What's in a Name...

By Shelley Greggs

When we are talking about dogs and not Romeo and Juliet, the importance of using the correct name/ breed is crucial. Very often the first piece of information we have about a dog is their breed which then prepares us for many future interactions. When King Charles Spaniels and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are discussed it is essential to differentiate them even though there is similarity in breed names and coat colors; they are two entirely different breeds with separate breed standards, characteristics and identities.

King Charles Spaniel...

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel...


Why is this a big deal? This is a significant issue since some physical characteristics of the King Charles Spaniel might indicate health problems in a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. So, if someone were to misidentify a Cavalier a misdiagnosis could be given and that could cause havoc for all involved. It may be acceptable for the non-Cavalier lover to confuse the two breeds, but there are many too examples of supposedly informed individuals incorrectly describing Cavalier King Charles Spaniels as being King Charles Spaniels or vice versa to the detriment of both. In writing this article I found the two breeds were lumped as one in some research and even veterinarians will confuse the two breeds at times. Here is a picture and chart highlighting the basic differences between the two breeds.


King Charles Spaniel

Head and Skull

Distinctive Domed head full over eyes. Nose, large wide open nostrils very short and turned up to meet skull.



Bite should be slightly undershot.


Compact, well-padded and feathered, toes well knuckled, round cat shaped foot, well cushioned, pasterns firm. Occasionally central pad and nails fused together.


Docking previously optional. N.B. Some King Charles Spaniels are born with a short tail, a kinked, or an apparently broken tail


Reserved, gentle and affectionate. 

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Head and Skull 

Skull almost flat between ears.
Shallow stop, length from base of stop to tip of nose about 1 ½" 

Jaws strong with perfect regular and complete scissor bite. 


Compact cushioned and well feathered


Docking previously optional when no more than one-third was to be removed.


Cheerful, friendly, non-aggressive, no tendency to nervousness. 




Weight: 8 - 14 lbs


Weight: 13-18 lbs. A small well balanced dog well within these weights desirable.


Foot with fused pads


Foot Compact, cushioned, well feathered






Mouth slightly undershot


Mouth scissor bite


Information from with thanks to the King Charles Cavalier Club and the Cavalier King Charles Club.

Why is there this confusion between these two breeds? What happened to cause this and how did the two very similar names develop? To understand the development of these two breeds we first need to look at the very long history of the King Charles Spaniel.


In England, when Forest (Hunting) Laws were established in 1014 AD, large areas of countryside for hunting for “the King's princely delight and pleasure” were reserved. The 'middle class' was then only allowed to keep a dog that was small enough to creep through a 7-inch gauge fence. This smaller sized dog could not invade the Royal lands, and ultimately the Spaniel became too small to hunt. So, Toy Spaniels developed because of this forced miniaturization of the English Spaniel.


Evidence of the popularity of these small Toy Spaniels is seen in so many of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century paintings by Titian, Van Dyck, Lely, Stubbs, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Romney. These paintings show small spaniels with flat heads, high set ears, almond eyes, and rather pointed noses. During Tudor times, Toy Spaniels were quite common as ladies' pets, but it was under the Stuarts that they were given the royal title of King Charles Spaniels.

By the mid-nineteenth century, England took up dog breeding and dog showing seriously. Many breeds were developed and many others altered among them the Toy Spaniel. This brought a new look to the existing King Charles (Toy) Spaniel. They were bred to have a completely flat face, undershot jaw, domed skull with long, low set ears and large, round frontal eyes of the modern King Charles Spaniel we see today. Because of this new fashion, the King Charles Spaniel of the type seen in the early paintings became almost extinct.

W.D. Drury - "British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation" Bleinheim Spaniel 1903.

It was in 1926, that an American, Roswell Eldridge, began to search in England for foundation stock for Toy Spaniels of old that resembled those in the 16th, 17th and 18th century paintings. Eldridge encouraged dog breeders and offered a dog show class prize of twenty-five pounds each as a prize for the best male and females of "Blenheim Spaniels of the old type, as shown in pictures of Charles II of England's time, long face, no stop, flat skull, not inclined to be domed, with spot in center of skull." 

The breeders of the era were appalled, although several entered what they considered to be sub-par King Charles Spaniels in the competition. Eldridge died before seeing his plan come to fruition, but several breeders believed in what he said and in 1928 the first Cavalier club was formed. The first standard was created, based on a dog named "Ann's Son" owned by Mostyn Walker, and the Kennel Club recognized the variety as "King Charles Spaniels, Cavalier type". 

The Second World War caused a drastic setback to the emerging breed, with the majority of breeding stock destroyed because of wartime hardship and food shortages. Following the war, just six dogs would survive as the new beginning from which all present-day Cavaliers descend. These dogs were Ann's Son, his litter brother Wizbang Timothy, Carlo of Ttiweh, Duce of Braemore, Kobba of Kuranda and Aristide of Tiweh. Fortunately, the numbers increased gradually, and in 1945 Kennel Club first recognized the breed as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

The history of the breed in America is relatively recent. The first recorded Cavalier living in the United States was brought from the United Kingdom in 1956 by W. Lyon Brown. Together with Elizabeth Spalding and other enthusiasts, she founded the Cavalier King Charles Club USA which continues to the present day. In 1994, the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club was created by a group of breeders to apply for recognition by the American Kennel Club. The Cavalier would go on to be recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1995, and the ACKCSC became the parent club for Cavaliers.

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is currently (2016) ranked as the 19th most popular dog in the United States by the American Kennel Club and 13th most popular dog in England. 



Additional information