Not documented nearly as well as the other retriever breeds, the majority of the early history and development of the Curly
Coated Retriever is and shall forever remain a matter of speculation. However, like many early breeds whose history has been
lost there is no shortage of theories to explain its existence. One of the few agreed upon facts surrounding the Curley Coated
Retriever is that it is one of the, if not the oldest of all the breeds we now classify as retrievers.
Credited as being an English native, one theory is that the Curly Coated Retriever was originally developed from the sixteenth-century English Water
Spaniel and from the Retrieving Setter. Others believe that the primary progenitor of breed is the Irish Water Spaniel. While
others claim there were actually four or more breeds involved in the creation of the Curly Coated Retriever; the English Water
Spaniel, the St. John’s Newfoundland, the Retrieving Setter, possibly the Tweed Water Spaniel and, in the late 19th
century, the Poodle.
The lack of reliable documentation and
the fact that all of these breeds were all evolving at around the same period of time also leaves open the possibility that
the reverse is in actuality the truth and that the Curly Coated Retriever is instead the progenitor of those other breeds.
Those that embrace this possibility base their belief on the fact that the Curly Coated Retriever is the only breed named
for its curly coat, which they interpret to be an indication that this would make it the first of all the curly-coated breeds.
A point that is bitterly contested by Poodle fanciers who staunchly adhere to the belief that the Poodle came first and assert
that even if there were an outbreeding between the two it would have only been for the purpose of improving the coat and elegance
of the Curly Coated Retriever. While on the other side of the fence, Curly Coated Retriever fanciers; believing it to have
come first contend that even if it happened, an out breeding of the two could have only been for the benefit of the poodle,
in order to improve its stamina and intelligence.
however, a few clues to the origin of the breed that can be found by examining two separate books from the 1800’s. The
first “The Sportsman’s Repository” written in 1820, by author John Scott provides insight into the origin
of what he terms at the time to be a Water Dog. On the origin of the Water Dog it provides the following:
" The annexed plate (referring to an image on the
preceding page in the original work) presents the truest possible representation of the original Water Dog of the opposite
continent being long since adopted in this country, in some of the maritime districts still preserved in a state of purity,
but the breed more generally intermixed with the Water Spaniel and the Newfoundland Dog. The size of this variety is between
the Spaniel and the Pointer. The original and prevailing colour on the Continent is black, with crisp curly hair, black nose,
white face, long black ears, the head and ears covered with black curly hair, the feet and lower parts of the legs white Without
the softness of the Spaniel, this breed, however, retains a great share of his native and peculiar properties, having equal
sagacity of nose, superior activity, and power and aptitude to learn those manoeuvres and tricks which render the dog either
useful or amusing to man. "There is this favourable peculiarity in the sporting dog, it should seem the natural associate
of man, that with some few exceptions he takes an equal interest in the diversions of his master. This quality is most conspicuous
in the Water Dog, which burns with inextinguishable ardour in the pursuit, and which merely for the gratification of swimming
after and bringing to shore a bird that he is neither destined nor desires to taste, will risk his life in the most dangerous
abysses, or carry himself by repetitions of labour and fatigue to the very verge of existence There is one restraint which
it is difficult to impose upon the Water Dog yet sometimes it is a necessary one it is to prevent him fiom that rapid start
in the direction of the game the instant of the report of the gun, which he has watched with the most tremulous anxiety. They
may be indulged generally, but the dog should be also taught to hold back whenever the gunner finds it expedient."
The second book “The Illustrated Book of the Dog” by Vero Shaw, was
written in 1881. Of the many things this book has to say in regards to the Curly Coated Retriever it uses the following to
describe the Curly Coated Retriever as a distinct, but not so popular Retriever breed of the time:
“At present there are two distinct breeds of Retrievers in existence one the flat or wavy
coated, the other curly-coated ; the latter variety is divided by colour into black or liver. The wavy-coated dogs are also
sometimes sandy, or even black-and-tan, but any colour but black is not regarded with favourable eyes by judges or breeders
of the variety. Although there is not a very great amount of difference in structural development between the breeds, it will
be better if we take them separately, and as the Wavies are certainly the greater favourites with the sporting public.”
