Curly-Coated Retrievers

You might mistake the Curly-Coated Retriever for a Labradoodle, but he’d be offended if you did. He’s a distinct breed and has been around since the late 18th century, probably created by crossing now-extinct Old English Water Dogs, Irish Water Spaniels and small Newfoundlands, with, yes, some Poodle added later. The result was a black or liver-colored retriever with tight curls on his body and a zest for water retrieving. The Curly-Coat is a fun and interesting dog, no doubt about it. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering bringing one into your home.

Is the Curly-Coated Retriever the Right Dog for You?

The Curly has a lot going for him: personality, trainability and an unusual but easy-care coat. He’s smart, responsive and active. Gentle and charming with his family, the Curly is more protective than some other retrievers, making him an excellent watchdog. He loves his own people but is reserved around strangers.

Like any retriever, he’s tireless and needs lots of exercise. Channel his energy into dog sports such as agility, flyball and flying disc games, or teach him to pull you or your kid on skates or a skateboard. He’ll also do well in competitive obedience. The Curly is slow to mature, however, so it can take time for training to stick. Be patient, and use positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise and food rewards. When the motivation is there, the Curly learns quickly and easily.

Like most dogs, Curly-Coats become bored when left to their own devices. They can easily become noisy or destructive if they don’t have other dogs to keep them company and don’t receive much attention from their people. But when the Curly lives with a family who is willing to spend plenty of time training and exercising him, he thrives.

You might think that the Curly’s coat requires a lot of grooming, but it’s actually pretty easy to care for. Brushing loosens the curls, so grooming is limited to occasional combing. In addition, trim the nails as needed, clean and trim the foot pads, and keep the ears clean to prevent infections.

Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the Curly-Coat needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Curly who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.

6 Tips to Bringing Home a Healthy Curly-Coated Retriever Puppy

  1. Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You’re more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
  2. Find a good breeder who will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. Start your search for a good breeder with the Curly-Coated Retriever Club of America, and choose one who is committed to following the CCRCA’s breeders list requirements.
  3. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
  4. Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Curly-Coats aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. In addition, Curly-Coats can live 8 to 12 years, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.
  5. Puppy or adult, take your Curly to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
  6. Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Health Issues Common to Curly-Coated Retrievers

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Curly-Coats have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip dysplasia, eye problems such as cataracts and distichiasis, and pattern baldness.

Ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have hip scores of Excellent, Good or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or a PennHIP evaluation and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy.

The Curly-Coated Retriever Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Curly to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA certification or a PennHIP score for hips, eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation and an OFA cardiac clearance. Optional tests are an OFA elbow evaluation and a glycogen storage disease test. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia
Low $1,500-$6,000
Follicular Dysplasia High $200-$500
Estimates based on claims paid by Embrace Pet Insurance


Pet Insurance for Curly-Coated Retrievers

Pet insurance for Curly-Coated Retrievers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Curly-Coated Retrievers are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Curly-Coated Retrievers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Curly-Coated Retriever is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.