Not documented nearly as well as the other retriever breeds, the majority of the early history and development of the Curly Coated Retriever is and shall forever remain a matter of speculation. However, like many early breeds whose history has been lost there is no shortage of theories to explain its existence. One of the few agreed upon facts surrounding the Curley Coated Retriever is that it is one of the, if not the oldest of all the breeds we now classify as retrievers.
Credited as being an English native, one theory is that the Curly Coated Retriever was originally developed from the sixteenth-century English Water Spaniel and from the Retrieving Setter. Others believe that the primary progenitor of breed is the Irish Water Spaniel. While others claim there were actually four or more breeds involved in the creation of the Curly Coated Retriever; the English Water Spaniel, the St. John’s Newfoundland, the Retrieving Setter, possibly the Tweed Water Spaniel and, in the late 19th century, the Poodle.
The lack of reliable documentation and the fact that all of these breeds were all evolving at around the same period of time also leaves open the possibility that the reverse is in actuality the truth and that the Curly Coated Retriever is instead the progenitor of those other breeds. Those that embrace this possibility base their belief on the fact that the Curly Coated Retriever is the only breed named for its curly coat, which they interpret to be an indication that this would make it the first of all the curly-coated breeds. A point that is bitterly contested by Poodle fanciers who staunchly adhere to the belief that the Poodle came first and assert that even if there were an outbreeding between the two it would have only been for the purpose of improving the coat and elegance of the Curly Coated Retriever. While on the other side of the fence, Curly Coated Retriever fanciers; believing it to have come first contend that even if it happened, an out breeding of the two could have only been for the benefit of the poodle, in order to improve its stamina and intelligence.
There are however, a few clues to the origin of the breed that can be found by examining two separate books from the 1800’s. The first “The Sportsman’s Repository” written in 1820, by author John Scott provides insight into the origin of what he terms at the time to be a Water Dog. On the origin of the Water Dog it provides the following:
" The annexed plate (referring to an image on the preceding page in the original work) presents the truest possible representation of the original Water Dog of the opposite continent being long since adopted in this country, in some of the maritime districts still preserved in a state of purity, but the breed more generally intermixed with the Water Spaniel and the Newfoundland Dog. The size of this variety is between the Spaniel and the Pointer. The original and prevailing colour on the Continent is black, with crisp curly hair, black nose, white face, long black ears, the head and ears covered with black curly hair, the feet and lower parts of the legs white Without the softness of the Spaniel, this breed, however, retains a great share of his native and peculiar properties, having equal sagacity of nose, superior activity, and power and aptitude to learn those manoeuvres and tricks which render the dog either useful or amusing to man.
"There is this favourable peculiarity in the sporting dog, it should seem the natural associate of man, that with some few exceptions he takes an equal interest in the diversions of his master. This quality is most conspicuous in the Water Dog, which burns with inextinguishable ardour in the pursuit, and which merely for the gratification of swimming after and bringing to shore a bird that he is neither destined nor desires to taste, will risk his life in the most dangerous abysses, or carry himself by repetitions of labour and fatigue to the very verge of existence There is one restraint which it is difficult to impose upon the Water Dog yet sometimes it is a necessary one it is to prevent him fiom that rapid start in the direction of the game the instant of the report of the gun, which he has watched with the most tremulous anxiety. They may be indulged generally, but the dog should be also taught to hold back whenever the gunner finds it expedient."
The second book “The Illustrated Book of the Dog” by Vero Shaw, was written in 1881. Of the many things this book has to say in regards to the Curly Coated Retriever it uses the following to describe the Curly Coated Retriever as a distinct, but not so popular Retriever breed of the time:
“At present there are two distinct breeds of Retrievers in existence one the flat or wavy coated, the other curly-coated ; the latter variety is divided by colour into black or liver. The wavy-coated dogs are also sometimes sandy, or even black-and-tan, but any colour but black is not regarded with favourable eyes by judges or breeders of the variety. Although there is not a very great amount of difference in structural development between the breeds, it will be better if we take them separately, and as the Wavies are certainly the greater favourites with the sporting public.”
