Challenges of Breeding Curly-Coated Retrievers

breeding curly-coated retrievers

We asked the following questions to various experts involved with the breeding & showing of Curly-Coated Retrievers.

1. Your opinion of the current quality of purebred dogs in general, and your breed in particular.

2. The biggest concern you have about your breed, be it medical, structural, temperament-wise, or what.

3. The biggest problem facing you as a breeder.

4. Advice to a new breeder?

5. Advice to a new judge of your breed?

6. What’s the most common fault you see when traveling around the country?

7. Anything else you’d like to share—something you’ve learned as a breeder, exhibitor or judge or a particular point you’d like to make.

8. And for a bit of humor, what’s the funniest thing that you ever experienced at a dog show?



Iris Andre

I live outside of Sacramento, California. Outside of dogs, I work for a healthcare organization and spend time with family.

Overall, I feel that purebred dogs have improved and, in most part, due to advances in genetic testing, ability to access quality breed specimens across the world, and a high desire to focus on health of purebred dogs. The Curly Coated Retriever has made similar advances and we see this in improved coats, consistent type, and improved adherence to health testing.

I have two concerns: First the mixed dog breeders especially the Labradoodles who have become more popular than our small breed on a story and a song. They sell them as the best of two breeds but when a potential Curly owner meets our breed, the first thing they say is “Kinda like the Labradoodle but the Labradoodle is hypoallergenic?” Slogans for mixed breed to sell puppies and the popular movement away from pure bred dogs is a great concern. Second, overall breeding for proper structure and movement. We are seeing some lines become their own type due to close knit breeding decisions which is moving us away from our true standard.

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is taking the time to understand the pedigrees and potential health and temperament issues that might be present. Being a small club, we are pretty open with issues but as we move outside of our County and when we are adding new breeders, we sometimes miss important historical health and temperament information. Advice to a new breeder: take the time to get more than one person’s opinion and go outside your comfort zone of people to ask questions of longtime breeders.

Advice to a new judge: As always use the standard for judging our breed. Don’t let a lot of similar dogs in the ring make you believe that is the standard. First it is a Sporting Dog, followed by our key qualities: coat, structure/movement, type and temperament.

Our breed is supposed to have a tail that is carried straight or fairly straight and never curled over the back. We have seen an increasing number of dogs with tails curled over
the back. We do not have consistent quality rears and need to continue to work at this.

Curlies are generally shown by their owners and do allow some patience with some novice work in the ring by the handlers. We find our breeders enjoy showing in conformation, hunting, obedience or agility and we don’t hand off our dogs easily. Remember to give them credit in the ring when excellent even though there is not a handler on the end of
the leash.

Curlies are a bit silly and mature late. I recall many a Curly when going around the ring will grab your dress and pull it down or rotate their head under your dress and lift it up for everyone to see. They do it with such ease and a smile on their face.


Sue Davis

I live in Vienna, Ohio and outside of dogs I am a director of admissions at a regional public university. I also enjoy going to amusement parks and traveling.

I think we as a fancy know a lot more about breeding for health, structure, temperament, etc. then in the past. We have been able to improve purebreds as a result. We need to continue research and doing what is best for our specific breeds to insure they continue to thrive well into the future.

I am concerned with the shrinking number of people getting in involved in breeding, showing, etc. Curlies are a rarer breed and we don’t have a lot of younger people getting involved in the breed. We need to encourage and foster young people.

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is finding appropriate Curlies to breed to is sometimes difficult due to the small numbers of dogs available.

New breeders, please mentor with more than one person. Learn as much as you can from a variety of sources and opinions, and don’t be in such a rush to breed. Take your time and learn first. New judges—please become more familiar with the breed standard and also evaluate the structure of the dog along with the coat. It is not always all about the coat, the structure needs to be there too.

The most common fault I see when traveling around the country is Probably lack of good fronts and/or rears.

I have enjoyed very much showing as an owner handler. I would encourage anyone to actively compete as it helped me to become a better handler and showcase the dogs I bred.

