Form and Function:  Setting the Standard


The Judges’ Education Committee of the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club has been working on a handy reference guide to the breed. Known familiarly as “the trifold,” it is a photographic representation of salient points of the breed standard.

The JE Committee has well over 200 years experience, collectively, in Cavaliers. Therefore, it was very interesting to me that our initial opinions about what represents a correct or ideal cavalier in photos sometimes differed, one to another. How then, is a judge or a breeder to know what is “right” in a Standard that leaves much to subjective judgment?

The Cavalier standard is a good one. Based on the UK model, where the breed originated, it delineates most of the features of the cavalier that we know so well.  But---what exactly IS  “full muzzle, slightly tapered”?  One committee member thinks it means a shorter muzzle, one a longer one. The specificity of the nose being about 1 ½” long is incontrovertible…but aren’t there variations depending on whether or not you have a larger or a smaller dog?  When we are told that the “skull is slightly rounded, without dome or peak; it should appear flat because of the high placement of the ears...”  does that mean that all cavaliers at rest should have flat skulls, or do the skulls just appear flat when the ears are up at attention?  Exactly just what IS a large, round, but “not prominent” eye?  We probably know one when we see it…but trying to get photos of just the right eye shape and dark color was not an easy task. What, exactly, is the definition of ‘moderate {length of} coat’?  Some believed it was should be rather profuse, others were emphatic that it should not.  What became so evident while this project was nearing completion, is that while the standard really is that elusive “blueprint” for the breed, a model of the ideal dog, not everyone views it from identical perspectives. Some things in it really leave no room for interpretation—“Bad temper, shyness, and meanness are not to be tolerated.” Other aspects are less clear.

In many instances, breed history may clarify meaning. For example, the Cavalier was always meant foremost as a companion and lap spaniel. To that end, his owners wanted the soft, gentle expression in the face gazing up at them—hence, generous dark eyes and a plush muzzle. They wanted to feel the silky coat against their skin—nothing harsh or bushy.  They liked the glamorous or ‘royal’ look of long ears with “plenty of feathering.”  A lap dog could not be too large—hence, the evolution of the breed favored small size which the modern standard has defined within specific desirable ranges of height and weight.

Evaluating both the written standard and the history and development of the Cavalier, both breeders and judges should come close to consensus on the mythical perfect example of the breed. As the Judges Education Committee worked on the trifold, evaluating the standard plus form and function in historical context, we were happy with the photos chosen to represent true breed type.

-----Stephanie Abraham *P.O. Box 346* Scotland, CT 06264

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

So You Want A Cavalier

by Carol Williams

You have decided that a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is just the right dog for your household.  They are charming little dogs, adaptable to many lifestyles, love children and other animals, and to top it all off, they are beautiful to look at.  Now that you have decided to purchase a Cavalier, what is your next step?  How do you find a Reputable Breeder?  What should you expect from this type of breeder? What is AKC?  What are other registries?  What are “papers”? What is a “standard”? Does the breeder of your future family member have a responsibility to you?  What is YOUR commitment as a Responsible Pet Owner to both the dog and the breeder?

Dogs are not for the impulse buyer!!  They are not objects.  They are living, breathing beings that have no choice or control over their lives or their destiny.  They are totally dependent upon us for all of their needs for all of their lives.  This is something we must take very seriously.

RESPONSIBLE HOBBY/SHOW BREEDERS are the custodians of their breeds’ past, present, and future.  These are the people who are breeding to the American Kennel Club (AKC) published Breed Standard.  These people live by ethical guidelines and a love of their chosen breed.  They breed for the superior qualities they are trying to perpetuate in the Cavalier and these qualities, which include the health of the dogs, are of paramount importance to them.  They breed toward the goal of producing the finest dogs possible.  In every litter there will be puppies that aren’t quite what they want and these puppies are sold as pets.  From this type of breeder, the difference between a show quality puppy and a pet is like getting a first or a second place in the Olympics – only a hundredth or thousandth of a second between first and second.  These breeders firmly believe that they have a lifetime responsibility for every puppy they produce.

The Hobby/Show Breeder -

Belongs to and participates in the activities of their local Cavalier club, and may also belong to a local all breed club and the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club (ACKCSC).  Participation in club activities indicates that the breeder is involved in the dog world.

Attends the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club (ACKCSC) National Specialty Show which is held once a year.  This is a weeklong event where Cavalier breeders and owners from all over the world come to attend educational seminars, and have in-depth discussions with other breeders and see and evaluate the dogs being shown.  Every breed of dog recognized by AKC has a written Standard of Excellence.  These standards were written so that everyone would know what a quality example of the breed should look like and what their personalities should be.  The written Standard of a breed is what judges of dog shows judge each dog against. The serious breeder will strive to meet or exceed this standard in health, temperament and appearance.  A serious breeder wants to make sure that they are breeding dogs to meet these standards and the way to do that is to have the dogs judged by other knowledgeable, long time dog people.

