Flat-Coated Retriever

Flat-Coated Retriever

Spirited and puppy-like, bouncy flat-coated retrievers are a rare breed but prized as focused hunting companions, terrific show dogs, and loving family pets.
By Tracey L. Kelley
May 28, 2021
Flat-Coated Retriever
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament

Flat-Coated Retriever

height
  • 22-24.5 inches
weight
  • 60-70 pounds
life span
  • 8-10 years
breed size
  • large (61-100 lbs.)
good with
  • families
  • children
  • cats
  • dogs
temperament
  • friendly
  • outgoing
  • playful
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • frequent
exercise needs
  • high
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • sporting
coat length/texture
  • medium
colors
  • black
  • brown / chocolate / liver
other traits
  • easy to train
  • easy to groom
  • high prey drive
  • loves water
  • good hiking companion
  • strong loyalty tendencies

Affectionately referred to as the 'Peter Pan' of breeds, one of the appealing aspects of flat-coated retriever puppies is when they grow up, they retain that same youthful exuberance. Good-natured, playful, devoted to their favorite humans, and quite charming, flat-coats—or 'flatties' as they're often called—have energy to spare! 

Those who make good companions for flat-coats are active, outdoorsy, and eager to spend hours roaming around with their dogs. Hunters love this retriever as a marsh and woodland partner because he was bred to fetch waterfowl and small game. A flatty pet parent also understands how positive reinforcement training accentuates all of this sporting dog's best qualities and keeps him mentally and physically sharp.

Appearance

A flat-coated retriever's colors help him blend into the natural world well. Mostly solid black or liver, but occasionally a deep golden brown, he zips off through the reeds like a shot, right into the water, and his sleek, medium-length coat helps him glide effortlessly through the waves and protects him from any chill. His tail, long and fan-like when dry, narrows to a powerful rudder when wet for easy maneuvering. 

Black Flat-Coated Retriever standing in field
Flat-coated retrievers can sometimes be mistaken for brown or black golden retrievers. But while they're both retrievers, the two breeds are totally separate.
| Credit: BIGANDT.COM / Shutterstock

He has a sloped, smooth forehead and feathery bobbed ears framing some of the sweetest bronze-colored eyes. A flatty's whole expression represents his kind and playful nature, especially when his long tongue lags out of the end of his narrow muzzle. 

A flat-coated retriever is a large, strong dog, standing nearly 2 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing approximately 60–70 pounds. His lean racer's build shows off his power and stamina. 

People often wonder about a flat-coated retriever vs. a golden retriever. Well, they're like the second-cousin twice-removed you only see at the family reunion: Yes, they're both members of the retriever family tree, but that's where most similarities end. If you hear of a flat-coated golden retriever, or a black golden retriever, it's likely a hybrid retriever mix between the two breeds. Flatties are actually a smidgen more closely related to Labrador retrievers, both in ancestry and in color.  

Brown Flat-Coated Retriever puppy running in the grass
Credit: PhilStev / Getty

Temperament

If you want a little "get up and go" in your doggo, you'll have all that and more with a flat-coated retriever. Bonnie Bragdon, DVM, MS, is co-founder and president of the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association. She says if he's from a suitable line, a flatty makes an excellent family dog with people who enjoy an active lifestyle and close companionship.  

"The stewards of this breed sought to produce dogs that were physically fit to withstand the rigors of hunting, good swimmers to retrieve waterfowl, and attentive working partners who bonded to their human companions for an easy partnership," Bragdon says. "Today, the flat-coated retriever is successful in field trials and competitions, and wants to please their human partner." They also excel at scent work. 

The flat-coated retriever's temperament is playful, friendly, and cheerful. They adore people and children. In fact, they consider themselves integral members of the family, following you around even without the promise of treats, always expecting one-on-one attention. 

Black Flat-Coated Retriever lying on a tree stump
Flat-coated retrievers are your ultimate outdoor companion. If you're spending the weekend backpacking through the mountains, a flatty will be by your side.
| Credit: Lichtflut / Shutterstock

They're also quite sensitive (those sweet, sweet eyes, remember?) and super smart, so help them understand what's expected of them with patience and positive reinforcement training

Bragdon says regular daily exercise and mental stimulation will help him avoid getting into mischief. Whether as a new pup or an older dog from a flat-coated retriever rescue, consider these important skill and behavioral aspects to bring out his best:  

Because a flat-coated retriever is so in-tune and affectionate with humans, consider channeling his energy and keen sense of purpose into becoming a therapy dog.  

Red Flat-Coated Retriever headshot
Credit: BiancaGrueneberg / Getty

Living Needs

Have we mentioned that the flat-coated retriever needs daily exercise? Like, a lot? He was born to set the pace for hunters in the woods and through water, so a 20-minute walk around the block probably won't be enough to satisfy his natural instincts—unless it's six times a day! 