The funniest thing that I’ve ever experienced at a dog show? My husband owns a hearse and I once took it to a dog show. You can get a lot of crates and equipment in a hearse, but you sure do get some strange looks!


Kathy Kail

We live in Southern California, not far from Disneyland. Our climate is almost ideal for one of my hobbies, which is working in our gardens as I love flowers! Which leads to another hobby, taking photos of wildflowers that I see during our travels. I love to drive to new show venues and see what I can find in the way of new-to-me wildflowers.

My opinion of the current quality of purebred dogs in general, and my breed in particular: not good. Too much emphasis has been put on presentation and “asking for the win”, and not enough on physical soundness. All of the sporting breeds still have a job, yet we see many BIS and NBISS winners with awful movement, weak rears, poor feet, incorrect coats and soft top lines. Judges in the show ring cannot evaluate whether a dog wants to do field work, but they certainly cannot evaluate if they can! More emphasis needs to be put on the dogs themselves and less on whether they are showy or how perfect their coats look.

The biggest concern I have about my breed: the split between working and show. Like all other breeds, the show dogs are exaggerated—in our case, they are overly big, overly heavy and frequently too short bodied and/or too deep. The lack of balance and moderation means these dogs won’t last long and/or injure easily; many have trouble swimming! And this is only if they actually want to work since so many have little desire to retrieve or work with anyone. They make great pets as they lack drive and are more interested in socializing than anything else, which is very counter the correct Curly temperament or a working retriever.

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is finding worthwhile breeding stock, because of the above issues. Far too few dogs participate in any sports beyond the entry level, so it’s almost impossible to assess any of the needed characteristics of a working retriever. On top of that, due to the “popular sire syndrome” and the ability to ship semen worldwide, we have essentially no lines left without a certain producer of seizures, which is a health issue without a test and that is fairly late onset.

Advice to the new breeder: Slow down! Study the breed, and dogs in general, before you even buy your first breeding stock. Learn about the health issues, if there are tests and how they are inherited. Study pedigrees beyond the first three to four generations; I had one breeder say that there were no dogs of my breeding in his pedigrees, yet there were three dogs of my breeding in the fourth and fifth generations in one of his dogs, and two in another plus more further back. How can someone avoid health and other issues if they don’t know what dogs are in the pedigrees of what they are breeding from? A good breeder not only knows where they want to go with their program, but also where they are coming from. Go see as many dogs as you can, especially those related to ones you own or are interested in buying/breeding to. Attend working tests beyond the entry level, obedience train and title your dogs so you can get a feel for the biddability and drives that are there, or, not there. Learn what physical soundness is and why it is important; never excuse an
ongoing fault.

Advice to the new judge: Soundness and balance are always more important than details of type! I can’t emphasize that enough; unsound dogs with beautiful coats or a to die for head are worthless in the field. Unlike the popular quote, a judge should make his first cut based on soundness and his placements on type, especially in a breed that still has a job. Type is what allows you to tell what breed a dog is, details of type separate good dogs from great dogs if the dog is sound and balanced.

The most common fault I see when traveling around the country is cowhocks mostly, usually in dogs that are over-angulated in the rear. Also lack of angulation in the front, flat feet, wimpy temperaments. Apparently coat patterning—bald patches to the skin—is making a comeback too.

Go watch dogs that are doing the jobs they were bred for. That more than anything else will teach judges and new breeders what is important in a breed as it will show what traits are needed to get the work done, and what faults will impede the dog from doing it.

The funniest thing experienced at a dog show: well, it’s funny now. I was showing a dog in the group for someone else and was focused on making sure he was moving well and at the right speed, to the point that I ran smack into a concrete post and knocked myself out! During the few seconds I was unconscious, I was told that I refused to let go of the dog’s lead; they thought they would have to pry my fingers open. Fortunately I wasn’t out long and not really damaged, and no, the dog didn’t even make the cut!


Megan Mello

I’m an environmental compliance inspector and part-time dog show handler and live in Jacksonville, Florida.

Growing up in the sport I have seen breeds change over time. Some have gone from good to bad and others from bad to good. For curly coats I have noticed that recently breeders are getting back to the breed standard. Curlies are bred to be an all-around dog, not just conformation or field work. It’s exciting when you can see a dog excel in all that it’s bred to do. Like every breed there are health concerns and things that need to be corrected. Luckily, the curly world is working together to hopefully bred out these issues.

I have always said what is great about a Curly is you can shoot a gun off over the top of their head and they don’t flinch. However, if you do not work with a dog on anything that it doesn’t like you are for sure to have a problem on your hands. I for one do not like it when a dog is not approachable towards people. Coming from a handler’s standpoint this is a big issue and should be corrected. With time, patience, and lots of hands on practice the dog should easily be worked out of it.

As a young person in this breed I have only bred one litter. However, quoting from the breed standard, “To work all day a Curly must be balanced and sound, strong and robust, and quick and agile.” Sadly, I am starting to see some dogs that are losing these qualities. When breeding a litter, a breeder should never go with the dogs that are easy to breed to whether its cost, time, or travel. The best dogs always take more effort but bring out the most reward. In a small breed like this the gene pool can be limited but if you do your homework and look further back in the blood line you will find the answers you are looking for. It is not just what the sire and the dam look like. It’s also what the grandparents and great-grandparents looked like too and what they produced in other litters.

Advice to a new judge: When judging this breed always go back to the breed standard if you are unsure of what to look for. Curlies are not like other retrievers, they are tall and should be tall, elegant, and have a sound movement. For a breed that is as a majority of the breed in the field a Curly should drive off its rear and have a solid body. For a judge, look for what you know and never guess on what you don’t know. Don’t ever be afraid to pull a breeder aside and ask more questions, we love talking about our breed.

The most common fault I see right now in the breed is dogs that do not stand true and strong on their rear legs. Maybe it is a pet peeve of mine but it is something that sticks out to me.

I’ve grown up in this breed and will always have one in my house. They truly are the best family dog that is willing to please and work for you. I know sometimes it might be hard for a judge to give a Curly the recognition they deserve being a not so popular breed. Judges don’t be afraid, once you find a good Curly give it the honor it deserves.

My first dog show was a fun match at six or seven years old. My father and I were showing two six month old Curly puppies, one of which was my first show dog and gave me some of the greatest wins ever. Anyways, I was in the front of the line and after all the judging was said and done and the judge was looking to pick the breed winner my father leaned over and said “Now remember who your father is.” Granted at that time he also had the top winning Curly of all times. However, being the smart kid that I am I replied back “Yeah dad, but he’s the judge (with a wink).” The judge laughed, my father laughed, and I won the breed. I think my dad knew at that point he had a handler in the makings.


Mary Kay Morel

I live in Maineville (Cincinnati), Ohio.

Overall, the quality of purebred dogs is high and the quality of Curlies has improved significantly over the past 20 years or so. We are seeing better breed type and coats and much less coat patterning in the ring.

With such a small gene pool, we have to be extremely careful when making breeding choices to avoid the risk of epilepsy. Until we have a reliable genetic test for it that can identify the combination of genes necessary to produce epilepsy, every Curly litter has some risk of the disease. After several generations of clear dogs, you can start to feel “safer,” but epilepsy is can crop up unexpectedly. Since it often does not appear until a dog is between two and six years old, the affected dog might have been bred or its sire and/or dam might have been bred again. It is also becoming increasingly more difficult to find Curlies that are clear for the genetic diseases that we can test for, such as PRA, EIC and GSDiiia. Breeders have to strive for more genetic diversity instead of only using a few popular sires.

I have struggled with infertility in my years as a Curly breeder. The high emotional and financial cost of missed breedings and small litters makes breeding Curlies truly an act of love. My goal has never been to make money, just to breed some fine dogs and hopefully break even. I have succeeded in terms of breeding some really nice Grand Champion and Champions that have also been versatile performance dogs, field dogs, therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, and loving companions. However, I have lost thousands of dollars on each litter.

