Flat-Coated Retriever (Flat-Coats): Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Flat-Coated Retriever lying down on path.

Marcin Rutkowski / 500px / Getty Images

The Flat-Coated Retriever may look like a cross between a Black Lab and a Golden, but these smart and sporty dogs are a breed all their own. Born and bred to excel both in the water and on land, Flat-Coated Retrievers, often referred to as Flat-Coats, are considered the “Peter Pans” of the Retriever family, with puppy-like features that last long into adulthood. Flat-Coats are eager to please and make excellent show and sport dogs, but they’re also sweet, funny, and loyal, and glad to spend their days as a spoiled member of the family (provided they also get lots of exercise). Read on to learn all about the Flat-Coated Retriever, including their storied histories and how these not-quite-Black-Lab, not-quite-Golden-Retriever pups came to be a favorite of dog lovers around the world. 

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting Group

Height: 23-24.5 inches (males); 22 to 23.5 inches (females)

Weight: 55 to 70 pounds

Coat: Moderate length

Coat Color: Solid black or liver

Life Expectancy: 8 to 10 years

Characteristics of the Flat-Coated Retriever

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

History of the Flat-Coated Retriever

We often associate Retrievers with being all-American dogs, but Flat-Coats are actually a product of the United Kingdom, where they were first bred in the mid-19th century to work and hunt alongside their owners. Like their Retriever peers (Flat-Coats are one of six unique Retriever breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club), Flat-Coated Retrievers are equal parts driven athletes and happy-go-lucky family pets. Prior to the ubiquity of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers (the latter of whom have Flat-Coats to thank for at least some of their blood line), the Flat-Coated Retriever was the most popular Retriever in Britain, referred to as the “Gamekeeper’s Dog” since they were so commonly found on the greens of large English estates.

There are a few early dog breeders associated with the development of Flat-Coats, including S.E. Shirley, who is considered by many to be the breed’s originator. Credit is also due to gamekeeper J. Hull, whose Flat-Coat Old Bounce and her daughter Young Bounce are considered quintessential to the spread and development of Flat-Coats around Britain.

Early appreciation for Flat-Coated Retrievers was largely driven by their hunting prowess. Through the end of World War I, Flat-Coats were the go-to breed for UK hunters on both lake and land, though the breed was eventually overshadowed by the rise of Labs and Goldens. By the mid-1960s, it took a concerted effort from Flat-Coat appreciators to secure the breed’s future. And though they’ve never quite been able to regain their status as the go-to Retriever breed, Flat-Coats haven’t lost their popularity among select groups—nor the intelligence, athleticism, and good natured personalities that made them so well loved in the first place. 

Flat-Coated Retriever Care

You don’t become recognized as one of the world’s foremost sporting breeds without having the energy to back it up. Flat-Coated Retrievers require a lot of exercise to be at their best, and will not be satisfied with a simple walk around the block. Flat-Coats love to romp and run, and they also enjoy putting their skills to use with sports like agility and tracking. Long daily walks (better yet: two) are a necessity, as is plenty of one-on-one play time and other activities that engage both the Flat-Coats body and his mind.

Because of their high intelligence, Flat-Coated Retrievers are responsive to positive reinforcement training, though their silly streak may mean occasional disobedience if they know it will get a laugh. Use training as a way to work more mental and physical exercise into a Flat-Coat's day, and be sure to provide proper socialization training alongside obedience training. While they are usually a very dog-friendly breed, it’s still a good idea to instill good social manners in puppyhood and beyond.

Grooming a Flat-Coated Retriever is similar to what’s expected for all Retrievers. Their moderate-length coat requires regular brushings (about once a week) to maintain its shine and reduce the chance of matted fur and tangles. As with all dogs, other standard grooming activities should be done regularly as well, including nail trims, ear cleaning, and dental care. 

Black Flat-Coated Retriever puppy in grass.
 Zoonar RF / Getty Images
Brown Flat-Coated Retriever adult in grass.
BiancaGrueneberg / Getty Images
Two black Flat-Coated Retrievers swimming.
Skeeze / Pixabay

Common Health Problems

All pure bred dogs may be prone to certain genetic illnesses. While Flat-Coated Retrievers are regarded as generally healthy dogs, be aware of the following ailments which are associated with breed.

If purchasing a Flat-Coat puppy, be sure to only work with a breeder who tests their stock prior to breeding to reduce the chances of passing on certain genetic illnesses. While it is not possible to prevent all instances of the health conditions above or other health conditions, proper care should be taken to mitigate the risk. 

Diet and Nutrition

Flat-Coated Retrievers need the right nutrition to maintain all of that energy. A sufficient diet includes high-quality, high-protein meals, with specific needs accommodated if need be—for example, puppy or senior food. Flat-Coats love positive reinforcement so feel free to give plenty of healthy treats, though cut back if you notice your Flat-Coat gaining too much weight. If you have any specific questions about the right diet to feed a Flat-Coated Retriever, talk to your veterinarian. 

Pros

  • Family-friendly and does well with both children and other animals

  • Athletic and happy to join in for hikes, swims, bike rides, runs, and more

  • Maintain their puppy-like features and qualities into adulthood

Cons

  • May become stressed and/or destructive when left alone for too long

  • Require a lot of exercise—at least 90 minutes a day—and not ideal for caregivers who cannot make the time

  • Not good apartment dogs, and should be in homes where they have plenty of room to run around

Where to Adopt or Buy a Flat-Coated Retriever

For all their history, Flat-Coated Retrievers are still a relatively rare breed. Still, you can generally find a good number of Flat-Coats for adoption. Check out Flat-Coated Retriever Rescue as well, and be sure to browse The Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America website for adoptable dogs and advice on purchasing a Flat-Coat. If working with a breeder, do your research and only work with someone who is reputable and takes excellent care of their dogs.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

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