The SOUND Toy Spaniel

A Nice Cavalier
A Sound Cavalier.


I have never rewritten an article more times than this article.  When my husband read the first draft for me, he commented that it was too heavy in tone--much too serious.  So I tried to rewrite it in a more entertaining, captivating fashion.  I simply could not do it.  I am very serious about the breeding, exhibiting, and judging of Cavalier Spaniels and simply cannot say what I wish to say in a light tone.  I am simply appalled by the poor quality of many of the Cavaliers being shown. I was also appalled in the old club at some of the quality, but the poor specimens were easily and conveniently lost in large classes and usually did not receive ribbons.  Also most of the shows in England and the old club were judged by breed specialists who knew breed type and knew where to place emphasis in evaluating Cavaliers, thereby avoiding placing non typical Cavaliers. In AKC, since the numbers are still relatively small, sometimes the only choices judges can make are choosing the best of a very poor lot.  Judges cannot learn to judge well if they never see good dogs.  


In the last edition of the AKC Judges' Newsletter, the AKC encouraged judges to withhold ribbons for lack of merit.  It is the judges' responsibility to the breed to see that championship points are not awarded to inferior, non typical specimens. As the newsletter states:  " . . . as judges, it is our responsibility to protect the breeds we judge if the breeder, owner, and/or exhibitor have failed in their duty to breed and exhibit specimens that approximate the breed standard."  As hard as withholding is, it is really necessary if the title of AKC champion is going to signify a typey, superior Cavalier.  At the same time, it is the breeder's responsibility to show only Cavaliers that fit the breed standard and are truly worthy of the title of champion. It is also the breeder's responsibility to make sure they are not selling supposed show dogs to owners who then unknowingly show dogs who do not belong in the show ring.  Some of these inferior specimens being shown come from breeders who do know better, but figure anything can be finished in the AKC world right now.  Judges get blamed for finishing dogs who do not deserve to finish and judges should receive blame, but more guilty are breeders who encourage buyers to show puppies who do not approximate the standard, and worse yet, require those buyers to breed those Cavaliers so that the breeder can get puppies back.  Talk about pyramid schemes, but in these cases our beloved Cavaliers become the victims.


In the first year of AKC conformation competition,  188 Cavaliers finished their championships. In the second year of showing, there were more Cavalier champions noted than champion Labrador Retrievers, the most popular breed in the country.  How many of those Cavalier champions are really worthy of the  title champion --probably, in my opinion, less than one fourth of all those receiving titles. With the point schedule as low as it is for the time being, it doesn't take many dogs for a major and many exhibitors show up with several Cavaliers, most of them not the essence of breed type.   What is the thrill of winning best of kennel or beating very inferior dogs. How can we expect judges to recognize good breed type when they do not often encounter it in the ring. Judges do wish to do a good job when they judge a breed.  A judge learns to recognize correct type in a breed by seeing good dogs; if a judge only sees inferior specimens, the judge never forms a clear mental picture of correct type.  It is the duty of breeders and exhibitors to show only their best and if their best is not good enough, they should not show at all.  Withholding ribbons at Cavalier specialties was not usually a consideration, as the classes were large enough that inferior specimens were put at the end of the line and quickly excused when the judge started making cuts. There were a limited number of shows in the old club so each show drew very large entries.   In the AKC, of course, there are many shows each weekend spread out all over the country; in AKC shows at this point Cavalier classes are much, much smaller than at specialties and judges must decide to place or give points to dogs that would ordinarily not be considered for placement.  This is when the tough, but necessary, job of withholding ribbons becomes so important to the preservation of type in our breed. 


When our breed was recognized by the AKC and I was suspended from showing in old club specialties due to my affiliation with the new parent club, we at Rattlebridge promised ourselves that we would not show anything in AKC that would not be competitive in the Cavalier specialty ring under a respected breeder judge.  Having finished several champions in the old club specialties, we felt that we had a duty to show typey, correct Cavaliers in the  AKC and just not finish dogs because we could.  We have held to that line and have shown only dogs whom we felt would be competitive in large specialties.  We will continue to hold to the line.  We encourage other breeders and exhibitors to also hold the line on showing only quality.  Some breeders and exhibitors coming into this breed do not have a clue about breed type.  They just don't get it!  As much of a background in dogs that I had when I discovered the world of Cavaliers, I had to work very hard to learn correct breed type.  I feel that this breed requires years of careful study.  Judges can only learn about this breed if they have the opportunity to see very good dogs who exemplify breed type. This is not a breed for instant experts and there seem to be plenty of them.  These instant experts also do not seem to want to learn as they continue to show inferior dogs.  Judges who do not know better as they haven't seen many good ones, continue to put inferior dogs up.  When inferior dogs win, breeders and exhibitors are reinforced in their opinion that what they are showing is of good quality and continue to show inferior dogs, finishing dogs not worthy of the title of champion.. 


When judging the Cavalier, I put my emphasis on a few essential points necessary for correct breed type:  TEMPERAMENT,  TEMPERAMENT, TEMPERAMENT!!!, HEAD WITH CORRECT MELTING EXPRESSION, OUTLINE OF BODY AND SOUND CONSTRUCTION.  THE CAVALIER IS A SOUND TOY SPANIEL.  Added to this of course is the presentation of the Cavalier in its natural coat, untrimmed, unstylized, and unsculpted.  


I try to look at the total dog and not indulge in fault judging;  however, I believe that there are certain faults in breeds that really detract from the essential breed type. In our breed the single most important breed characteristic is temperament.  Our standard says it all:  "fearless and sporting in character, yet at the same time gentle and affectionate. . . Gay, friendly, non-aggressive with no tendency towards nervousness or shyness.  Bad temper, shyness, and meanness are not to be tolerated and are to be so severely penalized as to effectively remove the specimen from competition."  A judge can usually forgive a bit of puppy jitters in very young Cavaliers, but under no circumstances should a shy or sharp Cavalier be rewarded in the ring.  If bad tempered Cavaliers win and are subsequently used in breeding programs, the essence of type in our breed will be lost for temperament is the key to the Cavalier.  Don't show a Cavalier with improper temperament, don't use it for breeding, and don't expect a judge to put it up. 

In Cavaliers, head and expression are so important.  Tiny, beady eyes; almond shaped eyes; eyes with severe haws showing; or light, staring eyes, or white ringed eyes giving a startled expression really bother me.  I have a hard time getting past unattractive eyes.  I have a hard time getting by a Cavalier with a narrow, pinched muzzle with no cushioning or one with such a short nose as to resemble a Charlie..  A Cavalier with a lovely full cushioned face as the setting for large round soft eyes is so beautiful.  The cushioning should be under the eyes, not on the cheek pads. To breeders and exhibitors I say, if the head does not have breed type, do the breed a favor and don't show it.  To judges I implore, withhold ribbons from Cavaliers with non typical heads with hard, foreign expressions.   


One should be able to recognize any breed in silhouette by the outline of the body.  A Cavalier is no different.  The outline a Cavalier presents standing or moving should be smooth and flowing, balanced with good bone and well made shoulders, good topline, and sturdy, driving rears. Cavaliers should not be large and coarse, nor should they be weedy with light, frail bone. Little twee ( as the English say) Cavaliers are as incorrect as those resembling the larger spaniels.  Remember sound toy  spaniel.  Too many Cavaliers have very faulty toplines from sagging backs to very high rears, giving a very unattractive outline especially when accompanied by an incorrect croup and very gay tail--and I don't mean the high tail of a macho male posturing in the ring, I mean a tail clear over the back almost touching the withers.  Don't show it and don't reward it please.  Also don't reward a Cavalier trimmed into a stylized outline, every hair the right length and in place.  The Cavalier is a wash and wear dog, well groomed but never sculpted.  Our standard states "Specimens where the coat has been altered by trimming, clipping, or by artificial means should be so severely penalized as to be effectively eliminated from competition." 


Now to soundness-- Cavaliers need to be sound toy spaniels.  They should be capable of moving well with good reach and drive so as take long walks as well as curl happily in laps.  Type and soundness should go together as soundness is very much part of the Cavalier.  Cavaliers with horribly unsound fronts and/or rears should not be considered no matter how pretty the face.  A Cavalier can have and should have type as well as sound movement.  Remember: sound toy spaniel.  


Learning type in many breeds is very elusive, but it can be done.  When I began to study this breed I attended many large shows, here and in England.  I sat with respected breeders with old English yearbooks and studied pictures of famous dogs, looking at breed type.  I studied bloodlines and tried to see similarities and differences between the dogs in the big kennels.  I looked for catalyst dogs and bitches who were very influential in the breed.  What did they have themselves and what did they pass on to their progeny.  So many people getting into Cavaliers decide what they like and then decide what they like is right.  Forming a vision of the correct, typey Cavalier takes time and study.

In every breed, different styles of dogs emerge depending on the bloodlines and emphasis of the breeder.  Not different types--there is only one type in a breed and that is the breed standard-- but styles.  The standard can have different interpretations leading to variations on the same theme.  Styles of dogs in a breed may vary, but the style must still follow the standard and embrace those points that form the essence of a breed.  In a Cavalier, once again, temperament, head, outline of body, and soundness form the essence of our breed. Judges:   If the Cavalier in the ring does not possess the key characteristics of the breed, do not reward it.  Withhold the ribbon.  Breeders and/or exhibitors:  If you have a Cavalier that does not approximate the standard and does not possess the key characteristics of the breed, don't show it.  If the Cavalier has serious faults concerning temperament or type or health problems, don't breed it or encourage anyone else to breed it.  The future of our beloved breed depends on us all:  judges, breeders, and exhibitors. None of us should take the responsibility of protecting and nurturing our breed lightly.  

By Meredith Johnson-Snyder, Rattlebridge Cavaliers