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Grooming a Curly Coated Retriever

From Ms Viki Knowles, Blazeaway Kennels, Australia,

Originally published in the Curly Commentator


Scissors - sharp round tipped
Steel comb
Nail Clippers
Stripping knife
Shampoo - Preferably liquid and for black curlies, special shampoo for black poodles. Leave lanolin in the coat and produce excellent results.
Coat Tonics or coat oils
Leads - Quite a variety available and these need to suit your dog. I prefer black for black curlies and brown for liver curlies so the outline of the dog isn't broken.


Diet, exercise, and outdoor life play important roles in producing healthy dogs, with thick healthy coats. If dogs tend to be frizzy a couple of swims in the sea or river do wonders as does a run in the rain. Diet can help improve a normally dry coat by supplements such as linseed oil, safflower oil. an egg or two a week, comme conditioning tablets or meat with higher fat content than lean beef. Don’t expect to raise your future champion on canned food, in a concrete floored (or dirt floored for that matter) pen. I'll tell you now you're wasting your time. On the other hand, if you are achieving desirable results on the diet you feed now - don't meddle.

Some curlies shed coat more severely than others. I've seen some go almost bald, while others coat changes are barely noticeable. When your curly does shed coat, then and only then you may need to take a comb or brush to it to remove the dead hair. A few weeks before showing it may pay to massage a little baby oil or linseed oil into the coat to restore luster and condition. Once a week should be sufficient, or before a swim.

Some curlies have a more open coat than others which is quite probably hereditary and little improvement can be made. I find curlies kenneled outdoors and swum in all seasons have a definite advantage over those that live in the comfort of central heating, the same as I find curlies kenneled outdoors and swum in all seasons are better specimens coat wise than those bred in warm tropical climates. Of course one always finds the exception.

I have read that poor coats can be improved by completely stripping it out and starting from scratch. I've never resorted to this so I can't comment 'for' or 'against'.


Length of nails varies from dog to dog. Some curlies nails never require attention while others need regular attention and again I suggest you only trim nails when your dog needs it. Never take too much at any one time as you can easily cut the quick and this is quite painful and produces in the future a dog that resents the very sight of nail clippers. Plenty of exercise on hard surfaces should eliminate the need to clip nails.


Right diet, raw bones and hard dog biscuits will keep teeth white and gums healthy. Stained teeth and poor gums usually reflect on diet, which will show itself on more than teeth.


Curlies rarely require bathing, unless living indoors and leading outdoor lives as well. Frequent bathing deprives the coat of natural oils. I try to bath my dogs 4 to 5 days before a show, using a liquid shampoo as mentioned in the beginning. If close to the sea, very little can equal a swim in salt water just prior to the show to wash out the dirt and grit and harden the coat. The trick is making sure he doesn't roll in the sand before you get him home. However, if you can't get to the beach shampooing is often necessary. DON'T rub you dog dry. Put him on a lead and let him shale most of the water off and then if necessary, and you don't have the energy to take a 1 or 2 mile walk, place a towel over his coat and pat it down hard to flatten curl and absorb the moisture. Every day until the show I gently massage the coat in a circular motion with a wet hand or dampen the coat down with water and slap it in. Once again, shower of rain does wonders. On the morning of the show a light coat of oil rubbed onto the hand and massaged into the coat brings up a shine. Never overdo this or you'll produce an oily greasy coat that looks terrible. I prefer to spray the coat with water 10 minute before judging to lift off the dust and show off the curl. Again don't overdo it, a fine mist is all that is needed.


Very little is required but I'll begin with the head. The ears should be trimmed to a neat outline, removing all hair protruding beyond the "leathers". The curls on the ears will become much curlier if kept short. Remove all the bulky curls and hair under the ears so they lie close to the head.

The line on top the skull can be tidied up by trimming and accentuating a neat line where the smooth hair begins. Some dogs lack a nice even line, even show a tendency to a 'top knot', which is quite undesirable. Use of a stripping knife will help to exaggerate the line and smooth the skull coat to give the desired effect.

In some dogs, especially puppies, you may need to tidy up uneven curls to give a smooth topline in profile.

Tail curls should be short and close and the tail tapers to a point. It is not a 'rat tail' and should not be shaved free of curl as it unbalances the dog's appearance. Remove all underside curls and they gently fray out the curls and along the tail and trim to a clean sharp line, working towards the hindquarters.

Hindquarters should be trimmed to a neat line, removing any signs of shagginess.

Elbows and forelegs - remove the tufts on the elbows. Some curlies grow little or no feathering on the rear of their forelegs so they need no attention. Others grow up to an inch of coat so comb this hair out and trim it to a neat line. You can make good use of this coat to improve the appearance of bone, so don’t cut it flush unless your curly is heavy in bone. Some curlies develop worn spots on the elbows. A little Vaseline will darken them and also help the hair grow by keeping them soft.

