Posts Tagged ‘Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’

This image comes Raymond and Lorna Coppinger’s Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution (2001), a book with which I have more than a few disagreements.

Plummer, as you may already know, was the creator of the Plummer terrier, reconstructed coursing alaunt, and a variant of the Lucas terrier. He was a lurcher breeder, who once wrote a few paragraphs that slagged golden retriever-derived lurchers. Then he later extolled the virtues of golden retriever-derived lurchers.

In Coppinger’s book, after working his cavaliers on rabbits in Scotland, he puts his golden retriever through its paces. I guess as he aged he developed a fondness for them.

Lots can be said about him.

He was mostly a writer of dog and hunting stories, who did have a lot experience with lots of different dogs. But in his canine eclecticism, I think he may have missed many aspects about dogs, bloodlines, and  general canine knowledge that one can only get through dealing with just a few breeds.

Of course, I can see why he and the Coppingers hit it off so well. The Coppingers and Plummer kept vast hordes of dogs.

His last canine project was to breed a sled dog strain of German shepherd, which would pull a sled across the Scottish Highlands.

That’s what he was working on when he died in 1985.

Coppinger must have been in contact with him after he moved to Scotland, because the whole text about the rabbit killing cavaliers takes place in the Scottish countryside.

Plummer claimed he could train any dog to do anyhting– and Coppinger agreed but only to a certain degree. Coppinger is one of the biggest proponents of the hyperspecialized dog, and his views, which are expounded in the book, are that some of these hyperspecialized dogs are too specialized to do anything else.

Plummer, in this case, is closer to being right than Coppinger. Plummer did work as a gamekeeper in Germany, where the hunting dogs are simply not as specialized as they are in the English-speaking countries. These dogs are a major affront to Coppinger’s views on the hyperspecialized dog, for they can do many different things for which Coppinger thinks they would be unable to do.

A golden retriever might not win a border collie trial, but a border collie could do what a golden retriever does. A German shorthair can point birds, and it can kill rabbits and track boar.

Dogs are not as specialized as one might think.

They derive from highly generalized ancestors, and they’ve hitched their wagons to humans– the most generalist species on the planet.




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This photo comes from W.E. Mason’s Dogs of All Nations, which was published throughout the 1910’s.

This breed of toy spaniel has a very strong influence from the pug. As I have noted before, the original toy spaniels were more like the papillon, although without the spitz characteristics. Crosses with the pug  are believed to have flattened the face, but the Belgian griffons, the Japanese chin, and the pekingese could have also played a role.

There was also a short-haired companion dog that was very similar to a toy spaniel that was never given a name. Someone tried to reconstruct this breed in the 1990’s by crossing whippets and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. The breed was called  Tudor hound, but I have heard nothing from that particular breeding program since the late 90’s.

Nothing is cuter than a toy spaniel with a flattened face.

They remind me of muppets.


These little spaniels originally had a function.

They were often used as hunting dogs.

Pisanello depicted two small spaniels at the foot of the horse in The Vision of St. Eustace

The spaniels were probably not contemporaries of the real St. Eustace, who was a soldier in Trajan’s army.

But they were contemporaries of Pisanello, who lived during the fifteenth century.

A closer look at these spaniels reveals that they are not that much like modern English toy spaniels:

These spaniels resemble solid red phalenes (which we North Americans consider a variety of Papillon). They are phalenes without the spitz influence.

And the fact that Pisanello portrayed them them as hunting dogs very strongly suggests that they were of some use on the hunt. Small spaniels have always been the tool of the beater, who wants to drive a bird or lagomorph from dense cover.

But their cuteness also made them very popular among the nobility as pets, and that’s  why toy spaniels are not often thought of as flushing dogs. However, both English toys and Cavaliers have flushing instincts, and the papillon/phalene breed is known for being very easy to train.

Because the English toy is so brachycephalic and because the Cavalier is so unhealthy, they aren’t the first choice for anyone wanting to train a working spaniel.

But I have heard of Cavaliers being trained to hunt rabbits.

So it is possible that one could be working as a flushing spaniel.


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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.

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