Is the cavalier King Charles spaniel the perfect pocket gundog?

Some years ago we had a friend’s cavalier staying with us in July, so she accompanied us, with our springers, to the Game Fair. The fact that the fair was at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and she was a Blenheim cavalier seemed appropriate (red and white cavaliers are known as Blenheims). She was an attractive little dog, but what was memorable was how many people stopped to remark on her, and tell us their experiences of cavaliers.

King Charles II was a cavalier enthusiast

As the name suggests, cavaliers have been around for a very long time. King Charles II was an enthusiastic about the breed, and there are many contemporary paintings of the king and his family that show small spaniels looking very much like the dogs we know today. However, it wasn’t until 1928 that the breed was split into two: the cavalier is the larger, more popular dog, while the King Charles is smaller, shorter-nosed and quite rare.

Great pocket gundogs and keen partridge retrievers

I once interviewed a professional gundog trainer whose house dogs were cavaliers: he was clearly a great fan of the breed. He told me, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, that they made great pocket gundogs, as they were small enough to be popped into a game bag, and were keen retrievers of partridges. I reported this in this column, and received a pompous letter from a famous spaniel handler (now dead) who failed to realise that the story was a joke.

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For the past couple of weeks another cavalier, Chloe, has been staying with us while her owners are abroad. A rescue dog aged about 10, she is a sweet little spaniel but suffers from congenital deafness, so has been deaf since birth. Deaf springers can be a challenge as they have a tendency to wander off, but Chloe sticks to your heels when you go for a walk. Not that she likes walks – exercise is something that she is quite happy to avoid.

Sadly, congenital deafness is just one of a host of health problems that cavaliers suffer from, ranging from congestive heart failure to epilepsy. Perhaps the worst of all is syringomyelia, which occurs as a result of the skull being too small for the brain. Much as I like cavaliers, I wouldn’t want to own one for this reason.