If you are lucky enough to happen upon a group of Flat-Coated Retrievers
at a local hunting test or dog show, you'll make your introduction to an
extremely happy, enthusiastic and energetic breed. Flat-Coats, with their
characteristic wagging tail and sparkling eyes, have an exuberance matched
by few breeds. The breed has remained much less common than other popular
retrievers such as the Labrador and the Golden Retriever. Still, under the
watchful eye of a small group of dedicated breeders, the Flat-Coated
Retriever has remained a truly versatile, multi-purpose breed that is
equally at home in the field, obedience or show ring.
The breed standard for the Flat-Coated Retriever describes a moderately
sized dog, with a preferred height of between 23 to 24 1/2 inches at the
withers for dogs and 22 to 23 1/2 inches at the withers for bitches.
Flat-Coats should carry a moderate coat, with legs and tail well feathered.
Coat color can be either black or liver. According to the breed standard,
the Flat-Coat has traditionally been described as showing "Power without
lumber and raciness without weediness." A Flat-Coat's weight should be
proportional to the dog's size, ideally in hard working condition, free of
One of the most distinctive features of the Flat-Coat is its elegant head
that, when viewed from the side, should give the impression of a one-piece,
molded head with minimal stop. The dog should have an alert and kind
expression, dark almond-shaped eyes set widely apart, and a well filled in
fore-face. An elegant breed, owners are sometimes asked if their dogs are a
type of setter, or "black Goldens", however the breed is distinct, predating
their blonde cousins by at least half a century.
The Flat-Coated Retriever was developed and fixed as a breed in the mid
to late 1800's in Britain. Originally known as wavy-coated retrievers, the
breed likely descended from the St. John's Newfoundland (a smaller dog than
the present day Newfoundland, and the progenitor of the Labrador Retriever
breed), crossed with a variety of other breeds such as Collies and Setters.
Stabilizing the breed is credited to Mr. Sewallis Evelyn Shirley
(1844-1904) who, at age 29, also founded the Kennel Club in Britain and
became its first President and Chairman. Mr. Shirley was a noted all-breed
judge, and sought to improve the wavy-coated retrievers and distinguish them
from the completely unrelated curly-coated retrievers.
The Flat-Coated Retriever became a popular breed among gamekeepers in
Britain, due to their excellent working ability. However, registrations
peaked in the early 1920's and experienced a steady decline until the
1950's. A variety of reasons have been cited, including a progressive
dominance by Labradors in field trials, the increasing popularity of Golden
Retrievers, and the unfortunate intercession of two World Wars. A very small
group of dedicated fanciers struggled to keep the breed viable during the
Second World War, and Stanley L. O'Neill painstakingly worked to salvage and
advance the breed.
One of the earliest Flat-Coats imported into the United States was
Pewcroft Prefect, sent to Homer Downing of Ohio by O'Neill in 1953. In 1955,
Downing imported a liver colored Flat-Coat bitch Atherbram Stella. The total
population of Flat-Coats in the United States increased to nine in 1956 and,
with the advent of two litters, the numbers rose to twenty-two in 1957. The
breed's parent club in the United States, the Flat-Coated Retriever Society
of America, Inc. (FCRSA), was subsequently formed in 1960. Currently,
Flat-Coated Retriever registrations are ranked 100 out of 137 breeds with
446 dogs registered in 1994.
The Working Connection:
One thing that distinguishes the Flat-Coated Retriever from many other
sporting breeds has been the refusal of the dedicated breeders to allow a
split into separate field versus show lines. Preserving and promoting the
breed's working ability is considered one of the highest priorities by most
of the breed's guardians. It is felt that the characteristics that make the
breed special and distinct can best be evaluated and advanced by preserving
the working traits that are fundamental to the breed, breeding for mental
and physical soundness and longevity. The breed was developed as a working
retriever. In order to preserve the dual nature of the Flat-Coat, the
working abilities of breeding stock should be tested each generation. The
Flat-Coated Retriever should be a tireless and willing worker, biddable in
nature, with an unequaled ability to locate fallen game.
Flat-Coated Retrievers have very successfully competed in hunting tests,
obedience trials, tracking tests and, more recently, agility competitions.
Evidence of the breed's multi-purpose nature is apparent when reviewing the
number of titles awarded to Flat-Coats despite their relatively low numbers.
In 1994 American Kennel Club (AKC) competition, Flat-Coats earned 99
obedience titles (8 at the UD level), 14 tracking titles and 63 hunting
titles (5 at the master hunter level). During the same time period, 125
Flat-Coats earned their conformation championship title (CH). Not bad for a
breed that has registered only approximately 450 dogs per year over the last
Breed Character and Training Considerations:
The Flat-Coated Retriever should always be a cheerful and willing worker,
however he can also present a challenge to novice dog owners. The breed has
an innate sense of fun, sometimes to the embarrassment or distress of their
owners. Dr. Nancy Laughton, in her book A Review Of The Flat-Coated
Retriever, characterizes the Flat-Coat as a canine Peter Pan. A mental image
of a Flat-Coated Retriever should include a happy wagging tail, coupled with
an attitude of joviality.
Flat-Coats should be introduced to training early. Quick to test their
limits, the dogs will exploit opportunities for fun should they present
themselves. An exuberant breed, it is not uncommon for Flat-Coats to attempt
to greet visitors by jumping up and trying for a quick nose lick. Although
perhaps cute, this isn't always appreciated, and can be a problem in homes
with small children. While a Flat-Coat would never purposely injure a young
child, seventy pounds of bouncing enthusiasm can present its own set of
risks. Even their ever wagging tails have been known to bowl over a toddler.
