Looking for a healthy, well-adjusted Cavalier?
Please read this first.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a dog very much in demand, which means that you may not be able to find a good puppy on a moment’s notice. Many quality breeders are moving away from a lengthy “wait list” as it has become a full-time job just to manage a wait list for many reasons. Most of us will “release” puppies when we are ready to place them rather than keep a lengthy wait list. Some of the large less quality breeders have moved to keeping a long wait list to “hoard” or get the potential sale but that is not the goal of a small quality breeder. You will almost always find a kennel with a cavalier puppy available (and likely even in the exact color and sex you ideally request) via the internet and even locally in the Phoenix but looking for a puppy is not a good time to make impulsive decisions. Unfortunately, finding a puppy is a “buyer beware” situation and you must do your homework in order to find quality. There are many unscrupulous and/or uneducated breeders who are not breeding for the right reasons. They may advertise on “warm-fuzzy” breeder websites that offer a less expensive puppy with an endearing photo. Some may be just as expensive with great websites but operate independently from clubs. Breeders who belong to both the local and national clubs are required to agree to and adhere to pages of regulations about how to breed ethically (I include them in my “puppy go home books”). We all hold each other accountable as well as the clubs’ Board of Directors. Just as important, belonging to the clubs, shows a commitment to be transparent. There is also a lot to be learned by talking with other quality breeders and the clubs are the best places to gather this information. Their are many places who have puppies that do not have your–or the puppy’s–well being at heart. This is a very frustrating for quality breeders but it just is what it is at this point in time. It is up to you not to support the poor quality places that are breeding.
All reputable cavalier breeders will have their cavaliers registered with the American Kennel Club and/or the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club USA. Any other registry is NOT “just like AKC.” They are bogus and their sole purpose is to trick the consumer. They are basically “puppy mill” registries intended to fool you and lend credibility to their breeding “program”. Don’t buy into the old line “my dog has AKC papers but they were lost…..” AKC will replace lost paperwork if requested by the owner. Don’t accept any excuse for not being able to provide AKC papers on a puppy.
Please, do not stop here. This is about 5% of your “homework” or just the first hoop a breeder needs to jump through to show you that they are reputable. If a kennel overplays the idea of “AKC registered”, that is a red flag. AKC and Club Registration is a requirement but does not mean you have found a good breeder. Just as, if you were looking at buying a car, and wanted a BMW, you would not buy any BMW you found. You would do more research to assure it was a sound automobile…perhaps bring to a trusted mechanic, look into it’s maintenance/crash history, test drive and check it out before committing to the car. I am not a big car person, but you get my drift. Perhaps even more direct, you wouldn’t buy car because it had tires on it. You need more than that. The AKC papers are akin to the tires. It is just a beginning place.
There are several types of breeders and/or people who are selling Cavaliers in today’s market. It is very important that you know the difference. Take your time and evaluate what is being said to you. Do not be in a hurry.
Hobby/Show Breeders are the people who are breeding to the AKC/CKCSC published breed standard. They will affiliate themselves with the local and/or local breed clubs. These clubs have stringent ethical guidelines that breeders must agree to. Most of these people live by the code of ethics and a love of the breed. They breed for the superior qualities they are trying to perpetuate in the Cavalier and these qualities, as well as the health of the dogs they are breeding, are of paramount importance to them. They do not always have a litter available but when they do they try to get the very best homes possible for the puppies they are not going to keep. When you contact one of these breeders you may be asked many questions. These breeders will be interested in the well-being of the dog for the remainder of its life – not in a controlling or unpleasant way but concerned about how your puppy is doing, how your puppy is developing, any health or behavioral concerns that may arise…. But, do not stop here either. Continue on with the next set of questions or requirements for a breeder to be choosen by you.
You only want to work with a breeder that has done the health testing on the sires and dams of puppies you are looking into purchasing. Required tests are stimulated by both valid clubs for cavaliers meaning CKCSC.org and ACKCSC.org. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals oversees most health testing and you can research a dogs testing and results by going to their website (ofa.org). The easiest way to research a dog, is by AKC number or the CHIC number. Keep in mind you are researching the parents of a puppy and not the puppy or litter you are looking into purchasing. The breeder may also have more recent testing done that is not on the website for a few reasons but the breeder should be able to provide you a copy of the testing and results. Be sure to SEE the certification of the testing either on the OFA website, their website or be able to provide you a copy of the testing and results – do not just take their word that they were performed.
