Posts Tagged ‘King charles 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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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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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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