Living with the English Toy Spaniel

(A version of this article appeared in the September 2012 edition of ShowSight.)
English Toy Spaniel puppies

For many centuries, there existed in various European countries a small dog known as “comforter” or Spanyel, always a favored pet and lap dog. In England, these little dogs were prominent in the royal houses of Charles II and James II, and many recorded incidents prove the association.

According to many authorities through the years, these Spaniels evolved to become the breed known as the King Charles or, here in the United States, the English Toy Spaniel.

Originally, the breed had a moderate length of muzzle which we think became (probably through a cross with an Oriental Toy) the very short, upturned type that our Breed Standard calls for today.

Over the years, many of the breed characteristics have been set down as goals for the breeders, always emphasizing domed heads, large expressive eyes, soft silky furnishings, and small size. These little Spaniels most readily show their ancient heritage by their winning dispositions.

The English Toy Spaniel is an ideal house pet, as they are affectionate, smart, and easily trained. The training should be started at an early age. It is much easier to housebreak an eight-week-old puppy than an eight-month-old puppy. The same is true of lead-breaking and teaching the puppy to stand for grooming. Teaching the puppy to stand for grooming at an early age will save both the dog and the owner a lot of stress as the puppy gets older.

The English Toy Spaniel is an ideal house pet, as they are affectionate, smart, and easily trained. The training should be started at an early age. It is much easier to housebreak an eight-week-old puppy than an eight-month-old puppy.

“Charlies” have a very affectionate disposition and their main goal in life is to please the owner. They are usually friendly with strangers but can be somewhat discriminating. My first English Toy Spaniel, Ch. Dreamridge Dear Charles, was very friendly with guests who were well-dressed, but with a repairman or someone who did not meet his idea of having a worthwhile appearance, he would go to an upstairs bedroom and remain there until they left.

Their charming personality makes them an ideal playmate for children, if exposed to children at an early age. They are also a great pet for a senior citizen as they do not require a lot of exercise but are sturdy enough for a long walk or a short run.

This lovely breed will never be at the top of any list for performance dogs. However, the English Toy Spaniel has come a long way in performance events in the past 20 years. In the United States, Obedience was the only game for the longest time and this is not something that the average English Toy excels at doing. There have been two Ruby boys working in Utility, but the precision and repetition of Obedience can be a challenge for this breed’s sensitive nature. There is only a handful of dogs to achieve the CDX title, and according to AKC records, no UD has been earned. Rally Obedience is a little better-suited for the English Toy Spaniel as they appreciate getting a lot of feedback from their owners during competition. Even so, there have only been two RAEs (the highest Rally title) earned by our breed.

Agility competition seems to be much better-suited for this breed’s happy and sometimes silly temperament. There have been about 15-20 English Toy Spaniels earning Agility titles in the US. These include several earning titles in the top levels. Our breed will never be the first choice for someone looking to be competitive in performance events, yet those who love the breed are privy to one little secret: It is worth the challenge to train and compete with these little charmers, and sometimes they come out on top of the unsuspecting competition.

Charlies will create their own rituals for feeding time, when they want to go outside, and when to retire for the night. One of my dogs had a nightly ritual of waiting until I got into bed and then jumping up on the side of the bed for a pat on the head and a verbal “good night,” and then he would get in his own bed.

They are a gentle breed and the owner must be gentle also. A harsh word is all it takes to correct an English Toy Spaniel, and even this can result in you getting a cold shoulder for a half hour or half a day.

Unlike many Toy breeds, English Toy Spaniel bitches are usually free-whelpers. In my fifty years of breeding, I have only had one bitch that required a C-section. Once the puppies are whelped they require close monitoring. They must be kept warm with either a heating pad or a heat lamp. Once a newborn puppy gets chilled, it is difficult to get them active again. Watch closely that all puppies are nursing. The stronger puppies will push the weaker ones off the teat, and a puppy can become weak and dehydrated in a very short time. This is especially true if the litter is large. It is sometimes necessary to remove the strong puppies from the whelping box for a short time to give the weaker puppies a chance to nurse. When I have a litter due, I make sure that I have a can of Esbilac on-hand in case I need to supplement-feed a weak puppy. Some breeders are good at tube feeding, but I have never been. I get a human preemie bottle and bottle-feed instead.

By four weeks, the puppies should be able to eat out of a shallow pan—the earlier the better. I start with a soft kibble soaked in warm water with Carnation milk. The mother will let you know when it is time to wean the puppies; usually by seven weeks. When weaning a litter, I usually feed them four times a day as their tiny bellies cannot hold a lot of food at one time. Good nutrition at this time is very important in developing bone and substance. (Maybe my dogs take after me, but they are good eaters and I have fat puppies.)

As our breed has become more popular, the judging has become better. There are always exceptions to this, but overall, the Toy dog judges have become more familiar with our Breed Standard. Judges need to have an understanding of the correct head. The head is the most distinctive characteristic of our Standard. There should be no length of muzzle, and a high-domed head. The nose should be recessed into the globular extension of the high dome and full forehead; however, the head should never be course. If you draw a figure eight and cut it in half, this is how a good head should look from the side. Most judges who really know the breed will ask the exhibitor to pick up the dogs so that they can see the heads from the side. An English Toy Spaniel without a domed head should never be in the show ring.

I do feel that some of our present-day winners are on the large side. Toy dogs should be small, and our Standard does say that if of equal quality, the smaller dog is preferred.

The breed is in a healthy state, and great improvements have been made in the last fifty years; not only in the health of the breed but also in the presentation of the breed. We seldom see a dog in the ring that is not sound. Today’s breeders must understand that they are the caretakers of a long-standing and honored breed, and must uphold the tradition of the neat and pretty kind of dog called the Spaniel Gentle.

The breed is in a healthy state, and great improvements have been made in the last fifty years; not only in the health of the breed but also in the presentation of the breed.



English Toy Spaniel Breed Magazine

Showsight Magazine is the only publication to offer dedicated Digital Breed Magazines for ALL recognized AKC Breeds.

Read and learn more about the English Toy Spaniel dog breed with articles and information in our English Toy Spaniel Breed Magazine.


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