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Nick Ridley, Animal Photography
The cheerful Flat-Coat is often called the Peter Pan of dogs. He’s easy to train, eager to please, and loves to retrieve, especially from water. He’s also incredibly energetic and rambunctious.
Because of the Flat-Coat’s black or liver coloring, he is highly sensitive to heat. On a day that’s merely warm, not hot, a Flat-Coat can overheat quickly. Be alert for signs of heatstroke because your Flat-Coat may be having too much fun to realize that he’s getting too hot.
In many ways, today’s Flat-Coat is yesterday's Golden. The breeds are so close that the Golden once competed at shows as a subgroup of Flat-Coated Retrievers.
Like the Golden, the Flat-Coat is cheerful, easy to train, and eager to please, a friend and a keen retriever of anything, especially in water. Flat-Coats are known for their puppyish enthusiasm, earning a reputation as the “Peter Pan” of dogs. If you live with a Flat-Coat, a sense of humor is not optional.
The ideal Flat-Coat is, with the exception of size (large) and shedding (lots), just about as good a family dog as it gets as long as you don’t mind a pet who loves to be wet. The breed was developed to be a working retriever, and few breeds have a higher percentage of members who serve as family dogs during the week and companion hunters on the weekend. That working heritage means a high level of activity is a must for these dogs. While many of them would probably rather hunt than do anything else, the Flat-Coat also excels at the highest level of agility and loves dock-diving (naturally!) and other active sports. People who enjoy running, hiking, and cross-country skiing will find this breed a perfect companion.
Ignore the working heritage at your own risk: If not trained, socialized and exercised daily, the good-natured exuberance of these dogs – especially as adolescents and young adults – can be overwhelming.
There’s generally less coat on a Flat-Coat than on a Golden – “Flat-Coat” refers to how the coat falls in a straight line from the body. Still, these dogs do require regular bathing and brushing, especially since few have ever met a mud hole they didn't like.
Flat-Coats love almost everyone, but that love for people will often translate into jumping as a form of greeting. Basic, early obedience training is a must for these big, rambunctious dogs. Fortunately, they are very easy to train, and a small investment of time when the dog is young will pay off when he's full-grown. Trained properly, he will readily sit on command, walk on a leash without pulling, and come when called.
When people began to develop retrievers, they crossed many different types and breeds. Among the dogs in their background were Newfoundlands and various Setters, Sheepdogs and Water Spaniels. The Flat-Coat developed from a mixture of all of those dogs. In early dog shows, the retrievers were separated mainly by coat type. The dog that became the Flat-Coat was originally known as the Wavy Coated Retriever. Breeders who are best credited with establishing the breed are a gamekeeper named J. Hull, whose Old Bounce and Young Bounce contributed greatly to the Flat-Coat’s development, and Sewallis E. Shirley, the founder of Britain’s Kennel Club and the man who helped stabilize the Flat-Coat’s appearance and abilities.
The Flat-Coat was popular for a time and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1915 but was eventually eclipsed by the Labrador and Golden Retrievers. By the end of World War II, the breed had come close to disappearing, but people who loved the dogs worked to bring them back to their former level of quality, elegance, and working ability. Today the Flat-Coat remains one of the lesser known retrievers, ranking 103rd among the breeds registered by the AKC.
The Flat-Coat is one of those dogs who always has an optimistic outlook on life. His tail never stops wagging, even as he faces rough cover and cold water. The words “happy” and “cheerful” are frequently applied to him, and he is nicknamed the Peter Pan of dogs for his carefree attitude.
In Flat-Coat Land, he loves everyone and everyone loves him. This is a friendly, energetic dog who enjoys family life as long as it’s active and he’s in the middle of things. Backyard living is not for him unless his people are there too.
If you are getting the picture that the Flat-Coat is highly people-oriented, that’s good. He doesn’t like to be left alone, and he will entertain himself in destructive ways.
When his family is there, and if he’s in a rare moment of repose, the Flat-Coat typically likes to be touching someone -- either curled up next to them on a sofa or bed or his head lying on a foot. Some are more independent, but most want to at least be in the same room with a person. He’s usually friendly with other dogs and cats, although some cats may find his attentions off-putting. As with any dog, the Flat-Coat is “good with kids and other pets” if he is raised with them and if young children are supervised. The wise parent may decide that a Flat-Coat is a little too active for a home with a toddler, but he can be the perfect pal for a budding track star or horseback rider.
The Flat-Coat is one of the most active of all the Sporting breeds. He’s an enthusiastic runner, retriever and swimmer. You might plan on enlisting a marathon runner to exercise him or hire the neighborhood kids to take turns throwing a bumper or ball until they drop from exhaustion. And if you have a pool or pond? Well, the Flat-Coat may regard you as a god. Swimming (or just being wet) is his favorite activity. Flat-Coats will lie down in puddles after it rains, jump in fountains, and run headlong into any swimming pool, lake, river, ocean, or other body of water.
If organized dog sports are your thing, the Flat-Coat is your dog. He’s a versatile competitor in agility, flyball, flying disc events, dock diving, hunt tests, rally, obedience, and tracking. That said, expect him to put his own, um, interesting spin on the performance. He may decide that it’s really not worth it to search for that bird or liven up the long sit in an obedience trial by running out of the ring to kiss a few spectators.
While he is entertaining to live with and an exercise buddy beyond compare, the Flat-Coat also has a frustrating streak. He is famous for his prolonged adolescence and will act like a rambunctious puppy long after other dogs have settled down. Besides his demands for exercise, he’s an attention hog and a food thief. Food on counters or anywhere else within his reach is not safe from the wily and agile Flat-Coat. Loyal? Not so much. The Flat-Coat’s heart belongs to whoever feeds him, even if that person is a stranger.
The Flat-Coat makes an alert watchdog and will bark to alert you that someone is approaching the house, but he’s not a guard dog. That said, the sight of a large black or brown dog running full-tilt toward him, tongue lolling in greeting, is usually enough to scare off any sensible intruder (and many guests). The Flat-Coat is a considerate host and usually greets people with something in his mouth: a toy, a rawhide, a shoe, a sofa cushion, or whatever else he can find. If he’s not doing that, he’s performing the Flat-Coat bounce to show his excitement at the opportunity to make a new friend or welcome an old one.
When it comes to training, the Flat-Coat is intelligent and sensitive. He’s highly food motivated, but a toy is also an acceptable reward. Praise is okay, but he’d rather have a treat. Harsh treatment will cause him to become unhappy and stop working.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know your lifestyle and personality.Whatever you want from a Flat-Coat, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who keeps puppies isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
The Flat-Coated Retriever can suffer from a number of serious genetic health problems, including cancer, hip dysplasia, and luxating patellas. The Flat-Coated Retriever community in the United States is strongly involved in issues related to the health of their dogs. The Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America has created the Sharon Myers Health Committee to improve the genetic health of Flat-Coated Retrievers.
Unfortunately, there is no genetic testing for the cancers that claim many of these dogs. No line of Flat-Coat is exempt from this sadness, and any owner is urged to take every sign of illness and every lump, bump, and bout of lameness seriously. Early veterinary intervention can extend a high-quality life for these dogs. Breeders must have written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that their dogs' hips and elbows are free of dysplasia, and, ideally, should also have OFA clearances on the parents' thyroids and hearts. Because Flat-Coated Retrievers can suffer from a number of eye problems, your puppy's parents need to have eye clearance within the previous year from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
While less common than in some other breeds, Flat-Coated Retrievers can suffer from hip dysplasia, a crippling malformation of the hip socket that may require costly surgery to repair and that can result in painful arthritis later in life. Flat-Coated Retrievers can also suffer from bloat, a condition in which the stomach expands with air. This can become the more serious condition, gastric torsion, if the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Gastric torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, inability to purge, and signs of pain. Gastric torsion requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it’s wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure. Another condition affecting the Flat-Coated Retriever is a kneecap defect known as "luxating patellas." One or both of the dog's kneecaps will slip in and out of place, causing lameness that comes and goes. This condition can be corrected with surgery.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
Don't fall for a bad breeder's lies. If the breeder tells you tests aren't necessary because they've never had problems in her lines, the dogs have been "vet checked," or offers any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy can develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and typical causes of death.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Flat-Coat at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
This breed has a straight, moderately long coat that stands up to cold weather, cold water, and rough brush. The beautiful coat may look high-maintenance, but it’s easy to care for with weekly brushing to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils. A Flat-Coat who isn’t a show dog needs only a lick and a promise to stay reasonably clean and attractive. Trim his ears and feet occasionally for neatness if you like. If he spends as much time in the water as a typical Flat-Coat, you probably won’t need to bathe him frequently, but rinse him thoroughly if he’s been in a chlorinated pool, ocean water, or a lake with algae in it.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every couple of weeks. Keep the floppy ears clean and dry to ward off bacterial or yeast infections. Brush the teeth frequently for overall good health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a quality breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many problems as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means or how it comes about.
Reputable breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps were taken to avoid them. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Flat-Coated Retriever and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the FCRSA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and suggests that breeders obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will clear. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over-availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Flat-Coated Retriever puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show), and, ideally, field titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Flat-Coated Retriever might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Flat-Coated Retriever in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Flat-Coated Retrievers available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Flat-Coated Retriever. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Flat-Coated Retrievers love all Flat-Coated Retrievers. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Flat-Coated Retriever rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Flat-Coated Retriever home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Flat-Coated Retriever, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Flat-Coated Retriever to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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