Shaw also gives his opinion as to the origin of the breed while commenting on and citing the earlier work by John Scott which he uses to provide a connection between the Water Dog, its origin and the Curly Coated Retriever by stating:
“There has been little light thrown upon the origin of the Curly-coated Retriever by writers who have treated of him, though most of them suggest that there is Irish Water Spaniel blood in his veins. Some, however, who make the assertion, throw doubts upon it almost in the same breath, and quote the opinion of Mr. McCarthy a great authority on Irish Water Spaniels who emphatically states that the latter breed will not bear crossing with any other. In spite, however, of the high authority of Mr. McCarthy, we are of the opinion that the Irish Water Spaniel has had something to do with the origin of the breed in question, and some of the earlier writers on the dog are decidedly of our opinion. Several of these state certain facts in connection with the Spaniel which might be read with interest by Retriever breeders, but none throw so much light upon the subject as the editor of the "Sportsman's Repository," who some sixty years ago held very much the same opinions as we do now. This writer had the advantage of succeeding Gervase Markham, Sydcnham Edwards, W. Taplin, and other eminent authors, and therefore must have benefited, in arriving at his judgment, by the views which they expressed."
After citing Scotts work in “The Sportsman’s Repository” (same text as above) on the origin of the Water Dog, Shaw goes on to state that while:
"The above extract might apply almost equally to any breed of dog which is used for retrieving game, but is chiefly valuable for the flat contradiction which it gives to the opinions subsequently pronounced by McCarthy. It certainly does not allude directly to the Irish Water Spaniel, which was then unknown as he now exists, as the breed which crossed with the Newfoundland to produce the Water Dog, and it can hardly be surmised that the Irish Water Spaniel was the breed to which he refers as the Water Dog, for the description which he gives differs so totally from the Irish Water Spaniel. It may, however, be reasonably argued that both breeds the Curly-coated Retriever and the Irish Water Spaniel are descendants of this Water Dog of John Scott, or that they are both descended from a breed which sprung from that original source ; and this much we are disposed to concede, though remaining firm in our first opinion that the Irish Water Spaniel is very largely concerned in the production of the modern Curly-coated Retriever. "
Vero also gives an opinion about the relationship between the Curly Coated Retriever and the Poodle by providing the following:
"There is, however, another theory which many persons entertain in connection with the Curly-coated Retriever, and that is to the effect that Poodle blood is largely present in his veins. The latter dog is almost universally used in certain districts of the Continent by sportsmen in the field, and efforts are being made in many quarters to introduce the Poodle more generally into sporting circles in this country. The foreign dog alluded to above in John Scott's remark upon the Water-dog was no doubt concerned in the production of the Poodle, and thus a cross of Poodle in the Curly-coated Retriever of the present day would only be, in our opinion, a re-introduction of a dash of the old strain."
Unfortunately, for the modern day breed historian; outside of the two books cited above, the fact that hunters and breeders of the seventeenth and eighteenth century rarely documented their breeding practices or chose to maintain a studbook. Means that there is precious little information about the people or breeds that were involved in the development of today's Curly Coated Retriever, to conclusively prove or disprove any of these theories.
Moving into better documented territory, we know that during the mid to latter part of the 1800’s the breed became somewhat popular for use as a gundog following the Old English Water Spaniel and that it was first shown in 1860 at Birmingham. Some thirty six years later, in 1896, the first official breed club for the Curly-Coated Retriever would be officially formed in England. It was also around this time that the breed starting making its way to other countries around the globe, the first being New Zealand in 1889 and subsequently Australia, followed by the United States in 1907.
In Australia and New Zealand, the breed has often been used to retrieve waterfowl as large as a swan. Curly Coated Retrievers have also been utilized by some for hunting the Australian Kangaroo; a task that requires courage, intelligence, speed and natural hunting ability. The Curly Coated Retrievers found in New Zealand and Australia today can be traced to back to imported English dogs that were bred with other imported dog to create native Curly Coated Retrievers. These dogs would then be further bred to other now native Curlies or to additional imports to further refine the breed. In the 1950's and 1960's, Australian breeders imported Darelyn Aristocrat from England, along with Sarona Simon, Banworth Simon, Banworth Athene, and Pegasus; dogs that can be found in over three-quarters of modern Curly Coated Retriever pedigrees. New Zealand breeders of the time also contributed a great deal to the breed as evidenced by the fact that another popular dog in many of today’s pedigrees is Ch Waitoki Tuhora; a New Zealand import.
