The Breed Standard - are we making any progress?
Mrs Susan Burgess
3rd March 2001

The question which has been put to me is "The Breed Standard - are we making any progress?". In order to try and answer this question I need to go back to the late 1950s when I first became involved with the breed.

As a complete novice I went to Crufts and sat at the ringside watching class after class of pretty awful Cavaliers competing, I must add here that at that time exhibits did not have to qualify for Crufts as they do now. Alright there were clearly a few exceptions but overall the picture was dreadful. Some were well up to Springer size and others looked more like Chihuahuas, small, very light boned with apple heads. To say I was puzzled is putting it mildly. I had seen a delightful Cavalier a few weeks before which made me interested in the breed and most of the exhibits on show that day were very different in type and size.

I was fortunate enough to sit next to an experienced breeder who explained to me that the judge was not a breed specialist so exhibitors were showing different types as no-one knew what she would like.

What a comment but still applicable today, when unknown judges frequently draw a numerically larger entry than established judges who are known for their type. I decided the best thing to do was to visit the kennels of the top breeder at that time and so a week later I went to the home of Mrs Amice Pitt and her Ttiweh Cavaliers.

She was kind enough to take me round and introduce me to her lovely dogs. I was privileged to see Ch. Daywell Roger, the first Champion of the breed, who would not look amiss in the show-ring today. I also saw many other beautiful Champions and outstanding stud dogs. The visit was an education as I was able to see, for the first time, a head type. Of course they weren't all the same, in those days that was difficult, if not impossible to achieve but there was a pattern.

I continued to visit shows and I hoped to get my eye in - this was an instructive activity. Walking round the benches I became aware of light eyes and off-colour noses and in the ring it was not unusual to see patellas slipping in and out as the dogs moved round. I have given you this gloomy resume of faults which even I, as a novice could see existed.

Over the years things have improved and although it is sometimes two steps forward and one step backwards, we are slowly making progress.

The breed standard is intended as a guide, a blue print of the ideal Cavalier but all points must be taken in balance with the whole dog. The perfect dog has never yet been bred and every Champion has got his or her faults.

What we, as breeders, aim to do is to gradually improve on the good points and strive to eliminate the faults. This is a slow process as it is often the case that, as you concentrate on one point, another fault rears its ugly head.

Breed type is essential and the head is therefore all important. The Cavalier expression should be very gentle and the eyes should be large, round and dark with a melting expression. To achieve this gentle look the skull should be almost completely flat and wide enough between the high set ears for the eyes to be placed well apart - no trace of dome should be seen. If the skull is too narrow, the eyes tend to be small and the muzzle snipey - all very undesirable features.

Heads have improved enormously though unfortunately we still see an occasional throwback, with a rounded skull, rather like a crash helmet, heavy over the eyes and with a short deep stop. No doubt attractive in its way but not a good specimen of the Cavalier.

I think I should mention at this point a story that Amice Pitt told me many years ago. To ensure that Societies put on classes for the breed, it was necessary for exhibitors to enter every dog they possibly could or the breed might not be scheduled at their next show. Amongst other exhibits on this particular day Amice showed a ruby bitch. She won her class and in the challenge was made Best Bitch.

Amice told me that this ruby was not a good specimen and should never have won and she was so disgusted that she never showed that ruby bitch again just in case some other fool of a judge put her up. I tell you this tale because I think it is essential that we do not regard all of our geese as swans. If progress is to continue to be made it is imperative that we recognise the shortcomings in our Cavaliers and strive to right them in future generations.

Size is now more standard - this has been a slow process, as so often the sounder dogs were on the big side.

We had to improve the conformation of our Cavaliers and to achieve this larger well constructed stud dogs and breed bitches were used. This has certainly paid off with much stronger hind-quarters than we saw in the past but a lot of our breed still lack the desired drive.

You win some you lose some and in the intervening years we seem to have largely lost the elegant necks with good fronts and shoulders. We certainly have work to do in this area.

The breed has been through a period where eyes have been disappointing, not round enough or big enough. I think there has been an improvement recently but this is something we must watch out for as the beautiful eyes of the Cavalier are such a feature of the breed.

On a positive note I have not recently seen many light eyes for which I am thankful. This is one of the most difficult faults to breed out and can suddenly appear again a few generations later. At one time light eyes were quite common so we have improved enormously in that respect.

In my opinion one thing we are in danger of losing are the lovely fine silky coats. They are a joy to feel when judging and are rather a rarity now. The coat is the crowning glory and we must make sure we continue to breed for it or we will lose it altogether.

I think it is splendid to see a ring full of Cavaliers with tails wagging and I consider good temperament very important. When one realises that the majority of puppies born will go to pet homes, this is an essential requirement and bad temperament should never be tolerated.

Mouths have been a problem over the years, which is not surprising as our present dog Cavaliers were bred from the flat faced King Charles Spaniels. Our breed standard stipulates a scissor bite with a muzzle of approximately 1½ inches (please don't ask me to give you this in metric!) Cavalier mouths can change dramatically, correct mouths can go undershot when the puppy gets its adult teeth and astonishingly undershot mouths can right themselves up to the age of two years or more.

When I first started in the breed I thought this was sales talk but I soon realised that this was a fact. The trouble can be that some breeders in order to be more certain of getting scissor bites, prefer longer muzzles than the standard stipulates. This in turn can change the head with a narrow skull and one is in danger of losing the large round eyes. Clearly these points must all be taken in balance with the size of the dog. Going back to Amice Pitt who was known as Mrs Cavalier as she had more depth of knowledge of the breed than anyone else, I think it is interesting to note that she considered that the Kennel Club separated the Cavalier from the flat faced King Charles too soon, leaving Cavaliers with too narrow a base.

Up until that time both types were registered as King Charles Spaniels with the words 'Cavalier type' added to show the difference between the flat face and the longer nosed Cavalier. This separation of the breeds by the Kennel Club reduced the inter-breeding and thereby the gene pool. Up until then it had been common practice to use Charlies with too much nose, which King Charles breeders had no use for, to help develop the Cavaliers.

I must touch on one aspect of the breed standard which calls for a completely natural dog with no trimming or artificial colouring. As the breed has become more and more popular, the temptation to win at any cost has cropped up and as sadly there are always a few rotten apples in the barrel, a very small minority of exhibitors have resorted to methods designed to deceive the judges and also their fellow breeders. I refer particularly to the colouring of noses. This is a dishonest practice and can only harm the breed. Good pigmentation can be bred for as can any other point. It takes longer than using the paint brush but at least you can hold your head up high and feel you have achieved something to help the breed in the future, which is what we should all be aiming to do.

When the breed was numerically much smaller we all knew the stud dogs used and their breeding and this made it a great deal easier to pin-point where faults were coming from.

There was a relatively small group of dedicated breeders who worked to improve the Cavalier at no small cost to themselves. This was a hobby with no profit involved. Puppies were given away to good homes and stud dog fees were a few guineas. It was uphill work and the bank balance suffered but in many ways I think it was preferable to now, where commercialism has taken over.

Looking at the Cavalier today and taking the overall picture, I would say, yes, we have progressed over the last 40 years or so but there is no room for complacency and there is still plenty of work to be done. Never be satisfied with what you have got and always try to improve your stock in the future.

I firmly believe that anything is possible if dedicated breeders set their minds to it and I wish you all success in the future.

Thank you.

Susan Burgess
Susan Burgess

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