By Linda Cole
During the 1700 and 1800s, hunters were busy developing dogs to help them locate and retrieve waterfowl. Because the Pointer, Setter and Retriever breeds were created to work closely with their owners, these dogs tend to be easy to train and happy. The Flat-Coated Retriever is lovingly referred to as the Peter Pan of dogs, because they retain a puppy-like playfulness throughout their lives.
Originating in Britain, the Flat-Coated Retriever (Flattie) was created in the early 1800s due to a need for a more energetic and agile bird dog to flush out and retrieve waterfowl. Improvements in firearms made it possible for hunters to bring down waterfowl, but finding where a bird fell in the water or on land was another matter. Fishermen used breeds like the Newfoundland and St. John’s Water Dog to retrieve fish, nets or other objects in the water, and to carry messages from boat to boat or boat to land. So when breeders turned their focus to developing different retriever breeds, they chose Newfoundland dogs for their strong swimming ability, and crossed them with Setters, Sheepdogs, Spaniel-like water dogs and other breeds to create the Flat-Coated Retriever. The St. John’s Water Dog, also known as the Lesser Newfoundland, also had a major role in the general development of all of the modern day retriever breeds, including the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and Flat-Coated Retriever.
In the early years of the breed, Flatties were known as the “gamekeeper’s dog.” They were popular on British estates and used to find and retrieve birds in water. However, these dogs quickly proved they were a natural gundog and well equipped to work on both land and in water.
Early dog shows divided retrievers into groups according to coat type. Sometime in the 1860s the Flat-Coated Retriever, originally known as the Wavy-Coated Retriever, became a recognized breed distinct from other retrievers. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1915. But the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever (originally called a Golden Flat-Coated) were gaining in popularity, and it wasn’t long before both breeds surpassed the Flattie.
This breed’s weather resistant, silky flat coat provides protection from harsh weather conditions, cold water and dense undergrowth. The coat comes in two colors – black or liver. This laidback, confident, outgoing and intelligent dog would be an excellent addition to the right family. He is an active dog that requires at least an hour of daily exercise, however.
The breed is usually friendly with other dogs and cats he is raised with, and also gets along well with kids but may be a bit too rowdy for a toddler. The Flattie is considered one of the most active of all of the Sporting breeds, so if you’re looking for a running, jogging or hiking partner, this dog will easily keep up with you and probably outpace you. Even when you think he’s finally run out of energy, this dog gets a second wind and is always ready to go.
A versatile working dog, the Flat-Coat Retriever excels at dog sports such as agility, dock diving, hunting trials, flyball, Frisbee, tracking, obedience and rally. Highly motivated by CANIDAE treats, this dog is easy to train and eager to learn whatever you want to teach him, as long as you use positive reinforcement. Harsh training techniques will cause him to shut down and refuse to follow commands. One of his favorite “dog sports” is counter surfing, and he’s tall enough to help himself to whatever he finds on the kitchen counter. This dog loves to carry things in his mouth and isn’t picky about what it may be – a chew toy, ball, couch cushion, or your favorite blouse.
Flat-Coated Retrievers are quick to make friends with everyone they meet, especially people who feed them. The breed makes a great watchdog, but a lousy guard dog. This is a people-oriented dog that wouldn’t be happy spending hours alone in the backyard. Because they were bred to work alongside humans when hunting, they want and need to be with their family.
Today, the Flat-Coated Retriever is finding a new following of fans. The breed has climbed their way back into the hearts of many dog lovers, and now sits at number 89 on the American Kennel Club’s list of popular dog breeds.
Read more articles by Linda Cole