The price breeders charge for Curly pups has not kept up with the market price for other “rare” breeds of dogs.
Only about 100 Curly pups are produced in the entire United States each year. Some long-time breeders are no longer breeding due to their own age, declining health, and the high financial cost of producing litters. Not enough “new” Curly breeders are stepping up to fill the void. I currently have two really nice three-year-old finished Champion bitches that should be bred sooner versus later. Because I am no longer working, I have to make some hard decisions about when or whether to breed them because of the high financial
cost involved.

The best advice to a new breeder is to learn all you can from the long-time breeders about pedigrees in terms of health issues before you breed, and also not to expect to make any money doing it.

My advice to judges is to really learn the breed standard, study the illustrated standard that is now available, and get their hands on as many good Curlies as they can. Attend the hands-on sessions offered at the CCRCA Nationals and the Michigan Sporting Dog Association Judges Ed seminars each year. Contact one of the sanctioned breed mentors in your area. Curly people are happy to help judges learn. And remember, the curly coat is the hallmark of the breed. Don’t put up patterned dogs.

The most common fault I see when traveling around the country is high hocks and gay tails. Longish ears and bad feet are also pet peeves of mine.

If you see an outstanding Curly in group, give it some recognition, please.

Curlies will always find a way to have fun, and it can be embarrassing. While waiting for my first Curly to be examined in Sporting Group in Indianapolis many years ago, she decided to duck under my calf-length flowing skirt and proceeded do her rendition of a Chinese Dragon dance. My desperate attempts to extricate her while keeping my skirt from being flipped above my waist had the crowd at ringside laughing uproariously. That day taught me to always wear bicycle shorts as well as a slip under my skirt. Another time, the same Curly’s collar unsnapped from my show lead during the exam in Group and play bowed and whirled around several times playing “catch me” before I could grab her. Needless to say, we did not place in group in either instance.


Leslie Puppo

I’m originally from California, now live in North Carolina.

I think that the quality of our breed has improved since I started in 1986. We have better coat and better breed type.

My biggest concern for the breed is the fact that we have new people in the breed that do not want to learn from breeders who have been in the breed for years and have a wealth of knowledge. People who are breeding litters without having a good grasp of the breed standard. We are a small breed and it is not difficult to finish a championship on a Curly. Just because you can put a conformation title on a dog does not mean it should be bred. My other concern is that we don’t have breeders that are keeping more than a few dogs and are not growing several puppies up from a litter to make sure the best is retained and used in the breeding program. I feel this is a problem in other breeds as well. It is difficult for most people to keep numerous dogs. In the past I have partnered with other breeders and shared breeding stock so that one person did not need to keep as many dogs.

I think overall our breed is very healthy compared to other retriever breeds. Personally I feel that GSD and EIC are not big issues for our breed, especially since there are tests available and feel that some people are ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ when excluding dogs that are carriers or affected from a breeding program.

The biggest problem as a breeder is finding stud dogs.

Advice to a new breeder. Take is slow, talk to the ‘oldtimers’ and listen to what they have to say, learn from their experience. See as many dogs as you can before you decide to breed a litter. Go to nationals, ask people if you can go over their dogs

Advice to a new judge. Don’t get stuck on one thing, look at the entire package. Understand what makes a Curly different from the other retrievers. Please don’t take a handler’s word for what is correct or not correct, talk to breeders.

Most common fault, right now we have a real issue with rears, long hocks and cow hocks, and tail carriage. It seems that we have improved our fronts, but the rears have suffered.


Scott Shifflett

I live in Maryland. Outside of my dogs, I ride horses, and enjoy cooking and visiting with friends.

The quality of purebred dogs overall is in good shape. Interesting to see new breeds being accepted into the AKC and learning about them. Every show/event provides an opportunity to learn.

