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Get to Know the Flat-Coated Retriever: The Gentleman’s Gun Dog

He hunted alongside royalty and was at one time more popular than the Golden Retriever, though the Flat-Coat is still popular in Britain.

Caroline Coile  |  Feb 1st 2016


Retrievers are often considered the good ol’ boys of the Sporting group, but the Flat-Coated Retriever is more like the gentleman of the bunch. While he’s an adept hunting companion, don’t expect to see him on Duck Dynasty. He’s far more likely to be hunting alongside royalty.

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Flat-Coated Retriever by Shutterstock.

More interesting things about the Flat-Coated Retriever

  • The Flat-Coated Retriever may be confused with the Golden Retriever, but the Golden is only in shades of gold. It may be confused with the Labrador Retriever, but the Labrador has short hair.
  • It is slightly racier, with smaller bones and a narrower head, than the other retrievers, with the Curly-Coated Retriever probably closest in conformation. Its head is described as being “of one piece,” with flowing lines, a minimal stop, and a backskull of about the same length as the muzzle.
  • The Flat-Coat comes in two accepted colors: solid black and solid liver. Solid yellows are sometimes seen, but because they are not approved per the standard, and cannot be shown in conformation, they have been strongly selected against. Some breeders advocate keeping them in the gene pool to increase genetic diversity, but they should not be considered “rare” and should never cost more than a Flat-Coat of an approved color.
  • The breed originated in the mid-1800s in England, possibly from small Newfoundlands of the time along with the now extinct St. John’s Water Dog and possibly Collie-type dogs and setters. The first Flat-Coats appeared around 1860, and by 1873 they were an identifiable breed.
  • These first specimens were called Wavy-Coated Retrievers, but later crosses to straighter-haired dogs produced the Flat-Coated Retriever.
  • The Flat-Coat Retriever received full AKC recognition in 1915.
  • It is a member of the AKC Sporting group.
  • The breed was at one time popular, but its popularity was taken over by the Golden Retriever — ironically, a descendent of the Flat-Coated Retriever.
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Flat-Coated Retriever by Shutterstock.

  • The Flat-Coated Retriever is the 90th most-popular AKC breed, up from 106th most-popular five years ago.
  • The breed was almost extinct after World War II. Only a few remained to keep the breed going, but in the 1960s, breeders banded together to repopulate and popularize the breed.
  • The breed is more popular in Britain than it is in America and is a far more successful show dog there as well.
  • Two different Flat-Coats have won Best in Show at Britain’s Crufts, the world’s largest dog show: Ch. Vbos the Kentuckian in 2011 and Ch. Shargleam Blackcap in 1980. At least three others Flat-Coats have won the Gundog group there.
  • Although Flat-Coats have been shown at the Westminster dog show since 1926, only three times has one placed in the Sporting group there. One of those placements was first place, however, in 2001.
  • Flat-Coat owners include King George V and Queen Victoria.
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Flat-Coated Retriever by Shutterstock.

  • Unfortunately, Flat-Coats have a higher-than-average rate of cancer and a lower-than-average life expectancy compared to other breeds of their size.
  • Flat-Coats are sometimes called Flatties for short.
  • They shed less than Golden or Labrador Retrievers.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier