdom and in 1973 it was one of these adorable dogs, named Alansmere Aquarius became the overall winner at Crufts. In the United States another huge fan of these little dogs was Ronald Reagan who had a dog-house built in the style of a mini-Whitehouse for his beloved King Charles Cavalier Spaniel called Rex, meaning of course fittingly ‘king’ in Latin reminiscent of this breeds earlier royal patronage in the United Kingdom by the flamboyant King Charles II.
But generally it took a while for this breed to get a significant paw-hold or popularity in the United States. This breed was not recognized until 1996, but since then has enjoy a meteoric rise and is now the 17th most popular breed according to 2020 AKC registration data .
Character and Temperament
It is not hard to fathom the popularity of these wonderful little dogs. These dogs are very loyal and devoted to their owners. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is ideal for a family as they love playing and are very gentle with children of all ages, although smaller children need to be instructed not to pull on their ears as this is very painful and might cause even this placid to nip
As these dogs are so low-maintenance they are also ideal for those people on their own or who might be frail or elderly. The exercise requirements are very modest, and these dogs are very easy-going despite their very regal demeanor. These dogs are very tactile and will want to stay close to their human family. As long as they can do this, then this amiable little Spaniel will be very happy.
The Cavalier King Charles can claim to be one of the friendliest breeds of all. Not only are they gregarious and benignly playful with other dogs, but they are also exceptionally good with other smaller pets. They do really well in a multi-dog household.
But their natural friendliness comes at the cost of this breed suffering acute separation anxiety. These dogs, like many other companion dogs in the Toy Group, do not do well on their own at all, and it is important to take early steps to prevent or mitigate separation anxiety for those owners who must leave them for short periods of time.
These dogs are affectionate, friendly and also very quiet. They do not generally bark without very good reason and are not in any sense ‘yappers’ like some other smaller companion dogs. This again makes them a laid back pet to have in the home but they do not make very good watch dogs. They are ideal therefore for those who live in an apartment.
If you do have a yard or garden these dogs are also not prolific diggers, so they may offer a better choice than a dog from the Terrier Group of dogs if you want to protect your prize roses.
These dogs maybe small but they are still very much Spaniels whose original function was to flush out This means they are intelligent little dogs who need the mental stimulation of training and any form of fetch or puzzle games.
They are also agile dogs who excel at any agility-based trials or dexterity drills.
Aside from grooming requirements this relaxed and calm dog is also an excellent choice for novice dog-owners due to their friendly temperament and intelligence which makes them highly trainable.
In short this joyous little dog will nearly always have their tails wagging. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel also make great travelling companions for holidays and days out. As long as they are with their family they are happy and very adaptable.
For the different stages in a puppy and adult dog’s development please click here.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is combines the perfect temperament for training in their eagerness to please with a high level of intelligence. This means they are highly trainable and will be able and willing to learn a large range of commands.
Out on walks, their naturally friendly disposition to other dogs and their propensity to be inquisitive and chase after scents means recall training should be a focus. They will naturally excel in any obedience tasks based around fetching or retrieval.
These dogs will attempt anything at the behest of their owners. But they can be a little sensitive so positive reinforcement should be the consistent approach. This dog tends to very much enjoy food of any kind which assists in training, although praise and attention should also be used as a reward, as this little Spaniel may put on weight if there is over-consumption of tasty treats.
Although the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has modest exercise requirements, this is a dog who will need a regular walk and exercise for around an hour a day (ideally split into two 30 minute walks).
This little dog will also love any form of fetch game, obedience exercises and time off the leash to explore.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is an elegant and attractive dog with light feathering on the limbs, chest ears and paws, the latter giving a padded tread to its very loose and energetic stride. The rounded apple-shaped head is framed with high-set drop ears and a pronounced stop with a short muzzle. The eyes are round and characterized by gentle, slightly inquisitive expression.
Underneath the silky coat the body is compact in keeping with the build of a working Spaniel.
The height of the Spaniel is around 12 to 13 inches (30-33cm). While this little dog weighs in at around 11-18lbs (5-8kg).
Coat and Grooming
The exquisite silky coats are of moderate length and need ideally to be groomed daily to prevent matting and tangling. This should be combined with regular cleaning of the paws and teeth cleaned every other day. These dogs do have a tendency to shed but the hair is very light.
Lifespan and Health
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a generally healthy breed with a lifespan of around 12-14 years. They can be susceptible to heart conditions such as coronary heart disease. Some do experience eye infections as they are close to the ground, with a few afflicted by Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Some also suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia and occasionally episodic falling.
The muzzles on these dogs are not very long so this makes it more important to ensure that they are kept cool in periods of heat.