Remove the hair between the toes. Trim nails short. A nice clean foot is desired. Trim clean and close on the pasterns to make the dog show himself to be up on his pads. From the hock to the paw, remove any feathering so you have a smooth close covering and a clean outline.

Underline - Remove any shagginess. Some curlies grow profuse coat here while others have a "smooth underline". Comb coat down and trim to an even line.

Throat and neck - Remove shagginess to give a clean outline. Stop at the brisket.


Keeping up the Curly coat for every day or hunting use is fairly simple: comb or brush the coat when the dog is shedding, usually twice a year, in spring and fall, or anytime they are shedding or blowing coat. Bathe him at that time as well. A clean dog is a healthy, happy dog and the Curly-Coated Retriever benefits from frequent baths, at least three times a year. And from combing or brushing when he is heavily shedding.

A show dog requires additional grooming, in the form of scissoring off excess hair from ears, front and rear legs, tail, etc. This can be quite an extensive project for Curlies who have not been groomed before. Grooming this way is a choice of the dog's owner; the Curly-Coated Retriever standard does not require this grooming for any Curly shown in a conformation ring although it might be difficult to win in the show ring if your Curly is not groomed at all.

Many breeders never brush their dogs. Some use a pin brush just before bathing to loosen dead hair. Flea combs are not generally recommended as they will strip out much of the coat, and you will find it hard to get a flea comb thrugh a good coat. A curly coat benefits from frequent swimming and outdoor exposure. The coat is frequently oily, which can be a problem for some allergy sufferers.

From Curly-Coated Retriever, a Complete and Reliable handbook.
By Gary and Mary Meek. TFH Publications Inc.

Grooming Your Curly-Coated Retriever

The Curly’s coat is truly wash and wear. The hair on a correctly coated Curly will not grow longer than a couple of inches, and the curls will continue to wind around as a ram’s horn does. A dog with looser curls will look shaggier if left ungroomed. Even so, his coat will only get so long. It will seem longer, however, because as the curl grows out it tends to loosen instead of getting tighter.

The Curly’s coat should never be brushed or combed. This tends to stretch and frizz the coat. Because this is a single-coated breed, the Curly does not shed heavily year round, but he does regularly shed some as a natural growth process of hair. Spring is the time that all Curlies shed heavily and intact bitches shed after each season.

Regular bathing will help keep normal coat drop under control and your Curly companion smelling and feeling good. People with allergies should keep their Curly clean, as dust and pollens trapped in the coat are the very things to which their owners are sensitive. Curlies that are only bathed a few times a year tend to feel oily as the coat gets dirty, and dad hair and dirt accumulate in the coat.

A normal bathing routine would include the following: running through the coat with an undercoat rake before the bath; bathing with a pet shampoo and working the shampoo into the coat using a massaging action with your fingers to help loosen and bring the dead coat to the surface; a thorough rinsing and pat down with a towel; and a good shake or two by the dog and off to drip dry.

Curlies that are shown in conformation are trimmed to neaten up the dog’s outline. The excess hair on the back of the front and rear legs, between the toes, over the shoulders and the underside of the neck, chest, and stomach should be trimmed down. Unruly curls sticking out on the body may be nipped back to be even with the rest of the body coat. The flagging on the tail is trimmed off, leaving the tail an even length all over with a slight taper to the end. The ears can get quite shaggy as the curl is usually looser and should be shortened all over, and the edges of the ear trimmed even with the ear leathers. The overall length of the body coat should not be trimmed down. A more open-coated Curly will generally look neater and a bit curlier if the body coat is trimmed shorter a few times a year.

Most hunters do not bathe their curlies during hunting season so that the dead hair accumulation remains in the coat for more protection in the field. It is said that a well-coated curly can be hunted and shown at the same time, and the lack of dead coat does not hinder the dogs in the field. If you want to clean your companion during hunting season, do so.

Nails should be trimmed on a regular basis because the quick, or vein in the nail, grows as fast as the nail on most Curlies. If left untrimmed for even a few weeks, the nails will have grown too long and will be difficult to trim back to where they belong. A dog with nice, tight feet will need less attention to nail trimming. It is important to trim your puppy’s nails regularly from the very beginning, as most Curlies don’t particularly like having it done and should get used to the process from a very young age.

Ears should be wiped out with an ear cleaner or alcohol on a cotton ball regularly to keep excess was under control. If your dog is swimming a lot, and especially during hunting season, the ears should be cleaned on a daily basis.

Just a reminder to hunters: All dogs should be checked for debris in the coat and ears after each hunt, and you should also check for cuts or abrasions on the body, ears, and feet so that they can be treated immediately Curlies do not tend to fuss over minor injuries, so be vigilant and catch them before they can get infected or affect your dog’s ability to hunt on another day.

