What a Curly Coated Retriever is... and isn't.

This is a personal attempt at educating all those interested in Curly Coated Retrievers about this unique and interesting breed. This page is not approved (or disapproved...) by any organization, it is simply the opinions of someone who has owned Curlies since 1975, bred them since 1981 and is active in show, field and obedience with this wonderful breed.

General Appearance

At first glance, a Curly should be obviously different from the other retriever breeds in that it is a bit higher on leg and shorter in body than the other retrievers. However, this must never appear to be exaggerated - a Curly should not appear to conform to the German Shorthaired Pointer standard "with a short back, but standing over plenty of ground".

German Shorthaired Pointer

The Curly, while a bit shorter backed than the other retriever breeds, is still longer in body than it is tall. Exaggerations of short bodied tall Curlies do appear fairly regularly and they are to be avoided as being out of balance; balance is very important in a working retriever. While such a dog may be well suited to upland hunting and indeed may be more pleasing to the eye to some fanciers, this dog will not be able to efficiently perform the breeds second task, retrieving waterfowl. It is this dual field work that the Curly was originally bred for and is still highly prized for. Therefore, the Curly is *somewhat* higher on leg than the other retriever breeds, but it is still not a square breed, as are most of the purely upland breeds.

The Curly also tends to be somewhat lighter in bone than the Lab and the Golden, as is in keeping with its purpose of being an tireless upland hunter as well as water retriever. The correct Curly should always appear somewhat elegant as compared to Labs and Goldens and above all moderate in all points. The first impression of the correct Curly should be one of balance and freedom from exaggeration. No one characteristic of the dog should stand out from the others; rather the whole dog should speak of balance, strength and flexibility, and a slight elegance when compared to Labs and Goldens.

It cannot be emphasized enough that even though the Curly is the tallest of the retriever breeds, being tall is not a defining characteristic of the breed. The breed is taller ON AVERAGE than the other retriever breeds - that doesn't mean that every Curly must tower over every other retriever. It also doesn't mean that bigger is better, quite the contrary. A working retriever loses agility and endurance with every inch of height and pound of weight. The sizes listed in the standard are there for a reason and even though the standard also says that exceptional dogs outside those sizes should be considered, it would be extremely rare that a Curly taller than the standard would be overal exceptional, whereas a Curly smaller than those sizes can easily be exceptional.

Labrador Retriever

moderate Curly-Coated Retriever


Beginning a closer examination of the dog with the head, this is a “longer-than-wide wedge” but the head is not significantly longer than it is wide. There must be sufficient width to the skull to allow for plenty of brain as well as leverage for carrying large birds. The muzzle joins smoothly with the skull and the muzzle should also have good width as narrow jaws cannot easily carry birds over rough ground without damage. The underjaw should be strong - the head should never appear snipy in profile or from the top. It is preferable to have a somewhat more coarse or square head over one that is more narrow and elegant, as the former head is far more functional than the latter. The lips should be tight and clean - pendulous lips are very undesirable.

The eyes should be almond shaped, fairly large and not too deeply set. Round eyes are more acceptable than eyes that are deep set as deep set eyes tend to pick up trash in the field and have a tendency towards entropion. Color is rather unimportant as long as eye color harmonizes with coat color. Loose haws are very undesirable.

The ears are fairly small, set just above the eye level when at rest and should lay close to the head. The ear leather should be rather thick and more or less triangular in shape. Large, loose or lowset ears are undesirable as they tend to allow trash and water into the ear canal.

The nose is large with large nostrils, black in black dogs and liver in liver dogs. While the nose should be fully colored, damage from field work that results in off color spot(s) on the nose should be ignored.

The bite is ideally scissors but an even bite is acceptable and a reverse scissors in an otherwise outstanding dog should be allowed. Some misaligned teeth or one or two missing teeth should not be penalized as long as the jaws meet evenly.


The neck is long, strong and slightly arched and flows smoothly into the body. It is free of loose skin.
The topline is level, moderately wide and well muscled with a slightly sloping croup.

The shoulder blade and upper arm are of equal length, form an angle between 45 and 55 degrees with good layback of shoulder blade and good return of upper arm.

The body is rather oval shaped when viewed from the front, not too wide, and is rather triangular shaped when viewed from the side. The brisket reaches to the elbow but not beyond and the ribs are fairly well sprung, but not barrel shaped, and reach well back. The under line should be a gradual rise from the brisket to the moderate tuckup and there should be good depth of loin.

The forelegs are straight with moderate bone and a very slight bend of pastern. Shape of the feet is fairly unimportant as long as the toes are well arched and the pads are thick. Front dewclaws should be removed or very insignificant (very small and/or very tight against the leg).

The hindquarters are powerful, with good width of thigh carrying down into the second thigh. There is a moderate bend of stifle and hock, with the hocks being fairly short and parallel. There should be no rear dewclaws, though they do appear, it is best that they be removed.

The tail is essentially an extension of the topline, reaches approximately to the hock and is carried fairly straight. Tails that are carried high and/or curved are not a serious fault as they do not interfere with the dogs function as a worker, but tails that are set high or low are to be regarded with suspicion as to whether the dog has a proper slightly sloping croup, therefore the tail set is far more important than the carriage.


The coat is an important feature of the breed but it should not be considered any more important than any other feature. The ideal coat consists of small, crisp curls that cover the entire dog from the occiput down throughout the body to at least the elbows and mid thigh and to the end of the tail. The coat should be rather dense and tight, and have a slightly harsh feel - it is not a wiry coat but neither is it soft. It is far more desirable to have a coat with larger curls that is thick, crisp and water resistant than to have the ideal small curls with a cottony or soft feel, or sparse ideal curls. It is also far more desirable that the dog be a sound functional retriever with a less than ideal coat than to have a show piece with a perfect coat.

Patterning is highly undesirable. This includes areas that are bare to the skin on the neck, under the ears, along the sides and/or on the back of the thighs, generally bilateral. Dogs that are thickly coated with sparse areas are also undesirable.

The color is either black or liver. A small white spot on the chest is not to be penalized. There may be a few white hairs on the body due to field injury.


The gait is very important. It should be smooth and effortless, with good reach in front and drive from the rear. There should be no lifting of the front feet with break at the pastern, no high kick of the rear legs. The movement in front should be clean with no elbowing out or going base wide, and in the rear it should be fairly parallel with a slight tendency to converge at speed. Good movement from the side is somewhat more important than clean gait up and back, therefore minor faults of movement up and back are less important than lack of reach and drive, smoothness and effortlessness.


Temperament should be steady and confident, but many Curlies resent examination and slight movement away from a judge should not be severely faulted, particularly if the dog recovers immediately. Curlies are not stranger friendly dogs naturally, so may not stand well for examination. Dogs that are obviously spooky or aggressive should be severely penalized.


The ideal Curly is not an elegant, exaggerated dog, nor is it a coarse cloddy dog. It must be so well made that all parts flow into each other without any one part calling attention to itself above the others. The dog will show both grace and power, strength and agility. Dogs should be shown in good muscle and little fat. Many Curlies resent or are bored with the show ring, so lack of animation or showmanship in a good dog should not be penalized - beware rewarding a dog that is “asking for the win” that does not have the balance and strength of a proper Curly.

The Curly and the other retriever breeds

Comparing Curlies to the other retriever breeds - the other retriever breeds tend to be somewhat wider thru the chest than Curlies, particularly Chessies and Labs, then Goldens - Flats are more or less the same. The other retriever breeds are more obviously longer in body than they are tall, tho Curlies are still not a *square* breed, such as GSPs are. The other retriever breeds tend to be more rectangular in body shape, where the Curly is more triangular due to somewhat more tuckup. Flats tend to also have this body shape but it is not as obvious due to their coat. The Chessie standard calls for the body to be well tucked up, however many Chessies in the show ring have little tuckup. Labs and Goldens have very little tuckup.

Curly heads are shaped like blunt triangles, both from the top and the side. Goldens and Labs and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Chessies, have squarer heavier heads. Flats tend to have longer, more elegant heads than Curlies.

Labs, Goldens and to some extent Chessies tend to have more bone than Curlies - Flats are about the same.

Curlies tend to be somewhat more cat footed than the other retriever breeds.

Curlies are the tallest of the retriever breeds *on average*, ie the upper range of preferred size is an inch or two taller than the upper range of the other retrievers. However, the Curly should not tower over the other retrievers.

In temperament, Curlies are much more reserved with strangers than Goldens, Labs and Flats and about the same as Chessies. In the show ring, it would not be wrong for a Curly to obviously resent being touched by the judge but they should not appear to be afraid. It is a fine line, as a Curly with correct temperament that is untrained and/or unexperienced in the show ring may move away, jump back or in many other ways express its resentment at being handled by a stranger and all of these may make the dog appear to be fearful and of incorrect temperament.

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