Curly type and what that is

First thing we should discuss is just what is "type"? Type is what makes you recognize that a dog is whatever breed it is - it is what makes you able to tell that this dog is an Irish Setter and that dog is an English Setter. In the case of the Curly, the things that define the breed are the coat, the head and the body shape, taken all together since none of those are unique to the breed.

Beginning with the head, this should be a longer than wide wedge, both from the side and from the top, different from the other retriever breeds but at times similar. Flats should have a more rectangular head but many have a more wedge shape. Chessies tend to have heavier heads than Curlies, but some individuals will have heads rather close to Curlies, particularly the bitches. This doesn't mean that Curly heads should be exaggerated in any way just to make it different - longer than wide doesn't mean long, simply that the head should appear to be somewhat narrower than long. Exaggerated Borzoi heads are not useful in the field - there is a reason why retriever breeds are fairly wide thru the muzzle as compared to other breeds.

Of course, Curly heads should not be coarse either. The standard calls for "clean cut, not coarse, blocky or cheeky" which I feel that far too many judges and breeders either don't understand or are simply ignoring. A blocky or cheeky head cannot be wedge-shaped and while it is likely to be useful in the field it isn't typy for a Curly if it reminds you of another retriever breed.

So, typy Curly heads are wedge shaped enough to be recognizable as a wedge but not necessarily any specific length or width and definitely no exaggeration.

Body shape is another thing that defines Curly type. Unlike the other retriever breeds, Curlies should be sort of wedge shaped in the body too, except the topline should be level. The chest reaches to the elbow and then the underline rises smoothly to a moderate tuckup. There are many Curlies that are far too tucked up to be considered moderate, I suppose because their breeders think that is how one gets that "decidedly deep" chest. However, that doesn't go with the "deep, powerful loin" called for in the standard, a loin that makes for a dog that can work all day, and, unfortunately, clean jump a seven foot block wall.

Curlies are to be slightly off square per our standard, which is different from the other retriever breeds, (except Chessies), which tend to have standards that call for a more rectangular body shape. Many Curlies are more square than off square, and some are actually shorter bodied than they are tall. Dogs with short backs tend to lack in flexibility, making them work harder and probably injure easier.

Of course, body shape includes size. Yes, the preamble to our standard says that the breed "gives the impression of being higher on leg than the other retriever breeds" but far too many judges and breeders forget that word impression. Since it is widely stated that the Curly is the tallest of the retrievers, far too many have taken that and run with it to the point of dogs that are far too tall, with way too much leg under them, to be useful and enduring in the field. Curlies should not be mistaken for cut down Standard Poodles. Neither should breeders look at the other retriever breeds and aim to breed Curlies that are taller than every member of those other breeds that they see. Both Flats and Chessies are getting bigger every year even tho they have breed standards that call for sizes smaller than Curlies (in the case of Flats, much smaller). Labs and Goldens in the show ring are staying pretty consistent in size because they both have size disqualifications, but field bred Labs and pet bred Goldens can get huge. There is a reason that there is a size range in our standard, and a reason that only "clearly superior" dogs that are over (or under) sized should not be penalized. Despite their origins, dogs sized and shaped like Standard Poodles are not useful water dogs. If we want to hold on to our dual purpose, we have to make sure that exaggerations like oversize and long legs don't become the norm.

So, typy Curly body shape has a moderate rise in underline to a moderate tuckup, is visually slightly off square, has legs that are no longer than the body is deep, and is of a size that fits our standard, depending on male or female.

The final thing that sets Curly type is the coat. It is fairly unique in the show ring, but most cut down Poodles will have a mass of small curls, with a shaved face. The naturally smooth legs are unique to the breed but one should be able to tell a dog is a Curly from across a field, or apart from a Poodle that has had its legs shaved. These days many pet Poodles have softer coats but Curlies should always have a somewhat oily and crisp coat. Soft coats and open curls are not water-resistant and tend to pick up a lot of trash when upland hunting. Soft coats tend to rip out easily leaving the dog more open to injury. So, a typy Curly coat is one mass of small crisp curls, just as the standard says!

Of course, typy heads, bodies and coats are no good in the field if the dog isn't sound and balanced. As a dual-purpose breed, a big part of Curly type is soundness and balance, as called for in our standard. We are seeing far too many dogs with upright shoulders, weak rears, flying elbows, wide fronts, and soft feet. A dog with a poor front is going to tire quicker and have to retire younger than a dog with a good front, and in some cases is more prone to injury and arthritis. A dog with a poor rear will lack strength and speed. A dog with soft feet is prone to injury and early retirement. Lack of balance can be front and rear - unequal angulation - or top to bottom - more length of leg than depth of body or vice versa. A dog that is always having to fight its lack of balance is simply not going to last long in the field, nor do well in any of the advanced levels of the performance sports. Sometimes dogs have so much drive and heart that they can make up for lack of soundness and/or balance but why should they have to? Plus, they rarely can beyond six or seven years of age.

I realize that most folks these days are more interested in breeding for the show ring, but please remember that we are trying to continue to maintain the breed as dual purpose. Exaggerations that win in the show ring, or unsoundness that is ignored may finish more Chs or earn more Group placements, but if they are continued into the next generation it hurts the breed as a whole. Remember, most of us know more about the breed than the average judge does, so don't assume a dog is a great Curly simply because it can win big in the show ring!