The Peter Pan of retrievers is known for its sense of humor.
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- Sporting Dogs
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- 10 to 12 years
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The Flat-Coated Retriever was originally developed as a dual-purpose retriever of game on land and from water, and he's still popular for that purpose today. He also competes in obedience, rally, and agility, is a super therapy dog, and is an ideal companion for people who enjoy are looking for an active dog breed.
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OverviewAt first glance, you might think the Flat-Coated Retriever resembles a black or brown Golden Retriever, but no such thing. He's a distinctive breed, originally developed as a dual-purpose retriever of game on land and from water. His early popularity, which peaked before World War I, was eclipsed by that of the Golden and Labrador Retrievers, but his fans think that's for the best, preferring to keep the secret of his fun-loving yet hard-working nature to themselves.
Flat-Coats are often called the "Peter Pan" of retrievers. They generally mature more slowly than other dogs and maintain their puppylike exuberance for years. This playful energy makes them a wonderful and entertaining companion, but it also means extra time and patience when training them. While they are eager to please, Flat-Coats are hams, and they won't hesitate to go for a laugh, even if it means ignoring or disobeying you. In general, however, he's a responsive and sensitive student. A harsh correction will cause him to shut down until you make amends.
Tolerant and friendly, Flat-Coats love everyone, including children and other dogs. They'll bark to let you know that someone's approaching, but don't count on them to serve as any kind of guard dog. They are great friends for active older children but may be too energetic for toddlers, knocking them down with a swish of their frequently wagging tail.
Although the Flat-Coated Retriever is fairly calm indoors, he's not suited to apartment life. He retains his hunting skills and should live in an environment where his talents can be used--or at least one that gives him the opportunity to run and swim. Expect to give him a couple of 45-minute walks, runs, or other activity daily to satisfy his exercise needs. If you're doing a good job, he'll look well conditioned and lean. Afterward, he'll enjoy relaxing with you in your home. He prefers to be with his people whenever possible.
Many breeders and enthusiasts are the first to admit that Flat-Coated Retrievers are not for everyone, but there are a lucky few for whom this affectionate and good-looking retriever is a perfect match.
- Beware of any breeder who advertises yellow Flat-Coated Retrievers. Flat-Coats only come in solid black or solid liver.
- The Flat-Coated Retriever is a high-energy dog who requires about 90 minutes of exercise a day. He makes an excellent jogging companion once he reaches physical maturity.
- Flat-Coated Retrievers mature at a slower rate than some other breeds and you will find that you are in possession of a rather large puppy for several years. This timeless puppy can be both a joy and a frustration. If you want a dog that is quieter and less puppy-like as an adult, you should look for another breed.
- Flat-Coated Retrievers enjoy human contact and will become destructive if they are left alone for too long. Routines help establish what the dog can expect and reduce their stress level.
- Flat-Coated Retrievers are not recommended for apartments.
- Training is a must with this breed as Flat-Coats are both joyous jumpers and, like all retrievers, orally fixated--that means they like to chew.
- Use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards. Keep training fun, interesting, and kind. With harsh verbal or physical treatment, Flat-Coats can become stubborn or stop responding altogether.
- Although he's highly affectionate, the Flat-Coated Retriever is not the best choice in homes with young children or fragile senior citizens. They are unaware of their strength and can hurt people with their exuberant jumping and roughhousing.
- Flat-Coated Retrievers will bark an alarm, but they are not a guard or watchdog in any way. They are more likely to greet intruders warmly, happily licking their hands and face, than they are to deter them.
- Flat-Coated Retrievers may eat their own poop, a habit known as coprophagy. Pick up poop as soon as possible if you don't want your Flat-Coat to snack on it.
- Flat-Coated Retrievers are considered to be a healthy breed in relation to other breeds but they do have a high rate of cancers.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
HistoryGiven the Flat-Coat's bouncy nature, it's appropriate that one of his forebears was named Old Bounce. Old Bounce, and her daughter, Young Bounce--natch!--were important to the development of the breed. They were members of a working strain of retrievers owned by gamekeeper J. Hull in 1864.
But the man most credited with the breed's development was S.E. Shirley, who helped mold them into a stable type. Also contributing to their advancement was H. R. Cooke, whose Riverside Kennel produced many fine field and show Flat-Coats.
