In part eight of our 12-part series with working dog food manufacturer Chudleys, we take a look at the flatcoated retriever.

History of the flatcoated retriever:

The flatcoated retriever was undoubtedly the favoured retriever breed in the late-1800s to early 1900s on large shooting estates, and have long been described as the gundog of Edwardian England. Used by both Guns and gamekeepers alike, the elegant breed was capable of performing a number of roles in the field, from flushing game to picking-up on the peg. 

It is believed that the breed was developed from crossing newfoundlands, setters, water dogs sheepdogs and spaniels, resulting in an agile dog with a long, silky coat. In the 1860s, the breed was given its flatcoated retriver name, and a year after The Kennel Club was founded in 1873 it was entered into the club's studbook – making it one of the very first registered gundog breeds. 

Flatcoated retrievers dominated the early retriever trials, but after the first world war the labrador took over and the long-haired breed became far less commonplace. Thankfully though, a number of flatcoated retriever enthusiasts continued to breed litters with great working values which are still around today. 

Flatcoated retriever traits and characteristics:

working flatcoats

Flatcoated retrievers are a true retriever breed and have a tendency to want to pick up and carry anything they can fit in their mouths from an early age, making them a natural companion in the field. However, as they have a huge presence in the showring finding a pup from a good working litter can be difficult. 

They also have an extended puppyhood that can last up to three or four years, with some dogs taking their puppy-like exuberance well into adulthood. Early training sessions encouraging 'down' and 'stay' commands are recommended. A common error, even after sourcing a flatcoat from the right stock, is the tendency to compare them to labradors. They are two very different breeds, and where a labrador can get itself out of problems, the flatcoat seems more adept at getting itself into them. 

They are a family dog that likes company, too, so if left alone regularly for long periods of time they can develop anxiety and become destructive, chewing intently on furniture for example. 


Flatcoated retrievers are a large dog with a sleek, athletic looking build. They have long heads and wide muzzles, with elegantly feathered ears that lie flat against the head. The coat, most often black and liver, is long and straight, with slight feathering on the ears, chest, tail and legs. Weekly brushing keeps the coat shiny and healthy, and light shedding occurs throughout the year, with two spells of heavy shedding. 

Average life expectancy of a flatcoated retriever:

retriever puppies

Ten to 12 years. 

Flatcoated retriever health issues:

Breed health concerns include cancer, distichiasis (eyelash growth disorder), hip and elbow dysplasia, entropion, micropapilla, glaucoma and progressive retinal atrophy. 

Feeding and nutrition – from a Chudleys' nutritionist:

“As a nutritionist, one designs a diet first and foremost to meet all the nutrient requirements to support a long, active and healthy life.

“For working breeds, fundamental nutrient requirements vary very little, if at all. There may be subtle trend differences between the breeds in terms of certain conditions that are more prevalent in one particular breed over another that may be helped by using appropriate functional nutrition. 

“The key differences in nutrient requirements for working dogs stem from the duration and intensity of the work undertaken. The higher the workload, the more energy your dog will require. A very active dog will therefore need to eat more food, and as a result will get more of all the other nutrients it requires, such as protein and vitamins.

“It is important to know where that energy needs to come from. Sprint work requires a diet consisting of more carbohydrate and some fat – a diet of around 22–25% protein and up to 14% fat is preferred – whereas a dog working long days on a moor will rely more on fat and fat reserves – a diet with 24%+ protein and 14%+ fat works best.

“Finally, when it comes to choosing the size of the piece of food, studies have proven that all breeds prefer a kibble of around 14–16mm in diameter.

“So, choose a diet to suit your dog’s workload and type, and one that provides those functional nutritional aspects as well.”

Why do flatcoated retrievers make good gundogs? 

flatcoat retreiver

A common error people have when training flatcoated retrievers is that they compare them to labradors, but it is important to remember they are two very different breeds. Where a labrador can get itself out of problems, the flatcoat seems more adept at getting itself into them. And their delayed maturity can cause issues, too.

An appreciation for what they are and what they are not is central to understanding the breed. Flatcoats are designed to be chucked in a wood or a field and allowed to hunt until they find something, rather than to be precise on straight lines, the stop whistle or hand signals.

They’re good at sweeping an area, and hunt well on their own initiative. In fact, if you put a good game-finding flatcoat and an effective lab in a block of woodland, the flatcoat would more often than not come back with something over the lab. Left to get on with it, they’re brilliant. But treat a flatcoat like a lab, with too much direction or interference, and they tend to either ignore you or dry up and lose confidence.

It is also important to bear in mind you’re constantly training traits out of a flatcoat, whilst contending with stubbornness and an impressive memory which often leads to an ‘I know best’ attitude.





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