They show their dogs at American Kennel Club (AKC) all breed dog shows.  Showing at these shows gives the breeder the opportunity to see if the dogs they are producing compare favorably with what others are breeding and keeps them from becoming “kennel blind.”  For the involved breeder, the exchange of information with other Cavalier breeders as well as breeders of other breeds of dogs, is invaluable.  So even though you don’t intend to show your dog, you can be sure when you get a puppy from this type of breeder it has been raised and nurtured with the same love and care as it’s future champion brother or sister.

All of their dogs are registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC).  The AKC is the largest non-profit registry in the world.  It is also the ONLY registry in the United States that is recognized by registries in other countries worldwide.  AKC has no individual members but hundreds of clubs, such as the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, are member clubs of AKC.  Each of the member clubs has a Delegate to AKC which gives us a contact with them.  It is like a pyramid.  The breeder belongs to their local Cavalier club and abides by their ethical guidelines.  The local Cavalier club may be a member club of the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club and abides by their Ethical Guidelines, and the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club is a member club of AKC with a Delegate to AKC.  Although individuals cannot be members of the AKC, they offer many benefits and services to the individual dog owner.  Go to their web site for more information www.akc.org


OTHER REGISTRIES – Beware!!!  There are many other people claiming to be registries.  Some of them have names and acronyms that sound very much like the American Kennel Club (AKC).   These registries are very often just individuals – not even orgniazations or companies.  They are for profit and will be happy to take your money and send you some sort of certificate, which is just a piece of paper and means nothing.


The breeder will provide you with “papers.”  You will receive either an AKC Registration Application or, if they have already registered the individual Cavalier, an AKC Registration Certificate, a pedigree, the health record indicating what health care and vaccines the Cavalier has received to date, written information about the care, feeding, and grooming of your new Cavalier, and a written contract which you and the breeder will both agree to and sign.  In the contract the breeder will most likely require that your pet Cavalier be spayed or neutered.  Cavaliers sold as pets are meant to be loved, cared for and cherished for their whole lives by their new family – not bred.

This breeder is very knowledgeable about Cavaliers and will be happy to answer any questions about the breed and their dogs in particular.  They will have done the appropriate health testing on the sires and dams before they are ever bred.

All of the dogs in this breeders home will appear well groomed, healthy and happy and will have been raised in the clean environment of their home.

They will most likely ask you questions about your family situation, your home, and how you intend to care for the Cavalier you may purchase from them.

They will require that all members of the family come to visit before placing a Cavalier with you.

They will not let a puppy go to it’s new home before 10 weeks old.

They will not sell a Cavalier to a family they feel is unsuitable.  A family may be perfectly fine for a different breed of dog but not a Cavalier.  The knowledgeable breeder will recognize this and may even suggest a more suitable breed.  In the long run, this will save everyone (especially the Cavalier) from a traumatic experience.

If this breeder does not have a Cavalier available, they will refer you to other breeders in their network who breed to the same high standards.  You may contact several breeders before you find one you are comfortable with and want to work with.  When you do find this special person, work with them exclusively toward getting the Cavalier of your dreams.  Do not use the “shotgun” approach to puppy buying as this is not an effective or satisfactory method of acquiring a pet.



We have already described the Responsible Hobby/Show breeder.  The backyard breeders, commercial breeders and pet shops are the antithesis of the Responsible Hobby/Show Breeder.  They breed and sell dogs for the love of the money, not the love of the dog.  They are the exact opposite of the Responsible Hobby/Show Breeder in almost every respect.


IMPORTERS/BROKERS These people are not breeders at all.  Instead they import dogs in litter lots from foreign and domestic puppy farms.  The conditions these dogs are raised in is unknown and the health history is unknown.  These are the dogs that you may see advertised in newspapers as “Belgian imports,” or imported from some other country.  Most times these are the dogs you see selling at “bargain” prices.  The purchaser may be in for a surprise when their “bargain” turns out costing them thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.


WHAT IS YOUR COMMITMENT AS A BUYER? Buyers also have a responsibility in this process.  Adding a Cavalier to your family is a 12 – 15 year commitment.  Be sure you are prepared to care for, feed, train exercise, and most of all LOVE a Cavalier for the next 12 – 15 years.  Responsible Breeders will respond to you and answer all of your questions honestly.  You need to be just as honest with both the breeder and yourself as to your experience with dogs and what your expectations are.  Remember too that a long-term financial commitment comes with dog ownership.  Not only the initial purchase price of the dog (and this is NOT the time to bargain shop!), but the cost of food, veterinary care, boarding, equipment and training classes, all add up over the years.

Responsible Breeder – Responsible Buyer – they go hand-in-hand for a wonderful relationship.  Each should have a strong commitment.

Go to top