Flat Coated Retriever

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Flat Coated Retriever

The Flat Coated Retriever is a large breed of dog that was developed as a gundog to retrieve game during shoots both on land and in water. It was once a popular working breed but is now more commonly kept as a companion and is also used for modern working dog roles. The breed is highly trainable and willing to learn, but also extremely energetic and lively and requires an active lifestyle with plenty of exercise to keep it happy and healthy.

The Flat Coated Retriever is extremely good with children and has a kind and playful nature. It is sociable and usually gets on well with other dogs and pets. The breed has a medium length coat, which does not require specialist grooming, but can shed heavily so needs fairly regular brushing. The Flat Coated Retriever can suffer from some hereditary health problems so careful selection of a healthy line is important when deciding to get a puppy to minimize the risk of future health problems.

About & History

The Flat Coated Retriever is a large breed of dog belonging to the gundog group. It was originally known as the Wavy Coated Retriever and was developed to work both on land and in water, retrieving game during shoots. It was a popular working breed in the 1800s in England. There is uncertainty as to the exact origin of the breed but it is likely that it is descended from the now extinct St. John’s Water Dog and the Newfoundland and, it is thought that later on, both Setter and Spaniel lines were introduced to improve the working ability of the breed. Originally only the black colouring was acceptable but artificial selection has led to development of the liver colouring, which is now accepted for registration.

The breed was also popular in the USA in the late 1800s and early 1900s but after this it saw a dramatic drop in numbers. Numbers were greatly affected during the Second World War, however, a program for revival of the breed has since helped to stabilise the population. Despite its working origins, today the breed is largely kept as a companion, but its athletic physique and trainable nature means that it can also excel in modern dog sports, such as agility and flyball. In addition to this, the Flat Coated Retriever is a popular choice for working roles, such as sniffer and guide dogs.


Flat Coated Retriever Large Photo

The Flat-Coated Retriever only has two colours that are accepted for registration with the UK Kennel Club:

  • Black
  • Liver

The Flat Coated Retriever should stand between 56 and 61 cm tall at the withers and weigh between 25 and 26 kg. Female dogs are generally smaller than males. The neck should be medium to long and join the shoulders at around a 45-degree angle. The front legs should be straight with plenty of bone and the chest should be deep with reasonably flat ribs. The back should not be excessively long and the hind end should be strong and muscular with straight back legs. The tail should be carried at or below the level of the back but never above it. Although muscular and athletic, the musculature should be smooth rather than bulky.

The breed has a long distinctively shaped head with a flat skull and slight distinction between the skull and muzzle. The muzzle should be nearly as long as the width of the skull. The jaws should be strong with flat cheeks and teeth should be healthy and white forming a perfect scissor bite. The nose should be large and dark with wide nostrils. Eyes should be dark, almond shaped and of medium size. The breed has fairly small ears which lie close to the side of the head.

The Flat Coated Retriever should move with a free, fluid gait in a perfectly straight line. The movement should appear well coordinated and effortless and whilst at the same time covering plenty of ground. The topline should remain level whilst moving.

Character & Temperament

The Flat Coated Retriever is a bright, active dog with a friendly and confident character. The breed is always eager to please and very kind natured. It is excellent with children and therefore makes an excellent choice of family pet if it can be provided with sufficient exercise. The Flat Coated Retriever does not typically suffer from separation anxiety, however, it does enjoy human company and, as with all dogs, ideally, should not be left alone for long periods of time. Usually good with other dogs, the breed can also live happily alongside other pets, especially when accustomed to them from a young age. Although the breed is not typically used as a guard dog its size means that it can still seem imposing.


Photo of Flat Coated Retriever puppy

The Flat Coated Retriever is a breed that is extremely trainable and eager to please. It is intelligent and energetic and benefits from having plenty of mental stimulation to keep it busy and use up its endless energy. This means the breed is quick to learn and recall and house training are not usually a problem. The breed is often described as being forever young with a lifelong playfulness in its character.


The Flat Coated Retriever has an average life expectancy of around 8 to 10 years of age. The UK Kennel Club classes the breed as a Category 1 breed with no specific points of concern. However, the Kennel Club does specify that:

  • Female dogs should not have a litter under the age of two.
  • Female dogs should not have more than three litters in the lifetime.
  • Female dogs should not have more than one litter in any 12 month timeframe.

In addition the breed can be prone to suffering from the following health problems:

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

Hip dysplasia is a condition where either one or a combination of various different developmental hip abnormalities contribute to the formation of joint problems in older dogs. In order to evaluate whether a dog is affected it should have its hips x rayed when it is over a year old.

Experts then evaluate x rays using specific criteria and a score is assigned. The lower the score, the fewer signs of hip dysplasia there are present in an individual. The maximum score for both hips is 106. Hip dysplasia can be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Progressive retinal atrophy includes various different inherited conditions which affect the retina and its ability to function within the eye. This ultimately affects vision. These conditions can either be developmental or degenerative. Developmental types tend to occur in younger dogs and have a more rapid progression, and degenerative types usually occur when dogs are a bit older and progress more slowly.


Glaucoma is caused by the build-up of fluid in the eye, subsequently leading to an increase in pressure. This eventually affects sight and causes pain and discomfort. Regular testing through gonioscopy can be used to monitor whether a dog is developing the condition.


Epilepsy is a neurological disease that leads to seizures. Seizures can be of varying severity and frequency and identifying what triggers them can be complicated. On the whole, epilepsy can be well controlled using medication, but this requires consistency and dedication from the owner.


Although there is not currently scientific research available to prove that there is a genetic factor involved, Flat Coated Retrievers suffer from a higher rate of occurrence of some types of cancers than many other breeds.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Flat Coated Retriever is a highly energetic breed of dog that needs around two-hours of walking a day. As much of this time as possible should be spent off the lead to allow them to use up their endless energy. This means that the breed is not an ideal choice for city environments and is best suited to a country home with plenty of garden space as well as an active family.


The Flat Coated Retriever has a medium length coat that is shiny and soft to touch, providing excellent protection against cold and water. They do not need any specialist grooming but can shed fairly heavily, especially with seasonal changes, so require regular brushing at home to prevent matting and lots of hair left around the house.

Famous Flat Coated Retrievers

There are few examples of famous Flat Coated Retrievers but one well known dog was:

  • Blarney, who was a sought after Flat Coated Retriever owned by H. Reginald Cooke.


There are not many Flat Coated Retriever cross-breeds, but one which has become popular is:

  • Flatdoodle – Cross between a Flat Coated Retriever and a Poodle.

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.