Known in the majority of countries as the King Charles Spaniel and to the American Kennel Club (AKC) and United Kennel Club (UKC) as the English Toy Spaniel, the breed is, as one would assume from its name, a small member of the Spaniel family native to England. The Spaniels are a very old group of dogs, and many distinct breeds of these dogs have been developed in the British Isles and Continental Europe. Spaniels are characterized by their long, silky fur and drooping ears. Almost all Spaniels originated as bird dogs, and these are perhaps the oldest of all sporting dogs. It is believed that some Spaniels may even predate the use of guns for bird hunting.
The name Spaniel comes from the French term, “Chiens des l’Espagnol,” which translates to, “dogs of the Spaniard.” Because of their name, it is commonly assumed that Spaniels originated in either Spain or the Roman province of Hispania, which included most of the Iberian Peninsula where both modern day Spain and Portugal are located. In fact, no one really knows where Spaniels first developed. Some theories claim that they were developed from Celtic dogs, and that the Welsh Springer Spaniel was the original type. It is difficult to deny that almost all Spaniel breeds are native to lands once occupied by Celtic peoples, France and the British Isles. The Iberian Peninsula was also once populated by a group of peoples related to the Celts, known as the Celtiberians. It is possible that Spaniels were so-named because they were bred by the Celts of Hispania. Others claim that these dogs were the descendants of Oriental companion dogs introduced into Europe by the Roman Empire. While Spaniels do superficially resemble a number of East Asian breeds such as the Japanese Chin and Tibetan Spaniel, the prevailing modern thought is that the two groups are entirely unrelated. There are also claims that French Crusaders introduced spaniels to Europe when they brought these dogs back from the Holy Land. This theory is somewhat more likely, as the Arabs have always favored the Saluki. The coat of some Salukis, particularly on the ears, is very similar to many Spaniels. Spain itself was controlled by Muslim conquerors for a number of centuries. These conquerors may have brought Salukis with them, leading the French to mistakenly call these dogs Spaniels. Because there is a paucity of evidence, until in depth genetic analyses are done the truth will probably remain a mystery.
However Spaniels first developed, they became some of the most popular bird dogs in France, England, Wales, and Ireland. Initially, Spaniels were divided into two groups, Spaniels which worked on the land and Spaniels who worked in water. At this point, all Spaniels were probably medium-sized breeds. Eventually, hunters created a number of different Spaniel breeds, each suited to a distinct species of bird or hunting style. Although it is not clear exactly when, the nobility of both England and Continental Europe began to adopt these hunting dogs as their personal companions. The earliest depictions of dogs which resemble Toy Spaniels date from the mid-1400’s, although it is unclear what relation if any the dogs portrayed have with modern dogs. The smallest dogs were favored for this purpose, and Spaniels began to be bred down in size until toy varieties existed. Toy Spaniels fell out of favor in continental Europe, and only the Phalene and the Papillon are thought to survive. However, Toy Spaniels remained among the most popular dogs with the English nobility. Noblemen and women across England developed a number of unique Toy Spaniel varieties, each with a unique color pattern.
The earliest known appearance of a Toy Spaniel in England was a painting of Philip II of Spain and Mary I of England from the 1500’s. Later in that century, Mary, Queen of Scots was also known to favor Toy Spaniels. In his 1570 work ‘De Canibus Brittanicis’, Caius describes two distinct types of small Spaniel, an older breed known as “Comforters” or “Spaniel Gentles” which he thought may have originated in Malta, and a new, rarer breed from France. It is quite possible that the Comforter may not have been a Spaniel at all, but rather the Maltese. Caius’ work may provide evidence that the Maltese was used to shrink down larger Spaniels in size. It has been suggested that Captain John Saris may have returned with Spaniel-like dogs from the Orient in 1613, and that these dogs were added to the blood of Toy Spaniels. By the reign of Charles I from 1625 to 1649, Toy Spaniels were well-established as the preferred companion dogs of the English nobility. Charles I himself was known to own some of these dogs, but the breed is not named for him. Throughout the 1600’s, Toy Spaniels were depicted by some of the most famous European painters, including Caspar Netscher, Peter Paul Rubens, Juan De Valdez Leal, and Diego Velazquez. The oldest paintings of English Toy Spaniels have distinctly Spaniel faces, and look like a modern English Cocker Spaniel or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Charles I’s son Charles II was incredibly fond of Toy Spaniels. Most accounts of him both as a Prince and as a King (1630 to 1685) mention that he was always in the company of at least two or three Toy Spaniels. Charles II greatly favored tricolor (Prince Charles) and black and tan (King Charles) dogs, and these two color varieties have born his name ever since. Charles II was largely responsible for popularizing the Toy Spaniel, and for making it the most enduring companion dog of the English royalty. Charles II famously decreed that Toy Spaniels were to be allowed in all of England’s public buildings, including placed where no do had previously been allowed such as Parliament. It was said that Charles made this law so that he would never have to be apart from his beloved Spaniels, even for a few hours. Charles’s sister Henrietta was also very fond of Toy Spaniels, and she was depicted holding a red and white one. The painter Anthony Von Dyck painted a number of Toy Spaniels during the 17th Century. The Toy Spaniel remained a favorite of the English royalty long after Charles II’s death, but underwent a major change in appearance after 1688. At the end of the Glorious Revolution, William III was installed as the new English King. William III was a member of the Dutch House of Orange. The Pug was the official dog of the House of Orange, and William III brought his Pugs to England when he ascended the throne. These dogs even were present during his coronation, wearing bright orange collars. Because of William’s influence, Pugs became quite popular with English royalty, and these dogs were bred with Toy Spaniels. By the end of the 1700’s, the older, more Spaniel-like variety of Toy Spaniel was extinct, having been replaced with the modern, brachycephalic (pushed-in face) breed. This new form of Toy Spaniel remained very popular with the English nobility. These dogs were frequently present in English artwork and literature from the 1700’s. Jonathan Swift, William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough, and George Romney all included these dogs in their works. Many Toy Spaniels from this period weighed as little as 5 pounds, although they were said to be prone to weight gain. Toy Spaniels and Pugs were the most common companion dogs of the English upper classes of this period.
Although many observers of the time felt that these Toy Spaniels were a mere fancy of the wealthy, they actually served a number of purposes. Perhaps the most important purpose which they served was keeping their masters warm. The homes of the period, particularly aging castles, were quite drafty. These dogs would sit on their owners’ laps to keep them from getting the chills. This is the reason why they became known as “Comforters.” Toy Spaniels also drew fleas and other parasites from their owners to themselves, decreasing the likelihood that a nobleperson would catch a flea-borne illness. Many experts of the time believed that these small dogs had almost mystical healing abilities, and would prescribe ownership or use of them to cure a number of ills. Although this may seem foolish to modern eyes, it has recently been confirmed. Petting a dog has been proven to release stress, and pet owners live longer than those who do not own pets.
By the early 1800’s, each color variety of Toy Spaniel was generally considered to be a distinct variety or breed. In addition to the King Charles and the Prince Charles, other varieties came into being. Although the primary purpose of these dogs was always companionship, a number of fanciers continued to use them for hunting. The Duke of Marlborough was said to keep a pack of red and white Toy Spaniels, which were among the best woodcock hunting dogs in England. The Duke had named his estate Blenheim after his success in the battle of Blenheim. Because of the fame of his dogs, red and white Toy Spaniels have been known as Blenheim Spaniels ever since.
In 1830, the ‘Sportsman’s Repository’ described the hunting abilities of the Toy Spaniel at the time. It was said that these dogs were both capable and willing to hunt, but did not have great stamina and were incapable of working on difficult terrain. This judgment was confirmed by other canine authors: Thomas Brown in 1829 and Vero Shaw in 1881. By the end of the 1800’s, a fourth color of Toy Spaniel had emerged, the Ruby. The first known report Ruby-coated Toy Spaniel comes from 1875, when such a dog named Dandy was owned by a Mrs. Garwood. However, even during the 1800’s the modern varieties of Toy Spaniel were being criticized for being too Pug-like. Perhaps the loudest and most famous of these critics was William Youatt in his 1845 study, ‘The Dog’. Youatt wrote that, "The King Charles's breed of the present day is materially altered for the worse. The muzzle is almost as short, and the forehead as ugly and prominent as the veriest bull-dog. The eye is increased to double its former size, and has an expression of stupidity with which the character of the dog too accurately corresponds."