Shaw also gives his opinion as to the origin of the breed while
commenting on and citing the earlier work by John Scott which he uses to provide a connection between the Water Dog, its origin
and the Curly Coated Retriever by stating:
“There has been
little light thrown upon the origin of the Curly-coated Retriever by writers who have treated of him, though most of them
suggest that there is Irish Water Spaniel blood in his veins. Some, however, who make the assertion, throw doubts upon it
almost in the same breath, and quote the opinion of Mr. McCarthy a great authority on Irish Water Spaniels who emphatically
states that the latter breed will not bear crossing with any other. In spite, however, of the high authority of Mr. McCarthy,
we are of the opinion that the Irish Water Spaniel has had something to do with the origin of the breed in question, and some
of the earlier writers on the dog are decidedly of our opinion. Several of these state certain facts in connection with the
Spaniel which might be read with interest by Retriever breeders, but none throw so much light upon the subject as the editor
of the "Sportsman's Repository," who some sixty years ago held very much the same opinions as we do now. This writer
had the advantage of succeeding Gervase Markham, Sydcnham Edwards, W. Taplin, and other eminent authors, and therefore must
have benefited, in arriving at his judgment, by the views which they expressed."
After citing Scotts work in “The Sportsman’s Repository” on the origin of the Water Dog, Shaw goes on
to state that while:
"The above extract might apply almost
equally to any breed of dog which is used for retrieving game, but is chiefly valuable for the flat contradiction which it
gives to the opinions subsequently pronounced by McCarthy. It certainly does not allude directly to the Irish Water Spaniel,
which was then unknown as he now exists, as the breed which crossed with the Newfoundland to produce the Water Dog, and it
can hardly be surmised that the Irish Water Spaniel was the breed to which he refers as the Water Dog, for the description
which he gives differs so totally from the Irish Water Spaniel. It may, however, be reasonably argued that both breeds the
Curly-coated Retriever and the Irish Water Spaniel are descendants of this Water Dog of John Scott, or that they are both
descended from a breed which sprung from that original source ; and this much we are disposed to concede, though remaining
firm in our first opinion that the Irish Water Spaniel is very largely concerned in the production of the modern Curly-coated
Vero also gives an opinion about the relationship
between the Curly Coated Retriever and the Poodle by providing the following:
"There is, however, another theory which many persons entertain in connection with the Curly-coated Retriever,
and that is to the effect that Poodle blood is largely present in his veins. The latter dog is almost universally used in
certain districts of the Continent by sportsmen in the field, and efforts are being made in many quarters to introduce the
Poodle more generally into sporting circles in this country. The foreign dog alluded to above in John Scott's remark upon
the Water-dog was no doubt concerned in the production of the Poodle, and thus a cross of Poodle in the Curly-coated Retriever
of the present day would only be, in our opinion, a re-introduction of a dash of the old strain."
Unfortunately, for the modern day breed historian; outside of the two books cited
above, the fact that hunters and breeders of the seventeenth and eighteenth century rarely documented their breeding practices
or chose to maintain a studbook. Means that there is precious little information about the people or breeds that were involved
in the development of today's Curly Coated Retriever, to conclusively prove or disprove any of these theories.
