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The Curly-Coated Retriever… A Spaniel in Sheep’s Clothing?

By Sarah Shull, DVM

Photos courtesy of  The Curly-Coated Retriever Club of America

Just like a kid at Chuck E Cheese’s, if you asked our Curly-Coated Retrievers where they wanted to spend their birthdays, they would answer in a field in South Dakota hunting for pheasants.  The breed has a deep rooted passion for upland hunting.  They are naturals.

Upland hunting is typically a walking field hunt in pursuit of birds such as partridge, pheasant and quail.  The birds are found in thick cover and the dogs must rely on their noses to locate them and then their eyes to follow their flight for the retrieve.  Oftentimes, a hunt may include many hours covering ground with changes of terrain and conditions so the dogs must be of balanced structure with appropriate lung capacity to perform.

The Curly-Coated Retriever is a flushing dog which means their job is to bust into the cover to put the bird into flight.  After the bird is in the air, the gunner will shoot the bird and the dog will mark the fall (visually follow the bird) and retrieve the bird back to the handler.  Various degrees of steadiness through training can be accomplished and will depend on typical hunting conditions and preferences of handler.

The use of a gun dog in upland hunting is both for the pleasure of dog and handler and for the preservation of game.  Successful retrieves can be made in areas when a human could not find the downed or crippled bird on their own such as in water or in thick brush.

From Wikipedia “One of the most important experiences of upland hunting for hunters is their partnership with their canine hunting companion. The breed of dog chosen by a hunter should first and foremost fit the style of hunting of the hunter and then the primary type of upland bird being hunted for the relationship to be successful.”

Why are Curlies our breed of choice for the upland field?  Their athletic nature and stamina, biddability, excellent nose and natural retrieving tendencies allow for an easy choice for this pastime.  Curlies truly enjoy upland hunting and thus we enjoy providing them that opportunity.  We begin working our puppies around birds in upland situations at a very young age and they can be bird finding and retrieving within the first year of their life.  They continue to learn more each year of hunting about how to handle different situations and improve with experience.  Curlies tend to remain active throughout their entire life so they can continue to hunt for many years.  Another advantage of a Curly for upland work is their tight crisp coat of curls which provides protection in the harshest field conditions.  This can be a suit of armor on both land and water.  They are also a breed with an on and off switch, they can be enthusiastic hunters in the field but are ready to rest with you in the evening by the fire.  We are also proud of the breed’s ability to still be able to excel in the field and in the conformation ring, sometimes during hunting season, even on the same weekend.

As of January 1st, 2012, AKC allowed Curlies to enter Spaniel Hunting Tests.  A handful of Curly owners have entered these tests and we have had dogs within the breed title at all three available levels, Junior, Senior and Master already.  Curlies from California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas and Michigan have participated in the opportunity so far, with more to come.  This testing program includes field hunting and bird finding, land and water marked retrieves, and blind retrieves (birds in areas that dogs did not see fall).   These tests require teamwork between the handler and the dog using whistles and hand signals while also relying on the natural hunting tendencies of the different breeds.  Each breed has a description of its hunting style as described by the individual breed clubs on the AKC website.

Delving in to the breed’s history, it is well-documented that the Curly was both an upland and waterfowl dog.  There is even some justification supporting Curly-Coated Retrievers being classified as Spaniels.  No matter the opinion of the original purpose, all agree now that the Curly can be a highly versatile gun and family dog and many valuable natural abilities have been preserved within the breed that can be traced back to their roots.

Short URL: http://caninechronicle.com/?p=42445

Posted by on Jan 31 2014. Filed under Featured, The Buzz. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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