Curly-Coated Retriever: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Adult curly-coated retriever profile

Onetouchspark / Getty Images 

The even-tempered and lovable curly-coated retriever looks like a cross between a poodle and Labrador but is a breed all its own. Prized for being hardworking and loyal, these retrievers are recognizable by their dense, tight curls lying close to the body in a deep black or rich liver color.

Originating in England in the 18th century, the curly-coated retriever—also referred to as a curly or CCR—is much more rare when compared to the other recognizable retrievers like the Labrador and golden retriever. However, their relative rarity isn’t a reflection on the breed’s suitability for life at home or in the field.

Like many other sporting dogs, the curly-coated retriever has seemingly endless energy to give when on the hunt or engaged in a task. These dogs were bred to retrieve game for hours on end under varying weather conditions. This history has given these dogs a deep drive and an admirable work ethic. At home, however, they’re a calm companion that settles down easily and is comfortable in the company of adults and children alike.

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting

Height: 25 to 27 inches (males); 23 to 25 inches (females)

Weight: 65 to 100 pounds

Coat: Short, tight curls laying close to the body

Coat Color: Solid black or liver color.

Life Expectancy: 10 to 13 years

Characteristics of the Curly-Coated Retriever

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Curly-Coated Retriever

The history of the curly coated retriever isn’t clear, with no documented evidence of when and where the breed came into existence. However, it’s generally believed that the curly is the oldest of the retriever breeds.

Piecing together the dog’s appearance in early literature, registry clubs, and dog shows, we can conclude that the breed was developed in the 18th century in England. It’s most likely that the curly coated retriever was developed from other game dogs like the English Water Spaniel and Retrieving Setter. While these two early founding breeds are now extinct, the curly coated retriever remains in existence, with high populations in Australia, Europe, and the United States.

Other breeds likely contributed to the development of the CCR as we know it today. The St. Johns Water Dog (also extinct) is one possibility. Additionally, the tight curls are significant indicators that the breed also benefited from crossbreeding with the Irish Water Spaniel and still later, the Poodle.

In the 1860’s, the curly-coated retriever was receiving attention at dog shows throughout England while continuing to prove its versatility in the field as a hunting companion. Demand for these capable canines increased and they were exported to Australia and New Zealand. According to the AKC, the breed first entered the United States in 1907 and received official breed recognition in 1924.

As they say, the rest is history. While we may not know much about the breed’s early origins, it’s clear to see the dedication of the curly community today. 

Curly-coated retreiver with gamebird in 1948
Curly-coated retriever with gamebird in 1948. Internet Archive Book Images / Wikipedia Commons

Curly-Coated Retriever Care

With the right balance of exercise and training, a curly-coated retriever makes a great companion for active households. These dogs are super smart, so they excel—and stay out of trouble—when given a job to do. Don’t underestimate or neglect the intelligence of curly-coated retrievers.

Hunters and outdoors-men will find the CCR a natural at hunting and retrieving game and waterfowl. But even if hunting isn’t on your radar, the CCR will be happy if you train him to perform small retrieving or carrying tasks, or give him an opportunity to shine in agility, flyball, or other canine sports. Like most retrievers, the curly uses its mouth for many things in life—it loves to carry or chew on objects, and needs to be taught not to nip.

The curly-coated retriever is a leggy and athletic looking canine, which should give you an indicator that these dogs are not meant to be couch potatoes. Give your curly at least 30 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day along with plenty of mental stimulation for a well-balanced dog.

If you're familiar with the gregarious nature of Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, you might be surprised to find that the curly-coated retriever is significantly more reserved. They're not overly timid or shy; in fact, many people describe these dogs as having a confident, dignified air. However, they aren't as eager to excitedly greet new faces. For this reason, it's important to make sure young curlies are well socialized. How well they do with strangers, other pets, and children will often depend on how much early socialization they have.

Likely the most recognizable feature of the CCR is its curls. While the body is covered in a dense coat of curls, it should be noted that the face, forelegs, and feet have short, straight fur. Compared to other retrievers, and many dog breeds in general, the curly coated retriever is very low maintenance when it comes to grooming. The distinctive curls benefit most from a quick wipe with a damp cloth, since brushing them leads to frizz. Consider bathing your CCR when needed, but with no oily undercoat, it doesn’t need to be done often. These dogs shed twice a year, during which time you might want to use a grooming rake to remove loose hair. 

Curly-coated retriever puppy looking at camera
 Onetouchspark / Getty Images
Two curly-coated retrievers chewing on stick
Liver and black curly-coated retriever. Mattias Agar / Wikipedia Commons
Curly-coated retriever running in field
 Onetouchspark / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Curly-coated retrievers generally exhibit good health and stamina. However, they do have a few common health problems that you should be aware of. Cancer can be prevalent in the breed, and hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia is something to watch out for. A variety of eye problems can also plague curly-coated retrievers. Pattern baldness isn’t life-threatening, but has been observed in some dogs, leading to exposed skin that must be protected from the sun.

The National Breed Club recommends that you ask a breeder for the following health evaluations from each parent:

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam
  • GSD IIIa DNA Test – metabolic enzyme condition
  • EIC DNA Test
  • Cord-1 PRA DNA Test

In general, be on the lookout for symptoms related to the following health conditions:

Diet and Nutrition

Curly-coated retrievers are an active, athletic breed, so it’s important to feed a protein-rich, high-quality dog food. Since they can be prone to bloat, it may be advisable to feed two meals a day or allow your dog to free feed to reduce the urge to gulp down one big meal too quickly.

Pros

  • Highly intelligent and trainable

  • Minimal grooming needs

  • Dignified and quiet nature

Cons

  • Requires vigorous daily exercise

  • Can be reserved with strangers

  • Prone to cancer and some inherited health conditions

Where to Adopt or Buy a Curly-Coated Retriever

While curlies are one of the oldest types of retrievers, their popularity is far eclipsed by the Labrador and golden retriever. Even still, a dedicated community of CCR breeders exists. Be sure to do your research on any breeder you’re considering—and be prepared to spend time on a waiting list for a puppy if necessary.

Additionally, there are national and regional CCR rescue groups. This can be an excellent way to add one of these special canines to your family. You also may want to check with retriever rescue groups.

Check out these breed resources:

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

The curly-coated retriever offers the agility and smarts that retrievers are known for, with a lovable personality and unique coat. Gather more information on this capable breed to see if it’s the right match for your household and your lifestyle.

Here a few more retriever breeds to consider: