Curly Coated Retrievers

Curly Coated RetrieverCurly Coated Retriever

With his distinctive coat of tight, waterproof curls, the Curly Coated Retriever was developed to retrieve shot game in the Tweed River region of Britain. This river historically served as a border between England and Scotland. The tallest of the Retrievers, his long legs gave him an advantage when retrieving from among tall reeds that lined the river banks.

History of the Curly Coated Retriever

Curly Coated Retrievers c 1875Curly Coated Retrievers c 1875

Until the 1800's, the Tweed Water Spaniel was popular in and around the border of England and Scotland. But by the time a specialised retrieving dog had become necessary, the Curly Coated Retriever had superseded him. Sadly the Tweed River Spaniel is now extinct.

Although both the Flat Coated Retriever and Curly Coated Retriever were usually black, sometimes liver or yellow specimens appeared. But shooters preferred the black ones because they was more obvious among the reeds in which they worked. This lessened the risk of the dog being shot by mistake.

Developed to work in water for long periods, the tight curly coat of the Curly Coated Retriever trapped a layer of water between the curls. This served as a 'wet suit' when working. On the estates around the English-Scottish border, he was also a 'night watchman' that warned off poachers[5b].

The Curly Coated Retriever becomes a Pure Breed

Curly Coated Retriever 1899Curly Coated Retriever 1899

In England in 1860, at Birmingham Show, 7 dogs were exhibited under the title of 'Retrievers'. These 7 were made up of 5 dogs and 2 bitches, with £3 prize money given for Best Dog and Best Bitch. The dog described as 'a large black Setter-headed dog, but decidedly a good one' received the same prize money as 'a bad, liver-coloured leggy bitch'. In 1872 it was written:

... the judges were at sea with their awards. Everyone was young at these exhibitions, and even the disappointed exhibitor was unborn'[7].

Curly Coated Retriever's CoatCurly Coated Retriever's Coat

A Breed Standard was written in 1890 and a Curly Retriever Club existed until 1917. Although then the Curly was only 24" high, it's unique, the distinctive coat of 'A mass of short, crisp curls from occiput to point of tail' was first defined. Almost 100 years later, in 1984 the modern 'upstanding' Curly Coated Retriever of up to 27" high, was first described[8].

Today, the coat of the Curly Coated Retriever is quite distinctive. The body, neck and tail should never have any thin or bald patches. Instead the dog is completely covered in small tight-knit screw Astrakhan type water-resistant curls that feel oily and crisp. Although curls on the ears may be looser, the hair on the foreface, front of legs and feet is short, smooth and straight with a slight feathering on the back of the forelegs.

History of Curly Coated Retrievers in Australia

Curly Australia 1982Curly Australia 1982

In Tyzacks Annual 5 Curly Coated Retrievers are listed as being imported from the UK with a further 13 Curlys being registered in the Stud Book[4]. In the Dogs Victoria Library, there are hard copies of some 700 registrations of Curly Coated Retrievers dating from the late 1920's until the 1980's. It is suspected that some of these were mixtures of what we know today as 'Murray River Retrievers'.

So, in contrast to the Flat-coats, a small band of enthusiasts have kept the presence of the Curly Coated Retriever in Australia alive continuously since the early 1900's. Mr Olaf (Olly) Michelson with his Tabilk kennel in Victoria kept this breed for over a half a century founding many other kennels including Viki Knowles' Blazeaway kennel who has carried on his good work to this day[5b].

Comparison between the Golden, Flat Coat and Curly Coated Retrievers

A convenient way to study the similarities and differences between these three Retrievers, is by a the comparison table below:

Golden Retriever Flat Coated Retriever Curly Coated Retriever

Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever

Flat coated RetrieverFlat coated Retriever Curly Coated RetrieverCurly Coated Retriever
General Appearance Symmetrical powerful but well balanced cream or gold dog with a kindly expression Medium sized black or liver elegant dog showing power without lumber and raciness without being weedy.  The tallest of all the retrievers, an upstanding, strong black or liver dog with a distinctive curly coat
Size Height: Dogs 56-61 cms (22-24 ins) Bitches 51-56 cms (20-22ins) Height: Dogs 58-61 cms (23-24 ins) Bitches 56-58cms (22-23 ins)  Weight: Dogs 27-38 kg (60-80 lbs) Bitches 25-32 kg (55-70 lbs) Height: Dogs 69 cms (27 ins) Bitches 64 cms (25 ins)

From the palest cream to the deepest yellow is equally acceptable as long as it is neither red nor mahogany. Black or liver Black or liver
Coat Double coated with a thick water resistant undercoat and a flat or way top coat without curl, giving the coat a somewhat harsh feel. The feathering coat sometimes needs trimming which is acceptable. The coat should be as flat as possible and although dense, should never be curly. His elegant outline is completed by his medium textured good quality coat and the feathering behind his legs and on the tail. The body, neck and tail should never have any thin or bald patches. Instead the dog is completely covered in small tight-knit screw astrakhan type water-resistant curls that feel oily and crisp.
Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever Flat Coated RetrieverFlat Coated Retriever Curly Coated RetrieversCurly Coated Retrievers
Head Without being coarse, the skull is broad and slightly rounded, and the very strong, wide and deep muzzle should not have too much flew. The length of the muzzle should equal that of the skull and the nose should be black. The skull is long and looks moulded with a strong muzzle the same length as the skull. This head should be sufficiently strong to be capable of carrying a hare. The large nose should have open nostrils. The head is wedge-shaped when viewed from either the side or the front. The skull and muzzle are of equal length with parallel head planes. The lips are tight and the nose black or liver depending on the coat colour.
Stop Well defined Slight Slight
Eyes Size to balance the head, set wide apart to give a soft, kindly expression, dark brown with tight dark rims Medium sized but not obliquely set, dark brown or hazel with an intelligent expression Large but not prominent, oval in shape and obliquely set. Dark brown in blacks but in livers colour to blend with coat.
Ears Moderate size, set on approximately level with the eyes Small and set on close to the head Rather small and set on slightly above the level of the eye
Mouth Normal scissors bite Normal Scissors bite Normal scissors bite
Neck Of sufficient length to balance the body and clean (without dewlap) Fairly long without dewlap Medium length and slightly arched, without dewlap
Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever Flat Coated RetrieverFlat Coated Retriever Curly Coated RetreiverCurly Coated Retreiver
Body The correct balance of body is slightly longer than Height at withers. In depth it should measure the same from withers to elbow as elbow to ground. The chest has a prominent but not exaggerated prosternum Balanced with a level topline and long deep ribcage with moderate tuck-up. The fore ribs are fairly flat, the centre ribs more arched but they become rather lighter towards the hindquarters. Deep chest with brisket well-defined Slightly longer than height at withers with well spring ribs and deep brisket. As the Curly is an upstanding dog, it is important that the ribs reach the elbows but does not extend beneath them
Front The Golden has a good lay of shoulder with the shoulder blade and humerus being of equal length. This places the elbows well under the body. The forelegs should be straight with good bone and only a slight slope of pastern The shoulders are obliquely set, the and the forelegs perfectly straight with good quality bone and flexible pasterns The Curly has well laid shoulders and shoulder blade and humerus of equal length. The legs are straight with round bone and strong, flexible pasterns
Feet Round and cat-like Round and strong with well arched toes Round and tight with well arched toes with some webbing in between them
Hindquarters Strong and muscular with a good turn of stifle and short straight hocks neither turned in nor out Muscular with moderate turn of stifle and straight hocks so he dog stands true Powerful muscular hindquarters with moderate turn of stifle to give the dog overall balance
Tail Set on and carried level with the back, strong and covered with thick coat, it should be straight and never curled or hooked Set straight off topline, the tail itself should be short and straight Flows from a slightly sloping croup, thick at the root and tapers to a point and is completely covered with short curls
Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever Flat Coated RetrieverFlat Coated Retriever Curly Coated RetrieverCurly Coated Retriever
Gait Powerful with long and true stride Free, flowing and true front and back Effortless, powerful gait with good extension

References and Further Reading

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[4] " Tyzack's Annual" Compiled by T. W.Tyzack and C.S.Turner Published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club Printed in 1912 by Bellamine Bros. Printers, 66-70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Pages 81 and 87

[5]  " The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia" published by OzDog Newspaper 1997

[5b] Ibid., "The Curly Coated Retriever" by Vicki Knowles Page 107

[7]   Rev. Thomas Pearce Alias 'Idstone' 'The Dog' Published by Cassell, Petter and Galpin London 1872 Chapter XV The Curly-Coated Retriever Page 130

[8] Audrey Nicholls, 'The Curly Coated Retriever' Published River Media Services, Hereford England 'The Breed Standard' Pages 73 - 75