Curly Coated Retriever – Steadfast & True

Breed facts: Gundog group

In association with the Kennel Club, Dogs Monthly provides you with all you need to know about Curly Coated Retrievers. Discover if this stunning breed could be the dog for you!

Highly prized by sportsmen and women for its qualities in retrieving game, the Curly Coated Retriever has nevertheless had a precarious history, the breed almost dying out during both World Wars. It was only due to a handful of dedicated breeders during those troubled times that the breed survives today. Even so, numbers in the UK are low – with only 81 puppies registered with the Kennel Club in 2007, and 40 in the first quarter of 2008. To put this into context, over 45,000 Labrador Retriever puppies were registered in the same year, and over 10,000 registered in the first quarter of 2008!
Records of the breed date back to the early 19th century, but these are sparse so how Curlies originated is unknown. It is, however, known that the breed was developed in England, probably from cross-breeding to produce a type that proved to be an excellent gundog.

Curly Coated Retriever
Curly Coated Retriever


  • Large & active
  • A real ‘people dog’
  • Prefers outdoor life
  • Needs plenty of exercise
  • Requires spacious accommodation
  • Good-tempered
  • Fun-loving
  • Intelligent
  • Quick to learn
  • Agile all-rounder
  • Easy-maintenance coat
  • Good-looking

Multi-purpose breed
To create the Curly, Poodles were crossed with other retriever types that were around in the early 1800s including Irish Water Spaniel, Wetterhound and Barbett, plus other breeds that are now extinct such as the Tweed Water Spaniel and Large Rough Water Dog. The Poodle influence is what gives the breed its distinctive curly coat.
Whatever the mix, it resulted in a hardy, multi-purpose hunting dog that proved supremely efficient in the field at retrieving fur and feather whatever the ground and weather conditions. A Curly’s courage, perseverance, even temper, steadfastness, agility, stamina and sense of fun made it the perfect pal both in the field and by the fireside. The Curly Coated Retriever Club was formed in 1890 to further interest in the breed, which has been pure-bred since the early 1900s.

Family life
A trained Curly is alert, obedient and responsive to family and friends. Of independent nature and discerning intelligence, a Curly sometimes appears aloof or self-willed and, as such, is often less demonstrative, particularly toward strangers, than the other retriever breeds. Most Curlies are very good with children. As with any type of dog, children must be supervised and taught that a dog has feelings and must be treated correctly and with care. Curlies make good watch dogs, but are not aggressive by nature and are generally good with other pets.

Curlies are quite slow to mature, taking up to three years. Intelligent and smart, Curlies are easily trained but you need to work round their streak of independence. They become bored quite easily so any training needs to be done in the guise of a game to keep their attention. Early socialisation is a must; it’s important to accustom your Curly to as many different situations and other animals and people as is possible. They are gentle and sensitive, so need firm but kind handling. Curlies just love to do a ‘job’ and excel at many activities including working trials, obedience, agility, flyball and heelwork to music. Being extremely adaptable, Curlies have the intelligence to understand what is required, while their biddable nature means that they wish to please and will therefore enjoy carrying out these tasks for their owners.

Did you know? There are a number of Curlies working as guide dogs for the blind. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association also use Curlies in their breeding programme, and use Curly crosses to work, perhaps the most famous of whom is MP David Blunkett’s dog, Lucy. There is also a qualified hearing dog for deaf people working in England

Kennel Club breed standard Thinking of getting a Curly? Here’s what to look out for:

Strong and upstanding with a degree of elegance. Has a distinctive coat.

Black or liver.

Intelligent, steady, reliable.

Bold, friendly, self-confident and independent. May seem aloof.

Wedge-shaped head in front and side profiles, in proportion to body. Slight stop. Foreface and skull of even length. Planes of skull and muzzle parallel. Nose black in blacks and brown in livers. Eyes are large, but not prominent, oval shaped and obliquely set, dark brown in blacks, and brown tone to blend with coat colour
in livers. Ears are rather small and set slightly above eye level, lying close to head and covered with small curls. Strong jaw with perfect, regular and complete scissor bite (upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth).

