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  • Temperament: Confident, Proud, Wickedly Smart
  • AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 164 of 192
  • Height: 25-27 inches (male), 23-25 inches (female)
  • Weight: 60-95 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
  • Group: Sporting Group

    The AKC has grouped all of the breeds that it registers into seven categories, or groups, roughly based on function and heritage. Breeds are grouped together because they share traits of form and function or a common heritage.

Wet Curly-Coated Retriever standing in tall grasses next to body of water
Curly-Coated Retriever lying in three-quarter view facing forward
Curly-Coated Retriever head facing left
Curly-Coated Retriever coat detail
Curly-Coated Retriever

Find a Puppy: Curly-Coated Retriever

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GENERAL APPEARANCE

This smartly upstanding, multi-purpose hunting retriever is recognized by most canine historians as one of the oldest of the retrieving breeds. Developed in England, the Curly was long a favorite of English gamekeepers. Prized for innate field ability, courage and indomitable perseverance, a correctly built and tempered Curly will work as long as there is work to be done, retrieving both fur and feather in the heaviest of cover and the iciest of waters. To work all day a Curly must be balanced and sound, strong and robust, and quick and agile.

HEAD

The head is a longer-than-wide wedge, readily distinguishable from that of all other retriever breeds, and of a size in balance with the body. Length of foreface is equal, or nearly equal, to length of backskull and, when viewed in profile, the planes are parallel. The stop is shallow and sloping. At the point of joining, the width of foreface may be slightly less than the width of the backskull but blending of the two should be smooth. The head has a nearly straight, continuous taper to the nose and is clean cut, not coarse, blocky or cheeky.

BODY

Neck-Strong and slightly arched, of medium length, free from throatiness and flowing freely into moderately laid-back shoulders. Backline-The back, that portion of the body from the rear point of the withers to the beginning of the loin, is strong and level. The loin, that part of the body extending from the end of the rib cage to the start of the pelvis, is short and muscular. The croup, that portion of the body from the start of the pelvis to the tail set-on, is only slightly sloping. Body– Chest is decidedly deep and not too wide, oval in cross-section, with brisket reaching elbow. While the impression of the chest should be of depth not width, the chest is not pinched or narrow. The ribs are well-sprung, neither barrel-shaped nor slab-sided, and extend well back into a deep, powerful loin with a moderate tuck-up of flank

FOREQUARTERS

Shoulder blades are very long, well covered with muscle, and are moderately laid back at about a 55 degree angle. The width between shoulder blades is adequate to allow enough flexibility to easily retrieve game. Upper arm bones are about equal in length with shoulder blades and laid back at approximately the same angle as the blades, meaning the forelegs are set under the withers. The equal length of shoulder blade and upper arm bone and the balanced angulation between the two allows for good extension of the front legs. The forelegs are straight with strong, true pasterns.

COAT

The coat is a distinguishing characteristic and quite different from that of any other breed. The body coat is a thick mass of small, tight, crisp curls, lying close to the skin, resilient, water resistant, and of sufficient density to provide protection against weather, water and punishing cover. Curls also extend up the entire neck to the occiput, down the thigh and back leg to at least the hock, and over the entire tail. Elsewhere, the coat is short, smooth and straight, including on the forehead, face, front of forelegs, and feet. A patch of uncurled hair behind the withers or bald patches anywhere on the body, including bald strips down the back of the legs or a triangular bald patch on the throat, should be severely penalized. A looser, more open curl is acceptable on the ears.

HINDQUARTERS

Strong and in balance with front angulation. Thighs are powerful with muscling carrying well down into the second thigh. Stifle is of moderate bend. The hocks are strong and true, turning neither in nor out, with hock joint well let down.

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curly coated retriever illustration

About the Curly-Coated Retriever

The Curly-Coated Retriever’s tight, crisp curls of either black or liver serve as waterproof and thorn-resistant all-weather gear for work in thick bramble and icy lakes. The Curly is a big, durable gun dog, but more elegant and graceful than other retrievers. Another trait that sets Curlies apart from the usual retriever is a tapered, wedge-shaped head.

Like Labradors and Goldens, Curlies are affectionate and gentle, but they are a bit more independent and less needy. Playful and mischievous with loved ones, Curlies can be aloof with strangers. This wariness makes them more discerning watchdogs than other, more gregarious retrievers. These tireless dogs need lots of outdoor exercise. Bored, underemployed Curlies are a handful.

