What To Know About Curly-Coated Retrievers

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on June 23, 2022
8 min read

Curly-coated retrievers are lovable pets in the sporting group. They’re one of the most unique-looking retriever breeds in existence and are also one of the oldest. 

These dogs are fantastic companions both in the field and at home. They love nothing more than a day spent with their owners, but they are more independent and willful than other retriever breeds. 

These dogs aren’t for everyone, but their owners tend to be huge fans of the breed. 

Body size. Curly-coated retrievers are a medium-to-large-sized breed. The males tend to be slightly larger than the females. 

Males are an average height of 25 to 27 inches at the shoulder. Females have an average height of 23 to 25 inches. Healthy dogs of both sexes can weigh anywhere from 60 to 95 pounds depending on their size. 

Despite their size, these dogs don’t need lots of indoor space to be content. They’re comfortable in both urban and rural environments. 

Body shape. Curly-coated retrievers have off-square bodies that are slightly longer than they are tall. They should have a nice balance of muscle and bone. Their chests are deep and not overly wide. 

They have straight forelegs and powerful thighs. Their legs end in round, compact feet with deep pads. 

Curly-coated heads are very distinct compared to other retriever breeds. Their heads are wedge-shaped v’s that are longer than they are wide. They end in wedge-shaped muzzles. 

Their heads are topped by small ears that are held close to the head. Their tails are straight and never docked. They should reach down to around their hocks. 

Lifespan. The curly-coated retriever lifespan is normal for their size. They live an average of 10 to 12 years. This means that you should plan on at least a decade with your pet before choosing to adopt one, especially if you get one as a puppy. 

Coat. As their name suggests, curly-coated retrievers have a very distinctive coat that’s different from all other retriever breeds. The coat grows in a mass of tight, distinct curls. These should be very small and crisp. 

This short coat was designed to help the dogs hunt in thick bramble and icy lakes. The overall effect is to weather-proof your dog while it’s out on the hunt. 

The coats only come in two colors: black or liver. They don’t typically have any markings. 

Eyes. These dogs have large, almond-shaped eyes. They shouldn’t protrude too much from the skull. Black-coated dogs have black or brown eyes, and liver-coated dogs tend to have amber eyes. 

Personality. The curly-coated retriever personality is incredibly affectionate, confident, and independent. They’re very loyal companions both out in the field and curled up at home.  

They’re also incredibly intelligent animals. This means, though, that they can develop problematic behaviors if they’re bored too often.

The curly-coated retriever temperament can be aloof at times but should never be shy. They can take a while to warm up to you, but once they’re comfortable, these dogs become incredibly playful and even mischievous. 

Grooming. Curly-coated retrievers have relatively simple grooming needs. Most owners avoid brushing their coats because it can cause the tight curls to become frizzy. Instead, you can wet down your dog’s coat and let it air dry. This is an easy way to keep your dog looking their best while enhancing their curls.

Curly-coated retriever shedding can be a handful at times. The shedding season comes about every six months and affects females more than males. The females can actually look almost bare-skinned when they’re at the height of their shedding. To help groom them, you can use a metal-pronged rake-type tool to remove dead hairs. You can also scissor-cut the coat to keep your pet looking tidy. 

Regularly clip their nails and clean their ears to prevent infections. Brush their teeth on a daily basis with a dog-safe toothpaste to complete their grooming routine. 

Feeding. Make sure that your pet has access to clean water at all times. 

Your curly-coated retriever should be fed high-quality dog food. Most do well with dry dog food. Try to find a brand that your pet enjoys. 

Consult your veterinarian for the best food recommendations for your particular dog. 

Also, make sure that you know what human foods are safe for your dog to eat before feeding them anything from your kitchen.

Exercise and mental stimulation. Curly-coated retrievers need a decent amount of exercise. They don’t like being left alone for long periods of time, so it’s best to exercise them by interacting with your pet. You can play fetch or go for walks at least once a day. 

These dogs enjoy both being outside and being cuddled up indoors with you. Keep them with you as you go about your day to provide them with both physical and mental stimulation. 

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine all of the vaccinations that your pet needs, but all dogs should get a core set. 

This includes vaccinations for:

These can begin as early as six weeks of age. There are also other non-core vaccinations that you can discuss with your veterinarian. 

Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight and used as needed. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors. Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you. 

