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Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
One of the largest of the Toy breeds, Cavaliers follow their people everywhere, just waiting for a chance to jump in a lap. They are also willing and able to go for long walks and hikes, and many enjoy flushing birds, just like their bigger spaniel cousins.
“Sex and the City’s” Charlotte York had a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Elizabeth Taylor. Real-life celebrities Claire Danes, Terri Hatcher, Mischa Barton, Diane Sawyer, and Jerry O’Connell are Cavalier owners.
This sturdy toy breed is a re-creation of the toy spaniels that populated royal courts and noble homes in Europe from the 15th to the 19th centuries. True to their heritage as “comforter dogs,” Cavaliers love to be in a lap. The typical Cavalier is always happy, trusting and easygoing, a friend to everyone he meets. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel today is a beloved, and increasingly popular, companion dog. He's small, loving, playful and attractive.
A Cavalier will dog your footsteps throughout the day, from kitchen to bathroom to home office and back again and prefers not to be left alone for hours on end. The ideal home is one with a stay-at-home parent, work-at-home spouse or retired couple.
A Cavalier’s natural animation and cheerfulness stand out in the show ring. He can be a steady and willing competitor in obedience and rally, and excels in agility and flyball. His intuitive nature also makes him a superb therapy dog. He will sit quietly with older people or young children and then turn into a rowdy playmate with active children or adults.
These dogs generally love kids and do well in families with older children who will throw a ball for them, teach them tricks or just hang out with them. Because of their small size, though, Cavaliers must be protected from clumsy toddlers who might fall on them or “pet” them with too much force.
Cavalier temperament ranges from sweet and placid to hard-charging and, yes, stubborn. The sweet, placid Cavaliers sometimes have a reputation for being dumb, and the stubborn ones for being untrainable, but in general, these dogs are smart and learn quickly. They respond well to positive reinforcement techniques, especially when food rewards are offered, but harsh words will cause them to stop trying or even to hide.
Toy breeds such as Cavaliers are sometimes difficult to housetrain, mainly because people don’t put enough effort into it. If you take a Cavalier puppy out on a regular schedule, reward him for pottying outdoors and limit his freedom in the home until he’s reliable, there is no reason he can’t be housetrained as well as any other breed.
At his best, the Cavalier is an adaptable, flexible, hardy little dog. He’s happy to loll around on the sofa with you all day but ready for action when it’s offered. Although he’s classified as a toy breed, the Cavalier is at the larger end of the size scale, weighing 13 to 18 pounds. He often has the same “birdy” nature as his larger spaniel cousins, making him a good choice for people who want a dog who’s not too big but still capable of going for hikes, chasing seagulls at the beach or even retrieving quail, given the training and opportunity. He will also “hunt” butterflies and bugs and loves playing fetch with a ball or stuffed toy.
Always walk the Cavalier on a leash. When he sees a bird or other potential prey, everything else goes out of his head. All too often Cavaliers are hit by cars and killed when they chase a bird or ball -- right into the street.
It should go without saying that the Cavalier is not meant to live outdoors. He’s a family dog who needs to be with his people and protected from excessive heat and cold.
Small spaniels have been popular companion dogs for hundreds of years. They were found in royal courts and noble homes in Spain (where the spaniel gets his name), France, England and Scotland and were often prominently featured in their owners’ portraits. The Scottish Stuarts were especially fond of the little dogs. Mary, Queen of Scots had a toy spaniel by her side when she was executed, as did her descendant, England’s King Charles I. It was Charles and his son Charles II who lent their name to the dogs that eventually became known as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
The toy spaniels’ popularity began to wane after a new king, William, replaced James II (also a Stuart) on England’s throne. William was from Holland, and he favored Pugs. People began crossing the Pugs and spaniels, and eventually their look changed, becoming more flat-faced with a domed head. Dogs like the ones seen in old portraits practically disappeared, except for a few lines here and there, like the ones kept by the Churchill family at Blenheim Palace. The dogs might have faded into the past except for one Roswell Eldridge, a wealthy American who offered a prize to anyone who could produce a dog like the ones he had seen in 17th and 18th century paintings.
British breeders took up the challenge and rebuilt the breed, working with long-nosed English Toy Spaniels (called King Charles Spaniels in England). The first of the “new” spaniels was exhibited in 1928 at Crufts Dog Show. Alas, Eldridge did not live long enough to see him, but his estate paid the prize. Since then, the Cavalier has evolved to what he is today: a sturdy and highly popular companion, combining bird-dog nosiness and Toy-dog affection for people.
The Cavalier ranks 23rd among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club, up from 54th in 2000. That’s one of the largest leaps in popularity in the past decade.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is small, loving and playful. The typical Cavalier is always happy, trusting and easygoing, a friend to everyone he meets. True to their heritage as “comforter dogs,” Cavaliers love to be in a lap.
Cavalier temperament ranges from sweet and placid to hard-charging and even stubborn. The sweet, placid Cavaliers sometimes have a reputation for being dumb, and the stubborn ones for being untrainable, but in general, these dogs are smart and learn quickly. They respond well to positive reinforcement techniques, especially when food rewards are offered, but harsh words will cause them to stop trying or even to hide. A Cavalier should usually never be shy or aggressive to people or other dogs.
