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Curly Coated Retriever Colors

Part One

Brindle, black & tan, and even white Curly Coated Retrievers? 

A Black Curly Coated Retriever in a Fenland Landscape
Oil on canvas Painting by W. J. Gilbert, 1858

Curly Coated Retriever Coat Color Genetics

Back in the day when the two oldest retriever breeds—the curly and the flat coat-- were being developed, they came in an array of colors.


The author of the first breed standards back in the 1860’s, Dr. John Henry Walsh, described retrievers as coming in solid black, solid liver, PLUS black and tan, red, brindled, and black and tabby.


Tabby apparently means like the color of a tabby cat—which is basically a sort of brindle but with black stripes.

Check out the two paintings included here. The first, titled "A Black Curly Coated Retriever in a Fenland Landscape",  is one of the earliest paintings in which the painter identified the dog specifically as a curly coated retriever.


Painted by the UK artist W. J. Gilbert in 1858, the curly coated retriever in the painting is one of the earliest depictions of a curly and was painted about two years before curly coated retrievers were first exhibited at English dog shows in 1860.  (Identification of the breed of the dog by the artist is important. If the artist doesn’t identify the breed, people viewing the picture decades or even centuries later, will often erroneously choose a breed and label the dog in the picture as being of that breed. The misidentification of the breed in the painting by just one person in a book or website results in that misidentification being repeated over and over again.)


Gilbert's curly coated retriever painting is obviously an early representative of the breed, sharing many of the unique traits of the breed. The curly coat, the flat skull, the wedge shaped head, the longer legs, the short tail.  

This curly coated retriever is identified, by the artist, as a BLACK curly coated retriever standing in a fenland.  A fenland is basically a marsh--prime territory for both waterfowl and upland birds--and for curly coated retrievers.

Notice this 'black' curly coated retriever actually has a white spot on the chest and white on the feet. Not surprising. Some modern day curly coated retrievers sport the white chest spot. 

Now, let's look at another painting of a generic retriever, painted a couple of decades before our black curly coated retriever in a marsh. The generic retriever shares a lot of attributes with our black curly coated retriever. The color is different and look at the tails: are you an experienced curly coated retriever owner/fancier/breeder who has seen that curled over the back tail once or twice?! 

But our generic retriever has just about the same type of coat as the dog identified as a curly coated retriever. He looks about the same size, maybe shorter in leg, thicker in head and more stop.  The generic retriever isn't as flat in skull--but we see this more rounded skull in some curlies today. I don't think it takes a giant leap to go from the 1820 generic retriever to the 1858 curly coated retriever. 


retriever portrait 19th century black an

A Retriever

Oil on Canvas, by James Clark, UK, 1820
The Curly Coated Retriever DNA test says "yes" to black and tan. However, all the curly coated retriever breed standards in the world say "no" to black and tans. 

No, I'm not advocating for black and tan curly coated retrievers. I just find it interesting early canine experts identified black and tan curly coated retrievers as existing. Very early in the breed's development, black and tan was an acceptable color. 

As mentioned above, when the "father" of dog breed standards and the dog show, Dr. John Henry Walsh, wrote his first descriptions of dogs, he stated some curly coated retrievers were black and tan in color. Several other early canine authorities said the same thing. 

We also know, from at least two sources including the late breed expert Audrey Nicholls, that some curly coated retrievers were solid white and at least one solid white curly coated retriever was shown at a UK dog show. 

DNA tests indicate black and tan is one of the hidden color patterns in curly coated retrievers

In the next post, we will take a glance at the DNA color profiles of some example curly coated retrievers. 

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