The Flat-Coat was a popular hunting dog through the end of World War I, but then Labrador and Golden Retrievers began to steal his thunder. His numbers became dangerously low, and he flirted with extinction a time or two. Fortunately, his fans were able to bring him back from the brink by the mid-1960s. The Flat-Coat never regained his early popularity, but breeders count that as a plus. It has helped them to preserve his natural working ability, intelligence, and sweetly goofy nature.
He is still a rare breed, ranking 100th among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the American Kennel Club. If you want a Flat-Coat, expect to spend a year or more on a waiting list, not to mention undergoing the third-degree from a protective breeder who wants to make sure you will provide just the right home for one of his or her puppies.
SizeA male Flat-Coated Retriever is 23 to 24.5 inches tall at the shoulder; a female 22 to 23.5 inches. The average weight of a Flat-Coated Retriever is 55 to 70 pounds.
Nicknamed the Peter Pan of dogs for his ever-youthful outlook on life, the Flat-Coated Retriever has many desirable qualities. He's smart, friendly, adaptable, and cheerful. He's also mischievous and exuberant, with a moderately high energy level. His exercise needs must be met for him to maintain the sweet, calm temperament that he's known for.
This is a slow-maturing breed, which means that he'll act puppylike for several years beyond physical maturity. He's a bit of a ham and will always make you laugh, even if he's just disobeyed you. The Flat-Coat is sensitive and doesn't respond well to harsh training methods. He may react by becoming stubborn or simply refusing to do anything you ask until you soothe his hurt feelings.
Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who's beating up his littermates or the one who's hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who's available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you're comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Like every dog, Flat-Coats need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they're young. Socialization helps ensure that your Flat-Coat puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
Flat-Coated Retrievers are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they're prone to certain health conditions. Not all Flat-Coats will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're considering this breed.
If you're buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy's parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Flat-Coats, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you're buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems. Hip dysplasia is considered to be hereditary, but it can be worsened by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors. According to the 1997 Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America health survey, CHD affected 9.4 percent of Flat-Coats reported.
- Malignant Histiocytosis: While this form of cancer is rare, it's the most common type of cancer seen in Flat-Coated Retrievers. It originates in the histiocytes, white blood cells found in the skin and loose connective tissue in the body. Malignant histiocytosis is treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, but the prognosis is usually poor.
- Lymphosarcoma: This is one of the most common cancers seen in dogs and can be found in various parts of the body such as the spleen, gastrointestinal tract, lymph nodes, liver, and bone marrow. The cancer can be treated with chemotherapy.
- Hemangiosarcoma: This form of malignant cancer is found in the lining of blood vessels as well as the spleen. It can be treated with surgery and chemotherapy, but the prognosis is poor.
- Osteosarcoma: Generally affecting large and giant breeds, osteosarcoma is an aggressive bone cancer. The first sign of osteosarcoma is lameness, but the dog will need x-rays to determine if the cause is cancer. Osteosarcoma is treated aggressively, usually with the amputation of the limb and chemotherapy. With treatment, dogs can live nine months to two years or more. Luckily, dogs adapt well to life on three legs and don't suffer the same side effects to chemotherapy as humans, such as nausea and hair loss.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as "slipped stifles," this condition involves the knee (patella) slipping out of place, causing lameness. The rubbing caused by patellar luxation can lead to arthritis which is a degenerative joint disease. Patellar luxation can be mild or severe. Dogs with severe cases may require surgery.
- Gastric dilatation volvulus, also known as gastric torsion or bloat: This is a life-threatening condition that affects large, deep-chested dogs, especially if they're fed one large meal a day, eat rapidly, drink large amounts of water rapidly, or exercise vigorously after eating. Bloat occurs when the stomach is distended with gas or air and then twists. The dog is unable to belch or vomit to rid himself of the excess air in his stomach, and blood flow to the heart is impeded. Blood pressure drops and the dog goes into shock. Without immediate medical attention, the dog can die. Suspect bloat if your dog has a distended abdomen, is drooling excessively, and retching without throwing up. He also may be restless, depressed, lethargic, and weak with a rapid heart rate. If you notice these signs, get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
The Flat-Coated Retriever is the perfect suburban or country dog. He has a moderately high energy level and is best suited to a home where he has many opportunities to run and swim. Expect to exercise him about 90 minutes a day, or two 45-minute walks, runs, or other vigorous activity such as playing fetch or training for agility or flyball.
