English toy spaniels or King charles spaniels are interesting little dogs. They were originally derived from spaniels that were crossed with terrier, pinscher, or even turnspit stock. These dogs were common in the homes of European nobles from the early Renaissance period to the beginning of the Victorian Era. An early ninteenth century variety of the toy spaniel can be seen here.
The toy spaniel was very popular with Charles II, and this breed is forever known as the King Charles spaniel. Samuel Pepys reported in his diary that the king often ignored the affairs of state to play with his dogs. The dogs were given royal charter to enter any court in the realm. This charter has not been rescinded, and several years ago, an owner brought his Cavalier King Charles spaniel to a court of law. When the judge demanded that the dog be removed, the owner declared that the dog was of this breed and could not be removed. (Of course, the Cavalier is a supposed reconstruction of the old type. I’ll get to this in a minute).
This dog also existed in France and Spain, but it soon was interbred with toy spitz breeds, similar to the Pomeranian and Volpino. These dogs became the Papillon and Phalene dogs, which are the same breed in the US but different breeds in other registries. The Papillon has the spaniel ears, only they are erect like a spitz, giving the dog a distinctly “butterfly” appearance. The Phalene has the same ear, only it is is floppy. Compare the early toy spaniel from the sencond link with a photo of a Phalene.
The British dog fancy, however, had different designs for its native toy spaniels. They wanted a short-muzzled dog for some reason. However, they had to do some cross breeding in order to get it. Pugs were probably an early outcross with toy spaniels to shorten their muzzles. The arrival of the Pekingese following the Second Boxer Rebellion plus the arrival of the Japanese Chin to the country created new bloodlines for outcrossing for the short muzzle. Further, these breeds had long coats and could be used without producing smooth-haired toy spaniels. Within just a few generations, English toy spaniels would forever sport a shortened muzzle. Inbreeding, of course, was a common tool among these breeders to set the short muzzle as the type for this dog. The East Asian breeds also contributed to the heavier build in this breed of toy spaniel.
The toy spaniels became a staple of the early dog fancy in Britain. Little flat-faced spaniels competed in shows in which the short muzzle and domed head were deemed marks of beauty. It did not take very long, though, for the dogs to start to lose their vigor. It soon fell from grace.
But the damage was done. The little brachycephalic spaniels continue to suffer from their shortened muzzles.
The puppies of this breed are very cute, and as adults, they are often pleasant dogs. However, by the early twentieth century, some fanciers were longing for the “old-type” English toy spaniel. And this is where the cavalier’s story begins. It is a story of what happens when you try to resurrect defunct forms of animal using a faulty breeding program that is solely based upon reproducing a phenotype.
Roswell Eldridge wanted to find dogs of the old type, similar to the onese that lived with Charles II. He offered a prize at Crufts for any toy spaniel that resembled dogs of this type. A dog named “Ann’s Son” won the prize, and he became the foundation of that breed.
Now, one would think that breeding for a less exaggerated body type would make the cavalier a healthy breed. However, all cavaliers descend from that single dog. The dogs were heavily inbred from “Ann’s son,” resulting in a very high likelihood that these dogs will develop a wide range of health problems, which are listed here. You can read about the problems that resulted from breeding the cavalier in this fashion here.
Both breeds are cute, and both breeds have very genial temperaments. I’d recommend them as family pets but for their many health problems. But both breeds are testaments of what happens when dog breeders breed for only looks, even if one of those breeds is supposedly designed to be a healthier reconstruction.
The modern cavalier still does not look like the dogs King Charles II had. It is a reconstruction based upon faulty stock. If they really wanted to recreate this bred, I say take a Papillon or Phalene and cross it with cocker spaniel. The Phalene type is much closer to the original dog than the Cavalier is. If you want proof, check out this picture of the young Charles II and his dogs.
These dogs are much more of the Phalene/Papillon type than the Cavalier, the supposed reconstruction. The Phalene/Papillons have some spitz in them, while these dogs probably were terrier (perhaps white terrier?) crosses with small spaniels.
The longer muzzled dogs that would result from this type of reconstruction would probably be healthier. However, they would not be genetically descended from the English toy spaniel breed. I highly doubt that such a cross would be given access to government buildings in Britain.