National Breed Clubs and Rescue

Want to connect with other people who love the same breed as much as you do? We have plenty of opportunities to get involved in your local community, thanks to AKC Breed Clubs located in every state, and more than 450 AKC Rescue Network groups across the country.
Curly-Coated Retriever

Find a Puppy: Curly-Coated Retriever

AKC Marketplace | PuppyFinder

AKC Marketplace is the only site to exclusively list 100% AKC puppies from AKC-Registered litters and the breeders who have cared for and raised these puppies are required to follow rules and regulations established by the AKC.
Find Curly-Coated Retriever Puppies

Care

NUTRITION

The majority of Curly-Coated Retrievers do well on a diet of good-quality dry dog food. Some owners like to add some meat or canned food, and a few others feed the raw diet. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.

GROOMING

Curlies do not have an undercoat, and the females will usually shed a fair amount of coat approximately every six months. Females may look relatively bare when not in coat. During shedding season a rake-type grooming tool with metal prongs is good at removing the dead hair, then the coat can be scissored down. The majority of owners never brush a Curly-Coated Retriever, as then the coat frizzes. A wet-down and air-dry is easy to do and often will enhance the curls. The breed does not need to be bathed frequently. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly.

Grooming Frequency

Occasional Bath/Brush
Specialty/Professional
Occasional Bath/Brush

Shedding

Infrequent
Frequent
Occasional

EXERCISE

Curlies do need a fair amount of exercise but are also wonderful about settling down and relaxing at home. Their home does not need to be a large one as long as they are with their owner and have adequate exercise. The breed is very easy to live with as long as they have been shown their “good manners” with basic training. They love to be outside, yet they are very happy to spend time indoors at home with their people. They are not a breed who is good at being left alone for long periods of time.

Energy Level

Couch Potato
Needs Lots of Activity
Energetic

TRAINING

The owner of a Curly-Coated Retriever needs to be firm but kind in training of the dog. Too rough, and they will turn tail; too soft or unclear, and they will not pay attention. They are an intelligent breed and smart enough to need an owner who is smarter than they are. Two things are helpful to remember regarding training a Curly: First, avoid too much repetition, as the dog may become bored and lose interest. Also, it is important for an owner to try to make the learning situation as much fun as possible. The goal is to make it so that the Curly enjoys what is being taught. Some Curlies do very well in the obedience ring, but for some the repetition of some of the exercises can cause disinterest. Training for fieldwork takes a knowledgeable approach and should not be rough. When new to the breed and interested in starting field training, find a training group in your area with whom you can train, and observe their methods before deciding to join.

Trainability

May be Stubborn
Eager to Please
Independent

Temperament/Demeanor

Aloof/Wary
Outgoing
Reserved with Strangers

HEALTH

The majority of Curlies are a healthy breed. Breeders have been very diligent about screening hips, eyes, and the heart. There are some cancer concerns. The breed is also susceptible to gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), a life-threatening stomach condition also known as bloat. Owners must be aware of the symptoms and take quick action if it occurs.

Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam
  • GSD IIIa DNA Test
  • EIC DNA Test
  • Cord-1 PRA DNA Test

Read the Official Breed Club Health Statement.

Two Curly Coated Retrievers sitting in the snow.
Curly-Coated Retriever
Curly-Coated Retriever

History

Curlies are thought to be among the oldest of the retriever breeds. In contrast to spaniels and setters, though, retrievers are newbies on the sporting scene. They arrived only in the late 1700s, after wing shooting with rifles became practical.

The genetic jigsaw puzzle that is the Curly-Coated Retriever was pieced together in England during the 1800s. No written records of the breed’s earliest history exist, but we can make some educated assumptions. The Curly is popularly believed to be descended from two breeds now extinct, the English Water Spaniel and the Retrieving Setter. It is assumed that Irish Water Spaniel blood is also among the Curly’s ancestor breeds, as was the St. John’s Dog, a smallish type of Newfoundland. By 1860, their unique look and proud bearing made Curlies popular attractions at England’s first dog shows.

In the early 1880s, the Curly was said to have been crossed to the Poodle to tighten the Curly’s distinctive, low-shedding curls. Poodle blood might have also contributed to the Curly’s elegant carriage and complex character.