By the end of the 1800’s, a number of new breeds had been introduced into England or developed natively which took some of the English Toy Spaniel’s popularity, including the Italian Greyhound, the English Toy Terrier, and the Pekingese. However, this breed remained popular with English and European royalty. An English Toy Spaniel named Dash was the first dog owned by Queen Victoria, perhaps the most famous of all English dog lovers and one of the most influential figures in the early history of the Kennel Club. At this time, it was still customary to treat the Ruby Spaniel, the Blenheim Spaniel, the Prince Charles Spaniel, and the King Charles Spaniel as four distinct breeds in England. At the turn of the century, King Charles and Blenheim Spaniels were seen as being more desirable than Prince Charles and Ruby Spaniels, and often commanded a higher price.
It is unclear when the first English Toy Spaniel arrived in America. As this breed was long popular with the English nobility, it is likely that some arrived as early as the colonial days. This dainty and aristocratic breed never really gained much popularity in America, but was well-established enough that it was one of the first breeds to be recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1886. The AKC also treated the four color varieties as unique breeds at first. In 1896, Otto Von Bismarck purchased an American-bred English Toy Spaniel for $2,000, an astronomical sum at the time. This dog weighed less than two pounds, and had actually been disqualified by the AKC due to its small size.
In 1903, the Kennel Club decided to reclassify all four color varieties as one breed, the Toy Spaniel. This created a tremendous amount of controversy among breeders and exhibitors. The argument was so strong that King Edward VII became personally involved. He let it be known that he strongly preferred the name King Charles Spaniel to Toy Spaniel, and the Kennel Club subsequently chose that name. In 1904, American fanciers followed suit, although they chose the name English Toy Spaniel, likely due to the increasing popularity of other small Spaniel-like dogs such as the Pekingese. This change was much less controversial in the United States. The breed has probably strongly benefitted in both countries, due to an increased gene pool. This benefit has only become greater as the breed has slowly fallen out of favor. The breed remained popular among the European nobility at this point.
The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia owned an English Toy Spaniel. This dog is believed to have perished alongside its owner, as a skeleton of an English Toy Spaniel was found at the site where the Romanov family is believed to have been burnt. In 1926, the American dog fancier Roswell Eldridge held a competition at the Cruft’s Dog Show. He offered a reward for the King Charles Spaniel which most resembled the classic type favored by King Charles II, before the introduction of Pug blood. While most breeders were horrified by this prospect, as they had worked for years to breed the ideal dog of the type which they favored, a number decided to enter their dogs. Subsequently, a number of breeders worked to develop a distinct variety of King Charles Spaniel which more closely resembled the older type. These dogs eventually became known as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and became a distinct breed by the end of the 1940’s.
The English Toy Spaniel gradually fell out of favor in both England and the United States as the 20th Century wore on. In 1960, Princess Margaret attended Princess Anne’s 10th birthday party with her English Toy Spaniel Rolly, one of the breed’s last major royal appearances. Elizabeth II has also owned a number of English Toy Spaniels, but she has long favored and been associated with the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. This breed has become increasingly rare among non-nobles. Perhaps the largest difficulty faced by the English Toy Spaniel is the popularity of its descendant the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This breed became fashionable over the past three decades, where it has become one of the most popular breeds in the United Kingdom and is also rapidly increasing in popularity in the United States. The rise of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has hastened the decline of the English Toy Spaniel.
