23rd June 2006, 10:41 AM
Considering A Cavalier?
People often decide they definitely want a cavalier based on the way they look, or from meeting one, or from seeing one on TV or in a magazine. Who wouldn't find them attractive? But remember, you will be taking on the responsibility of a living animal and a dog is a major commitment, needing daily time and attention and care, training and vet care; it will shed, bark and need to be housetrained and WILL have occasional accidents inside and chew things you value. Even if you absolutely know you want a dog, be sure to learn as much as possible about this breed and its personality and habits, to be sure that this is indeed the right breed for you.
Cavaliers are very loving, indoor-living dogs -- meaning they need to live inside, WITH YOU!
They bond very closely to their family, are outgoing and friendly, happy to be couch potatoes but also ready for a long and vigorous hike. Many have described them as a large dog in a small dog body. Though individuals vary, they generally are not yappy, enjoy children, and get along with other pets -- dogs or cats. Cavaliers can be very good at competitive obedience and agility and are generally easy to train because they are so food motivated. Most of us who own them find them addictive -- and say, you can't own just one! But cavaliers WILL NOT do well left in a garden all day, especially while people are at work, and are very likely to develop personality problems if abandoned in this way. They CANNOT live outside at night -- their single coats have no insulating layer and they will be uncomfortable and stressed at being alone outside. In particular, a puppy under one should never be left outside on its own, and never at night. If you are looking for a dog that can spend a lot of time outside, or that has a fair degree of independence, or which can be left alone all day, another breed would suit you better.
If you read through the threads on this site, you will find a million reasons for why we love cavaliers and why you might want to own one, so I don't really need to list more reasons here. But it is important to also consider some of the potential downsides as there are a few that could mean this breed might not be the right one for you. The list below gives the warts and all view that you won't get in most places. The 'warts' in many cases are simply the flip side of what many of us consider the breed's wonderful positives -- the close attachment to their people, for example -- but not everyone finds these are qualities they want.
'Clinginess': Cavaliers are specifically bred as COMPANIONS to people (this is their breed classification!) and have hundreds of years of breeding in them to make them want close human companionship all the time -- one original role for the dog was to keep people warm, and thus people bred a dog that wanted to always be physically close to (and preferably, on the lap of!) humans. A cavalier will want you in eyesight at all times and will follow you around the house throughout the day, often right at your heels. You absolutely cannot just put it out in the garden and shut the door -- a cavalier will love the opportunity to play in a garden if you have one, but by nature will find it very alarming and distressing to be left out on its own. Leaving them in this way can create serious anxiety and behaviour problems. Please remember that cavaliers are not following you around because they are overly needy, or spoiled, but because it is their very nature to do so. Some breeders say, own a cavalier and you will never go to the bathroom alone again! More seriously, if this level of constant, necessary closeness is a disconcerting thought, a breed more independent and aloof will probably suit you better. NB: cavaliers and other toy breeds generally are ALL bred as companions and these small breeds are not a good choice for those who do not want to offer as well as receive constant companionship.
Separation anxiety: Likewise, cavaliers aren't a great breed for people working long hours unless you are committed to making accommodations, such as having a dog walker come in midday, taking the dog to doggie daycare, and/or acquiring a second companion dog (but NOT two puppies at the same time, which is setting up major challenges especially if both are left alone together much of the day -- see the separate thread on 'one puppy or two?'). These things are of course true for any breed, but cavaliers can be particularly prone to separation anxiety because they are so closely attached to their family. If people are out all day, you'll need to take into consideration how to keep your cavalier happy in the hours when you are not there -- and also to consider whether this is fair on the dog. Remember, a major reason for dogs to be handed in to pounds and shelters is "I work all day and find the dog needs more attention than I can give it". It is far better to honestly decide whether this is the case for you now, BEFORE you get the dog, then go through the stress to both you and the dog of having to rehome it later.
Shedding and grooming: Cavaliers are sometimes listed as a 'moderately' shedding breed but individuals vary enormously and 'moderate' is relative! Most people find they shed a lot unless they've owned one of the champion shedder breeds before, in which case a cavalier might indeed seem 'moderate'. Their coats require regular, ideally daily, grooming and can mat badly if not brushed through several times weekly. As they are small dogs, close to the ground, their long coats pick up leaves, brambles and dirt more easily on walks than taller breeds. The good news is that dirt tends to brush out easily once they dry.
