View Full Version : Could Cavaliers have been used as spy dogs?

10th September 2012, 03:47 AM
I adopted my Sparky from Animal Rescue League, so I wouldn't swear in court that he's a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. But that's how they labeled him, and he looks exactly like the pictures.

Sparky has recently become oddly purposeful about carrying rocks and directing my attention to where he placed them. He seems to go for 3" long, somewhat cylindrical rocks, and he prefers light colors to dark colors. Several weeks ago, he found such a rock in the grass, and got extremely excited about it. He carried it proudly, waved his tail like a flag, and trotted down the sidewalk like he found a trophy. He set it right in the middle of a smooth, sawed-off tree stump, glanced at me, glanced at the rock, and waved his tail. When I caught up with him, he took the rock off the stump and put it in the grass on the opposite side of the sidewalk. He became ecstatically wriggly when I picked it up and put it in my pocket to take along.

Yesterday, he chased a squirrel into the woods. He was leashed, so I stopped him before he got into the woods. I think it was the first squirrel we'd seen on that patch of ground; usually it's just robins. Anyway, I wouldn't let him go after it, and we went home. At my apartment building, there was a 3" long gravel rock on the sidewalk, and Sparky pounced on it. I picked it up and intended to continue entering the building, but Sparky became a stubborn mule. He put his head down and braced himself, and I would have had to carry him into the building. So I gave him back the rock and let him lead the way. With the rock tucked in his mouth, he quickly trotted back down the sidewalk and across the lawn straight to the woods' edge. This was about 5 minutes since we saw the squirrel. He made a beeline to the exact spot where the squirrel had fled. He dropped the rock into a patch of bare dirt there, scuffed the dirt with his front paws, and batted the rock around nimbly a little, rolling it in the scuffed dirt. Then he picked up the rock neatly in his mouth again and trotted briskly back to the sidewalk.

I didn't know what he was doing, but he seemed to be a dog on a mission, and I didn't have the heart to interfere. He was prancing and waving his tail, and seemed so proud of himself.

Sparky led me down the sidewalk to the corner of a street we seldom cross. Across the street is the largest building in the vicinity; it's a large office building where I happen to work. Sparky didn't lunge, but he tugged forcefully and made it very clear he wanted to cross the street. So we did, and he pulled straight up the driveway to the building entrance. Once there, he trotted back and forth in front of the glass doors a few times, looking inside, still holding the rock. I waited. A few small moths were buzzing around. Sparky glanced at me and made eye contact, then snapped at one of the moths, missing. When he snapped for the moth, he dropped the rock and ignored it. He didn't even glance down at it. (He's investigated crawling beetles, but I've never seen him snap at a flying insect before.) Then he urinated for only about 1 second on the nearest grass. Again, that was the first time I'd seen him do that -- it's usually a waterfall.

I picked up the rock and put it in my pocket. Playing along, I said, "The message got through, you brave boy, you good dog." Sparky waved his tail forcefully a few times and looked happy. We went home.

Knowing that King Charles's court was riddled with conspiracies and espionage, is it possible that this breed was not developed just for companionship, but for signaling and message-carrying behavior? This could be intentional or unintentional. I.e., if you select for good lapdogs, do you also pick the genes that happen to favor purposeful disposition of small objects? Maybe the king saw an opportunity in dogs' "normal" bone-seeking and bone-burying behavior. "Find objects of this size and carry them to the human entryway of the biggest building in the neighborhood" would be a good algorithm to transport secret artifacts to the palace, for instance.

Just speculating.


P. S. Sparky approves this message.

10th September 2012, 11:37 AM
Sparky sounds like a fun dog! I wonder whether in part, he is hoping you might throw the object for him? My dogs that like to retrieve would collect items and do that kind of 'head pointing' in hopes it will be picked up and thrown. :lol: My smartest dog does that all the time with any object he wants me to give him (generally a toy, a chew or something he might be able to fetch). None of my other 4 cavaliers have had the same level of interest. A lot of dogs will purposefuly carry an object along for a while then abandon it. My partner's German Shepherd does this all the time :D. One object is generally replaced by another eventually, on a long walk. Some dogs simply love to carry an item on a walk -- you can develop this to have a dog carry a toy, a lead etc. I once saw a large dog in Paris being walked along with a huge pink stuffed toy in its mouth! Very happy with it, too.

The issue on choosing a particular colour item could well be because certain colours are more readily seen by dogs than others. There are definitely colours they can more easily pick out against grass, for instance -- yellow balls are better than orange or blue for example against green for a dog.

I wouldn't think the dogs have any particular training for espionage though the idea is fun. The number of dogs within the courts would have been tiny compared to the number bred outside the courts more generally. Also the contemporary cavalier is a reconstructed breed and while it does have some of that original spaniel background, it also is pretty sure to have a few other breeds in there now (there's much debate on exactly what, and a lot of belief that some early breeders didn't reveal exactly what!). Add to that, the fact that there was not such a thing as a real 'purebred' at the time with a breed standard etc so breeds were regular outcrossed to other breeds. So the original cavalier background frothe time of King Charles II would be extremely dilute by now. All of today's cavaliers are descended from only about 12 post-war dogs that survived in English breeding programmes. Even the spaniel dogs chosen to reconstruct the breed came from that old style spaniel that had 150 years of outcrossing to pugs and other breeds to produce the flatfaced English Toy(or King Charles) spaniel that replaced the longer nosed spaniel of Charles' era (and that dog generally had a much longer nose, more colour variations and somewhat different look than today's reconstructed cavalier which is kind of a compromise between the long faced and the flat faced dog).

I think most behaviours like this tend to be variations in an individual dog rather than breed characteristics. While there are definitely breed characteristsics too, you would not really be able to breed for espionage. You could breed a smart dog (however, cavaliers are considered to be middling though in breed studies as far as the kind of intelligence that might qualify!). You can also breed a dog that signals (eg retrievers do so for hunters, and some cavaliers will still 'point' so this seems to be retained in some spaniel lines. Any spoken word and glance from an owner to a dog will generally elicit a tail wag and generally happiness so I think you have a very content dog who enjoyed a great walk, a bit of snuffling out items, and then some praise. :D

You can easily expand what he does however by directed training. If that sounds fun maybe look for a sniffer class or a tracking class as almost all dogs really enjoy this and it is pretty easy to develop their innate talents.

Brian M
10th September 2012, 12:20 PM

Whatever his purpose he sounds like a very clever fun boy and good on you for going with him ,so all
I can say is "Rock on Sparky".

11th September 2012, 11:33 AM
Our Sophie excels at 'signaling and messaging' to me when she wants to go outside (potty break), food, and to sit up on the sofa with us. That is the extent of her talent.
Your Sparky sounds like a really intelligent dog.

11th September 2012, 06:55 PM
I can just imagine this in the royal court "what is it, sparky? A conspirator?"
"sparky, that's a squirrel."
<wags harder>

Thistle can be pretty sneaky when she wants to steal or hide something, but that's about it for my 2.