In recent years, there have been fewer than 200 annual King Charles Spaniel Registrations with the Kennel Club, compared with over 8,000 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel registrations. In the early 2000’s, the magazine Country Life put a Welsh Terrier on the cover with the article title, “Who Will Save this Native Breed?” Spurred on by this article and a growing concern among breeders of rare breeds, the Kennel Club created the Vulnerable Native Breeds list. The list is comprised of breeds native to England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland which regular register fewer than 300 puppies a year. The Kennel Club has made it a mission to prevent these breeds from suffering extinction, the same fate as dogs such as the Toy Trawler Spaniel, The English White Terrier, the English Water Spaniel and the Talbot. The King Charles Spaniel was placed on this list, and there is hope that British breeders can work with their counterparts in the United States and Europe to save these dogs.
In 2008, the King Charles Spaniel came under a great deal of criticism from animal rights activists and other concerned citizens. In that year, the BBC aired a documentary entitled ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’, which was highly critical of the breeding of pedigree dogs. The special focused on a number of breeds with health problems which are thought to be the result of excessive inbreeding or other poor breeding practices. Both the King Charles Spaniel and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel were highlighted due to the high percentage of these breeds who suffer from Syringomyelia, a painful and fatal spinal condition. Many breeders have been extremely critical of the public response to this documentary, as most were aware of this condition and others and attempting to eliminate it from bloodlines. However, the scrutiny brought by this program may prove detrimental to efforts to popularize the English Toy Spaniel.
The King Charles Spaniel remains rare in the United States. In 2010, the breed ranked 126th out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. The United Kennel Club (UKC) did not recognize this breed until 1992. The English Toy Spaniel Club of America (ETSCA) is the official AKC breed club for the English Toy Spaniel. In AKC events, the English Toy Spaniel is shown in two classes, the Blenheim/King Charles class and the Ruby/Prince Charles Class. Dogs of all colors are allowed to interbreed, however. In the United Kingdom, all King Charles Spaniels are shown in one class. Although this breed was used as a hunting dog until the 1800’s, it is far less capable of being a working Spaniel than most other family members. This breed has also exhibited great abilities in obedience and agility trials, but almost all English Toy Spaniels in the world are now either companion animals or show dogs. These are two tasks which the English Toy Spaniel is very well-suited.
The English Toy Spaniel is a very old breed, and has been very influential in the development of other dog breeds. At one point it was common to interbreed many different types of Spaniel, and the English Cocker Spaniel and the English Toy Spaniel have undoubtedly greater influenced each others development. The English Toy Spaniel was crossed with the old variety of the Sussex Spaniel to create the Toy Trawler Spaniel, which went extinct by the 1930’s. The Brussels Griffon owes its modern coat colors and its brachycephalic face to the English Toy Spaniel. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is directly descended from the English Toy Spaniel. A number of other toy breeds from across Europe likely have some English Toy Spaniel blood in them as well.
The English Toy Spaniel is generally similar to larger Spaniels, but with the face of a Pug or Pekingese. As one would expect of a toy breed, the English Toy Spaniel is quite small. Breed standards call for a dog which is between 8 and 14 pounds, but actual weight is considered less important than proper proportions and sound structure. There is no recognized ideal height for an English Toy Spaniel, but most dogs are between 9 and 11 inches in height. This breed is compact, and almost square in body shape. This breed’s body is largely obscured by its long hair, which gives it the appearance of being stockier than it really is. However, this illusion is partially based on reality as the English Toy Spaniel is one of the most solidly built of all toy breeds. The tail of the English Toy Spaniel set level with the dog’s back and carried at back level or slightly above. Many English Toy Spaniels have their tails docked to between 2 and 4 inches, but this practice is falling out of favor and is actually banned in some countries. English Toy Spaniels with undocked tails have the traditional long, relatively straight tails of most other Spaniels.
The head of the modern English Toy Spaniel is the result of crossing earlier old style Spaniels with the Pug. As a result, this breed has the large, round head and brachycephalic (pushed-in) face of that breed. The muzzle of this breed is both very short and slightly upturned, which some say gives it a snobbish appearance. This breed has a somewhat wrinkly face, but to nowhere near the extent of the Pug. AKC standards call for a refined face, and that is an accurate description of most English Toy Spaniels. Most English Toy Spaniels have an under bite, but their teeth should not show when the mouth is closed. The eyes of this breed are either dark black or dark brown, and are quite large. They eyes of this breed are quite expressive, and each individual dog tends to leave a slightly different impression. The ears of the English Toy Spaniel are one of the breed’s most renowned features. These ears are very long, droop close to the head, and are covered with heavy feathering.
