Dog Breed Review

Flat Coated Retriever




Before there was a frenzy with the Golden and Labrador Retriever, the Flat Coated Retriever was once the most popular of the six retriever breeds. Arguably, this medium size and high energy dog could be one of the oldest retrievers still around.

Bred to be a consummate waterfowl hunting dog, the Flat Coated Retriever of today is as good in the water as they are under the bright lights of a dog show.

So where does the breed get their humble beginnings from? What makes them a wonderful pet to own?

Here is what you need to know about the Flat Coated Retriever.


What would a biography of a breed’s history be without some uncertainty and debate? The Flat Coated Retriever is no exception. The breed’s history is met with speculation and pause with regards to ancestry. However, there is very little doubt as to where the Flat Coat took their first step.

Once upon a time in England, a breed we know today as the Flat Coated Retriever went by other aliases. Those aliases include: Mongrel, Wavy Coated Retriever, The Black Wavy Retriever, and Smooth Coated Retriever. 

Before the Labrador shot up the popularity ladder in the U.S, the Flat Coat was the dog of choice. Many historians of the breed speculate a few breeds were part of creating the Wavy Coated Retriever. Even today, historians claim that Canadian fisherman brought with them to England a pack of Newfoundlands. It gets murky after that, but the New Zealand Kennel Club claims that possibly the Irish Setter and Labrador were part of the breeding. Moreover, others say a particular native water spaniel along with the English Setter could be part of the breed’s foundation.

Although we may never know exactly which dog these hunters chose to use, it is clear that the development took place in the early 1800’s. Furthermore, the earliest documents point to English estates, where the breed would work as a gundog hunting bird quarry. 

By the 1880’s, the breed was quickly becoming a force and more popular. John Hull, who many consider to be one of the most notable breeders of the Flat Coated Retriever, is said to have had  foundation stock of today’s breed. Hull had two females, a mother and daughter tandem that went by the names, “Old Bouncy” and “Young Bouncy.” Hull, a games-keeper, may have used a Collie as well during the breeding. H.R. Cooke, a prominent kennel owner and breeder also lent a hand in the breed’s development throughout time by producing great field and show dogs.

Yet, the most credit seems to go to S.E. Shirley. Shirley, the founder of England’s Kennel Club, was a big fan of the breed. For sure, Shirley had the means to promote and bring awareness about the Flat Coated Retriever. 

Out of all the retriever breeds, these dogs were the most significant until the early 20th century. The American Kennel gave the breed official recognition in 1915. FCI would follow suit and give acceptance of the Flat Coat in 1954. 

By then, the breed’s numbers began to diminish as people took interest to their yellow and brown counterparts. Following World War 2 and a near brush with extinction, the Flat Coated Retriever would have to wait until the 1960’s to see an uptick in popularity.

While the breed will likely never gain the prominence they once had, today, they are the 89th most popular breed in the United States. According to a website in Britain, CoventryLive, the Flat Coated Retriever is England’s 65th most popular breed.

From stable dog to gundog, the Flat Coat also lends a paw as a police dog. Today, the breed is better fit in a role of companionship and makes one heck of a shows man in the dog ring. Make no mistake, the breed still has all of the traits and qualities to be a wonderful hunting and sporting dog.


A Flat Coated Retriever belongs in the medium size group. Males should stand between 23 to 24.5 inches. Females will range between 22 to 23.5 inches.

With regards to weight, either or can weigh between 60 to 70 pounds.

Personality and Temperament

Take one look at the Flat Coated Retriever and it’s hard not to get lost in their eyes and fall in love. The Flat Coat will return that kind of feeling, as they are a very loving breed, that isn’t afraid of showing affection. What really wins people over is their happy go lucky spirit and jovial personality. A dog that is happy once you come through the door, the Flat Coat enjoys plenty of human or master companionship. In fact, you could say they thrive on the touch and interaction. As one of the better hunting companions, traditionally, the Flat Coat is a people’s dog.

They love to learn as well. Consider that one of this breed’s biggest strength. In Stanley Coren’s, Intelligence of Dogs, the Flat Coat ranks 20th most intelligent. Not a bad nod for one of the oldest and yet forgotten retriever breeds. That means the breed obeys commands nearly all of the time. It also means the Flat Coat welcomes a challenge and performs its duties without struggle. Learning commands and listening well isn’t going to be a problem for your Flat Coat.

As an athlete, the breed is solid at agility, and obviously above all, obedience. The Flat Coated Retriever also enjoys swimming and needs plenty of outdoor play. This is an active breed and they cherish being outside and exercising.

Aside from the need to please, they make great companions for children as well. In fact, there isn’t much or anything they don’t like. This is a truly overall friendly breed. They may not make the best guard dog, but they will bark to alert you of any danger.

If you want a mature dog right away, the breed may not be the best fit. However, they do make wonderful family dogs, that wants to be a part of the family’s action.


There aren’t a ton of health issues to over worry yourself with when it comes to the Flat Coated Retriever. You should obviously obtain any health clearances you need to ensure a healthy dog from your breeder. Couple that with buying from a reputable breeder and by scheduling regular visits with the veterinarian and there’s no reason to believe your Flat Coat won’t fulfill their 8 to 10 year life expectancy.