Flat-Coated Retrievers make wonderful jogging companions when they are trained properly and have reached maturity. Remember that jogging on cement or other hard surfaces can damage your dog's joints; it's best to run on grass or other soft surfaces.
Go easy on puppies. They need approximately 5 minutes of exercise for every month of age per day. So if your Flat-Coat puppy is 4 months old, he needs about 20 minutes of exercise per day. Too much exercise can stress his still-growing joints.
Your Flat-Coat shouldn't be difficult to housetrain. Crate training is recommended, both as an aid to housetraining and to prevent your Flat-Coat from getting into things he shouldn't when you're not around to supervise.
Your Flat-Coat is likely to have one habit you'll find disgusting: eating poop, known as coprophagy. The only foolproof way to avoid this is to pick up his stool and dispose of it immediately.
Start training your Flat-Coat as soon as you bring him home. He's a quick learner and wants to please you. He's sensitive, though, and harsh verbal or physical corrections will cause him to shut down and stop working for you. Be kind and consistent, and use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards.
Recommended daily amount: 3.5 to 4.5 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.
NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl.
Keep your Flat-Coat in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time. If you're unsure whether he's overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can't, he needs less food and more exercise.
Coat, Color and Grooming
The Flat-Coated Retriever has a straight, moderately long coat that protects him from all types of weather, water, and ground cover. Feathering on the ears, chest, front, backs of forelegs, underside of the tail, and the thighs is part of the coat's protective function and shouldn't be excessively long. On the neck, especially in males, is a mane of longer, heavier coat. The coat comes in solid black or solid liver, a deep reddish-brown color.
Flat-Coated Retrievers are relatively easy to maintain and require only weekly brushing unless the dog is shedding. Then you'll probably want to brush daily to keep the amount of loose hair floating around under control. You can trim the ears, feet, belly, and tail tip for neatness. Bathe as needed.
Brush your Flat-Coat's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.
Trim nails once or twice a month. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they're too long. Short, neatly trimmed nails keep the feet in good condition and protect your shins from getting scratched when your Flat-Coat enthusiastically jumps up to greet you.
Begin accustoming your Flat-Coat to being brushed and examined when he's a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he's an adult.
Children and other petsFlat-Coats are great friends for active older children. They'll play for hours, whether that involves running, swimming, or chasing a ball. They can be overwhelming for toddlers, however, accidentally knocking them over with one whack of that ever-wagging tail.
Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he's sleeping or eating or to try to take the dog's food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Flat-Coats enjoy the company of other dogs and can learn to get along with cats, especially if they're raised with them. They might be a little too fond of pet birds, if you know what we mean.
Flat-Coats are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Flat-Coats in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don't see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Flat-Coat rescue.
All Breed Characteristics
Measures how well this breed potentially adapts to different environments
Measures the amount and difficulty of training potentially required for this breed
Health & Grooming
Measures how much effort this breed potentially needs to keep a tidy hound and home
Measures this breed's potential to get along with other dogs and humans
Measures this breed's potential to require lots of physical activity
Adapt well to apartment living
Contrary to popular belief, small size doesn't necessarily an apartment dog make -- plenty of small dogs are too high-energy and yappy for life in a high-rise. Being quiet, low energy, fairly calm indoors, and polite with the other residents, are all good qualities in an apartment dog.
Affectionate with family
Some breeds are independent and aloof, even if they've been raised by the same person since puppyhood; others bond closely to one person and are indifferent to everyone else; and some shower the whole family with affection. Breed isn't the only factor that goes into affection levels; dogs who were raised inside a home with people around feel more comfortable with humans and bond more easily.
Amount of shedding
If you're going to share your home with a dog, you'll need to deal with some level of dog hair on your clothes and in your house. However, shedding does vary greatly among the breeds: Some dogs shed year-round, some "blow" seasonally -- produce a snowstorm of loose hair -- some do both, and some shed hardly at all. If you're a neatnik you'll need to either pick a low-shedding breed, or relax your standards.
