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Flat-Coated Retriever

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

Flat-Coated Retriever

The Flat-Coated Retriever is a large purebred who was bred to be a retriever able to work with hunters on both land and water. It does will in a variety of activities such as tracking, agility, retrieving and hunting and makes an excellent therapy dog. It is not just a long haired version of the Labrador Retriever but a separate breed of retriever that was once very popular before World War I but then the Golden and Labs became more so as they were easier to find. Best suited to people who are experienced dog owners and are active.

The Flat-Coated Retriever at A Glance
Name Flat-Coated Retriever
Other names None
Nicknames Flatcoat, Flattie, Flattie-Tattie and Flatte
Origin United Kingdom
Average size Large
Average weight 60 to 70 pounds
Average height 22 to 25 inches
Life span 10 to 14 years
Coat type Medium, dense, thick
Hypoallergenic No
Color Black, brown and yellow
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 86th by the AKC
Intelligence Excellent – learns very quickly
Tolerance to heat Very good – can handle hot weather just not extreme heat
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle cold weather just nothing extreme
Shedding Average to frequent – expect hair around the home and on clothes
Drooling Moderate – not known for slobber or drool
Obesity Fairly high – loves to eat and will overeat if allowed, monitor food and give plenty of exercise
Grooming/brushing Moderate maintenance – brush a couple of times a week at least
Barking Occasional – not a completely quiet dog
Exercise needs Fairly active – needs a good amount of daily exercise
Trainability Easy – smart breed and with right approach training is easy
Friendliness Excellent – very social breed
Good first dog No, best with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Very good with socialization
Good with strangers Excellent with socialization – very approachable
Good apartment dog Low – needs space and a yard
Handles alone time well Low – hates being alone and can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues Not a very healthy breed – can be prone to several forms of cancer as well as eye problems and hip dysplasia
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic care and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for treats and a good quality dry dog food
Miscellaneous expenses $245 a year for toys, license, basic training and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $1000 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,100
Rescue organizations Several including the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America, the North-East All Retriever Rescue and The Flat-Coated Retriever Club of Canada
Biting Statistics None reported

The Flat-Coated Retriever’s Beginnings

The Flat-Coated Retriever was bred in the mid 1800s in England and was popular with gamekeepers. It was developed to be a retriever on land and from water with a great sense of smell, a great swimmer, and able to work on marsh land as well as in thick bushes and trees. Different spaniels and retrievers were used in its development including the Irish Setter, Collie, Newfoundland, Water Spaniel and Labrador. The first of its kind was in the 1860s and then 20 years on it became more established.

It came to the US in the late 1800s and where it became a popular gun dog there too. Numbers grew quickly and it was recognized by the AKC in 1915. Up until the first world war this breed was very popular but then during the war the numbers dropped a lot and because it was harder to get people turned to the Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever instead. By the end of World War II the numbers were so low that there was the possibility the breed would disappear.

New Lease on Life

In the 1960s steps were taken thankfully to revive the breed with careful breeding. It grew somewhat in popularity once more though it still remains far less common than the Golden or the Lab. In competition it is still a rare breed. It is not at the level of popularity that it once had but some breeders see that as a positive note, as it means things like its working ability, intelligence, nature and health are being more closely preserved and are not being damaged by backyard breeders and puppy mills as much as more popular breeds. Today it is ranked 86th most popular dog by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

This is a large dog weighing 60 to 70 pounds and standing 22 to 25 inches tall. It has a wide and deep chest with a squared back and a medium length feathered tail. It also has feathering on its ears, black of its front legs, chest and thighs. The coat is straight, thick, fine and medium length and lies close to the body. Common colors are black, some are liver and rarely it can be liver. It is a lighter looking dog compared to other retrievers. At the neck is a longer thicker section of coat like a mane, this is especially obvious in males.

It has a long head with a flat skull and a long, deep muzzle with a large black or brown nose. Its almond shaped eyes are medium sized and either hazel or dark brown. It has small ears that hang down and its head moves into a neck that is well arched.

The Inner Flat-Coated Retriever


Flat-Coated Retrievers are a friendly, cheerful, playful, sweet and loyal dog. They are great as watchdogs as it is alert and will bark to let you know of any intruder. In general though it is not a super protective dog so may not act to defend you or the family. This breed is best in homes with owners who have experience, not for owners who are new and inexperienced. With the right people though it is a great family dog, very social, gets along with everyone, even strangers, and loves being part of family activity.

This is a spirited breed, sometimes too over excited, very outgoing and often retains a puppy like temperament for many years into adulthood. For that reason in the dog world it has the nickname of the Peter Pan of retrievers. It is essential it gets the right amount of exercise to keep it calmer inside and it also needs firm handling. This is an intelligent dog and can get bored easily so be prepared to have plenty of toys, physical exercise and mental stimulation opportunities on hand. This is certainly not a couch potato dog. It does not like being left alone for long periods and can suffer from separation anxiety.

Living with a Flat-Coated Retriever

What will training look like?

Flatcoats are easy to train for people with experience. It listens to commands, is intelligent, eager to please and may even need less repetition to learn than many other dogs. It is important though to make the training sessions short, interesting and well paced to ensure it does not get bored and act out. Being puppy like for longer it can be exuberant and have a shorter attention span. It does have a stubborn side to it but with a firm and consistent approach that can be managed. As it is sensitive harsh training is not something it responds well to. Be patient, positive and offer treats, praise and rewards to motivate it white still setting clear rules and being in control. Its tendency towards being clownish and playful means it will often choose trying to make you laugh over doing what you want it to do.

