How to Train a Curly-Coated Retriever

The Curly-Coated Retriever, among the oldest of the retriever breeds, is a famously versatile gundog and peerless swimmer. Poised, proud, and wickedly smart, the Curly is a thinking person’s retriever who will never quit before you do. The Curly-Coated Retriever’s tight, crisp curls of either black or liver serve as waterproof and thorn-resistant all-weather gear for work in thick bramble and icy lakes. The Curly is a big, durable gun dog, but more elegant and graceful than other retrievers. Another trait that sets Curlies apart from the usual retriever is a tapered, wedge-shaped head. Like Labradors and Goldens, Curlies are affectionate and gentle, but they are a bit more independent and less needy. Playful and mischievous with loved ones, Curlies can be aloof with strangers. This wariness makes them more discerning watchdogs than other, more gregarious retrievers. These tireless dogs need lots of outdoor exercise. Bored, underemployed Curlies are a handful.


Curlies are thought to be among the oldest of the retriever breeds. In contrast to spaniels and setters, though, retrievers are newbies on the sporting scene. They arrived only in the late 1700s, after wing shooting with rifles became practical.

The genetic jigsaw puzzle that is the Curly-Coated Retriever was pieced together in England during the 1800s. No written records of the breed’s earliest history exist, but we can make some educated assumptions. The Curly is popularly believed to be descended from two breeds now extinct, the English Water Spaniel and the Retrieving Setter. It is assumed that Irish Water Spaniel blood is also among the Curly’s ancestor breeds, as was the St. John’s Dog, a smallish type of Newfoundland. By 1860, their unique look and proud bearing made Curlies popular attractions at England’s first dog shows.

In the early 1880s, the Curly was said to have been crossed to the Poodle to tighten the Curly’s distinctive, low-shedding curls. Poodle blood might have also contributed to the Curly’s elegant carriage and complex character.

By the late 19th century the Curly had taken his place as a cherished companion of British sportsmen. In this period the Curly was exported as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, where it remains popular among hunters as an all-purpose retriever admired for a steady disposition and tender mouth.

The spectacular rise of Labs and Goldens has long since eclipsed the Curly’s prominence among the retriever breeds, but they retain a small but ardent following around the world. The Curly entered the AKC Stud Book in 1924.

Quick Facts

Temperament: confident / proud / wickedly smart

Height: 23-27 inches

Weight: 60-95 pounds

Life expectancy: 10-12 years

Sporting Group


The majority of Curlies are a healthy breed. Breeders have been very diligent about screening hips, eyes, and the heart. There are some cancer concerns. The breed is also susceptible to gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), a life-threatening stomach condition also known as bloat. Owners must be aware of the symptoms and take quick action if it occurs.

Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
  • Hip Evaluation
  • EIC DNA Test
  • GSD Illa DNA Test
  • Cord-1 PRA DNA Test
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation

GroomingCurlies do not have an undercoat, and the females will usually shed a fair amount of coat approximately every six months. Females may look relatively bare when not in coat. During shedding season a rake-type grooming tool with metal prongs is good at removing the dead hair, then the coat can be scissored down. The majority of owners never brush a Curly-Coated Retriever, as then the coat frizzes. A wet-down and air-dry is easy to do and often will enhance the curls. The breed does not need to be bathed frequently. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly.


Curlies do need a fair amount of exercise but are also wonderful about settling down and relaxing at home. Their home does not need to be a large one as long as they are with their owner and have adequate exercise. The breed is very easy to live with as long as they have been shown their “good manners” with basic training. They love to be outside, yet they are very happy to spend time indoors at home with their people. They are not a breed who is good at being left alone for long periods of time.

The owner of a Curly-Coated Retriever needs to be firm but kind in training of the dog. Too rough, and they will turn tail; too soft or unclear, and they will not pay attention. They are an intelligent breed and smart enough to need an owner who is smarter than they are. Two things are helpful to remember regarding training a Curly: First, avoid too much repetition, as the dog may become bored and lose interest. Also, it is important for an owner to try to make the learning situation as much fun as possible. The goal is to make it so that the Curly enjoys what is being taught. Some Curlies do very well in the obedience ring, but for some the repetition of some of the exercises can cause disinterest. Training for fieldwork takes a knowledgeable approach and should not be rough. When new to the breed and interested in starting field training, find a training group in your area with whom you can train, and observe their methods before deciding to join.

The majority of Curly-Coated Retrievers do well on a diet of good-quality dry dog food. Some owners like to add some meat or canned food, and a few others feed the raw diet. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.