As is the case with most Spaniels, the English Toy Spaniel is famous for its coat. These dogs have long, silky coats or straight or slightly wavy hair. The coat of an English Toy Spaniel should never be curly, although the feathering on many dogs is often close. This breed has some of the longest feathering of any breed, which occurs on the ears, tail, legs, and feet. The hair of the English Toy Spaniel is relatively short around the face and head, and should never obscure the dog’s vision. Blenheim and Ruby colored Spaniels generally have shorter coats and less feathering than the Prince Charles and King Charles varieties, but coat is very important to all varieties in the show ring.
There are four distinct color varieties of English Toy Spaniel, each of which was at one point considered a unique breed. Blenheim dogs are white with evenly distributed red markings. The ears and cheeks of this variety should always be red, and it is highly desirable to have red markings around the eyes as well. Blenheim or red and white Spaniels should always have a distinct blaze which ends in a curve. The most desirable Blenheim dogs have the “Blenheim Spot” which is a mark in the center of their blaze on the top of their heads. Prince Charles or tricolor dogs are white with evenly distributed black markings. The ears and cheeks should always be black, and it is highly desirable for there to be black markings around the eyes as well. Rich tan markings are found on the face, over the eyes, in the ear linings, and underneath the tail. King Charles or black and tan dogs are solidly black with rich mahogany markings on the cheeks, over the eyes, in the ear linings, on the legs, and under the tail. Such dogs may have a small white patch on the chest and some white hairs on the feet but this is considered undesirable. Ruby dogs are a solid mahogany in color. The shade should be quite deep. Ruby Spaniels may have a small patch of white fur on their chests and some white hair on their feet, but as is the case with King Charles colored dogs, this is highly undesirable.
The English Toy Spaniel is one of the most easy-going of all toy breeds. This is a breed which tends to absolutely love its owners without being demanding of them. English Toy Spaniels love to cuddle and snuggle and are definitely happiest when they are right next to their favorite people. The English Toy Spaniel is the definitive lap dog. English Toy Spaniels are known to suffer from severe separation anxiety and should not be left alone for long periods on a regular basis. The English Toy Spaniel is generally polite with strangers, although they tend to be somewhat reserved. This breed is not likely to run up to a new person tail wagging, preferring the company of those they know well.
English Toy Spaniels are also known for making capable watchdogs, although they are neither aggressive nor intimidating enough to make a guard dog. This breed is extremely gentle and is known to make an excellent choice for senior citizens. English Toy Spaniels would probably prefer to live in a home without young children. While this breed is less likely to show aggression or bite than most other toys, it does not enjoy any rough housing. This low energy breed would also likely be overwhelmed by kids running around constantly. If you are looking for a calm and gentle companion for an older family, the English Toy Spaniel is probably one of the best choices available. If you are looking for a dog that will run around and play with children, another breed is likely a better choice.
English Toy Spaniels generally get along well with other dogs. This breed is not known to have dominance or dog aggression issues. However, most English Toy Spaniels would probably prefer human company to canine company and this is not a dog which enjoys playing rough. This breed does best around similarly calm dogs. The English Toy Spaniel retains a substantial amount of hunting instinct, and will readily pursue small animals. However, these dogs are more than capable of keeping these instincts under wraps when well-socialized. This is a breed which will chase birds, squirrels, and other creatures when outside and should be kept on a leash or in an enclosed area. An English Toy Spaniel is far from the best breed around non-canines, but far from the worst either.