You may contact several breeders before you find one that you are comfortable with and want to work with. Reputable breeders are comfortable with this. They will frequently refer potential puppy buyers to other qualified breeders, especially if asked to recommend someone that might have puppies when they do not.
This is also a sign of a breeder who is more concerned about people finding good breeders rather than just assuring they do not loose the sale (sure sign that someone is in it for the wrong reason.)
Please, do not use the “shotgun” approach to puppy buying. This is part of what keeps the bad breeders in business allowing poorly bred dogs to continue being bred. You can check with your local AKC/CKCSC Cavalier Breed Specialty Club of a list of these breeders in your area but still do your work. They are a great place to start but these lists are not a card blanche approval by the clubs.
- Backyard Breeders -This type of breeder is usually the person who has one or two dogs who breeds an occasional litter but does not have any affiliation with other breeders nor are they bound by any codes of ethics. They advertise on Craig’s List. They may be great family people but do not know much about what they are doing. They may or may not do health testing and may not be familiar with proper care and conditions for raising a healthy litter of puppies. This type of breeder most often advertises their puppies for sale on Craigs List and the like. These breeders will are NOT interested in the dog/puppy once it is sold. They will not help you with advice, training, or any other concerns you may have (and are not a good source for the information anyway). They will not want the puppy back if you unable to keep it or it has problems. These dogs are usually selling at prices below the qualified breeder.
- Commercial Breeders/Pet Shops -Commercial breeders (sometimes known as puppy mills) are just what the name implies. They have a commercial breeding operation, operated for profit and most frequently sell the puppies born at their breeding establishments to pet stores although some do sell “out the door” at their kennels. Commercial breeders have large kennels with hundreds of dogs although there are some that operate on a smaller scale. These poor animals do not live in a family environment. The parents and the puppies usually live their lives in small cages. Subsequently, many have not only health problems but personality problems as well that are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. Amazingly, these dogs are usually much more expensive than what the ethical breeder sells their dogs for. Do not be fooled by a pet store claims that they came from a “breeder”. Pet stores have learned that most people won’t by puppie from them anymore so they have changed there approach. No ethical breeder will sell a puppy to a pet store – it is prohibited by all of the clubs. These places pray on the consumers need for immediate gratification who are willing to overlook/accept their sales tactics.
It is up to you to decide which type of breeder you want your puppy to come from. Once you decide, you will have to be patient. It is not the norm (although it does happen) that a reputable breeder will have a puppy available immediately.
- Importers/Breeders -These people are not breeders but instead, they import dogs from foreign puppy farms. These poor puppies are born and raised in poor conditions and many have multiple health and personality problems. They usually advertise in the newspaper and their ads usually begin with something like, “Imported from Ireland,” or “Belgian Imports.” The dogs are usually selling at prices far below those of the ethical breeder, the parents have not had the proper health checks before breeding, and there is no way they can give any guarantees. This is a sad situation.
- The “Waiting List” – You may be asked if you would like to be on their waiting list. This is a list that some breeders will keep of people whom they have screened and become comfortable with placing one of their puppies. A deposit may or may not be exchanged at this time. Many new Cavalier owners have waited up to a year to get a dog from the breeder of their choice. It is not the norm that a puppy is available immediately although it does happen.
- Health Testing -Be sure and SEE certificates of health testing on parents. It is easy to say they have been done but if the breeder can not show you copies and/or you can not find evidence of them on the OFA web-site, ASSUME THEY DO NOT EXIST. I know many intelligent people who were told the health test were done but the breeder was never able to and never did give them the copies (translation–they were not done or results were not ideal).
The appropriate health tests for Cavaliers are:
- HEART–Mitral valve disease is the major concern in the breed. Hearts should tested yearly by a board-certified specialist (not a general practitioner). The ideal is to have a depth of history – meaning there will also be current information on the grandparent as well, or even further back. But, that can be challenging – (1) once a dog is no longer being breed, most people will not continue to do the testing due to expense and inconvenience, (2) unless the breeder owns the dog, he or she does not have control of whether the testing is done or not, and (3) many people will not report the finding when it a heart murmur leaving it an unknown – is the dog no longer being done or is it not being reported because it has a heart murmur? For these reasons, it is invaluable to work with a breeder who you trust to be doing the best possible to breed healthy hearts. Talk to other breeders…we tend to know who is doing things well and who is not. Many Cavalier owners also know who is doing things will but that can be hit and miss.
- EYES–Sire and dam should also be done yearly (CERF – Canine Eye Registration Foundation) by a canine opthamologist (It is also acceptable to do every second year especially if the breeder knows the lines they are working with). The opthamologist will report ANY finding. Some of the findings are more important than others. Some potentially less important findings are categorized as “breeder option diagnosis” meaning the finding is reported and it is up the breeder how to use that finding. An example is distichia which is miss-placed eyelashes. They may or may not cause problems but will and should always be noted on the report. Good breeders will factor this information into choosing to breed a dog and, if so, which dog to breed to.
- PATELLAE & HIPS–Hips and patellae (kneecaps) should be checked by a veterinarian before breeding. Hips are radiographed and sent to OFA (Orthopedic Foundation of America) for certification. They are given a score from best to worst as follows: Excellent, good, fair, borderline, or dysplastic from mild, moderate or severe. Dogs must be 2 yrs old before OFA will give them and score – sometimes “preliminaries” are occasionally reviewed without scores before the dog is 2. Patellae are palpated and results should be sent to OFA which also keeps a database of patella certifications which are classified as normal up to a grade 4 luxation. Each side is graded independently.
- CHIC Certification–This acronym stands for Canine Health Information Center. AKC and OFA awards a CHIC certification and number when a dog has completed all the testing suggested for its breed, regardless what the results of the tests are. Each breed’s AKC parent club decides on what those tests should be.
A Few Points to Remember
1. In the US, the dog should be registered with the AKC and/or the CKCSC (the Cavaliers Club that regulated the breed prior to its acceptance into AKC – it is valid) but this is just the first hoop.
2. Do not deal with someone USDA registered or any other bogus registry. These are commercial breeding farms, commonly referred to as puppy mills. Do not buy from a pet store. They are almost always supplied by puppy mills, no matter what they say. It is against the Code of Ethics of Cavalier Clubs to sell to a broker or pet store, or to supply a dog for an auction or raffle. A quality, ethical breeder will not do that.
3. You should be able to find or ask questions and be comfortable with the answers to questions you have. Ask as many questions of the breeder as a reputable one will be asking you—where the puppies were raised, what the breeder did to socialize them, what clubs the breeder belongs to, what good points the parents have, what are their less appealing qualities, do you own one or both of the parents and why, who is their veterinarian and if they can supply references. If the parents are not being shown (and winning!) ask who evaluated them as breeding quality–besides the breeder!! Be comfortable with the answers you get.
4. If the puppies are still young, make certain the Mother is present with her puppies and if possible, ask to meet the sire too. If the sire is not available (many times they are not which okay), ask questions regarding the father’s health and temperament. You should be able to find the sire on a website and the breeder will have information about him. If the sire is not tested and available for viewing on a website, it is likely a backyard type breeding. Be sure the mother has a good temperament. The mother will influence the puppies more than the father, because she exerts an environmental influence over the puppies as well as genetic influence.
5. Product requirements/warranty or guarantee stipulations – anyone who is selling a puppy and requires you to use a specific food, vitamin or product in order to either have your puppy or for the guarantee to be enforced is NOT legit. This is a method to ensure an income stream and/or nullify their “guarantee” neither of which is appropriate. Go elsewhere where you and/or you and your veterinarian can decide what is best for your dog.
6. Reputable breeders will affiliate themselves with local and/or the national breed club. This also binds them to their breed ethics which are quite stringent and intended to protect the breed. Someone not affiliated with these clubs, are looking to profit from the dogs and you and/or do not know what they are doing. Period. Don’t be fooled.
7. Buy the breeder first and then the dog. You want someone experienced and knowledgeable who you will be comfortable with for the lifetime of the dog. They should be there to answer an appropriate amount of questions as time goes on. They will want to know of any problems you are having and will require you to notify them if you are unable at any time for any reason to keep the dog.
8. Ask questions before deciding whether to even go meet a breeder/see puppies so you DON’T make an impulse purchase (which is what keeps the sub-par breeders that do bad things for dogs in business – it is up to you not to give them the support!). Decide ahead of time that you will not be impulsive. Give yourself some time to reflect on puppies you see and the information you receive from a breeder.
9. Red flags–”I have any color, male or female available right now,” “The whole litter is show quality,” “The testing is not necessary,” “If you don’t trust my word, I don’t want to deal with you,” “My line has no problems.” “Let’s meet at the local Sam’s…convience store…whatever”. Are they dodging the questions about health certificates and testing? It is uncommon that a good breeder will have multiple litters and puppies to choose from – be very leery of a cavalier breeder who has many litters and puppies consistently and at the same time.