Training a Flat-Coat can be somewhat of a paradox. The breed is extremely
intelligent, yet somewhat soft in nature. Flat-Coats respond best to
positive training methods and can become shy and fearful if overly harsh
methods are used. Puppies should be introduced to the basics of come, sit,
stay, and down at a young age.
Flat-Coats maintain their independent, happy-go-lucky attitude throughout
their lives. They should show both an aptitude and a willingness to work.
They should have a kind, intelligent and stable temperament, and although
they will likely announce visitors with a deep bark, they should show no
signs of aggression towards strangers.
Health and Welfare:
The Flat-Coated Retriever is considered by many to be a generally healthy
breed. While susceptible to the same diseases and infirmities as other
breeds, dedicated breeders place the breed's health and soundness as the
foremost consideration when planning their litters. The FCRSA recommends
that all breeding stock be checked for hip dysplasia by the Orthopedic
Foundation of America (OFA), a clearinghouse for hip and elbow disease, and
that eyes be cleared annually by a board certified veterinary optholmologist.
Another potential orthopedic disease is patellar luxation. This is a
condition where the kneecap slips off to the side of the femur. The severity
of patellar luxation can range from mild to severe, with severe cases being
potentially crippling to the dog. Breeders are encouraged to have all
puppies examined for patellar luxation before being placed in new homes.
Cancer has also presented some challenges to Flat-Coat fanciers. As a
group, breeders have become concerned over an apparent increase in the
incidence of cancer. More research is needed to try to understand factors
that may contribute to or exacerbate the onset of cancer. Towards that end,
the FCRSA members have generously contributed to a research program with the
goal of a greater understanding of cancer in Flat-Coats.
Finally, all Flat-Coats should receive regular veterinary care. Dogs that
are active in the field can be exposed to ticks carrying lyme disease, and
many breeders recommend precautionary vaccination against lyme disease.
Heartworm medication should be taken as recommended.
Flat-Coats As Pets:
Properly trained and socialized, Flat-Coats are unparalleled as family
pets. They have a perpetually cheery disposition, an undying loyalty, and
are extremely affectionate. They have terrific temperaments, are excellent
with children, and live to do things with their human families. Grooming
requirements are low to moderate. The dogs are be pretty much 'wash and
wear', however, regular shedding is to be expected. Regular brushing,
tidying of the feet and ears and an occasional bath are the only routine
grooming that's necessary.
Flat-Coats are intelligent, exuberant and creative. Without proper
outlets for their considerable energy, bored Flat-Coats may resort to
digging in gardens, chewing, or nuisance barking. Flat-Coats do best in
households that provide sufficient activities to challenge his considerable
intellect. Ideally all Flat-Coats would have frequent excursions with their
owners on hiking and hunting trips, but that is not always possible.
Tracking, obedience, agility and fly-ball are other activities at which
Flat-Coats have excelled. Flat-Coats thrive in environments where they are
afforded a great deal of interaction with their human families. They are
less happy when they are relegated to kennels. They can become excitable,
frustrated, noisy or damaging including damage to themselves, and thus not a
breed well suited to large numbers raised in kennel environments.
Above all, owners of Flat-Coats must possess a sense of humor as
Flat-Coats delight in finding fun in all of their activities. If a potential
owner expects blind obedience and unfailing precision each and every time, a
Flat-Coat will not be their ideal choice. However, if the owner can maintain
the same cheery attitude and optimistic outlook on life as their Flat-Coat,
then the owner and breed are ideally matched.
Finding A Flat-Coat:
As with any breed, one of the most important things you can do when
searching for a new puppy is to locate a breeder you like and trust. A
breeder should become a source of information and support for the life of
your dog. The FCRSA maintains a list of breeders who are willing to talk
with prospective new owners about Flat-Coats. It's a good practice to talk
with several breeders to discuss the objectives and goals in their breeding
practice, but don't be surprised when the breeders ask you as many questions
as you ask them. Breeders of Flat-Coated Retrievers are vitally interested
in the life long welfare of their dogs.
Do not be surprised to experience some degree of difficulty in locating a
Flat-Coat puppy. Since the breed is not well known, and advertising cannot
guarantee puppy buyers, most breeders develop a waiting list before planning
a breeding. Most good breeders spend considerable time in planning their
litters, and frequently have entire litters placed in prospective homes even
prior to undertaking the breeding.
Typically, a prospective puppy buyer will locate a breeder who is
planning a future litter, and be interviewed for inclusion on their list of
prospective new owners. Breeders will take an active interest in the plans
you have for your puppy. Dedicated to preserving the working talents of the
breed, and critically aware of the mischief a bored Flat-Coat can get into,
breeders encourage, cajole and support new owners in introducing their
Flat-Coats to a wide variety of activities. One recent puppy purchaser
commented that they "started out in pursuit of a puppy and ended up
acquiring a new lifestyle." However, it's a lifestyle unparalleled in love
THE FLAT-COATED RETRIEVER IN BRIEF
10 -- 12
Black or Solid Liver
brushing, with occasional bathing
trimming of ears and feet.
23 to 24
1/2 inches at the withers for dogs,
22 to 23
1/2 inches at the withers for bitches.
but early training important.
breed can be very exuberant
with other pets:
friendly, enjoys life to the fullest.
Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America, Inc.