The size in the U.S. standard differs from that of the UK standard. The UK standard asks for males to be 27 inches tall and females to be 25 inches. The U.S. standard has a range of 25-27 inches for males and 23-25 inches for females. The U.S. standard also allows for selection of dogs who fall outside the height range but are otherwise clearly superior.
Here is some of the background on the size range in the U.S. standard and how the CCRCA committee for the AKC standard revision decided on the U.S. size range.
Size in the U.S.
The U.S. Standard Revision Process
Here’s the first in what I plan as a series of articles talking about the Curly Coated Retriever standard—including how and why we included some of the things we did.
I was chairman of the committee responsible for rewriting the AKC standard for the breed. Our standard revision was adopted by the AKC in 1993.
While all the ideas in the standard are not necessarily mine, I developed most of the verbiage and phrasing.
Working mostly section by section, committee members would give me their ideas and concerns, I would share mine, and then I would write a draft of the section. Each draft would be reviewed and voted on by the committee members, changes would be suggested, and I would rewrite the section.
The standard was eventually approved by the committee, voted on and approved by the CCRCA membership, and then approved by the AKC staff, Board of Directors, and finally, the AKC delegate board.
The important curly coated retriever foundation sire "Jet" on the right. Pictured with his owner J. D. Gorse. The other dog is a wavy coated retriever, also owned by Mr. Gorse. Jet was praised for both his conformation and his field ability by several canine authorities in the mid-1800's. (Engraving from an oil painting, circa 1879.)
In her review of the standard, the respected and renowned breeder, the late Audrey Nichols (Darelyn), said the standard was "nearly perfect" except for our size range and our angulation discussion.
The size issue is discussed below. For the angulation discussion, please start on this page: Forequarter Angulation.
The size issue was a subject generating considerable discussion and ideas but in the end we decided four factors were crucial in determining what we would say about size:
The sizes of the foundation dogs of the breed;
The impact size has on the traditional function of the breed as an upland/waterfowl dog;
Sizes included in previous standards, starting with the first standard; and
How big were the foundation dogs of the breed?
When we first started, I was one of the committee members in favor of using the size stated in the UK standard--27 inches tall for males and 25 for bitches. No weight is included in the UK standard.
Other committee members believed we should study and discuss the size issue further.
Committee member Marilynn Caldwell and I had both started collections of historical curly coated retriever material, including books, magazines, and advertisements.
A review of the material we had quickly revealed the foundation dogs of the breed and champions of the 1800’s and early 1900’s were a variety of heights and weights.
One of the most important foundation dogs of the breed was “Jet”, a black male bred by Mr. Hill and eventually owned, shown and worked by Mr. J. D. Gorse. Jet was praised by several early sporting dog authorities as a wonderful dog in both the show ring and the field. He was 25 inches tall and weighed 77 pounds.
Jet wasn’t the only foundation/early curly shorter than 27 inches. We have limited information about size in the 1800’s but most of the males we have measurements for were shorter than 27 inches. They also weighed less than some of the modern day dogs who are that tall.
Here are height and weight measurements for some other important foundation curlies:
TOBY. Dog. (Mr. W. H. How’s) 24.5 inches tall, 89 pounds. (5 years of age) Like Jet, Toby was praised by early judges for his conformation.
SOOT. Bitch. (W. H. How) 23 inches tall, 81 pounds.
LULU. DOG. (Mr. Thorpe-Bartram) 26.5 inches tall, 75 pounds.
NELL. Bitch. (Mr. Thorpe-Bartram) 22.5 inches tall, weight unknown.
PEARL. Bitch. (Mr. S. Darby) 24.5 inches tall, 80 pounds. (3 years old)
CHICORY. Bitch. (Mr. Swinburne) 24.5 inches tall, 76 pounds (2 years old)
KING KOFFEE. Dog. (Mr. Salter) 27 inches tall, 75 pounds at 5 years old.
These 7 curly coated retrievers, all notable show winners in the 1800’s, ranged in height from 22.5 to 27 inches.
The average height for the males was 25.75 inches. Average height for the bitches was 23.63 inches.
While seven dogs is a small sample, at least we have an idea of size in these important early dogs. And look at the weights—not one over 90 pounds.
So, looking at the heights of these very important foundation dogs, the committee decided a size range would fit with the original foundation dogs of the breed and what early breeders were producing.
The committee also looked at the first two written standards for the breed. The first was written by Dr. John Henry Walsh and finalized in 1879. The curly coated retriever club of England issued a revised edition of the standard in 1890.
