Curly-Coated Retriever

This English breed is believed to be the result of crossing the Old English Water Dog with the Irish Spaniel. A dash of Newfoundland and Poodle are also estimated to be part of the mix. This is an independent-minded dog that is not as quick to train as the other retriever breeds. Nonetheless, this dog is a wonderful character and loves to be immersed in water.


In its early days this breed was sometimes called simply the Curly Retriever. It was developed as a specialist waterfowl retriever.

This breed is the oldest of the surviving English retrievers. The Curly-Coated Retriever is descended from the now extinct English Water Spaniel. At the beginning of the 19th century, the old water dog was crossed with newly imported Labrador Retrievers (or St John’s Dogs, as they were then known) to create an improved wildfowl retriever. Some authorities believe that the Irish Water Spaniel may also have been involved in its creation. Certainly, at a later date, the Poodle was briefly introduced to tighten the curl of its coat. In colour it is nearly always solid black, but very dark brown also occurs.

Because of its highly characteristic hair type, with its mass of close, crisp curls, the breed soon attracted the attention of the show-dog world. This type of ‘astrakhan’ coat had originally been created as a waterproof, thorn-resistant protection for the working dog, but the breed’s strange visual appeal led to its being taken into the show-ring at some of the first dog shows. There were special classes for it as early as 1859.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the breed’s popularity was decreasing. Its followers deserted it in favour of the Flat-coated Retriever, which was said to be softer-mouthed when retrieving waterfowl, and to have a gentler, more docile temperament. The Curly-Coated Retriever had, however, already been exported around the world, especially to Australia and the United States, and even today retains a wide, international presence, although its numbers are always small.


Quite intelligent, and with abundant endurance, the Curly-Coated Retriever has a strong, well-balanced, rather slim body; a deep chest; muscular hindquarters; a long, well-proportioned head with a gradual, almost imperceptible stop; big black or brown eyes; low-set triangular-shaped drop ears; and a tapered, moderately short tail that is held out. Its thick waterproof coat should be tightly curled over the whole body, including the tail, but should be smooth on the face. The coloring must be solid black or liver, with only a little white permissible.

Height: 59-69 cm at the shoulder

Weight: 29-45 kg


A hard, all-weather worker, never hesitating to jump into icy-cold water, this breed is a loyal and calm household pet, but it does tend to be a bit wary of strangers, making it more suitable as a watchdog than other sporting breeds.

In personality the Curly-Coated Retriever is affectionate, faithful, and trainable, with a good memory, but is also said to be proud and sometimes aloof.

Coat and Grooming

The Curly-Coated Retriever conies in black or liver colour. It should be combed only minimally and some trimming is needed to ensure a tidy appearance. During shedding season, more regular grooming is required.


This dog is known to suffer from hip dysplasia. The expected lifespan is 8-14 years.

Environment and Exercise

The Curly-Coated Retriever requires at least a medium-sized yard. They are calm indoors and enjoy being close to the family at all times. Full of stamina, this breed requires a lot of vigorous outdoor exercise, including extensive retrieval games and, if possible, time in the water. Dogs that get insufficient exercise and are kept cooped up tend to become moody and noisy.

Compatibility with Kids and other Pets

The Curly-Coated Retrievers are excellent with school-aged children. Smaller children may be knocked over. Other pets are comfortable with this breed.

Puppies and Training

Usually litters number eight puppies, which are colored at birth like their parents. Handled early on by a number of people, the puppies quickly become accustomed to human contact. Likewise, obedience training should begin very early.

Gallery of Curly-Coated Retriever