Friendliness toward dogs and friendliness toward humans are two completely different things. Some dogs may attack or try to dominate other dogs even if they're love-bugs with people; others would rather play than fight; and some will turn tail and run. Breed isn't the only factor; dogs who lived with their littermates and mother until at least 6 to 8 weeks of age, and who spent lots of time playing with other dogs during puppyhood, are more likely to have good canine social skills.
Drool-prone dogs may drape ropes of slobber on your arm and leave big, wet spots on your clothes when they come over to say hello. If you've got a laid-back attitude toward slobber, fine; but if you're a neatnik, you may want to choose a dog that rates low in the drool department.
Easy to groom
Some breeds are brush-and-go dogs; others require regular bathing, clipping, and other grooming just to stay clean and healthy. Consider whether you have the time and patience for a dog that needs a lot of grooming, or the money to pay someone else to do it.
Easy to train
Easy to train dogs are more adept at forming an association between a prompt (such as the word "sit"), an action (sitting), and a consequence (getting a treat) very quickly. Other dogs need more time, patience, and repetition during training. Many breeds are intelligent but approach training with a "What's in it for me?" attitude, in which case you'll need to use rewards and games to teach them to want to comply with your requests.
High-energy dogs are always ready and waiting for action. Originally bred to perform a canine job of some sort, such as retrieving game for hunters or herding livestock, they have the stamina to put in a full workday. They need a significant amount of exercise and mental stimulation, and they're more likely to spend time jumping, playing, and investigating any new sights and smells. Low-energy dogs are the canine equivalent of a couch potato, content to doze the day away. When picking a breed, consider your own activity level and lifestyle, and think about whether you'll find a frisky, energetic dog invigorating or annoying.
Some breeds do fine with a slow evening stroll around the block. Others need daily, vigorous exercise -- especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, such as herding or hunting. Without enough exercise, these breeds may put on weight and vent their pent-up energy in ways you don't like, such as barking, chewing, and digging. Breeds that need a lot of exercise are good for outdoorsy, active people, or those interested in training their dog to compete in a high-energy dog sport, such as agility.
Friendly toward strangers
Stranger-friendly dogs will greet guests with a wagging tail and a nuzzle; others are shy, indifferent, or even aggressive. However, no matter what the breed, a dog who was exposed to lots of different types, ages, sizes, and shapes of people as a puppy will respond better to strangers as an adult.
Due to poor breeding practices, some breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. This doesn't mean that every dog of that breed will develop those diseases; it just means that they're at an increased risk. If you're buying a puppy, it's a good idea to find out which genetic illnesses are common to the breed you're interested in, so you can ask the breeder about the physical health of your potential pup's parents and other relatives.
Good for novice owners
Some dogs are simply easier than others: they take to training better and are fairly easygoing. They're also resilient enough to bounce back from your mistakes or inconsistencies. Dogs who are highly sensitive, independent thinking, or assertive may be harder for a first-time owner to manage. You'll get your best match if you take your dog-owning experience into account as you choose your new pooch.
Dogs who were bred for jobs that require decision making, intelligence, and concentration, such as herding livestock, need to exercise their brains, just as dogs who were bred to run all day need to exercise their bodies. If they don't get the mental stimulation they need, they'll make their own work -- usually with projects you won't like, such as digging and chewing. Obedience training and interactive dog toys are good ways to give a dog a brain workout, as are dog sports and careers, such as agility and search and rescue.
A vigorous dog may or may not be high-energy, but everything he does, he does with vigor: he strains on the leash (until you train him not to), tries to plow through obstacles, and even eats and drinks with great big gulps. These dynamos need lots of training to learn good manners, and may not be the best fit for a home with young kids or someone who's elderly or frail. A low-vigor dog, on the other hand, has a more subdued approach to life.
Being gentle with children, sturdy enough to handle the heavy-handed pets and hugs they can dish out, and having a blasé attitude toward running, screaming children are all traits that make a kid-friendly dog. You may be surprised by who's on that list: Fierce-looking Boxers are considered good with children, as are American Staffordshire Terriers (aka pit bulls). Small, delicate, and potentially snappy dogs such as Chihuahuas aren't so family-friendly.