Overall the Curly-Coated Retriever Breed is in good shape. Overall the breeders are doing a good job of preserving the breed and being true to the breed standard. The Curly-Coated Retriever Club of America (CCRCA) provides their members and breeders of current health concerns/risks in our breed. I believe over the last 10 years the quality of the CCR has improved. However, we cannot be complacent. We must be vigilant in breeding and watchful of any lingering issues. As a breeder of CCRs, we strive to ensure that this breed maintains the suitability of hunting and conformation in one dog. I would not want to see the CCR split for field or conformation like some Breeds. Without good structure, I don’t believe you will have a dog that Can Hunt all day. We want to keep form and function as one.

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is the CCR gene pool is extremely small. This often times makes it challenging to find suitable mates. One of the biggest problems that I and others have faced recently is getting the bitch pregnant and /or carrying a litter to full term. Some of this may be overcome by working closely with a reproductive veterinarian. My biggest concern is that breeders are not always mindful of issues whether it be health, structure or temperament in the lines that one is breeding. A better in-depth understanding of pedigrees is needed. One should seek out advice from other breeders and ask questions.

The CCR has a small gene pool. One should be mindful and knowledgeable about issues in a line and strive to improve what you are breeding. New breeders and even experienced breeders should seek a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask questions. I also believe people have a tendency to want to breed to “the flavor of the month”. In my opinion this isn’t a good practice. Be subjective and be honest with yourself when looking to breed a litter. A litter is a breeder’s responsibility from the day they are born until the day they leave this earth.

A big issue that we are facing are dogs with weak rears.

It is unfortunate but often times judges will go for quite a long time before seeing a CCR. Judges who are new to judging CCRs or just haven’t seen one for a while should review the breed standard. The CCRCA now has an Illustrated Breed Standard, which judges should request. Judges need to remember that the tight crisp curl of the coat is in fact the Hallmark of the Breed. Patterning on the throat and hind legs should be considered a major fault. Also, the Curly Coat is considered the tallest of the retrievers.

Breeders need to research the pedigrees and use as many sources as possible to research the pedigree to gain a better understanding of potential health issues, temperament issues or structure. A new breeder needs to seek out a mentor. Breeders need to understand what they are producing. Take your time and evaluate your litters as they progress through the life cycles. For me as a breeder, I am striving to improve my breeding stock by concentrating on health, temperament and structure according to the CCR breed standard. It is also important to attend the National Specialty to see dogs that are not in your area. We all need to develop and improve our network. Listen to people who have been in the breed for a long time.


Ann Shinkle

I live in Florida.

I believe that our Curlies have progressed well when it concerns the quality of coats, improvement of temperament (very few shy Curlies have I seen lately); working ability in all activities that AKC offers now, as well as many other subjects. However, I do wish to stress that we have gone downhill fast with tail carriage (some tails are now carried at a 90 degree angle). The tail set, as it comes off the rear end, on the whole, is fairly normal in most Curlies BUT not the carriage. l believe that it was 19 years ago that a well known Curly breeder and judge from England pointed this out to all of us when she judged Curly Sweepstakes at our Specialty that year. Unfortunately, some of us have not followed this very worthwhile advice. The whole outline of the Curly is not as it should be when that tail is curled over the back of up in air.


Bob Thompson

I live on ten acres in Spring Grove, Illinois. Outside of dogs, I travel and spend time with my grandkids.

Most breeds are doing fine. The most disappointing breeds are those where the working breed and the show breed have separated in structure and substance or where breeding to a judge’s standard has resulted in dogs that can no longer perform as intended. Luckily that is not terribly widespread.

There has been only rare divergence between show dogs and true breed standard dogs in the Curly-Coated Retriever world. That is due in part to the diligence of most breeders and to the rarity of the breed.

Biggest concern is they will be “Doodled”. There was a recent sale to a “fill in the blank” doodle breeder. That is
very concerning.

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is finding the best homes.

My advice to a new breeder is to seek advice from
current breeders.

Advice to a new judge: please, please, please read the standard for our breed.

Please recognize that most of our dogs are not shown by professional handlers. Please be sure you reward the dog/bitch on their own merits.

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