Neither of these standards mentions size, perhaps because breeders of that time believed everyone knew the acceptable size for a retriever. The preferred retriever size, as established by Walsh and several other judges/breeders/dog authorities, was 25 inches for a dog and about 70-80 pounds.
The size range we included in the standard fits the size range of the foundation dogs of our breed and includes the size believed by most early canine authorities as correct for a retriever. In the early days of the breed, curly coated retrievers were not referred to as the largest or tallest of the retrievers. This development apparently came later—I believe after World War I and perhaps even later—but I do not know for certain.
How does size impact hunting and retrieving?
A second issue we considered when discussing size for the standard was the two traditional hunting roles for a curly coated retriever, upland and waterfowl hunting.
Curly coated retrievers traditionally functioned as both slip and non-slip retrievers and still do in many countries. While some retrievers in the 1800’s were supposed to work at heel in England, the curly was also worked as a find and flush dog. (Curlies can be superb upland dogs.)
To “slip” a retriever was to allow it to work off leash—usually in front of the hunter as a find, flush and retrieve dog. (What we refer to in the U.S. as a flushing or upland dog.)
The term slip began in the whippet racing world. A man known as a slip would stand at the heads of the two racing whippets and remove their collars at the race start. Later the term slip evolved to mean a leash.
In the retriever world, a “non-slip” dog is one who is not wearing a leash. No leash equals no slip or non-slip. Those types of retrievers are usually steady to wing and shot and wait until given the command to retrieve.
In contrast to working as a quartering/finding/flushing non-slip dog, a slip retriever was supposed to stay at heel, either on or off leash, until the handler indicated to the dog he was allowed to go and pick up the birds that had been shot in front of him. (At least two authors claimed the curly coated retriever was difficult to work as a non-slip retriever. I believe this is likely because of their independent nature and tendency to want to take hunting and bird matters into their own hands—er—paws.)
When considering size for the water fowling dog, we noted a number of different water fowling methods. Some waterfowl hunting methods include shooting from shore blinds, shooting from small boats, using lay down blinds in farm fields, and floating down a river in a boat.
One consideration as to size is if a hunter hunts from a boat—the dog has to fit in the boat along with the hunter, hunting equipment and perhaps another hunter. This includes fitting the dog in the boat when the dog is sopping wet and the weather is cold.
The committee decided a height range allowed breeders and prospective owners who hunt or participate in other performance events to have somewhat of a selection as to size. The range selected also fit in with the curlies owned, shown, bred and hunted in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.
If given a range of sizes, the committee decided, breeders and judges have more of an opportunity to select a dog whom excels in overall quality, whether he is 27 or 26 inches tall.
Genetic Diversity--Should it be an issue?
A third consideration when we were writing the size section of the standard was genetic diversity.
The U.S. standard revision began in 1988. At that time, frozen and fresh chilled semen were in their infancy and somewhat unreliable. That means if one wanted to introduce new bloodlines in a breeding program, one had to import a dog or send a bitch overseas for breeding.
Sending a bitch overseas at the time was a complicated enterprise because the UK and many other European countries, as well as Australia, had six month kennel quarantines for a bitch entering from the U.S. The bitch would have to stay in a government approved boarding kennel to serve the six month quarantine before being released for breeding. Many US breeders were unwilling to force a bitch to spend six months in a quarantine kennel.
We also considered genetic diversity in view of several health issues in the breed. By not restricting ourselves to only one size for dogs and bitches, it was easier to find dogs and bitches who fit the standard and also had the necessary health clearances, field ability, good temperament, and also gave us some genetic diversity.
One compromise I suggested was to use the 27 inches for males, 25 inches for females and a statement about clearly superior dogs and bitches who did not meet these exact heights not to be penalized due to size.
Committee members disagreed with that proposal, however, and finally we put in the range of 25-27 inches for males and 23-25 inches for females. If you review the sizes of the foundation dogs above, you will see our range includes most of the actual sizes of those foundation dogs.
With the size range we selected, I did not want to include the statement about clearly superior dogs not being penalized because of size. I felt the size range gave us plenty of leeway and it was reasonable to include this range of heights but the committee wanted the size ranges and voted to include the clearly superior dog statement as well.
So, to summarize:
The heights in the U.S. standard reflect the range found in many of the most important foundation dogs and also reflect what early breeders were showing, hunting and breeding;
Using a size range allowed breeders and judges to choose dogs/bitches who might not be exactly 27 inches or 25 inches tall but had other valuable traits to contribute;
Early standards did not include any height designation; and
The size range gives breeders an opportunity to consider a wider variety of dogs and bitches as breeding stock. This opportunity to consider a wider selection of dogs could help in preserving more genetic diversity.