Heartworm medication is also recommended year-round in all parts of the U.S.

Breeders have been vigilant about screening this breed for health issues, but curly-coated retrievers do still have some problems that could crop up in puppies or throughout your dog’s lifetime. 

Curly-coated retriever health issues can include: 

  • Gastric torsion or bloat. Gastric-dilation volvulus occurs when there is twisting in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract — specifically in the stomach. Your dog’s stomach fills up with gas, food, or liquid (a condition called bloat) and then twists, creating an often sudden and life-threatening situation. Signs include an enlarged abdomen, retching, and drooling. This condition is typically treated with emergency surgery. 
  • Hip dysplasia. This is where the ball and socket of your dog's hip joint don’t develop properly. The bones grind against each other, eventually wearing down and making it difficult for your dog to move. Your veterinarian can evaluate your dog’s joints and see how likely they are to cause problems throughout your dog's life.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). In cases of PRA, you may start to notice your dog struggling to see at first, particularly at dusk and dawn. At present, there isn’t a treatment for this condition. Your vet should perform annual eye exams to look for any signs of deterioration. 
  • Additional Eye Conditions. Examples include entropion and distichiasis. Entropion affects dog eyelids and can cause discomfort. Distichiasis is a problem where your dog has extra eyelashes that can damage their eyes. Depending on the severity, both of these conditions could require surgery for treatment. 
  • Idiopathic epilepsy. This is a little-understood condition that can occur in all dogs. It causes seizures for unknown reasons. 
  • Glycogen storage disease (GSD). This condition is caused by problems with a particular enzyme in your dog. Early signs include lethargy, exercise intolerance, and adult dogs may even collapse. The condition is still being studied, but later stages could lead to liver failure and heart disease. A genetic test can screen for this condition. Your veterinarian may be able to check for the presence of certain genes if they’re concerned that your dog has this condition. 
  • Heart diseaseHeart murmurs can be an early sign of heart disease in your pet. With early detection and the proper medications, your dog can live for years with heart disease. You should have your veterinarian check them regularly to catch the condition early on.
  • Pattern baldness. This is a heritable condition called follicular dysplasia. The hair loss tends to start on the dog’s neck and the backs of their legs. Currently, there’s no treatment.
  • Certain Cancers. This breed has a higher rate of cancer than other breeds. Signs can vary depending on the type of cancer and how far it’s progressed. Have your veterinarian regularly inspect your pet and get them an appointment if you notice any significant changes in their behavior. 

There are a few things that you should keep in mind before bringing a curly-coated retriever home. They’re incredibly good with young children. The American Kennel Club (AKC) rates them a five out of five for this trait, but they’re less good with other dogs. The AKC only rates them a three out of five for this trait. 

Luckily, early training and socialization can help make these dogs more comfortable with others. The best way to train this breed is to avoid repetition and keep activities as fun as possible. You’ll need to be firm with your pet, but not overly aggressive. 

Since they can be aloof with strangers, they make better guard dogs than other retriever breeds. 

They only bark an intermediate amount of the time and rarely drool. Since they can shed quite a bit at certain times of the year, the curly-coated retriever isn’t a hypoallergenic breed.  

The curly-coated retriever breed originated in England. It’s believed to be one of the oldest retriever breeds that’s still alive today. 

No one knows the exact origins of these dogs, but a number of breeds likely participated in their development. These could include: 

  • English water spaniels — now extinct
  • Retrieving setters — now extinct
  • Irish water spaniels
  • St. John’s dog — a type of small Newfoundland

Curly-coated retrievers were likely created in the late 1700s when wing-shooting with rifles had become the popular way to hunt throughout Europe. It’s likely that some poodle crosses were added in the 1880s to improve the curls on the dogs’ coats. 

In general, these are some of the best gun dogs around. They’re capable of tackling very difficult terrain to retrieve both furred mammals and waterfowl. They were bred to be full of energy and won’t quit before you do when they’re out in the field. 

These dogs were first exhibited in the 1860 English Birmingham dog show. They were exported to New Zealand and Australia in 1889 and became hugely popular in these countries. The first club devoted to the breed began in England in 1896. 

Curly-coated retrievers didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 1907. They were registered by the AKC in 1924. 

Today, they have a relatively small population size but their supporters are very passionate about the breed.