Flat-Coated Retriever: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Flat-coated retriever lying on a dirt path

Marcin Rutkowski / 500px / Getty Images

The flat-coated retriever is a medium-size sporting dog breed from England with a medium-length flat coat from which it derives its name. Flat-coats strongly resemble golden retrievers, except rather than coming in an array of golden hues they are usually only black or liver. They are known for their energetic and cheerful nature, and many retain a puppyish personality even into their senior years. Flat-coats are ideal for active owners who like to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting

Height: 22 to 23.5 inches (female), 23 to 24.5 inches (male)

Weight: 60 to 70 pounds

Coat: Medium-length, smooth

Coat Color: Black, liver

Life Span: 8 to 10 years

Temperament: Affectionate, energetic, playful

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: England

Characteristics of the Flat-Coated Retriever

Flat-coated retrievers are known for having a friendly and upbeat temperament. They generally get along well with kids and even other dogs. A high energy level and love of playtime also help to shape this breed's personality.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Flat-Coated Retriever

The flat-coated retriever can trace its origin to the mid-1800s in England. The St. John’s water dog, a predecessor to the Labrador retriever that was imported to England from Newfoundland, is a component of the breed, along with various setter dog breeds. Collie breeds also are in the mix, which might have contributed to the breed’s high intelligence and trainability. And spaniel breeds added their hunting and swimming abilities. 

Flat-coats were prized for their athleticism, eagerness to please and work, and prowess in retrieving waterfowl. Their coat also was a desirable trait, as it protected them from the elements—including icy waters. Other names for the breed have included the smooth-coated retriever, wavy-coated retriever, and black wavy retriever. 

They became England’s most popular retriever breed until the Lab and golden eventually dethroned them in the early 1900s. Breed numbers diminished during the World Wars, and flat-coats are still fairly rare today. The American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1915.

Flat-Coated Retriever Care

Flat-coated retrievers need lots of daily exercise to be happy and healthy dogs. Fortunately, their grooming needs are fairly straightforward, and they generally take well to training.

Exercise

Expect to spend at least two hours per day exercising this active dog. Long walks, running, cycling, hiking, swimming, and vigorous games of fetch all are ideal. Adequate mental stimulation also is important. Puzzle toys and dog sports, such as agility and rally, can help to burn both physical and mental energy. 

When flat-coats don't get enough exercise and mental stimulation, they might develop problem behaviors, such as excessive barking or chewing. It's best that they live in a home with a yard in which they can run and play freely.

Grooming

Plan to brush your dog at least weekly to remove loose fur and prevent mats. Except periods of higher shedding, often in the spring and fall, during which you’ll have to increase brushing to keep up with the loose fur. 

Bathe your dog roughly every month, depending on how dirty it gets. And look in its ears at least weekly for wax buildup, debris, and signs of infection. Always dry the ears well after a bath or swimming. Moreover, check your dog’s nails every month or so to see whether they need a trim. And brush its teeth ideally every day.

Training

Flat-coats are typically highly trainable dogs thanks to their intelligence and connection with their humans. But you should always use positive reinforcement training methods, as they are sensitive to harsh corrections. Start training and socialization from as young of an age as possible to prevent bad habits from forming. Many flat-coats also do well in advanced training, such as learning how to be a service or therapy dog. 

You also might have to work with a professional trainer, behaviorist, or vet on separation anxiety issues. Flat-coats don’t like to be left alone for long periods and might engage in unwanted behaviors if they are. Even with training, it’s still ideal that they’re in a household with someone home for much of the day.

black flat-coated retriever puppy lying in grass
 Zoonar RF / Getty Images
Brown flat-coated retriever standing in grass
BiancaGrueneberg / Getty Images
Two black flat-coated retrievers swimming
Skeeze / Pixabay

Common Health Problems

Flat-coated retrievers are prone to several hereditary health issues, including:

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water accessible for your dog. And feed a quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet. It’s typical to feed two measured meals per day to ensure that your dog is receiving the right amount. Ask for your vet’s recommendations on how much you should feed your dog and whether you need to make any special individual adjustments, such as a particular diet for your dog’s age or activity level.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Flat-Coated Retriever

Flat-coated retrievers are a relatively rare breed, but it’s still possible to find them at animal shelters. Look for breed-specific rescue organizations in your area as well, and see whether local shelters have a breed wait list you can put your name on. If you’re looking for a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $1,000 to $2,000, though this can vary widely.

For further information to help you find a flat-coated retriever, check out:

Flat-Coated Retriever Overview

Pros
  • Generally good with kids and other dogs

  • Typically very friendly and playful

  • Good for people who enjoy outdoor activities, including hiking and swimming

Cons
  • Needs lots of exercise and mental stimulation

  • Can become destructive if left alone for long periods

  • Not ideal for apartment living

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

As with any breed, do plenty of research to ensure that a flat-coated retriever is right for your lifestyle. Talk to breed owners, vets, rescue groups, and reputable breeders. And spend some time around flat-coated retrievers if possible.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • What's the difference between a flat-coated retriever and a golden retriever?

    Flat-coated retrievers look quite similar to golden retrievers, except their coat lies flatter compared to the golden's somewhat wavy coat. The breeds also have similar temperaments, though flat-coated retrievers tend to be more energetic.

  • Are flat-coated retrievers good family dogs?

    Flat-coated retrievers can be excellent family dogs with proper training and socialization. As a breed, they tend to be friendly and loving with kids, though their high energy level might be too much around small children.

  • Are flat-coated retrievers good apartment dogs?

    Flat-coated retrievers typically do best in a home that has a secure yard in which they can run and play. They're often too energetic and vocal for apartment living.

Article Sources
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  1. Flat-Coated Retriever. American Kennel Club.

  2. Flat-Coated Retriever Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.