By the late 19th century the Curly had taken his place as a cherished companion of British sportsmen. In this period the Curly was exported as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, where it remains popular among hunters as an all-purpose retriever admired for a steady disposition and tender mouth.

The spectacular rise of Labs and Goldens has long since eclipsed the Curly’s prominence among the retriever breeds, but they retain a small but ardent following around the world. The Curly entered the AKC Stud Book in 1924.

Did You Know?

The Curly-Coated Retriever is one of the oldest breeds classified as retrievers.
The first breed club for the Curly-Coated Retriever was formed in England in 1896.
The Curly-Coated Retriever was first introduced to the US in 1907; first AKC registration in 1924.
The Curly-Coated Retriever is believed to have been descended from the 16th century English Water Spaniel, Retrieving Setter and possibly the Irish Water Spaniel.
The Curly-Coated Retriever was first exhibited in 1860 at England’s Birmingham show.
The Curly-Coated Retriever developed serious popularity in New Zealand and Australia after breed specimens were exported there from England in 1889.

The Breed Standard

GENERAL APPEARANCE

This smartly upstanding, multi-purpose hunting retriever is recognized by most canine historians as one of the oldest of the retrieving breeds. Developed in England, the Curly was long a favorite of English gamekeepers. Prized for innate field ability, courage and indomitable perseverance, a correctly built and tempered Curly will work as long as there is work to be done, retrieving both fur and feather in the heaviest of cover and the iciest of waters. To work all day a Curly must be balanced and sound, strong and robust, and quick and agile.

HEAD

The head is a longer-than-wide wedge, readily distinguishable from that of all other retriever breeds, and of a size in balance with the body. Length of foreface is equal, or nearly equal, to length of backskull and, when viewed in profile, the planes are parallel. The stop is shallow and sloping. At the point of joining, the width of foreface may be slightly less than the width of the backskull but blending of the two should be smooth. The head has a nearly straight, continuous taper to the nose and is clean cut, not coarse, blocky or cheeky.

BODY

Neck-Strong and slightly arched, of medium length, free from throatiness and flowing freely into moderately laid-back shoulders. Backline-The back, that portion of the body from the rear point of the withers to the beginning of the loin, is strong and level. The loin, that part of the body extending from the end of the rib cage to the start of the pelvis, is short and muscular. The croup, that portion of the body from the start of the pelvis to the tail set-on, is only slightly sloping. Body– Chest is decidedly deep and not too wide, oval in cross-section, with brisket reaching elbow. While the impression of the chest should be of depth not width, the chest is not pinched or narrow. The ribs are well-sprung, neither barrel-shaped nor slab-sided, and extend well back into a deep, powerful loin with a moderate tuck-up of flank

FOREQUARTERS

Shoulder blades are very long, well covered with muscle, and are moderately laid back at about a 55 degree angle. The width between shoulder blades is adequate to allow enough flexibility to easily retrieve game. Upper arm bones are about equal in length with shoulder blades and laid back at approximately the same angle as the blades, meaning the forelegs are set under the withers. The equal length of shoulder blade and upper arm bone and the balanced angulation between the two allows for good extension of the front legs. The forelegs are straight with strong, true pasterns.

COAT

The coat is a distinguishing characteristic and quite different from that of any other breed. The body coat is a thick mass of small, tight, crisp curls, lying close to the skin, resilient, water resistant, and of sufficient density to provide protection against weather, water and punishing cover. Curls also extend up the entire neck to the occiput, down the thigh and back leg to at least the hock, and over the entire tail. Elsewhere, the coat is short, smooth and straight, including on the forehead, face, front of forelegs, and feet. A patch of uncurled hair behind the withers or bald patches anywhere on the body, including bald strips down the back of the legs or a triangular bald patch on the throat, should be severely penalized. A looser, more open curl is acceptable on the ears.

HINDQUARTERS

Strong and in balance with front angulation. Thighs are powerful with muscling carrying well down into the second thigh. Stifle is of moderate bend. The hocks are strong and true, turning neither in nor out, with hock joint well let down.

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curly coated retriever illustration

Colors & Markings

Colors

Description Standard Colors Registration Code
Black Check Mark For Standard Color 007
Liver Check Mark For Standard Color 123
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