The medium-length neck should be strong, free from ‘throatiness’ and slightly arched, flowing freely into well laid back, muscular, shoulders. Upper arm and shoulder blade approximately equal length. Fore legs straight with strong pasterns and set well under body. Chest deep with well-sprung ribs, oval in cross section with brisket reaching elbow. Forechest visible. Ribs extend well back into short, deep and powerful loin. Slight tuck up to flank. Topline strong and level. The dog should be slightly longer in body measured from point of shoulder to point of buttock than in height from withers to ground. Hindquarters are strong and muscular with a moderate turn of stifle. Hocks well let down and well bent. Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.

Round, tight with well-arched toes.

Flows from topline. Should reach approximately to hock; carried straight on a level with topline when moving

Gait & movement
Effortless, powerful gait with good extension and drive. Parallel movement. At speed, legs tend to converge.

Body coat a thick mass of small tight, crisp curls lying close to skin, extending from occiput to tip of tail; without undercoat or bare patches. Hair smooth elsewhere.

Ideal height at withers: dogs: 69cms (27ins); bitches: 64cms (25ins).

5 Curly Facts

The coat may be distinctive and unusual, but it’s virtually maintenance-free. Says champion breeder Margaret Bett: “Simply dampen down the coat daily – use a plant water spray bottle or pop him outside for a couple of minutes on a rainy day, rub the coat in a circular motion with your hand to remove loose hair and spring up the curls, and trim any tatty ends off with scissors.”

Although Curlies generally enjoy good health, ailments known to have affected some dogs include patterned baldness, gastric dilation volvulus (GVD, otherwise known as bloat), hip dysplasia, epilepsy, eye problems (including night blindness), cancer and osteochondritis (which is known as elbow disease). Reputable breeders supply eye reports and hip scores on the sire and dam. A good breeder should be able to discuss the health screening done with their breeding stock and other measures they’ve taken to reduce the likelihood of problems occurring. They should be willing to guarantee against common problems and want to know of anything that might show up later in your puppy.

Self-confident, steadfast and proud, this active, intelligent dog is a charming and gentle family companion and a determined, durable hunter. The Curly’s independence and poise should not be confused with shyness or a lack of willingness to please. In the show ring, a correctly-tempered Curly will steadily stand his ground, submit easily to examination, and might or might not wag his tail when doing so. In the field, the Curly is eager, persistent and inherently courageous. At home, he is calm and affectionate.

Curlies weigh 60-70lb (27-32kg).

The average lifespan for Curly Coated Retrievers is 12 years.

Did you know? Contrary to popular belief, Curlies do shed hair – some more than others. They are also the tallest of all of the Retriever family.

Where to get a Curly pup from
The Curly Coated Retriever Club has details of members who have pups available (see under ‘Useful contacts & books’). You can also speak to people who own a Curly to find out more about the breed’s characteristic and whether or not one of these dogs would be the right choice for you. The Curly Coated Retriever Club advises: “You may have to wait for a while for a pup, or put your name down on a list, until one becomes available. Always make sure you see the mother with the puppies. Some breeders will have the father of the puppies “Most breeders will only breed after carefully choosing the correct dog for their bitch, making sure temperament is sound, and especially after the necessary hereditary checks have been carried out under the KC/BVA schemes which are currently in place. They will provide you with a Kennel Club registration, pedigree, diet sheets, advice and should be prepared to offer follow-up help once the puppy has gone.”

Expect to pay around £550-£600 for a pup.

Useful contacts & books
Curly Coated Retriever Club Mrs A Russell (secretary), tel. 0161 865 6337;
Breed rescue Mrs Marie Gill (coordinator), tel. 01782 518888; email
Curly Coated Retriever by Phillip Mathis (Interpet Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1 84286 015 1).
Curly Coated Retriever: A complete and reliable handbook by Mary Meek and Gary Meek (TFH Publications, 2000. ISBN 0 79380 769 7) l

Special thanks to the Curly Coated Retriever Club for breed infor mation provided for this feature.