The modern day Curly is one of the most popular hunting dogs in the country of New Zealand where it is revered for its intelligence, superb hunting ability and natural affinity for water. The New Zealand version of the breed, however, is considerably smaller in size than that of the proper English Curley. This new smaller version has become a popular duck dog in New Zealand found manly around the Murray River, where they are known as the Murray River Curly Coated Retriever. Although the River Curlies are, for the most part, unable to be registered with The Kennel Club, the divergence in type from the original Curly Coated Retriever is significant enough that many hunters and fanciers of the River Curly feel it should be recognized as a separate breed.
During the first part of the 19th century, as word of the Curly Coated Retriever spread across the Atlantic to North America, Australia began exporting dogs to the United States and Canada, as well as to other countries like Germany, New Guinea and New Zealand. As stated earlier the first Curly Coated Retrievers are believed to have reached America in 1907, however, it would take another 17 years for the American Kennel Club (AKC) to recognize them in 1924. It was during this time that the breed was slowly gaining some popularity in America as a hunting dog and family pet. That is until the impact of World War II decimated the breed and nearly brought it to extinction. As evidenced by the fact that between 1941 and 1949 only 16 dogs were registered with the AKC. During the 1950’s, as breeders of all breeds were trying to reestablish their respective breeds following the war, the Curly Coated Retriever found itself left behind as Labrador Retreivers and Flat Coated Retrievers largely replaced within the hunting populace. Additionally the majority of the kennels had by this time begun to produce faster and more stylish retrievers. Other factors that played heavily into the demise of the Curly Coated Retriever in America, were rumors amongst the hunting populace that the Curly was hard-mouthed (apt to crush the birds it retrieved) and that its curly coat was very difficult to maintain. Although false on both accounts these rumors led to a disastrous drop in Curly interest and support that reduced the breed to the point that only two dogs were registered in 1964; painting a very bleak picture of the breeds future.
That is until Mr. Dale Dettweiler, a man many consider be the savior of the modern American Curly Coated Retriever imported English Champion Siccawei Black Rod (affectionately called "Limey" by those who judged him) from England. Limey was not just an outstanding bench specimen but was also an exceptional field dog that developed quite a loyal following. After Limey, Mr. Dettwelier began importing more Curly Coated Retrievers from England and Australia, in order to establish his Windpatch Curley Kennel. Windpatch Curlies would subsequently become the foundation stock for the breed in the United States. As the breed once again began a slow rise in popularity, more and more dogs were imported and over the course of the next 10 years several well respected lines of Curly Coated Retriever would be developed by emerging kennels like Ptarmigan, El Mack, Mayhem, Charwin, Wits End, Severaven, Karakul, Summerwind and Aarowag. As a result of this, by the mid 1970’s the breed had, for the most part been successfully re-established in the United States. However, there was concern about different breeders creating their own interpretation as to what constituted a high quality Curly Coated Retriever. In order to combat this and set forth a breed standard for all breeders to follow, the Curly Coated Retriever Club of America (CCRCA) was formed in 1979. This club would later be accepted by the AKC as the official parent club of the breed.
Today in America there are several well-respected lines of Curly Coated Retriever that have been going for 30 years or more. Although the breed is not currently at risk for extinction, it is still considered somewhat rare within the U.S. with fewer than 200 dogs registered annually. It also ranks fairly low in popularity when compared to most other AKC recognized breeds. The AKC’s “Most Popular Dog Breeds of 2010” list put the Curly Coated Retriever near the bottom in 146th place out of a possible 167; down 23 places from 123rd out of 127 AKC-registered breeds during the mid 1990’s and a drop of 16 places from its previous position in 130th place, as reported 10 years earlier in the year 2000 AKC survey.
