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Are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Smart? The Interesting Answer!

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

By Kerry-Ann Kerr

cavalier king charles spaniel doing a handshake trick

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is known to be affectionate, playful, and sweet. In contrast to most Spaniel breeds that have direct links to gundog origins, the Cavalier is not challenging to care for. They’re petite and personable, and they share some traits with other Spaniels, but there is also a range of unique features that are entirely their own.

When picking out a new pet, you’ll likely consider a few things: grooming and exercise requirements, if they’re good with children, and how intelligent they are. Intelligence varies considerably from one breed to another. Spaniels are known to be clever, and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is no different. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are fairly smart, though they are not the smartest dog breed. But how smart are they? And where do you start when it comes to measuring intelligence?

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How to Determine How Smart The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Breed Is

Intelligence is not always present in the same way. For example, you would expect a breed with working origins to be clever, but intelligence is less critical for dogs known to be companions or lapdogs.

However, the Cavalier has a working dog heritage with the temperament of a companion animal. Thankfully, there are ways to determine a dog’s intelligence without guessing.

The Coren Methodology

You might have heard of the Coren methodology, but if not, it’s simply a benchmark of canine intelligence used to rank 138 breeds in order of intelligence and to outline what this intelligence means in practice.

“The Intelligence of Dogs” was a book published in 1994 by canine psychology professor Stanley Coren. Here you can read about the large-scale study still widely used to outline canine intelligence today. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was among the 138 different breeds ranked in this study, which gives us some clear answers regarding this breed’s intelligence level.

Not all dog breeds participated in the intelligence trials, which skews the data a little. To take part, dogs had to be recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). In addition, there had to be a big enough sample size to be included. In other words, there needed to be at least 100 responses in each breed to be included, which left out familiar but uncommon dog breeds.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Image By: Chris Alcock, Shutterstock

How Smart Are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels?

Out of these 138 breeds that Coren ranked, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel came in 73rd place, which is a little above the midpoint. So, it’s fair to say that the Cavalier comes in average compared to other breeds. But what does this mean, exactly?

Dogs in the “average” ranking were assessed on how many repetitions of brand-new commands were needed before they demonstrated knowledge of them. For the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, it was achieved on average between 25–40 repetitions.

There were 41 breeds within the “average” ability group, and the Cavalier was 11th out of these 41. This means you’d expect a Cavalier to pick up a new command closer to the 25 repetitions than 40.

Are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Obedient?

The Coren study also attempted to measure the obedience level of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This was based on how frequently the breed followed a command they were given once, in contrast to how often they had to be told more than once.

On average, the Cavalier followed the command 50% of the time the first time, which means there was only a 50% success rate. However, this is average for dogs, regardless of their breed, which is reassuring.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Image By: Page Light Studios, Shutterstock

Being a Good Companion Requires Intelligence

It’s not a coincidence that the most popular breeds are also the smartest. After all, the smarter the dog, the easier it is to train. For example, the Labrador, Golden Retriever, Doberman, Poodle, and German Shepherd are all intelligent and popular breeds. However, when it comes to intelligence, it does depend on what you want from your dog. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels tend to be picked for being family dogs and companions. Emotional intelligence is something all dogs have, but companion dogs are, arguably, very good at interpreting human feelings.

Cavaliers were, after all, bred to accompany their humans. With such a long history of being companions, these dogs have instinctive intelligence.

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Final Thoughts

Canine intelligence can be measured, as the Coren methodology proves. However, you could argue that it depends on what you’re looking for in a pet. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels aren’t the brightest puppies in the class. They rank average on obedience and intelligence, which means they’re trainable, but it’s going to take a little more time than another breed. However, if you want a big cuddle on the couch after a long day, your Cavalier scores at the top of the class!

Featured Image Credit: Page Light Studios, Shutterstock

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