Posts Tagged ‘English toy spaniel’

Don’t cross pugs and American cockers!

There is already a breed for you!

mimétisme chez deux épagneuls king Charles

In America, we call this breed an English toy spaniel. In the rest of the world, it’s called a King Charles spaniel, because both Stuart kings with the name of Charles had these dogs. (But they had longer muzzles and were not far removed from red and white sporting spaniels.)

These dogs became pug-nosed at some point in the late nineteenth century. Lots of sources point to Japanese chin blood, which could have played a part, but I don’t think it was the primary source.  There is some evidence that toy bulldogs and pugs were crossed in.

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel, which is now much better known, was created as an attempt to bring back the dogs of the House of Stuart– to overthrow the Roundheads once again!

Of course, the creators of the Cavalier chose too narrow a gene pool to start their breed, and as it can easily be argued that the Cavalier is a breed failure. Its levels of genetic load far exceed what most people would consider acceptable.

But the pug-nosed English toy spaniel shows what would happen if we began breeding for extreme brachycephaly in gun dogs.

We could do it.

But I don’t think we should!








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From Pietoro’s Historical Dog photobucket.

little freddy

An English toy spaniel.

The British use a different term for this breed, but it’s the more exaggerated ancestor of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

In the late nineteenth century and very early twentieth century, this was a very common breed among dog fanciers, especially women.

While sporting gentlemen were busy showing off bassetized sporting spaniels, their wives were show extremely brachycephalic toy spaniels.

The fashion died out, kind of like Disco and the Macarena, but the flat-faced toy spaniels still do exist.

They haven’t changed that much either.

ruby English toy spaniel

Because spaniels are the smallest of gun dogs, they got a lot of the bizarre conformation breeding in early on.

Toy spaniels have been around for centuries, but this type of toy spaniel was something that could only be created in the mania of the British dog fancy.

And just like all bizarre fashions in dogs, this bubble burst almost as quickly as it began.

There aren’t very many of these dogs left at all.

As a breed, it’s a fascinating artifact about what can happen when fashion dictates selection pressures.

I don’t how good it is for the dogs though.


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English toy spaniel, as we Americans call it!


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This puppy was bred by Judith Blunt-Lytton, 16th Baroness Wentworth (“Lady Wentworth”), and its image appears in Lady Wentworth’s Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors (1911).

Lady Wentworth was a dog breeder and exhibitor who was often quite critical of the institutionalized fancy and what dog shows had become.

Although she bred brachycephalic English toy spaniels (what we Americans call them), she was somewhat worried where this might lead. She was fully aware that there was always a chance of producing a puppy with so little muzzle that it would be a monstrosity as a result of the selection pressures to produce the shortest muzzle in the show dogs.

Short muzzled dog have issues cooling themselves and breathing, and I think a dog with a muzzle this short would have a hard time feeding itself.

I’m very glad that Lady Wentworth had the presence of mind and the courage of her convictions to post this image. She was very critical of the extreme brachycephaly in this breed, and she was worried about producing dogs like this. However, she published the image of this dog, even though she bred it:

We do not want to breed Bull-spaniels any more than Jap Spaniels, neither do we want noseless cripples, or animals with heads like a Dutch cheese, or dogs like the deformed “golliwogs” which have recently been such a favourite present for children. The result of the spread of the Bull-spaniel type, without regard to general prettiness and beauty of expression, is that only trained experts can see any attraction in the breed, and that Toy Spaniels decrease yearly in popularity with the outside public. Heavy, massive, ugly animals will never be popular as pets; what people want is a pretty, intelligent, dainty, lively little pet, with lots of fluff and feather, and not a burglar’s terror, and as long as we persist in breeding these burglar’s terrors, as evidence of our skill in outdoing our neighbours in special points, so long will our Toy Spaniels be a byword for grotesqueness with the general public, and appeal to none but specialists, or possibly to the children who have been trained to ” golliwogs.”

The more noseless a Spaniel is, the more delicate his lines should be. The curves must be extraordinarily subtle so as not to offend the eye. Remember, there are only two canons of proportion possible in a noseless type; one is that of the Bulldog, and the other that to which the Japanese type is the nearest approach. Anything which deviates from the laws of proportion belonging to these two types is a mathematical abomination. In one the curves are all strong and rugged (pg. 144-145).

Not many people would do something like this.

I feel very sorry for this little Ruby.

Rubies remind me of Elmo.

Ironically, this breed is healthier on average than the Cavalier King Charles spaniel that was bred to be a more healthily conformed version of the toy spaniel.

In the modern era, I haven’t seen anyone famous with an English toy spaniel. Reagan had a cavalier, and worldwide,  cavaliers are pretty popular.

But no one gives the little toy spaniel any love.

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An modern English toy spaniel of the "distorted noseless type."

The following critique of the English toy spaniel fancy comes from Lady Wentworth’s Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors:

The whole fabric of modern judging is utterly unsound. The Club judges are, moreover, bound by the Club regulations, which prevent the exercise of any private judgment.

When I say that I consider the modern standard incorrect, I do not mean that we should go back to long noses. I frankly own that before I began my historical investigations I held the same opinion as that of other writers, namely that the ancestors of the Toy Spaniel had long noses, and I was prepared to advocate a return to whatever the original type might have been. My researches have, however, led me to an exactly opposite conclusion. The red-and-white Toy Spaniel has a perfect right to his short nose. The King Charles had comparatively long-nosed ancestors, but is now a composite breed made up to suit modern taste and no longer bears any resemblance to his earlier progenitors.

I still maintain that certain types of modern dogs are monstrosities, and shall to the end of my days fight against these types and protest against their propagation.

I have been working for some years on the system of drawing attention to the distorted noseless type. There are several noseless types but of late breeders have gone in for sensationalism in heads regardless of beauty or even of general soundness.

I have purposely ridiculed these extraordinary deformities, hoping that at last people would see the grotesqueness for themselves, and this, I am happy to say, has already resulted in the Toy Spaniel Club taking steps to revise their points. It is, however, impossible for any club to properly revise its points without a complete knowledge of the history of its breed, and this no one has in the case of Toy Spaniels, because no one has ever had access to the proper material (p. 88).

Does this sound familiar?

One must understand that toy spaniels from the British Isles were originally several different breeds. Lytton is writing here about the composite breed that developed from these unique strains. In the AKC ring, these dogs are shown in four color varieties, which partly reflect the original strains that once existed as much more distinct strains in the breed.

One should read Lytton’s text. She points out that many different strains of English toy spaniel were being crossbred with toy bulldogs to create the “noseless” type.

At the time, this type of dog became the sensation in English toy spaniels, and it seems that virtually no one listened to Lytton, because the modern English toy spaniel breed is quite brachycephalic— without exception.

The brachycephalic takeover of the breed drove an American fancier, Roswell Eldridge, to care set up a prize for anyone who had a dog that looked like the old Blenheim spaniels that looked like the dogs that were kept in Charles II’s day. From that movement, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel was developed.

I think they would have been better off if they had used papillons or phalenes to create a long-muzzled toy spaniel strain, instead of searching for rare atavisms in the brachycephalic English toy spaniels.

Trying to breed from atavisms is always a bit of a tricky thing. Atavisms are called atavisms because they are rare and may not have enough numbers to create a sustainable population.

In this respect, Cavaliers were probably already doomed to have lots of health problems, simply because of the small number of founding dogs in the breed.

Of course, neither breed is all that healthy, but if one reads Lady Wenworth’s critique of her breed and Max von Stephaniz’s critique of the development his breed (in the comments), one notes a common element of discord.

Sensationalism and fads were already leading to ruination.

Even with the existence of well-constructed breed standards in the more modern era, we still see these elements controlling the destiny of so many breeds.

These writers are saying something more along the lines of William F. Buckley’s line about standing athwart history and yelling “Stop!”  They are being reactionary in a sense to the degradation of their beloved breeds, which we now know, got far worse as time marched on.

But the fights over purebred dogs are not new. We’ve been at war over these things for as long as institutionalized fancy has existed.

And we were at it long before the fancy came into existence.

We’ll probably still be at it once it disappears or becomes something different.

The fancy leads to distortions, but distortions are the result of the ego.

And it is the ego that must be dealt with before we can start to turn things around– show, sport, or pet.

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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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