The Curly Coated Retriever is described as possessing grace and elegance in outline, carriage and attitude that is somewhat uncommon among the Retrieving breeds. A solidly balanced, quick, strong, agile and robust retriever breed, the Curly Coated Retriever has all of the physical attributes necessary to work as long as there is work to be done. In build, the breed is slightly off square, meaning the length from forechest to buttocks exceeds the length from withers to ground making the dog longer than it is tall. The breed standard calls for male dogs to be 25 - 27 inches tall at the withers and females: 23 - 25 inches; however, a wide range of sizes do occur, particularly in those dogs bred for the field, which are generally smaller in stature than those bred for show. The weight should be in correct proportion to the size of the dog, which on average should be around 65lbs for males and slightly less for females.
The wedge shaped head should be longer than it is wide, which makes it easily distinguishable from all other breeds of retriever, and of a size that is proportionate to the body. The length of the head from nose to stop is nearly equal to the length from stop to occiput, when viewed from the side both planes should be parallel. The rather large AlmondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the ....-shaped eyes should be black in color for black dogs and brown for brown, liver or amber colored dogs. Bird of prey or yellowish eyes are not desirable. The breeds smallish ears, should lie close to the body and be set on a line slightly above the corner of the eye. The wedge-shaped muzzle tapers slightly to the end but is neither acutely pointed nor bluntly squared off but rounds slightly at the bottom. Teeth should be straight and even with a scissors bite being preferred over a level bite. The lips should be tight and free from any looseness or hanging. The fully pigmented nose with large nostrils should be black on black dogs and brown on brown, liver, or amber colored dogs.
The Curly Coated Retriever has a strong, slightly arched medium length neck that flows freely to and joins seamlessly into the moderately laid-back shoulders. The back from withers to loin should be straight, strong and level. The loin is short and muscular leading to a slightly sloping croup. The chest, although deep enough to provide the necessary lung capacity for a working breed such as this should not be excessively wide; brisket should reach the elbow. 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. The tail should be a natural extension of the spine, carriage should be straight or fairly straight the length should reach very near the hock. The tail should never be docked, curled over back, kinked or crooked.
The shoulder blades of the Curly Coated Retriever are long, well muscled and moderately laid back at around a 55 degree angle. Additionally, spacing is important as there should be adequate space between the blades to provide for smooth fluid motion and the flexibility necessary to easily retrieve game. The bones of the upper arm are near equal in length with those of the shoulder and laid back at roughly the same angle as the blades, which leaves the forelegs directly 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 well rounded catlike feet are compact, with well arched toes and thick well cushioned pads. The front dewclaws are removed in most cases. The hindquarters should be strong and in balance with the angulation of the forequarters. The thighs are powerful and well muscled with muscling carrying well down into the second thigh. Stiffles are moderately bent, hocks are straight and strong; turning neither in nor out, with hock joints that are well let down. The rear declaws are generally removed.
The hallmark of the breed and the characteristic that most distinguishes it from any other breed is its Curly Coat. Consisting of a mass of small, tight, crisp curls, lying close to the skin, the water resistant coat of this breed is of sufficient thickness to provide the dog with protection not just against the weather, but water, terrain and punishing cover as well. The curls of the coat extend the entire length of the body, starting from the occiput they extend down the back, over the rump, through the thighs and down the legs at least the hock. The tail is also covered with curls, and if trimmed, only the feathering should be removed allowing the tail to taper toward the point. On other areas of the body such as the face, forehead, front of forelegs and feet the coat is short, smooth and straight. The earls are allowed to have a looser more open type of curl; however, silky, fuzzy, overly harsh or sparse hair that is dry or brittle should be faulted. Some trimming of the coat is allowed such as trimming the feathering of the ears, belly, back of forelegs, thighs, pasterns, hocks and feet. Sheering or shaving the coat is not desirable. The only acceptable coat colors are black and liver, a few white hairs on the chest may also be allowed on an otherwise quality specimen; however, a prominent white patch (a tribute the Saint John’s Water Dog?) is an undesirable trait.
