Curly-Coated Retriever

Temperament: Confident, Proud, Wickedly Smart

  • Height: 25-27 inches (male), 23-25 inches (female)
  • Weight: 60-95 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
  • Group: Sporting Group 

The Curly-Coated Retriever, among the oldest of the retriever breeds, is a famously versatile gundog and peerless swimmer. Poised, proud, and wickedly smart, the Curly is a thinking person’s retriever who will never quit before you do.


This smartly upstanding, multi-purpose hunting retriever is recognised by most canine historians as one of the oldest of the retrieving breeds. Developed in England, the Curly was long a Favorited of English gamekeepers. Prizes 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.

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 Golden, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation

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