Moving into better documented territory, we know that during the mid to latter part
of the 1800’s the breed became somewhat popular for use as a gundog following the Old English Water Spaniel and that
it was first shown in 1860 at Birmingham. Some thirty six years later, in 1896, the first official breed club for the Curly-Coated
Retriever would be officially formed in England. It was also around this time that the breed starting making its way to other
countries around the globe, the first being New Zealand in 1889 and subsequently Australia, followed by the United States
In Australia and New Zealand, the breed has often been
used to retrieve waterfowl as large as a swan. Curly Coated Retrievers have also been utilized by some for hunting the Australian
Kangaroo; a task that requires courage, intelligence, speed and natural hunting ability. The Curly Coated Retrievers found
in New Zealand and Australia today can be traced to back to imported English dogs that were bred with other imported dog to
create native Curly Coated Retrievers. These dogs would then be further bred to other now native Curlies or to additional
imports to further refine the breed. In the 1950's and 1960's, Australian breeders imported Darelyn Aristocrat from England,
along with Sarona Simon, Banworth Simon, Banworth Athene, and Pegasus; dogs that can be found in over three-quarters of modern
Curly Coated Retriever pedigrees. New Zealand breeders of the time also contributed a great deal to the breed as evidenced
by the fact that another popular dog in many of today’s pedigrees is Ch Waitoki Tuhora; a New Zealand import.
The modern day Curly is one of the most popular hunting dogs in the country of New
Zealand where it is revered for its intelligence, superb hunting ability and natural affinity for water. The New Zealand version
of the breed, however, is considerably smaller in size than that of the proper English Curley. This new smaller version has
become a popular duck dog in New Zealand found manly around the Murray River, where they are known as the Murray River Curly
Coated Retriever. Although the River Curlies are, for the most part, unable to be registered with The Kennel Club, the divergence
in type from the original Curly Coated Retriever is significant enough that many hunters and fanciers of the River Curly feel
it should be recognized as a separate breed.
During the first part of the 19th century, as word of the Curly Coated Retriever spread across the Atlantic to North
America, Australia began exporting dogs to the United States and Canada, as well as to other countries like Germany, New Guinea
and New Zealand. As stated earlier the first Curly Coated Retrievers are believed to have reached America in 1907, however,
it would take another 17 years for the American Kennel Club (AKC) to recognize them in 1924. It was during this time that
the breed was slowly gaining some popularity in America as a hunting dog and family pet. That is until the impact of World
War II decimated the breed and nearly brought it to extinction. As evidenced by the fact that between 1941 and 1949 only 16
dogs were registered with the AKC. During the 1950’s, as breeders of all breeds were trying to reestablish their respective
breeds following the war, the Curly Coated Retriever found itself left behind as Labrador Retreivers and Flat Coated Retrievers
largely replaced within the hunting populace. Additionally the majority of the kennels had by this time begun to produce faster
and more stylish retrievers. Other factors that played heavily into the demise of the Curly Coated Retriever in America, were
rumors amongst the hunting populace that the Curly was hard-mouthed (apt to crush the birds it retrieved) and that its curly
coat was very difficult to maintain. Although false on both accounts these rumors led to a disastrous drop in Curly interest
and support that reduced the breed to the point that only two dogs were registered in 1964; painting a very bleak picture
of the breeds future.
That is until Mr. Dale Dettweiler, a man many consider be the savior
of the modern American Curly Coated Retriever imported English Champion Siccawei Black Rod (affectionately called "Limey"
by those who judged him) from England. Limey was not just an outstanding bench specimen but was also an exceptional field
dog that developed quite a loyal following. After Limey, Mr. Dettwelier began importing more Curly Coated Retrievers from
England and Australia, in order to establish his Windpatch Curley Kennel. Windpatch Curlies would subsequently become the
foundation stock for the breed in the United States. As the breed once again began a slow rise in popularity, more and more
dogs were imported and over the course of the next 10 years several well respected lines of Curly Coated Retriever would be
developed by emerging kennels. As a result of this, by the mid 1970’s the breed had, for the most part been successfully
re-established in the United States.
The Curly-Coated Retriever's origin has not been properly documented. Some
believe this particular breed was in England during the late 1700s, acquiring its name from its distinct curly coat.
It is said that the Curly-Coated Retriever is descended from the Old English Water Dog,
the smaller Newfoundland, and the Irish Water Spaniel. The breed's curls were introduced later, after the mix was crossed
with the Poodle, also a water retriever breed.
The Curly-Coated Retriever
earned enormous recognition in England during the mid-1800s. It was first exported to the United States in 1907, and later
exported to New Zealand and Australia. The breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1924.