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Eva Maria Kramer, Animal Photography
The Curly has a lot going for him: personality, trainability, and an unusual but easy-care coat. Gentle and charming with his family, the Curly is more protective than some other retrievers. He loves his own people but can be reserved around strangers.
You might mistake the Curly-Coated Retriever for a Labradoodle, but he’s a distinct breed, created in the18th century by crossing now-extinct Old English Water Dogs, Irish Water Spaniels and small Newfoundlands. And yes, there’s some Poodle in the mix, too.
The Curly-Coated Retriever 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.
The Curly may be uncommon, but he has a dedicated band of followers who prize him for his intelligence, trainability, multiple abilities, sense of humor and, of course, that unusual appearance. He’s not the breed for everyone, but if you can appreciate his constantly thinking brain, you will find him to be a loving, talented and entertaining companion.
A typical retriever, he enjoys activity, although he requires somewhat less exercise than, say, a Lab or a Flat Coat. 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.
The Curly, as he’s known for short, was developed in the eighteenth century and is one of the oldest of the retrieving breeds. Bred to be a gamekeeper’s dog and used to hunt upland game birds such as pheasant, quail and grouse and retrieve waterfowl, the Curly was also popular with the nomadic Rom, who found him to be an excellent poaching companion.
The breed’s origins are unclear, but dogs that may have figured in his ancestry include the water spaniel that was found in England in the sixteenth century, the St. John’s Newfoundland (also the ancestor of the Labrador Retriever), the Wetterhound, a European water retriever, and the Irish Water Spaniel. It’s also speculated that the Poodle contributed to his development at some point, but that curly coat could also have come from the Irish Water Spaniel or the Wetterhound.
Curlies had made their way to the United States by the time of the Civil War, but they remained a rarity and are still so today. The Curly Coated Retriever Club of America was chartered in 1979 and has a working certificate program to encourage development of the natural retrieving abilities of this wickedly smart all-rounder. The Curly Coat ranks 146th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club.
Curlies become strongly attached to their families and want to do everything with them. Choose this breed if you will enjoy having a shadow who follows you throughout the day.
Children and Curlies make an excellent team. From a Curly point of view, what could be better? Kids play with them and they drop food a lot. Just be aware that a rambunctious young Curly may inadvertently knock over a toddler. It’s important to supervise any interactions with very young children.
The breed standard says the Curly can be aloof, and it’s possible, but plenty of them can be found trying to crawl into the laps of people they’ve just met. It’s when they are on their home turf that they are most likely to be wary of strangers or people who aren’t family members.
Curlies are energetic, but they can adjust their activity level to each day’s goings-on. They’ll enjoy chasing a ball or bumper in the yard every day after you come home from work, but if you skip a night, a Curly won’t drive you nuts the way another retriever breed might.
If you want to hang out in the house, a Curly will hang out with you. If you want to go outside and hike and swim and hunt, a Curly is always up for that.
They get along well with other pets if they are raised with them. Curlies have successfully lived with cats, horses, chickens, turtles, rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and small birds. The more animals the dogs are exposed to, the less they are bothered by any new additions. A Curly may differentiate between “his” cats and stray cats, however.
So far, the Curly might sound like an easy keeper, but don’t be fooled. He’s not suited to a first-time dog owner. The Curly is a different sort of retriever and not just because of his coat. He’s just as smart and hard-working as, say, a Lab, but he’s more of an independent thinker. The soft-tempered but stubborn dog’s working style and motto could be said to be “I know what’s best.” Working with that attitude requires planning and patience -- lots of it.
Curlies mature slowly. Unlike Labs, who may go out hunting their first year, Curlies are often not found in the field until they are two or three years old. That prolonged adolescence calls for an early foundation in obedience -- before the “teenage” phase hits when they are about nine months old -- and a lot of patience to outwait the mischief-making period.
To lay the foundation for a strong relationship, training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Until then, be prepared to live with the proverbial bull in a china shop, a dog who will knock things over, run into you, and display quickness, stealth and creativity in the pursuit of entertainment. If you think something might be damaged by your Curly or, conversely, be dangerous to him, it probably will be. As much as possible, take that object or situation out of the equation.
While Curlies don’t mean to cause trouble, they are a busy and challenging breed. If you don’t show leadership, the Curly will take it for himself. He doesn’t mean to make trouble, but whenever possible he’d like to decide how things are going to be done, and he will test you to see what he can get away with.
Nonetheless, Curlies are highly trainable given a gentle approach and positive reinforcement methods. They learn best when taught by someone who has a playful, happy attitude. Like all dogs, Curlies can become destructive and noisy if left to their own devices, but a stern tone of voice is usually enough to stop unwanted behavior such as barking, digging or carrying around a squawking cockatiel.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Curly, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All 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.
The Curly is generally healthy, but the breed has a small gene pool and can be affected by certain health problems. They include eye problems such as entropion and ectropion, cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy. They can also be prone to a type of glycogen storage disease that can lead to weakness, stiffness, exercise intolerance and difficulty swallowing.
Curly breeders can register their dogs with the Canine Health Information Center if they have undergone an OFA or PennHIP evaluation, an OFA cardiac evaluation performed by a veterinary cardiologist, and a Canine Eye Registry Foundation exam, which must be performed every two years until the dog is eight years old. Optional tests are an OFA evaluation for elbow dysplasia and an exam for glycogen storage disease.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Curly at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Curly coat of small, tight, crisp curls has little odor and is easy to care for. Comb or brush it out before bathing with an undercoat rake or a slicker brush and comb. Don’t worry that brushing will take the curl out of the coat.
Depending on how dirty a Curly gets, a bath is necessary only every month or two. Most Curly coats dry quickly, sometimes in as little as ten minutes. Don’t blow dry a Curly unless you want him to look like a chia pet.
The only other grooming is a little trimming to neaten any straggly hairs, a bushy tail, or excessive feathering on the backs of the legs and behind the ears. Some Curlies have tufts of fur between their toes, giving the feet the appearance of fluffy houseslippers. These tufts are usually trimmed for the show ring, but can be left alone if you like the look.
Curlies don’t shed much, but they do shed. If your Curly spends time in the house, you will find hair on the furniture or floor. The coat usually sheds a small amount year-round, with a heavier shed twice a year.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Keep the ears clean and dry to prevent ear infections. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder 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 is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Curly and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Curly-Coated Retriever Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to a code of ethics like that of the Northern California Curly Coated Retriever Club, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Curly puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. Expect to pay in the range of $800 to $2,000 for a puppy who has been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, field titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Curly might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Curly in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Curlies available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Curly. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Curlys love all Curlys. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Curly-Coated Retriever Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Curly rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Curly home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Curly, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Curly to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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