What to Know About Flat-Coated Retrievers

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on May 14, 2022
7 min read

The flat-coated retriever (or the flat-coat, for short) is a strong but elegant gun dog breed that originated in the mid-19th century in England. They were originally bred to serve as hunting dogs to help retrieve birds and other game. They are still popular today for that purpose, but although they have strong hunting instincts, these dogs are also obedient, sociable, friendly, and loyal.

The flat-coated retriever is a lean, elegant-looking dog with an intelligent and kind expression. Their heads are graceful, carried by moderately long, muscled, and slightly arched necks. Flat-coats have long, strong, and deep muzzles set a few inches below the eyes. Their eyes are of medium size, round, widely spaced, and brown or hazel in color. 

The color of their noses varies depending on the dog’s color. Black dogs have black noses while brown dogs have brown noses. Ears are heavily feathered and should be relatively small, hanging close to their heads. 

In size, males have a standing height of 23 to 24 inches at the shoulder while females stand at 22 to 23 inches. The average weight of a male flat-coat is between 60 and 70 pounds while females weigh between 55 and 70 pounds.

Flat-coats are black- or liver-colored dogs with smooth and glossy coats that are thick and of medium length. The hair on the rest of the body is usually feathery but abundant around the ears and extends over the chest, shoulders, thighs, and the underside of the tail without being bushy enough to provide much-needed insulation for the dog. 

Flat-coat retrievers are friendly, optimistic, and cheerful canines. They will bark occasionally and alert you if a stranger or visitor is approaching. 

These dogs are eager and love to seek attention from their owners. They do not love to be left alone and will cause damage around their homes to suggest they are bored and lonely. Flat-coats are active and require regular exercise and playtime to channel their energy. They enjoy playing for hours, whether that involves swimming, playing fetch, or running.

Nicknamed the “Peter Pan of retrievers”, the flat-coat retriever breed matures more slowly than other dog breeds. They are known for their ever-youthful outlook. This energy and playfulness make them great entertainers and companions for life. However, this can be frustrating for owners with a low tolerance for high-spirited dogs.

Caring for flat-coats is generally easy. They need daily exercise to meet their mental and physical needs, and grooming is quite easy. Flat-coats are intelligent and obedient dogs that generally respond well to training.

Grooming. Flat-coated retrievers have a lot of feathering that requires a good weekly brush using a bristle brush, slicker, or metal comb to keep their coats clean and tangle-free. Ears should be cleaned regularly using a veterinarian-approved ear cleaning solution to remove wax buildup and debris that may cause infection. 

Trimming your dog’s nails when they appear too long is imperative to avoid discomfort and leg injuries. 

Keep your dog's teeth clean and healthy by brushing them daily. 

Like many other dog breeds, flat-coated retrievers have a tendency to eat their feces or those of other animals, a condition called canine conspecific coprophagy more common in young dogs. Dog owners should clean up waste immediately after their dog poops to prevent the dog from eating feces. It also helps to talk to your veterinarian if your dog is coprophagic.

Exercise. Being the sporting dogs that they are, flat-coat retrievers require up to two hours of exercise and playtime daily, which includes activities like running, swimming, hunting, playing fetch, and any other fun activity to keep them happy and healthy. Puppies may require less vigorous exercise during their first year of life to prevent joint problems as their bones are still developing.

Health. The flat-coated retriever may be prone to health problems like canine hip dysplasia, bloat, lymphosarcoma, and cataracts. Visit your veterinarian regularly to make sure your dog is given the necessary vaccinations and checked for other abnormalities. During checkups, your veterinarian might conduct tests like hip evaluation, patella evaluation, and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Training. Flat-coats are intelligent, cheerful, and eager to please, so training should be easy. However, some dogs are stubborn and may require professional guidance. Bear in mind that flat-coats are sensitive, so using harsh language may cause stress or increased aggression. On the other hand, using positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, food rewards, and play is recommended to ensure that your flat-coat grows into a loving and well-behaved companion.

Nutrition. Flat coats should be fed with food rich in nutrients for perfect health and performance. Clean water should be available at all times. Monitor your dog’s calorie intake to prevent obesity because overweight dogs have an increased risk of overheating, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension. Ask your veterinarian to guide you in choosing the right food for your dog.

Flat-coats are generally healthy dogs. However, just like every other dog breed, they are prone to serious genetic health problems including hip dysplasia, cancer, and luxating patellas. Knowing about these health problems will help in implementing preventive measures to ensure your dog’s lifelong health. 

Luxating patella. Canine luxating patella occurs when the kneecap dislocates. You may notice your dog being uncomfortable or using an unusual gait when walking. If left untreated, a luxating patella might progress to a more serious condition like arthritis which can be incredibly painful for your pet. Fortunately, a luxating patella can be corrected through physiotherapy and exercise control or, in severe cases, through surgery. 

Hip dysplasia. Although it's not common for the breed, flat-coats are also at risk of canine hip dysplasia, a condition that affects the hip joint. When hip dysplasia occurs, the ball and socket of the hip joint do not fit properly. This causes loss of joint function in the affected dog. Fortunately, this condition can be corrected with surgery and lifestyle modification. 

Signs of canine hip dysplasia include:

  • Pain in the affected hip
  • Limping
  • Unusual gait
  • A decrease in thigh muscle
  • Difficulty walking, running, and jumping
  • Decreased movement
  • Lameness in the hind end

Eye problems. Many conditions can affect your dog’s eyes, including glaucoma, cataracts, corneal damage, and entropion. Unfortunately, glaucoma can be extremely painful and can lead to permanent blindness if left untreated. Symptoms of glaucoma include a watery discharge from the affected eye, pain, dilated pupil, and bulging of the eyeball. You may notice a cloudy appearance in the eyes of a dog that has cataracts. 

Flat-coated retriever dogs are also prone to distichiasis, a condition where eyelashes grow in an abnormal location. The extra hairs on the margin of the eyelid aggravate the cornea, causing corneal ulcers, redness, and inflammation. Your veterinarian will guide you on the treatment option for your dog depending on the severity of the distichiasis.

Cardiovascular diseases. Just like humans, flat-coats are prone to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a condition where the heart becomes thin and weak, making it difficult for the dog’s heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. It is life-threatening and often requires immediate medical attention.

Contact your veterinarian if you notice your dog breathing heavily, drooling excessively, coughing, or suddenly collapsing. After evaluation of the heart, treatment involves medication to help the heart pump blood better.

Cancer. Studies suggest that cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs. Unfortunately, your flat-coat is also at risk of cancer. Yearly veterinary checkups, though, ensure early diagnosis and treatment. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy depending on the cancer type.

Obesity. Flat-coated retrievers easily pile on pounds. Ask your veterinarian to recommend food portion sizes and exercise options to prevent your dog from becoming overweight. Although treats are an important aspect of training your dogs, they should be administered moderately to prevent obesity.

Gastric dilation volvolus. Bloat is a condition that occurs when the stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid. Sometimes, it subsequently twists, a condition called gastric dilation volvolus (GDV) that cuts off circulation. GDV can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. Treatment involves surgery to return your dog’s stomach to its normal position. 

Symptoms include:

  • A swollen abdomen
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive drooling
  • Retching

To ensure your dog enjoys good health, ask your vet about year-round preventative medication for heartworms. Also, ask for a vet-approved flea and tick control solution for your dog.

Flat-coated retrievers are sociable and loving toward children, which makes them great family dogs. However, these dogs are cheerful and tend to wag their tails often, so you might want to watch your flat-coat around delicate children who might get knocked over. 

Flat-coats love to please their owners, will often seek attention, and may experience separation anxiety if they are left alone for a long time.

Flat-coated retrievers are great with other dogs and pets around the house. Training these dogs while still young is important, though, to ensure they have the right temperament around children. At the same time, train your kids on how to behave around these dogs and monitor their interactions. 

Flat-coated retrievers’ history dates back to the early 1800s in England. They were originally bred as hunting dogs for birds and other prey. They were quick to learn and, over time, they became Britain’s most popular retriever before the Labs and Goldens took on the role.

This breed was perfect for fishing because their coat repelled water, and their webbed paws made them great swimmers. Their coats also protected them from harsh weather and icy water.

Flat-coats gained recognition by the American Kennel Club in 1915.

Flat-coated retrievers are ideal for younger and active families who don't mind the dog’s perpetually youthful nature and playfulness. They thrive in homes with a garden where they can jump around and play. They are affectionate and loving toward people and other dogs and are great protectors, too.