The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel - Creating an Image of The Breed
In searching for a topic for this month’s column, I came upon this article authored by the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club’s first President, John Gammon back in 1998. John is a man of immense knowledge of our breed, its history and its breeding and also a person with the ability to translate his knowledge into easily understood concepts. While this was published 22 years ago, I think you will find it interesting and valuable. I am grateful that John Gammon and his partner Robert Schroll were among my first mentors in Cavaliers more than 23 years ago.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Breed Column
AKC Gazette - December, 1998
By John Gammon
Close your eyes and conjure up a mental picture of what you consider to be the perfect Cavalier. Envision the dog's profile. Do you see a toy spaniel built like a sporting dog with a level, straight topline? Does it have enough muzzle to differentiate it from the English Toy Spaniel? Does it have a lushly plumed, ever-wagging tail? Hopefully, you are nodding in agreement.
What sort of coat do you envision on the dog? I see long, silky ears that are not bobbed or sprayed into silly bell-bottomed balloon shapes. I see a lovely bib of coat on the dog's forechest, and that beautiful tail. I see a very moderate amount of furnishings on the legs and underline, and proper toe feathering. I see a natural blanket of silky, flat-lying coat on the neck and upper body, and shorter silky hair on the front of the legs. In envisioning the ideal Cavalier - keeping in mind that the picture you see should be your goal in breeding - what kind of coat do you see?
This mental exercise was prompted by the number of recent puppy and stud service inquiries that expressed desire for coat, coat and more coat. This is dangerous ground for a breed such as ours. Like it or not, the Cavalier is historically, purposefully, and by its written standard, an untrimmed breed.
Some years ago, a well-known dog breeder who was also an artist drew a series of sketches depicting what one popular breed might look like in following decades if a then-current trend of "the hairier and more exaggerated, the better" continued. The last drawing showed a too-thick-backed, too-small dog, propped up in the middle of a ridiculously trimmed, haystacked coat. This caricature presented a sad commentary on the phrase "Be careful what you wish for." At our breed's infancy in AKC competition, must the Cavalier experience a similar trend? If we, as breeders, ignore the standard, then we have no right to expect more from judges. What we present to them will influence their mental picture of the ideal Cavalier.
The next time we evaluate puppies or potential breeding stock, suppose we select for excellent hindquarters, eyes or temperament, rather than for amount of coat? The Brittany standard goes so far as to state that given a choice for more or less coat, it is better to err on the side of less. We might be wise to follow this example, at least for a while.
If we are going to be sticklers about natural presentation, we must then strive to produce dogs that lend themselves to such. Many a fluffball pup of 8 weeks has been shown to me with its owner proudly proclaiming, "Look at all this coat!" (My answer to such a remark usually is "We can only hope it will all shed out when he blows his puppy coat.")
As has been evidenced in other breeds that have weathered fads for excess coat, coat texture changes with increased abundance. Coats that should be silky are cottony or woolly when overly profuse. Such coats easily mat and collect dirt and stains, and are difficult to maintain on a pet Cavalier, let alone a show dog. Coat color differs as well when coat is overabundant: Blenheims are more orange, and the black coloring on tris and black and tans loses its luster and becomes rusty looking. The white hairs of over-coated dogs lose the ability to reflect light and are a flat white rather than the required pearly, silvery white.
I do not intend to disparage proper presentation of good coat. Show dogs must look the part; to do so, they must have sufficient coat that is impeccably and naturally prepared. To accomplish this, you must start with coat of the correct amount, of proper texture and growing in the right places. We do not have the option of growing hair all over the dog and then sculpting it into a Cavalier. The dog must be correct naturally; it must be bred that way.
When we groan about trimmed, sculpted, stripped and plucked dogs, let us also ponder our selection standards over the whelping box and when breeding our bitches. Breeding and choosing for more coat is no different than aiming for shorter noses or longer backs. It changes the appearance of our breed, and no good can come of it.
If necessary, go back and modify your mental image of the ideal Cavalier. Envision it with just enough coat to reveal the lines of a beautifully made little spaniel standing before you. Perhaps judges will eventually modify their image of the ideal Cavalier in a similar way. Think about it.
American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club website: ackcsc.org/Home.html
Reprinted from the AKC Gazette March 2021