The cav is an elegant, royal, toy spaniel, slightly longer than tall, with moderate bone. It retains the build of a working spaniel, yet in a smaller version. Its gait is free and elegant, with good reach and drive. Its silky coat is of moderate length, with a slight wave permissible. Long feathering on the feet is a breed characteristic. A hallmark of the breed is its gentle, sweet, melting expression.
The cavalier in many ways fits the bill as an ideal house pet. It is sweet, gentle, playful, willing to please, affectionate and quiet. It is amiable toward other dogs, pets and strangers. Outdoors, its spaniel heritage kicks in, and it loves to explore, sniff and chase.
As its name implies, the cavalier King Charles spaniel is derived from spaniel roots. The European toy dogs were probably the result of breeding small spaniels to Oriental toy breeds such as the Japanese Chin and perhaps the Tibetan spaniel. These Tudor lap dogs, known as “comforter spaniels,” served as lap and foot warmers, and even surrogate hot-water bottles. In addition, they served the vital function of attracting fleas from their owners’ bodies! The toy spaniels became especially popular because they appealed to all members of the family. In the 1700s, King Charles II was so enamored with his toy spaniels that he was accused of ignoring matters of state in favor of his dogs. The dogs were so closely associated with him that they became known as King Charles spaniels. After his death, the Duke of Marlborough took over as the major advocate of the breed; the red and white “Blenheim” color, which was his favorite, is named after his estate. The King Charles spaniel continued to grace the homes of the wealthy for generations, but with time a shorter-nosed dog was preferred. By the early 1900s, the few dogs that resembled the early members of the breed were considered to be inferior. A twist of fate occurred when a wealthy American, Roswell Eldridge, came to England and offered outlandish prize money for the best “pointed-nosed” spaniels — those most resembling the old type. Breeders bred their old-type dogs together in an effort to gain the prize, and in so doing, many came to appreciate the old type. Ironically, these dogs, named cavalier King Charles spaniels in honor of the “cavalier king,” eventually outstripped their short-nosed counterparts in popularity, becoming one of the most popular breeds in England. They were slower to catch on in America, and many cavalier owners fought AKC recognition in an effort to control the problems that so often accompany popularity. In 1996, the AKC recognized the cavalier; it is too early to tell whether its popularity will soar as a result.