House training should also be easy enough with this breed, crate training can help and sticking to a schedule does too. Be warned though supervision is needed, this is a dog that does eat its own feces so you need to be ready to dispose of it when it passes before it gets to it. Early socialization is important in order for it to become the best dog it can be, confident, responding appropriately to different people, dogs, places, animals and situations and trustworthy.

How active is the Flat-Coated Retriever?

This is a fairly active breed so will need a good amount of exercise each day, at least two 45 minute walks for example but it also likes to jog with you, go hiking, training for a dog sport like flyball, swimming and so on. Take it to a dog park too so it can run safely off leash, play fetch with you and socialize with other dogs. It is not well suited to apartment living and needs access to at least an average sized yard. If it does not get enough physical activity it becomes restless, bored and destructive. As well as physical stimulation it is also very important it gets mental stimulation too. Training can be a part of that.

Caring for the Flat-Coated Retriever

Grooming needs

Flat-Coated Retrievers shed a fair amount so expect there to be hair around the home and on clothing. This will need vacuuming on a regular basis. Brushing can help reduce that shedding and keep the coat clean and looking healthy. Brush at least twice a week and expect to occasionally trim or have it trimmed. The feathered parts of the coat are especially prone to tangling. Only give it a bath when it really does need one, bathing too often actually dries out its skin and can lead to skin problems.

Brush its teeth two to three times a week for good oral health and check its ears for signs of infection once a week. They can be wiped clean using a cotton pad and dog ear cleanser, do not insert anything into them. Its nails should be trimmed when they get too long but that is not a simple task as cutting to low can cause bleeding and hurt them. If you are not familiar with dog nails have the groomer clip them for you.

Feeding Time

In general the Flat-Coated Retriever will eat between 2½ to 4½ cups of a good quality dry dog food each day, and that should be divided into at least two meals, most opt for a breakfast and evening meal. How much exactly your dog needs though can vary depending on its age, health, size, activity level and metabolism.

How is the Flat-Coated Retriever with children and other animals?

A Flatcoat is a great dog to have in a home with children as they make great play mates, get up to mischief together and help each other burn off a lot of energy! It is also very loving and affectionate towards them, especially children it has been raised with. Its tendency to retain a puppy like nature into adulthood makes them a great best friend for kids but do remember it can be exuberant and does knock down young kids accidentally. Toddlers need to be supervised just in case, and should be taught how to touch and play with a dog in a kind and safe manner. With older children though it will happily play for hours, chase a ball, run with them, go swimming and so on.

Around pets the same consideration applies. It accepts and even gets along with other pets though smaller pets need to be supervised because of its energy level. It can get on fine with cats, especially if raised with them, but some may be less welcoming of strange ones in its yard. It tends to have a thing for chasing birds though, from its retrieving days so if you keep birds as pets this is probably not the best option for you to get.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

A life span of 10 to 14 years is possible with this breed but it does face some serious health problems including several forms of cancer such as malignant histiocytosis, hemangiosarcoma lymphosarcoma, osteosarcoma and fibrosarcoma. Other issues can include eye problems, hip dysplasia (rare though), Patellar luxation, epilepsy and Bloat.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports from the US and Canada of dogs attacking people and doing bodily harm over the last 34 years, there is no mention of the Flat-Coated Retriever. This is not a dog to be concerned about when it comes aggression but do keep in mind any dog can have a bad day, and also there are things you can do as a responsible owner to teach it appropriate reactions and to minimize the chance of that bad day. Make sure it is getting enough exercise, so many owners get a dog based on looks or temperament but then realize they are stuck with a dog who should be getting two hours a day, but they themselves are not active people and were wanting to walk a dog for 30 minutes at the most. An under exercised dog does act out. Also make sure it has at least basic obedience training and that it is well socialized.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Flat-Coated Retriever puppy is going to cost more than most other types of Retriever because of its rarity. You can expect to pay $1100 to $2000 for a good quality pet from a good breeder. If you want something of show standards from a top breeder that can go into several thousands at least. You may also be faced with a waiting list. There are less responsible ways to get one, buying from a backyard breeder or puppy mill type place for example but we really suggest you avoid these places. There are shelters and rescues that sometimes have them, not always a puppy though, at these places it is more common to have an adult that needs a new home. These cost $50 to $400 and they also come with medical concerns taken care of.

Initial needs to be prepared for include having a crate, collar and leash, bowls and such for it and these will cost about $180. Medical needs like a physical check up, shots, deworming, spaying or neutering and micro chipping will come to about $300.

Annual food costs will be about $270 for treats and a good quality dry dog food. Medical costs each year will be about $485 for pet insurance and basic care like yearly check ups, flea and tick prevention and vaccinations. Miscellaneous costs each year will be about $245 and that covers toys, basic training, miscellaneous items and license. This gives an annual starting figure for owning this dog of $1000.


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The Flat-Coated Retriever is a very energetic and boisterous dog who will have a lot of needs in terms of activity and mental stimulation. It also does shed a fair bit so is not the dog for you if you do not want dog hair around the home and on you. It is extremely loyal and very affectionate and makes a great dog for a home with people who want to be active, can give it the attention it needs and are prepared to see to its socialization and training.

Featured Image Credit: H. B., Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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