Complete Guide To The Curly Coated Retriever: Health, Personality, Exercise and More

As the oldest retriever breed recognized, the Curly Coated Retriever has several valuable qualities that make it both an excellent hunting companion as well as a loving family member. Incredibly intelligent and able to work for hours on end, the Curly Coated Retriever requires a unique owner who has experience working with strong-willed dogs. This dog will be affectionate, loving, and a little bit silly to the right family.  

How Big Do Curly Coated Retrievers Get?

Male25″ – 27″ at the shoulder80-100 lbs
Female23″ – 25″ at the shoulder60-95 lbs

What Do Curly Coated Retrievers Look Like?

A trademark of the Curly Coated Retriever is the unique coat that consists of tight curls. The fur will be either black or red-brown and has an oily texture. The curls are easy to care for and are weather-resistant, able to repel thorns, brambles, and cold and icy water.  

What Is The Personality Of A Curly Coated Retriever?

Lovingly called Curlies, this dog has many of the same personality traits as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. Intelligent and affectionate, this breed is usually more independent. While Curlies are certainly loving toward their family members, they tend to be standoffish and aloof toward strangers. This quality can make them wonderful watchdogs, as well as good retrievers. 

The Curly-Coated Retriever is incredibly intelligent but has a stubborn streak. They require an experienced dog owner that will give consistent, steady commands. Repetitious training does not work well with this breed of dog, and it will quickly become bored and disinterested. With the right training that is different and interesting, the Curly Coated Retriever can learn to do any number of tasks related to obedience and fieldwork.  

How Much Grooming Does A Curly Coated Retriever Need?

Although this dog may look like it has intense grooming requirements, it doesn’t need too much at all. Unlike other cold-weather dogs, Curlies do not have an undercoat. Instead, the topcoat is thick and curly, able to repel water, thorns, and debris.

Owners rarely brush the fur because it can make the curls more frizzy than curly. Expect a heavy shed about every six months, with females losing the vast majority of their fur. Only bathe the Curly Coated Retriever when necessary because the fur will naturally repel dirt and debris. Like all dogs, be sure to keep the nails trimmed short and the ears clean.  

How Much Exercise Does A Curly Coated Retriever Need?

Similar to other retrievers, the Curly Coated Retriever has boundless energy. This dog needs plenty of exercise to stay happy. Be sure to give this dog plenty of exercise in the form of long walks or hikes. If your Curly is properly exercised, it will be happy to settle down and rest at home. Otherwise, a bored or energetic Curly can be quite a handful.  

This breed of dog was bred for fieldwork, and it continues to excel at this activity today. It has a strong retriever drive and regularly wins fieldwork competitions. Although Curlies can be challenging to train, they have been known to perform well at obedience and agility work. This breed of dog is not recommended for apartments because it needs plenty of room to roam and explore to satisfy its mental and physical needs.  

Activities That I Recommend With This Breed:

  • Walking
  • Hiking (both walking and hiking can be done with your dog also wearing a weighted pack; the weight in the pack will help to tire your dog out faster; don’t do this if your dog has any orthopedic issues)
  • Swimming
  • Agility Training (these guys do great at this!!)
  • Dog Parks
  • Day Play

What Kind of Dog Food Is Good For A  Curly Coated Retriever?

Personally I believe that most foods are fine for most dogs. Some dogs may not do well on some foods. However, as a rule I don’t blanket-prohibit any dietary ingredient from any breed at this time.

This is a breed that requires a large-breed puppy food to help control growth. Growing too fast can cause growing pains and potentially developmental orthopedic issues. For this reason, I recommend to my Retriever owners to switch to adult food at around 6 months of age.

Best Puppy Food For Curly Coated Retrievers:

Best Adult Food For Curly Coated Retrievers:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

It’s very important they remain at their optimal weight throughout their life. Have your vet go over with you exactly where to feel to know when your dog is too big.

How Long Does A Curly Coated Retriever Live?

10-12 years based on information from the AKC

What Health Problems Can Curly Coated Retrievers Have?

I see so many Retrievers in my veterinary practice and unfortunately I see them a lot for a wide range of issues. While Curly Coated Retrievers are not nearly as common as Labradors or Goldens, they can be susceptible to the same health conditions:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • ACL Tears
  • Obesity
  • Bloat

This is a breed that absolutely should have pet insurance at a young age. Check out my overview of pet insurance options here.

Where Can I Find Out More About The Curly Coated Retriever?

Curley Coated Retriever Club of America

AKC Breed Page

Where Can I Find a Curly Coated Retriever?

Although this is one of the oldest Retrievers, it can be challenging to find. The Curly Coated Retriever is not a popular dog breed compared to a Labrador or Golden. Expect lengthy waits to find just the right puppy. Be sure to thoroughly vet the breeder before adopting a puppy, ensuring the breeder is knowledgeable about the breed and has maintained a high standard for puppies.  

Start with the Breeder Directory from the Curly Coated Retriever Club of America.

It may also be possible to find a Curly Coated Retriever from a rescue group. Many people adopt this adorable dog unprepared for the challenging training and exercise regimen. Rescues such as the Curly Rescue and the Curly-Coated Retriever Club of America may be good resources to adopt a dog in need of a home. Not only will you be able to get the purebred dog of your dreams, but you will be able to help give a dog its forever home.  

Fun Facts About the Curly Coated Retriever 

  • The Curly-Coated Retriever is the oldest type of Retriever recognized around the world.  
  • If you adopt a Curly Coated Retriever, expect your dog to act like a puppy for years. Compared to other dogs, this breed can take a long time to mature.  
  • Due to their oily fur, Curlies may not be the best option for people who suffer from allergies. The oily coat tends to make allergic reactions worse in people.  
  • The origin of this breed of dog is unknown, but he may have come from the English Water Spaniel, which is now extinct. There is the possibility that the English Water Spaniel was bred with Poodles to create the Curly Coated Retriever. The first Curly made its appearance in 1860 in England.  
  • The first Curlies appeared in the United States in 1907, and the first registered Curly Coated Retriever was named Knysna Conjurer.