Grooming the Curly-Coated Retriever

Show trim

Trims done a week ahead may be done with a #7 and #4 clipper blade or with regular shears. On the day of the show, use thinning shears or a razor dresser such as a "Duplex" or a cutting stripper such as a "Pedigree".

Head: Trim hair short under the ears (#7 Blade) so ears will lie flat to the head. Take down the hair on the ears to ½ - ¾ inch and trim close all around the edges. The object is to make the ears look small and tight to the head. Remove the whiskers. Neaten the line of curls across the top of the head. The line should be straight or a natural arc, not forming a point.

Neck: If your dog has a neck that is a little short of heavy, shorten the coat in the same pattern as setters. No shaving. The coat should still be curly – take off no more than half the original length.

Topline: If your dog’s topline is not fairly level, comb or Afro pick the hair straight up. Scissor the line you want, then wet to reset the curl.

Tail: Take any tuft off end. Taper the hair from full length at the body to very short at the end of the tail. The object is to make the tail look as short and tapered as possible. Be careful that you do not emphasize a low tail set by trimming too much off the top of the base of the tail. You can help disguise a low tail set by lifting the curls at the top base of the tail with an Afro pick.

Front Legs: Clean hair off the rear of the pasterns and the bottoms of the feet. Trim enough around the pads to eliminate any "fuzzy feet" look. Make sure the nails are short. Remove any hair that looks like feathering from the rear of the legs. Do this with the #4 blade or scissors to about 3/8 – ½ inch. Be sure to remove any tufts of hair from the elbows. Disguise elbow calluses with oil or chalk and resolve to get rid of them.

Rear Legs: Clean from the hocks down and do the feet same as the front. Remove any heavy breeching or feathering. If the dog is a little weak in the rear, or does not have the angulation you like, you can comb the hair up and do some "Sculpture work" as on the top-line.

General: Barrel sides or heavy shouldered dogs can have their looks improved by judicious use of the thinning schears. For expert instruction, contact any setter or spaniel hander. High set ears should be trimmed closely across the top, but don’t let bare skin show.

Overall: Take off anything that sticks out where you don’t like it. Hollow spots can be filled in by teasing the hair or by the use of liquid chalk painted in and well brushed out before ring time.

Teeth should be kept scaled. "Taxi-Vet" will help dissolve deposits on the teeth. An abrasive such as smokers toothpaste will help remove stains and give a high polish.

Eyes: Make sure they are clan at ringside. Drops can make the eyes look clearer or brighter temporarily.

Bathing: Comb through the coat to be sure there are no mats, especially behind the ears and between the hind legs. Use a shampoo that does not soften the coat, such as those for terriers or poodles. No cream rinse. Pat with a towel or let the dog shake and drip-dry. Never brush or blow dry -–or your curly will look like a poodle.

Coat Dressing: Bathe several days before the show to allow the coat time to settle. If you feel the coat needs dressing, try any of the following.

  1. A can of beer in a bucket of warm water. Sponge it into the coat. Make sure it is dry by ring time.
  2. ½ oz. Of glycerin in a spray bottle of water. Spray on and work into the coat with your fingers about half an hour before showing.
  3. Plain water sprayed on the coat to be just barely dry by show time.

From The Curly Coated Retriever

By Audrey Nicholls; Darelyn Curly Coated Retrievers

Trimming and Coat Preparation

Equipment: - Sharp scissors, thinning scissors, sponge, wide toothed comb.

The correct coated dog requires very little preparation, a light trim about once a month is sufficient to keep him in perfect shape, but many curlies need weekly preparation for show purposes.

Before moving onto descriptions of the necessary tasks in preparing your dog for the show ring it may be interesting to read a couple of quotations from almost ninety years ago.

One from the early twentieth century about the preparation of the curly coated retriever’s coat states "The use of curling irons continues…… the exuberance of superfluous curly showing off the offending ringlets. It is therefore very advisable for intending purchasers unless they know a vendor to be above such practices to examine a dog of this description thoroughly before they conclude a purchase or possible disappointment may be in store for them".

Then, L.P.C.Astley, writing in 1907 likened the curly’s coat to the close fitting tightly curled beautiful head of hair on the African people opining that this was the only "true and proper one …. Of which every knot is solid and inseperable. A coat of this quality is not capable of improvement by any methods of grooming for the simple reason that its natural condition is itself perfect. The little locks should be so close together as to be impervious to water and all parts of the body should be evenly covered with them, including the tail and legs. A bad class of coat and one that readily yealds to the faker’s art is the thin open coat, which by careful manipulation can be greatly improved!"


Trim along the edge of the leather to give a neat outline. Cut the curls on the ears to make them short, especially the ones on the top of the ears, but not so short as to lose the curl.