Bragdon says that while a flat-coat is adaptable and flexible, he appreciates living in a home with space and access to the outdoors for regular exercise and activity. For these reasons, he's probably not the best dog for apartment dwellers. He also might be safer and less likely to bolt after small, furry creatures if kept inside a large, well-fenced area for his daily romps.

Black Flat-Coated Retriever running in the water
Flat-coated retrievers don't need a ton of baths—but they do love water! These pups will happily join you for a summer afternoon splash.
| Credit: THOMAS KIENZLE / Getty

Make the outside his giant playground! Let him snuffle and fetch and run! Play games to spark his curiosity! If you're not into hunting or fishing, a flat-coat will be a great trail companion for hiking or camping, or you can show off his doggie-paddle by teaching him to paddleboard or kayak. Heck, he'd probably even practice doga.

Flat-coated retrievers are usually pretty good pals with other household pets if introduced and socialized early on.  

Care

Few dogs require less primping than the flat-coated retriever—he's a "wash and wear" kinda guy. With a weekly touch of a metal comb and brush, you won't have to spend a fortune on grooming costs to remove loose hair, dirt, and stray pheasant feathers. This regular brushing also helps distribute important oils to keep his skin from drying out.

 

Red Flat-Coated Retriever walking in field
Bred as a "gamekeeper's dog," flat-coated retrievers were used as hunting dogs by the English high society. Until the early 1900s, they were the most popular retriever in the U.K.
| Credit: Bianca Grueneberg / Shutterstock

If he's swimming in the ocean, a chlorinated pool, or in a lake with a lot of algae, it's a good idea to hose him off after every outing. But unless he gets into something really nasty, you'll likely not have to worry about giving him a bath more than a couple times a year.

Do sleek flat-coated retrievers shed? Yes, a little, especially in the spring and fall, but your attention to weekly grooming will help tamper down the fluff a bit.

Black flat-coated retrievers and other dark-colored flatties might have a problem with heat stroke. According to VCA Hospitals, intense exercise during hot temperatures puts some dogs at risk for this condition, so take good care of your rambunctious retriever on days like this. Because he doesn't sweat, help him chillax after vigorous activity either indoors with air conditioning, or outdoors in the shade and maybe even a cooling doggie pool. Extra water is a must either way—but you can hold the ice cubes.

Other quick preening tips include teeth brushing, nail trims, and ear cleaning.

Black Flat-Coated Retriever puppy with sand on his muzzle
Credit: Anna Pozzi - Zoophotos / Shutterstock

Health

A flat-coated retriever's lifespan is approximately 8–10 years, and he'll stay relatively healthy most of that time, bouncing and diving all over the place.

However, later in life, this breed is highly susceptible to histiocytic sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer. It's often undetected until it's too late, so Bragdon recommends owners consult their veterinarians regularly for frequent monitoring for lumps and other signs of poor health.

Bragdon also notes flatties have problems with hip dysplasia and luxating patellas or kneecaps. Additionally, as they're such active water dogs, you'll want to keep a close watch for potential ear infections. Include preventative ear care measures, such as thorough drying after every outing and regular cleaning to keep ear troubles at bay.

History

According to the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America, a longstanding English breed known as the St. John's Dog influenced much of the retriever line, and this is just one aspect of the flat-coat dog's mixed pedigree.

Initially bred in the mid-1800s, he also includes some of the best traits of Newfoundlands, as well as various setters, sheepdogs, and water-loving spaniels. One of the biggest fans of the breed was Sewallis Evelyn Shirley, who helped develop the flatty and also founded The Kennel Club in the U.K.  

Flat-Coated Retriever jumping over poles in an agility course
With their smarts and need for exercise, flat-coated retrievers excel in dog sports and competition shows.
| Credit: Mark Herreid / Adobe Stock

For decades, flat-coats were known as the "gamekeeper's dog," because they were the preferred hunting companions of the English high society on their vast estates. 

In fact, until the early 1900s, flatties were the most popular retrievers in the U.K. until the rise of goldens and Labradors. Although registered in 1915 by the American Kennel Club in the U.S., interest in the flat-coat sharply declined in both countries for more than three decades. 

In the 1960s, U.S. breeders Nancy Laughton and Stanley O'Neill helped revive the breed's popularity among competitors and sportsmen, but of the current six retrievers in the AKC's sporting group, the flat-coat is still an outlier: Known to some, especially in Europe, but relatively unheard of by others. 

Fun Facts

  • Over the years, the flat-coat has had many aliases, including smooth-coated retriever, black wavy retriever, and the wavy-coated retriever.
  • Since 1928, only two flat-coated retrievers have won ‘Best in Show’ in the world-famous Crufts dog competition, organized by The Kennel Club in the U.K. Ch. Shargleam Blackcap took the trophy in 1980, followed by Sh Ch. Vbos the Kentuckian in 2011. 
  • They may look similar to a dark colored golden retriever, but 'flatties,' as they're affectionately called, are actually a smidgen more closely related to Labs!