Bloat or Gastric Torsion may be found within the breed. Bloat is a serious threat to your Flat Coat’s wellbeing. When their is an excess of air inside your dog’s stomach, with nowhere to go, the stomach twists and distends. This can be incredibly painful for the dog and even fatal. You can reduce that by feeding your dog multiple times throughout the day.

Patellar Luxation, where the knee cap slips out of its normal place or dislocates, can be seen with the Flat Coat. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals ranks the breed 79th at a 1.6% dysplastic rate out of 270 evaluation. This ranks the breed along with the Finnish Lapphund and St. Bernard.

Along with the Border Terrier, Aussie Terrier, Basenji and most medium and large breeds, Hip Dysplasia may be a problem for this breed. Although the breed is 162nd in the OFA survey, there is still a chance that your dog could suffer this malformation of the hip joint. According to the survey, the breed has a 4.1% incidental rate  with over 6300 evaluations. Rather low.

Also at a low risk is Elbow Dysplasia. This is best described as abnormal growth in the elbow joint, which is a leading candidate of elbow pain and lameness. The OFA ranks them at 115th, which is middle of the pack with the Bichon Frise and Briard. The breed has a .7% dysplastic rate.

Cataracts or the cloudiness of the crystalline lens, which can cause night blindness to complete blindness is a low risk factor with this breed. Furthermore, according to their American club, the Flat Coat has a .97% incidental rate with Glaucoma, which is considerably low with 1 out of 100 Flat Coat suffering from Glaucoma.

Only 78.6% of Flat Coats are said to have normal thyroid ranking them 30th in the OFA survey. According to the Kennel Club Health Survey, the leading cause of death for the Flat Coated Retriever is cancer.  Additionally, bone tumors, splenic tumors and skin tumors round up that list along with old age as leading candidates for mortality.


Clearly the Flat Coated Retriever is much more comfortable living in a bigger open space. They do much better with an active role. The breed should have just as much involvement with the family as any other member. They will relish and flourish as a gundog and make for a wonderful family pet as well.

It may take the breed longer than other breeds to reach their true maturity. Some breeders believe that the Flat Coated Retriever never reaches full maturity. With that in mind, you will need to enforce positively and remain consistent with this breed. Yes, you’ll have to watch them around smaller children, as they may play a bit rough at times. However, thanks to their intelligence and ability to learn and listen, the breed will have no problem adhering to your orders.

Also, the Flat Coat needs regular exercise. They should be getting two short walks per day or one long roundabout. The breed enjoys swimming as exercise and activity. Dog parks and walks are fine as a friendly breed they naturally are.

Brush their teeth frequently to remove tartar and debris. This helps promote better oral health and keeps your dog’s teeth looking good. Trimming their nails and inspecting their ears routinely will also help prevent any minor health complications get any worse.


The Flat Coated Retriever doesn’t require any special diet but they should be getting a high quality formula. If you aren’t into dry food, of course, you can always get on the same page with your veterinarian about the best dietary plan possible for your Flat Coat.

On the regular, the breed should be getting approximately 3 to 4 cups of dry food per day. The best practice is to feed them twice a day instead of once. This reduces the opportunity of obtaining Gastric Torsion and gives your dog a schedule to look forward to.

Avoid cheap grain filler, soy, wheat, and corn syrup, as these items tend to lead to obesity. Obesity can impact your dog’s joints and heart. You’re much better off feeding them quality protein, carbohydrates, veggies and fruits.

For an active dog, between the 60 to 70 pound threshold, your dog will require around 2500 to 2800 calories per day. For a dog that isn’t so active, a daily intake of 1504 to 1686 will suffice their diet.

As always, you should provide your Flat Coated Retriever with fresh drinking water.


It’s not all too hard to care for the Flat Coated Retriever’s coat. In fact, most owners claim it is simple. That is, if you keep up with it by brushing weekly. As a season shedder, occasional grooming is absolutely necessary with this breed. Weekly brushing will help with those loose and dead hairs but also keeps their coat exuberant. You may need to check behind the ears for matting from time to time as well. Prepare for some hair storms as the breed does blow coat twice a year.

The Flat Coated Retriever has a medium length coat, that is straight and flatly lies close to their body. It should be dense and a bit of a wavy is fine.

There are only two acceptable colors for coat options: Black, liver.

Fun Flat Coated Retriever Facts

  • The Flat Coat was given UKC recognition in 1984 and is now a breed in their gun dog group.
  • According to many breed authorities, the Flat Coated Retriever is one of the stronger swimmers and ranks number 9 in the IheartDogs list of best swimming breeds.
  • They also love to show their stuff: Flat Coat Retrievers have won twice at Crufts with a Best in Show in 1980 and again in 2011.

Closing Words

While many seem to overshadow this breed, the Flat Coated Retriever remains one of the more versatile sporting dogs in America, that can do it all. Regardless if that is retrieving waterfowl without puncturing the game to the hunter, or that is sniffing out a lead with the police. The point is, the Flat Coat is just as good as any of the other retrievers when it comes to work and work ethic.

Although it takes them a while to mature, there isn’t much you have to worry about with this breed. They are healthy, they are intelligent and most of all, they are the ultimate family companion.


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