Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 101: Traits, Origins & Care Tips

Updated December 7, 2021
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog outdoors in nature

If you've been searching for a dog that's small, affectionate and sporty, check out the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This sweet yet outgoing breed has captured the hearts of generations of dog owners. Find out what makes this breed tick, and decide if a Cavalier is the right dog for you.

History and Origin

Descended from the favorite hunting and companion dogs of England's King Charles II, the Cavalier has been celebrated in fine art for centuries. Today's Cavaliers sport the longer muzzle of the old-style specimens Charles II valued so highly. For a time, a shorter muzzled version of the breed became quite popular, but thanks to American Roswell Eldridge, the original type was recovered. Eldridge achieved this by offering a cash prize at Crufts dog show to anyone who exhibited dogs with the original style muzzle.

Eldridge offered a first prize of 25 pounds sterling -- the equivalent of more than $2,500 today -- to the male and female spaniels who came closest to his published description in his now-famous ad on the search for the original Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Second and third place also won a cash prize and Eldridge continued the search for approximately 5 years, eventually spending more than $20,000 in an effort to save the breed.

The breed achieved American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition in 1995. Cavaliers joined competition in the Toy Group starting January 1, 1996. Today, members of this breed are equally comfortable competing in canine athletics or cozying up on the couch with their people.

Breed Characteristics

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Characteristics

If the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is moving, you can almost guarantee their tail is wagging. Their upbeat, cheerful personality and loving stride through life make them the ideal companion dog.

Appearance

Cavaliers are a small yet elegant breed with heavier bone structure than the average toy breed. This gives them a sturdy appearance, and their stout frame serves them well in the field. The typical Cavalier stands about 12 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs between 12 and 18 pounds. Weight and frame should be proportionate to avoid obesity. This breed has a particularly sweet and warm expression regardless of the color pattern of their coat, with a muzzle less than 2 inches long and a fairly flat head. The ears are long and should provide a frame for the face.

The tail is moderately long and carried level with the body when moving. Docking is permissible according to AKC standards, but no more than one third of the original length should be removed.

The Cavalier's coat is one of the breed's most distinguishing characteristics. The hair is moderately long, and most specimens display a slight wave. The furnishings on the chest and ears are slightly longer, and the feet, legs, and tail are heavily feathered. This breed typically comes in four color variations.

  • Ruby: Dogs of this color are a solid red.
  • Blenheim: This is a pattern of chestnut red on white. The face should be well marked with the red encircling both eyes and covering the ears. An even, white blaze should separate the eyes and ears. A small, circular patch of chestnut is desirable in the center of the blaze. This is the Blenheim spot that gives the pattern its name.
  • Black and tan: An overall rich black coat is highlighted by tan markings on the cheeks, above the eyes and on the chest, legs and bottom of the tail.
  • Tricolor: This pattern is similar to the black and tan, but it's set on a white background with a distinct white blaze similar to that of the Blenheim.

Temperament

This Spaniel is typically happy and eager to please. The breed is very affectionate and always ready to join in on your activities. Cavaliers also love to take part in field sports. They are rarely aggressive, but they do have fearless characters, so you're not likely to ever meet a shy or anxious Cavalier.

These dogs are good at taking life as it comes and make relatively good companions for people of all ages. They also tend to get along well with other dogs and sometimes even with cats, but they should be watched closely around smaller pets like birds and rodents because their hunting instincts may come into play.

Training

As for training, there isn't much you can't teach these dogs. House training and basic obedience are achieved with general ease. Most of these dogs also learn tricks very quickly. If anything, Cavaliers may be a bit too smart for their own good, and they'll use that intelligence to figure out how to get just about anything they want. Loving guidance and early training are needed to establish fair boundaries.

Exercise Requirements

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel runs in the Agility demonstration - Getty Editorial Use

The Cavalier is less sedentary than many toy breeds and requires a good daily walk to stay fit in mind and body. A walk of roughly two to three city blocks -- less than a quarter of a mile -- will help burn off excess energy and provides sensory stimulation to help stave off boredom.

Health

This breed is not without their health challenges. Responsible breeders screen their dogs for genetic predispositions to certain diseases, and most Cavaliers can live to a ripe old age.

Lifespan

On average, most Cavaliers live 10 to 12 years with proper diet and exercise. Long-lived members of the breed can reach 14 years or more of age.

Grooming

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels do require a bit of grooming to keep in good shape. A daily brushing will remove loose hair and tangles, especially around the ears and feathering on the legs. A monthly bath will be sufficient in city living situations, but the undercarriage may need bathing more frequently in males. Be sure to do a thorough check for ticks and fleas if you work your dog in the field.

Pay special attention to the ears, keeping the hair plucked from the canals and providing a weekly ear washing. Likewise, the hair between the pads is also prone to matting and should be kept trimmed to avoid overgrowth. Trim the nails every two weeks or more as needed.

Fun Facts About the Breed

If the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel could talk, these are among some of the facts they would tell you about:

  • The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is well-known to be a terrific therapy dog due to their caring, gentle demeanor.
  • They still have their hunting instincts in-tact and will often follow a scent they're interested in.
  • King Charles II was so devoted to his spaniels that he took them everywhere with him. He issued a royal edict allowing dogs in all public venues.
  • In 1985, President Ronald Reagan gave his wife a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Rex for Christmas.
  • The breed was inspired by the Pug's appearance.

Purchasing or Adopting a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

baby and his puppy sleeping peacefully

If you're searching for a puppy, you can start by searching the AKC Marketplace. You can also search the directory of breeders on the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club. Keep in mind, you will need to vet breeders yourself to ensure they're reputable. Expect to pay around $1,500 for a high-quality puppy from a responsible breeder. Depending on their markings and the breeder, you can find them for sale for up to $2,500.

Rescue Organizations

If you don't have a specific age range in mind, you can search for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and mixes at breed-specific rescues:

  • Cavalier Rescue USA: This organization offers members of the breed for adoption throughout the United States. They do require you meet the dog prior to making your decision to adopt.
  • The Cavalier Rescue: This is a non-profit organization based in Alabama.
  • ACKCS Rescue Trust: The ACKCS is an all-volunteer, nonprofit adopting to homes throughout the United States.
  • Cavalier Alliance: This organization focuses on dogs who are seniors or who have special needs. Prior to adopting, ensure you are prepared to meet their needs.

Is this the Right Breed for You?

In the United States, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are one of the most popular dog breeds for family pets. These dogs are wonderful companions for children. They are intelligent, devoted, adventurous, and lively, and they will grow up to be loving family members sharing many memories together.

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 101: Traits, Origins & Care Tips