**All dogs are individuals. Our ratings are generalizations, and they're not a guarantee of how any breed or individual dog will behave. Dogs from any breed can be good with children based on their past experiences, training on how to get along with kids, and personality. No matter what the breed or breed type, all dogs have strong jaws, sharp pointy teeth, and may bite in stressful circumstances. Young children and dogs of any breed should always be supervised by an adult and never left alone together, period.
Potential for mouthiness
Common in most breeds during puppyhood and in retriever breeds at all ages, mouthiness means a tendency to nip, chew, and play-bite (a soft, fairly painless bite that doesn't puncture the skin). Mouthy dogs are more likely to use their mouths to hold or "herd" their human family members, and they need training to learn that it's fine to gnaw on chew toys, but not on people. Mouthy breeds tend to really enjoy a game of fetch, as well as a good chew on a chew toy that's been stuffed with kibble and treats.
Potential for playfulness
Some dogs are perpetual puppies -- always begging for a game -- while others are more serious and sedate. Although a playful pup sounds endearing, consider how many games of fetch or tag you want to play each day, and whether you have kids or other dogs who can stand in as playmates for the dog.
Potential for weight gain
Some breeds have hearty appetites and tend to put on weight easily. As in humans, being overweight can cause health problems in dogs. If you pick a breed that's prone to packing on pounds, you'll need to limit treats, make sure he gets enough exercise, and measure out his daily kibble in regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time.
Dogs that were bred to hunt, such as terriers, have an inborn desire to chase and sometimes kill other animals. Anything whizzing by -- cats, squirrels, perhaps even cars -- can trigger that instinct. Dogs that like to chase need to be leashed or kept in a fenced area when outdoors, and you'll need a high, secure fence in your yard. These breeds generally aren't a good fit for homes with smaller pets that can look like prey, such as cats, hamsters, or small dogs. Breeds that were originally used for bird hunting, on the other hand, generally won't chase, but you'll probably have a hard time getting their attention when there are birds flying by.
Some dogs will let a stern reprimand roll off their backs, while others take even a dirty look to heart. Low-sensitivity dogs, also called "easygoing," "tolerant," "resilient," and even "thick-skinned," can better handle a noisy, chaotic household, a louder or more assertive owner, and an inconsistent or variable routine. Do you have young kids, throw lots of dinner parties, play in a garage band, or lead a hectic life? Go with a low-sensitivity dog.
Dogs come in all sizes, from the world's smallest pooch, the Chihuahua, to the towering Great Dane, how much space a dog takes up is a key factor in deciding if he is compatible with you and your living space.
Tendency to bark or howl
Some breeds sound off more often than others. When choosing a breed, think about how the dog vocalizes — with barks or howls — and how often. If you're considering a hound, would you find their trademark howls musical or maddening? If you're considering a watchdog, will a city full of suspicious "strangers" put him on permanent alert? Will the local wildlife literally drive your dog wild? Do you live in housing with noise restrictions? Do you have neighbors nearby?
Tolerates being alone
Some breeds bond very closely with their family and are more prone to worry or even panic when left alone by their owner. An anxious dog can be very destructive, barking, whining, chewing, and otherwise causing mayhem. These breeds do best when a family member is home during the day or if you can take the dog to work.
Tolerates cold weather
Breeds with very short coats and little or no undercoat or body fat, such as Greyhounds, are vulnerable to the cold. Dogs with a low cold tolerance need to live inside in cool climates and should have a jacket or sweater for chilly walks.
Tolerates hot weather
Dogs with thick, double coats are more vulnerable to overheating. So are breeds with short noses, like Bulldogs or Pugs, since they can't pant as well to cool themselves off. If you want a heat-sensitive breed, the dog will need to stay indoors with you on warm or humid days, and you'll need to be extra cautious about exercising your dog in the heat.
Some breeds are more free-spirited than others. Nordic dogs such as Siberian Huskies were bred to range long distances, and given the chance, they'll take off after anything that catches their interest. And many hounds simply must follow their noses, or that bunny that just ran across the path, even if it means leaving you behind.
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