No 'road sense': I do not believe any animal has any real 'road sense' and any dog should never be allowed offlead near traffic or left to wander around a neighbourhood alone. But cavaliers are actually bred to be 'fearless' -- it is in the breed description and a quality they are judged for in the show ring! -- and this makes them quite happy to walk directly in front of oncoming cars. Note that 'fearless' does NOT mean aggressive or defensive, it means cavaliers do not see any threat in some things that they should find threatening. They can simply NEVER be allowed offlead in areas where there are cars, and must be carefully trained on recall, so that they will come when called (keep in mind no dog is ever 100% on recall). Cavaliers are spaniels and many retain a strong prey drive which will send them off after birds, squirrels or butterflies, out of earshot, or again potentially into traffic. Therefore they need a fenced yard or to be on the lead when outside. An electric collar 'invisible fence' is NOT a good alternative -- setting aside the cruelty aspects (try such a collar on its highest setting (because of your body size) and you get a sense of what the dog feels), they are no deterrent to anyone walking in and taking your dog, and other dogs can come in and attack it. There is a high rate of theft of cavaliers in the US, UK and Ireland, another reason not to leave your dog to wander and never to leave it with access alone to a back garden when you are not there to supervise.
Health issues: Cavaliers are a reconstructed breed, redeveloped in the first part of the 1900s, and come from a restricted gene pool. While all purebreds by their nature have a more limited gene pool which can throw up breed-specific health issues, cavaliers unfortunately have two quite serious health conditions, mitral valve disease (where the heart valve gradually fails but at a much earlier age than normal -- this is an old dog only disease in most breeds) and a neurological condition called syringomyelia. The incidence of both is very high in the breed, by any standards. Good breeders are working to lower the incidence of both these afflictions (you can read more on each in the Health section of this library, here http://www.cavaliertalk.com/forums/s...llas-eyes-hips ) and you should ask a prospective breeder whether they follow breeding protocols for hearts and for syringomyelia; they should definitely be following both, and should be open about both these health issues in the breed. Most cavalier owners will ultimately be treating their cavalier for MVD (50% of cavaliers have a murmur by age 5) so be sure you are prepared to take on this task and cost.
Cautions (a word about kids and cavaliers and getting a dog 'for the children'):
This is a small breed and may not be appropriate to a home with small children (under 7). The puppies in particular are very small and it is easy for a small child to accidentally harm -- seriously -- a small cavalier. Many breeders and breed rescues will not home cavalier puppies to homes with young children for this reason. They are generally a good breed with kids, but an extra level of responsibility comes with taking on a cavalier if you have young kids -- all interactions must be supervised by an adult. Keep in mind that even the sweetest children can be very cruel to each other when unsupervised, and the same goes for children with animals. YOU need to be there to watch! It simply makes sense all around to be extra vigilant -- and to use the opportunity to have children learn responsibility and kindness to animals. If you have toddlers or a baby in the house, please remember that a puppy is going to be ANOTHER baby in the house and will need regular attention, housebreaking, training, feeding and grooming... it might be better to consider an adult dog, or to wait until the children are older, unless everyone can commit to the amount of additional time a puppy needs. Finally, remember the ADULTS must have the responsibility for the dog. While it is wonderful for kids to grow up with a dog, most children quickly lose interest in the day to day care of the dog they begged for, so always take on a dog as a whole family commitment, not 'for the children to look after." A child may decide she does not want to walk the dog today, but the dog nonetheless needs to be walked as a daily task (or a daily pleasure, as we dog-lovers would see it! ) -- and shouldn't be walked by an angry child forced to do so; it will need to be walked by adult, level-headed, responsible YOU. And don't forget the dog will also need you for the next decade or more -- a dog is a long term commitment, very likely past the point when your children will have left home for an apartment or for college where they will not be able to bring the dog. Hence make sure the long term commitment and responsibility for daily care are ones the grown-ups are willing to make.
Here are some more general resources to read as you consider adding a cavalier to your home:
About the breed:
Review on Yourpurebredpuppy.com:
Barnaby's Cavalier Attitudes website:
Excellent introductory book:
Caroline Coile's Cavalier King Charles Spaniels