Flat-Coated Retrievers

The Flat Coated Retriever (by Rick and Eli Brown)

The Flat Coated Retriever was developed in England about the middle of the nineteenth century. From this time, until about the end of the First World War, the breed enjoyed great fashion at conformation shows and was the hunting dog of choice, especially amongst game-keepers. Unfortunately, the breed subsequently declined for many years, partly due to the increased popularity of Labrador and Golden Retrievers. We are very fortunate that a few breed enthusiasts dedicated themselves to the survival and perpetuation of the Flat Coat as a dual purpose retriever.

Some fanciers would argue that this relative lack of popularity, when compared to the great public favor shown the Labrador and Golden et al, has been a good thing. Of the three breeds, the Flat Coat is still a truly dual purpose dog with little or no marked difference between those that are shown in the conformation ring and those that are worked in the field. In fact, many Flat Coats hold titles in both endeavors, a waning accomplishment in the world of show dogs. Some owners are perfectly content to maintain the Flat Coat as one of the rare gun dog breeds, preserving both true working ability and avoiding many of the genetic pitfalls that often accompany over-population.

The Flat Coat is an intense retriever and swimming is one of their true joys in life. Their coat protects them even in frigid waters and when in "condition", their endurance is renowned. Many "show" owners who do not have the time or means to endure the rigors of field trials ( usually dominated by Labradors), prefer to enter Working Certificate or Hunt Tests, of which there are three levels. There are also a number of owners who use their Flat Coat primarily as a hunting companion and may never enter the dog in show, obedience or field competition.

Obedience trials can be an interesting hobby and most Flat Coats take quite readily to the work. It should be made fun for them, as they often do not enjoy boring, repetitious exercises. Many breeders would suggest that whether or not the novice Flat Coat owner is interested in competition, obedience classes are a must for such an active breed. Generally speaking, Flat Coats are quite boisterous and if little or no training is undertaken, a year old dog can be quite a handful. In fact, one should not necessarily draw temperament conclusions about the breed from show exhibitions, when the dogs are generally on their best behavior both attending the ring an running through their paces. Despite what might sometimes appear to be the case at ring side, these dogs are neither docile nor especially quiet, but rather may be characterized as moderately high energy and exuberant. The marked trait of almost constant tail wagging is perhaps a better indication of the breed's fun loving and often mischievous disposition. Many people unfamiliar with the breed habitually assign to the Flat Coat behavioral patterns associated with more common sporting dogs, based primarily on the observation of its physical attributes; however, the Flat Coat is neither a "black Golden" or a "longhaired Labrador", or any particular version of a "Red Setter cross". Rather, this is a pure-bred dog of very distinctive physiology and comportment.

Flat Coats adore people and will jump up on everyone if allowed. They are exceptional with children and are frequently cited in temperament books for this quality, but they arealso very large and strong and need to be supervised in case of over-zealousness. Basic obedience commands are essential: Flat Coats are not dominant with their owners but it is still necessary to be "pack leader". Their attention span is occasinally like that of a child (they are often referred to as the "Peter Pan" of dogs) and they can "ham it up" when one is least expecting it. Any prospective owner should be aware of this indigeneous trait, for it is what endows the breed with such a special and lovable character bit it can be also rather frustrating for those who are not prepared to deal with a special surprise.

Many Flat Coats have done very well in the conformation ring, with at least three having taken "Best in Show" honors in Canada and others placing consistently in the"Sporting Group". As they are truly one of the rare gun dog breeds, it is helpful for the novice to make the acquaintance of other owners, particularly from the perspective of conformation "showing", at least in order to ensure competition for prospective championship points. New owners are encouraged to join the Flat Coated Retriever Soceity of Canada or the Flat Coated Retriever Soceity of America. Not only will they gain valuable information from the clubs' newsletters, but they will hopefully find fellow members in their locality and consequently gain insight into this most wonderful breed.

Flat Coated Retrievers are very special dogs. They are natural hunters, they are very large and bouncy, they are full of fun and good nature. They need lots of recreational room. perferably a fenced yard (never tie a Flat Coat up!!!) and enjoy walks and trips of the open fields and wooded parks. But above all else, Flat Coats love people and require the warmth of human companionship. Infact, they absolutely must have a "home" and should never be physically or mentally ignored. This is not s breed to be irrevocably consigned to a kennel with minimal human contact. They need very careful and personalized attention for which they offer in return contact affection and devotion and a highly rewarding experience for dog and owner alike. If you are willing to invest the time and provide this particular kind of environment, then a Flat Coated Retriever is the dog for you!

For further reference see:
Paddy Petch, The Complete Flat-Coated Retriever
Joan Mason, The Flat-Coated Retriever Today
Nancy Laughton, Review of the Flat-Coated Retriever