The English Toy Spaniel can be somewhat challenging to train. This breed can be somewhat stubborn, and most do not particularly want to learn. Unlike some breeds which are almost deliberately willful, the English Toy Spaniel simply has little interest in training, and sees most tasks as beneath it. This does not mean that it is impossible to train an English Toy Spaniel, quite the contrary. What it does mean is that you will have to spend extra time working with these dogs, and be willing to put up with some frustration. English Toy Spaniels respond best to training regimens that involve a great deal of rewards. This breed does take better to manners training than most toys, and owners will probably have fewer difficulties making this breed socially acceptable. If you only care about having a polite dog that is possibly willing to learn a few tricks in order to get doggy treats, an English Toy Spaniel will likely suit you. If you want a breed which will win obedience and agility trials, you should probably look elsewhere.
The English Toy Spaniel is a relaxed breed. This dog does not need a great deal of exercise, and is well-suited to less active families. A thorough daily walk and preferably some time to run around in a secure area is all that an English Toy Spaniel requires. However, as is the case with all dogs, English Toy Spaniels need to get their exercise. Dogs which are unexercised frequently develop behavioral and health issues, including nervousness, destructiveness, and weight gain. Some English Toy Spaniels enjoy running through an agility course or similar activities, but this is definitely not a breed which craves a job. The vast majority of English Toy Spaniels are completely content relaxing on the sofa after they get home from their daily walk.
Unlike many toy breeds, the English Toy Spaniel is generally quiet. This breed is also considerably less susceptible to developing Small Dog Syndrome than most similarly sized dogs. Small Dog Syndrome occurs when owners do not discipline a little dog in the same way that they would a larger animal. This leads to dogs which think that they are in control of the world, and that are often aggressive, excessively vocal, and generally out-of-control. Although the English Toy Spaniel is less likely to develop this condition than other toys, owners must still remember that this is still a dog, no matter how small and cute that it is.
Both the King Charles Spaniel and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel have identical grooming requirements. It is very possible for owners to properly maintain these breeds, but many choose to have their dogs professionally groomed. These dogs need to have their thoroughly brushed, preferably at least every other day. Tangles and mats must be carefully worked out. Special attention must be paid to the ears and tail, which most frequently mat. These dogs need regular baths and shampoos, and most require the hair around their feet to be trimmed. Owners must regularly clean the ears of these tiny Spaniels. Dirt, food, water, and grime are easily trapped in the ears and can cause irritations and infections if not removed.
The English Toy Spaniel has an average life expectancy of 10 to 12 years, but many of these dogs suffer from a number of health problems in that time. The genetic pool of these dogs is relatively small, and they also have a facial structure which causes a number of respiratory difficulties. These dogs also suffer from most conditions common to the toy group. Although the English Toy Spaniel shares many of the health problems of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, these problems tend to be present in significantly lower percentages in this breed. Luckily for the English Toy Spaniel, most responsible breeders are aware of potential health problems and are working diligently to improve the health of these dogs. Unfortunately, the English Toy Spaniel has yet to be the focus of any major health studies, so the extents of various health problems in the breed are unknown.
Many of the English Toy Spaniel’s health problems are a result of the breed’s distinctive face. Dogs with brachycephalic faces tend to have some difficulties breathing, and often wheeze and snort. English Toy Spaniels also have difficulty taking in enough air to cool themselves off and as a result are heat intolerant. This breed will suffer from heatstroke both more rapidly and at lower temperatures than many other breeds. For similar reasons, the English Toy Spaniel is often short of breath and is not capable of extended periods of vigorous exercise. English Toy Spaniel breeders are determined to keep this breed able to whelp without the aid of Caesarian section. However, some females may need the aid of veterinarians in order to whelp.
In recent years, the English Toy Spaniel has come under attack from animal welfare organizations over the prevalence of Syringomyelia in the breed. Syringomyelia is caused by a malformation in the back of the brain. This malformation results in fluid pockets in the spinal cord which are known as syrinxes. Some dogs with this condition do not experience any discomfort or show any symptoms, although many do. Dogs affected by Syringomyelia often experience a substantial amount of pain and discomfort in their necks and backs. Many dogs persistently scratch without stopping, even when they are walking. Some dogs don’t even scratch their bodies, only the air. There is no known cure for this disease.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
A list of health problems which the English Toy Spaniel is known to suffer would have to include: