Getting to Know the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

I’m not going to spend any time on the breed characteristics. You can read through from the people who know them here and here. The Wikipedia entry is pretty solid too.

Instead I’m going to tell you what they are like from an owner’s perspective.

The best answer I can probably give is a response I got from an old high school friend when I described the breed: “Those dogs sound like the ideal girlfriend.”

Bear in mind, I grew up in rural Oklahoma so if you’re offended, well shit. Who isn’t these days? But my old pal touched on something that is at least likely accurate in the heteronormative, masculine sense of picking spouses.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are companion animals. They want to be with you. They don’t want to be left alone for long stretches (which is probably something I didn’t mention to my high school friend and would have likely led him to exclaim differently). They want to be near you and in your lap. They are very much “feeling your vibe” no matter what it is and they just seem to want to close any distance like some kind of new age friend: let’s get to the center of this.

However, and here is where the pendulum is going to swing back in favor of my friend’s description, they are also down to play whenever. They are spaniels, which are sport dogs, so down deep in their unconscious lizard brain they are programmed to track down game, run into bushes, and play. You get them outside and they will love to be there. It’s part of who they are. Take them to the beach or for a hike (not huge ones) and they are riding sidecar and having a ball.

But they are also toy breeds, though very big ones at 15-20 pounds, so when you are ready to quit and start watching Netflix, they are two steps ahead of you.

What I think my friend was trying to describe—at least for him—was having that companion time without having to sacrifice play time, in the traditional male/female. And I think he’s right. That is what I love about my dog, especially when I am around people who own labs that even at 9 years old won’t stop moving. Or basset hounds that never get going. Cavaliers are right there in that sweet spot and will take extra down time if that is what you like or extra live time if you are more on that side.

Everyone thinks their breed is best, but only Cavalier owners know they aren’t lying.

To say something bad about them, with both of my dogs, I have never, not since their have first grew in, never, ever been happy with the length of their hair. I can’t get it right and I’m not the type to groom them to death. My biggest irritant with both of them is the long hair on their feet that hangs over like a catcher’s shin guards. They sort of flip out with each step. I HATE this. However, they don’t like their feet to be trimmed and as much as I tried, it wasn’t worth the pain for either of us and even when successful didn’t last long. The good/bad news is that they shed a decent amount, but the hairs are SUPER long, so they are easy to find. Yay.


Health Issues

While I bragged about them being the perfect mix of fun and relaxed, there are some tradeoffs healthwise.

Nearly all Cavalier King Charles will experience heart issues in their lifetime. My non-scientific assessment is that their heart gets torn in two between being a sport and companion animal. Obviously, that’s poetic not actual, but it seems right to me.

There are a small handful of very hard to pronounce and difficult to spell (Syringomyelia) syndromes that affect their spine and hips and the breed as a whole is a target for these. What this means as an owner is that you’ll have a dog who is in pain quite a bit from moving. If they can get comfortable though, they’ll be happy just to be next to you and occasionally look up at you with those huge, bulging, human eyes.

Something that is not often mentioned is that their eyes have those constant black drips. It is always. Clean them out, wash the hair, eye drops, it is still going to come. So they look like they have an eye infection near constantly, which is sometimes true, but most of the time, they are just being Cavaliers.


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