Cavaliers live to be with their people. The ideal home is one with a stay-at-home parent, work-at-home spouse or retired couple. The dogs generally love kids and do well in families with older children who will throw a ball for them, teach them tricks or just hang out with them. Because of their small size, though, Cavaliers must be protected from clumsy toddlers who might fall on them or “pet” them with too much force.
A few things to know about Cavaliers: they love to lick, they love to chase moving objects (especially feathered ones) and they can be manipulative when they want food (those eyes!). It’s difficult or impossible to curb these behaviors so you need to find a way to work around them, such as always keeping the dog on leash in areas with traffic and hardening your heart when your Cavalier wants to share your French fries.
The Cavalier is not perfect. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Cavalier doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Cavalier, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Cavalier can develop certain health problems. They include a heart condition called mitral valve disease, a neurological problem called syringomyelia, patellar (knee) luxation, certain eye problems such as cataracts and keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or dry eye, an ear condition called primary secretory otitis media, allergies and other skin problems. Most of these conditions are suspected to be hereditary.
First things first: Not every Cavalier will get all or even any of these diseases. It’s not unusual for Cavaliers to live 10 to 12 years, and some live to be 15 or older. Now, that said, there’s no denying that the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is at risk of a large number of genetic health problems. Some die in what should be the prime of their life. Here’s a brief rundown on what you should know.
Mitral valve disease is the most common acquired heart disorder in dogs. It’s a defect of the mitral valve, located between the left atrium and left ventricle of the heart. The valve gradually thickens and degenerates, eventually becoming leaky. That forces the heart to work harder to pump blood out and it becomes enlarged. Lots of dogs get MVD in their senior years, but in Cavaliers it can strike at an early age. A heart murmur is the first sign of MVD. Cavaliers with a murmur may go on for years without any problem or need for medication, or they can develop congestive heart failure, which can often be controlled for a time with medication.
Syringomyelia is a nervous system disorder. It results from a congenital bone deformity in which the rear part of the skull is too small. The cerebellum and the brainstem are crowded and obstruct the foramen magnum, the opening at the bottom of the skull. When this happens, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid is obstructed, resulting in the formation of fluid-filled cavities in the spinal cord. The damage can cause pain. Signs include scratching at the neck and sensitivity in the area of the head and neck. The dogs often yelp or scream for no apparent reason, may hold their head in a certain position much of the time, or develop a wobbly walk. Syringomyelia can be mild, requiring no action; managed with pain medication; corrected with surgery; or so severe that the dog must be euthanized.
Many toy breeds and small dogs, the Cavalier included, have a condition known as luxating patella, in which one or both kneecaps are unstable and occasionally, or in more severe cases, always slip out of place. Depending on the level of severity (1 being mild and 4 being severe), luxating patellas can be a minor issue that cause the dog little problem or pain or serious enough to require surgical correction.
Primary secretory otitis media, also known as glue ear, occurs when a mucus plug forms within the middle ear cavity of one or both ears. Signs include head or neck pain, holding the neck carefully, tilting the head, scratching at the ears and hearing loss. Often PSOM is mistaken for syringomyelia or hereditary deafness. It is usually diagnosed with an MRI or CT scan and treated by surgically removing the mucus plug and then flushing the ear, followed by a course of antibiotics and/or corticosteroids.
Eye problems that may affect the breed include juvenile cataracts and dry eye. Dry eye is most common in senior dogs.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and preventing any new ones from emerging, the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). Cavalier breeders who want CHIC certification must test breeding dogs for eye disease, patellar (knee) luxation, hip dysplasia and heart disease and agree to have test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Cavalier at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
For a coated breed, the Cavalier is relatively easy to groom. The medium-length silky coat is not so heavy that it requires hours of brushing, and it sheds dirt easily. The Cavalier sheds, like all dogs, but regular brushing will remove dead hairs so they don’t float off onto your floor, furniture and clothing.
The long, silky hair on the Cavalier’s ears, tail, belly and legs, known as feathering, should be brushed two or three times a week to prevent mats or tangles from forming. Be sure to check behind the ears and where the leg meets the body; that’s where they commonly form. Use a slicker brush or stainless steel comb to remove tangles, then bring out shine with a bristle brush. The coat does not require any trimming for the show ring; indeed, such trimming is prohibited by the breed standard.
A bath every two to four weeks will keep the Cavalier smelling sweet. The only other grooming needed is regular ear cleaning, tooth brushing and nail trimming.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, eXplain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
Start your puppy search by finding a breeder who is a member in good standing of either the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club – USA or the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, and who has agreed to abide by the CKCSC's code of ethics or the ACKCSC's ethical guidelines, both of which specifically prohibit selling puppies through retail outlets such as pet stores and outline the responsibility their member breeders have to the dogs they produce and the people who purchase them. Choose a breeder who is not only willing but insists on being a resource as you train and care for your new dog throughout his life.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Cavalier puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Expect to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 for one of these popular pups. For that price, the puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Cavalier might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Cavalier may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Cavalier in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Cavaliers available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Cavalier. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Cavalier rescues in your area. Most people who love Cavaliers love all Cavaliers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club's Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Cavalier rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Cavalier home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Cavalier, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Cavalier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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