Trim the hair from underneath the ear towards the throat. This must be done at least a fortnight before a show so that the cut edge does not cause the dog to "Fly his ears". Some dogs do not have the desired flat hair on the top of the skull – a tendency for a top knot. If there are waves or curles here, trim them back with thinning scissors. Trim the curls to give a smooth line to the top of the head

Throat and Neck

Curlies do have a tendency to grow very long hair in this area. Just cut back to give a neat outline down the brisket.


Trim hair round elbow. Trim curls on the back of the legs to give a neat outline. Don’t cut too close unless you have a heavy boned dog.


Cut hair close to the skin to make a neat foot


Trim curls to give a neat outline but do not cut too short


Trim any long hair on legs. Cut hair on hocks very short. Some dogs do not grow surplus hair here.


Cut hair on underside of the tail fairly short. Trim curls on the rest of the tail but not too short – starting with the root and working toward the tip. Trim round the tip but not too close as this is the place that is often caught by wagging against sharp objects. The tail should be wide at the root and certainly not a "rat-tail".


Some curlies may grow hair between the toes – if they do, pull the hair upwards and cut downwards towards the nails. Push remaining hair back between the toes.

Show Preparation

I have heard of many different "secret" preparations that have been used on the coat – glycerin and Jeyes fluid, to name just two, but plain water, preferable rain water, is quite adequate.

If you are in a position that the dog can swim then this is the ideal way of wetting the coat. To keep in perfect show condition the coat needs to be thoroughly wet once a day. If the facilities for swimming are not available really soak the coat with water, with the aid of a sponge. After the dog has shaken the surplus water away, use the fingers to massage the coat in small circular movements – getting right down to the skin. All of the body, including the tail and the backs of the legs need this treatment. This will get rid of any dead hair. Pat the coat down with the flat of the hand. Any coat that is shaggy needs to be trimmed off. For a pet dog the above treatment can be done fortnightly.

A male often casts his coat once a year – a bitch after each season or false season. The easiest way to get rid of dead hair is to comb the coat out. Use a wide toothed comb (Not steel). Comb in small sections back towards the head. This is an ideal time to wash the coat with a good medicated shampoo. You can also comb out any dead coat while the shampoo is in the coat. Rinse the coat well. The Curly’s coat should be dull, but if you have a dog with a very dry coat, it will benefit from being soaked in coconut oil periodically. This treatment is particularly useful for the liver colored variety.

I need a trim!

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About the Book

Follow a litter of puppies from birthday until they go to their new homes. The diary contains lots of pictures, tips on puppy rearing, some breed specific information, and lots of information on the care of any breed of dog.

I started doing an on-line puppy diary since many of the people that would be getting one of my pups would not be able to travel here to see the pups. I did not want to put a bunch of cute puppy pictures online, and encourage anyone to have a litter just because they wanted to see cute puppies! Breeding dogs, if done the right way, is a lot of work. Lost sleep and sometimes heartache. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to raise a litter of puppies. Once I started doing The Puppy Diary, I realized I had a captive audience. These people logged on every day to see the pictures, and read what was happening. I used this opportunity to cram as much education into each day as I could. Health, Coat issues, grooming, feeding, socializing, vet care, puppy evaluations, shipping puppies.... you name it! I tried to put it in The Diary. It was suggested that I make it into a book. Well here it is! There are 560 pictures and over 300 pages of living with and watching one litter grow up.

I am sure may conscientious, caring breeders raise litters similar to the way I do. Its is a good look into the time, money, commitment it takes to bring up a litter of pups. Some of the things that go on behind the scenes, that the eventual puppies owners (family), never realize go into the litter. Enjoy my litter as I see them. Day to day


Chapter One (Week One) ... Page 1

Seger comes into season
Happy Birthday!
Removing the Dewclaws
Start of the Bio Sensor program

Chapter Two (Week Two) ... Page 48
Coat issues.
Tail Gland Hyperplasia
Do Curlies Shed?

Chapter Three (Week Three) ... Page 94
End of Bio Sensor Exercises
Worming The puppies
Eyes are open
First pup escapes from the box

Chapter Four (Week Four) ... Page 130
Weaning. The great food fight!
Introduction to the puppy play room
Shark Cage

Chapter Five (Week Five) ... Page 156
Field dog? Show Dog? CPE?
Happy Mothers Day!
First Stacked pictures

Chapter Six (Week Six) ... Page 195
Toys! Toys! Toys!
What’s In A Name?
Kids and Dogs
Introduction to Wings

Chapter Seven (Week Seven) ... Page 236
About Puppies and Retrieving
Socialize your puppy
First Shots & Vet Visit
Splish Splash, first bath!

Chapter Eight (Week Eight) ... Page 286
Shape up or ship out!
Requirements to ship puppies
See all the pups!

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Coat Care

Trimming the ears

Trimming the tail

Trimming the legs

Bad hair day!

Breeding: What We're Taught

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