A confident, active and intelligent breed of dog the temperament and character of the Curly Coated Retriever reflect its original development for use as a gun dog. As a hunting dog, the Curly Coated Retriever was bred to have the intelligence necessary to think for itself and make critical decisions independent of the owner which at times this can make the dog seem strong willed or stubborn. That is why this breed is not recommended for everyone, especially meek, non assertive or first time dog owners. With an intelligent, proud and self-confident breed such as this it is important that the owner be confident, consistent, and firm while providing a solid leadership figure in the role of pack leader for the dog. For more assertive and confident individuals that are consistent and patient, the Curly Coated Retriever is just as willing to please as any other retriever breed.
It is important during training or when issuing commands that things make doggy sense for this breed. Asking a Curly Coated Retreiver to perform tasks it sees as trivial or forcing them to continuously complete a monotonous training task for which the the dog sees no point, may be met lack of interest that is often misinterpreted as the dog being stubborn or disobedient. The best results can be obtained with this breed by keeping training fun, varied, and entertaining. This breed also has the ability to teach itself things based on want or need, and do it fast, such as how to open a gate, a door or climb a fence. Once these habits are learned it often times can be very difficult or impossible to break. Their intelligence is demonstrated by the fact that they rank 41st in Stanley Coren's "The Intelligence of Dogs", being of above average working/obedience intelligence.
An active breed, it is important that a Curly be provided with plenty of regular exercise in order to stay both physically and mentally fit. Meeting the breeds exercise requirements will also make the dog calm and laid back within the home giving the owners the best of two worlds, a dog the loves to play and do things with the owner and a dog that can be a calm placid member of the family. Thus this breed is best suited for an assertive, active, outdoor-oriented owner looking for a loyal family companion. In many countries, Curlies are still in use as hunting dogs, making excellent companions on the hunt and wonderfully functional retrievers of both upland game and waterfowl.
In the home, Curly Coated Retrievers are known for being very affectionate with their owners and family; however, that can be a bit aloof with strangers. Curlys have also been known to make good watchdogs that can use their natural intelligence to analyze a situation or sound and sound the alarm if they feel something is amiss.They are also noted as a breed that tends to be very patient with children. However all interaction between children and dogs should be supervised closely to ensure that the dog is not put into a position through rough handling that would make it feel the need act out aggressively to protect itself or its space.
Like many Retrievers they will typically get along well with other dogs. Although, it is as important with this breed, as it is with all breeds, to begin socialization early in life to introduce them to and familiarize them with other dogs. Also, like many other hunting breeds, the Curly Coated Retriever should be supervised around smaller animals such as cats, rabbits etc. and is probably not recommended for homes that already have these animals. Again, socialization from a young age is the key to creating tolerance in the dog as an adult towards these other species. This breed also loves the water and loves to swim and will seek every available opportunity to immerse themselves.
Contrary to the rumors of the 1950’s, the Curly Coated Retrievers coat is fairly easy to care for. As a single coated breed with no undercoat it requires only the bare minimum in maintenance to keep it looking its best. Additionally as a single coated breed you can look forward to minimal shedding from a Curly Coated Retriever, similar to what you would find with many other curly coated breeds.
For dogs that are kept as pets the main concern is keep the hair clean a free of matting, this can be accomplished by giving the dog a quick coat inspection every few days. Regular brushing or combing is not recommended as it tends to give the coat that frizzy fresh out of the dryer look. If a matt or tangle is encountered you can generally brush it out with minimal effort, if it cannot be brushed out you can always remove the matt with a pair of scissors. Bathing should only done as needed using a mild dog shampoo.
Those that are involved in showing the breed will typically trim the feathering of the tail, ears, belly, legs and feet. Although trimming is not required for showing a dog many judges will knock off points for dogs that are not trimmed.
The Curly Coated Retriever is considered to be a relatively healthy purebred breed of dog. On average Curliess live 12–15 years, although there are many instances of Curlies living to be to 17. Likewise some may live shorter lives depending upon environmental or gentic factors. That being said like all purebred breeds of dog the Curly Coated Retriever is susceptible to some inherited defects. Before purchasing this breed ensure that you find a reputable breeder that is able to discuss health screening done with their breeding stock and other measures they've taken to reduce the likelihood of problems. They should be willing to guarantee against most common problems and want to know of anything that might show up later in your puppy.
Fewer than many purebreds the list of problems known to effect Curly Coated Retrievers are as follows: