Flat-Coated Retriever – Goofy, Energetic, Joyous

Also called Flat-Coats, and in the past the “Gamekeeper’s Dog,” these dogs might be the happiest breed you’ll ever meet. Their name comes from their sleek, flat coats which make these dogs look silky and smooth. They are incredibly energetic dogs, and tend to stay puppies their entire lives. This has led them to being called the Peter Pan of Sporting dog breed group. If you’re looking for a faithful, fun-loving companion who will keep you active, then the Flat-Coated Retriever could be the dog for you.


  • First bred in the mid 1800s
  • Mature at a slower rate than most other breeds
  • High energy and require a lot of exercise every day
  • Very affectionate


The breed came to fruition in the mid-1800s in England, and before being dethroned by the Golden and Labrador Retrievers, used to be Britain’s most popular retriever. As retrievers, Flat-Coats were bred initially to swim into lakes to retrieve downed waterfowl. Their presence on the grounds of many British estates led to them for a time being called the “Gamekeeper’s dog.”

Flat-Coats come from breeds like the St. John’s Dog, which was an early version of Labs. These dogs were bred with various types of setters, which eventually resulted in the Flat-Coated Retriever.

H.R. Cooke was a kennel owner hugely devoted to the Flat-Coated Retriever. He kept the breed at his Riverside Kennels for over 70 years, and is said to have been the Flat-Coat’s most loyal patron.

When the Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever began to gain popularity, the Flat-Coated Retriever began to fall to the wayside. For a time, it looked as if Flat-Coats as a breed may cease to exist completely. During World War I and World War II, their numbers dropped dangerously low. In the 1960s, however, they experienced a small resurgence. Though they certainly haven’t been able to meet the popularity of Labrador and Golden Retrievers, breeders since the 60s have worked hard to ensure this bouncy, happy breed continues to live.

Appearance and Vital Stats

General Appearance

Flat-Coated Retriever General Appearance

Flat-Coats are large dogs who take their name from their beautiful, flat-lying coats. Another defining feature of theirs is their long, pointed head. This gives them an expression that reflects their personalities—loving, happy, and intelligent.

Dog Breed Group

The Flat-Coat comes from the Sporting Group. Dogs in this breed group tend to be intelligent and incredibly energetic. There are four kinds of dogs in the Sporting Group. These are spaniels, pointers, setters, and, of course, retrievers. Bred primarily to find and retrieve quarry, many of these dogs require a lot of daily exercise to burn off all the energy they were bred to have for hunting.


Flat-Coats on average weigh about 60 to 70 pounds. They stand as tall as their cousins, the Labrador Retriever, at about 23 to 24.5 inches for males and 22 to 23.5 inches for females.

Life Span

Like most larger dog breeds, the Flat-Coat’s lifespan tends to be shorter than those of smaller breeds. As long as your Flat-Coat is healthy and well-cared for, you can expect your dog to live about 8 to 10 years.

Coat and Colors

Flat-Coated Retriever Coat and Colors

A Flat-Coat’s coat will be either brown or black. As the name implies, his coat shouldn’t be curly or fluffy. It should lie flat against his body, though there may be a slight wave to it. A Flat-Coat’s ears, chest, legs, and tail will all have feathering, though as hunting dogs the feathering won’t be overly-long. Their coats should be moderately dense, and provide protection from harsh weather or the water they might find themselves in during hunts. They shed regularly and will shed a fair amount, so expect to have to pull out your vacuum once or twice a week.


The Flat-Coat’s tail is generally straight. When the dog is moving, his tail will be held up but without any curl. It will look more like an extension of the spine, and should never rise too far above the dog’s back.


A Flat-Coat’s ears will lie close to the dog’s head, and will flop over instead of sitting upright. The fur on the ears will be feathered, which makes their relatively small size look slightly larger.


Flat-Coats are incredibly happy and fun-loving dogs. They’ll be faithful companions for life, and their high levels of energy will make sure you get the exercise you’re always putting off.

As sporting dogs bred for retrieving downed fowl in lakes, they are incredibly hard-working dogs who love to have something to fetch and bring back.

While you can expect your dog to work hard, don’t be fooled. These dogs love to have a good time. Your Flat-Coat will be goofy and playful, and will do anything to make you laugh. This goofiness might make it hard to train your Flat-Coat at times, but as long as you stay consistent and positive, your dog will continue to remain eager to please you.

Flat-Coats do tend to bark a fair amount, but usually as a greeting to passers-by rather than a warning to stay away from his territory.

Apartment Living

Because they are large, high energy dogs, Flat-Coated Retrievers don’t tend to do well in apartments. They need plenty of space to run around, and preferably a fenced in yard where you and your dog can play a few rounds of fetch every day. The Flat-Coat Retriever’s excitable and high energy personality requires a lot of open space for them to run around and play in, which an apartment might not be able to provide.

Children and Other Pets

These goofy, happy animals love to please and rarely make enemies. You’ll find your Flat-Coat able to tolerate a lot of children’s antics. As dogs who tend to stay in the puppyhood stages their entire lives themselves, they’ll love spending the day playing with your kids. Watch out for your younger children, however. The Flat-Coat’s high energy and goofiness might end up being a bit much for toddlers, who could be easily knocked to the ground. Remember to never leave your dog and children alone unsupervised.

They’ll also do well with other animals, though again watch out for your smaller pets. The Flat-Coats overexuberance can make him forget his size, which might end up with your smaller animals being frightened. Because they are social, happy animals, they like to have a companion to spend the days with.



Since they are big, high energy dogs, Flat-Coats will need about 3 ½ cups to 4 ½ cups of high-quality dry dog food per day. It’s best to divide this into two meals, since eating too large a meal and exercising vigorously afterwards can trigger bloat in your Flat-Coat.

As long as your Flat-Coat gets enough exercise, he shouldn’t become overweight. You can check for yourself to see if he’s overweight by putting your hands on his spine with your fingers pointed downwards. A dog of a healthy weight will have ribs that are not visible but that you can feel without pressing down too hard.


Flat-Coats are frequent shedders, and so will need to be brushed about once a week. Your Flat-Coat shouldn’t need much more grooming than, though an occasional bath may be necessary if his love of adventure and excitement gets him into something he shouldn’t.


Flat-Coated Retriever Exercise

It should come as no surprise that because of their intelligence and high levels of energy, Flat-Coats need a lot of exercise. Most experts will tell you that Flat-Coats require about an hour and a half of exercise every day. You can do this by taking him on a couple of long walks every day, along with some playtime in your yard. As a retriever, he’ll love a good game of fetch.

Make sure to tire out his mental facilities, too. As sporting and hunting dogs, they are also incredibly intelligent. Play games with him that require a lot of thinking. You can also consider signing him up for dog sports like agility, which will teach him to think fast while getting him moving.


Flat-Coats are generally healthy dogs, but can be prone to some health conditions. If you’re getting your Flat-Coat from a breeder, you should expect the breeder to screen their dogs for conditions that Flat-Coated Retrievers can be prone to.


Flat-Coats are generally more at risk for cancer than most other breeds. There are some cancers they are more prone to, including hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the lining of the blood vessels, osteosarcoma, which is an aggressive cancer of the bone, and fibrosarcoma, which is a cancer of the fibrous connective tissue.

Gastric Torsion or Bloat

This condition is prevalent in larger breeds with deep chests. It can be caused by dogs eating too much too quickly, or if they exercise too soon after eating. The stomach fills with air and then twists, leaving your dog unable to get rid of the excess gas. Signs of bloat include an enlarged abdomen that will be painful if you press on it, restlessness, drooling, and retching. Bloat is a medical emergency, and if you think your dog is showing signs of bloat, you should call your vet immediately.

Hip Dysplasia

As with most large dog breeds, Flat-Coats can be prone to hip dysplasia. This is a genetic condition where the joints that form the hip do not fit together properly. This causes the bones to rub together, which then deteriorates the joint and can lead to arthritis. Your dog’s weight and nutrition, as well as the amount of exercise they get are all factors that can exacerbate this condition.

Similar Breeds

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers

One of the most popular dog breeds, Golden Retrievers are loving, loyal, and intelligent. They stand at about the same height at Flat-Coated Retrievers, though you’ll find they might be a bit heavier, weighing it at around 65 to 75 pounds as opposed to the Flat-Coat’s 60 to 70. They also tend to outlive Flat-Coats, with a lifespan of about 10 to 12 years, assuming the dog is healthy and well cared for.

You’ll also find that Golden Retrievers lead the same active lifestyle as Flat-Coats. They may bark a little less, however.

In looks, the Golden Retriever differs in its broader head. As the name implies, their coat will always be a variation of gold, whereas the Flat-Coat is always either brown or black.

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers

Sharing the same amount of loyalty and eagerness to please, Labrador Retrievers or Labs are another great family dog. They stand at about the same height as Flat-Coats, with males measuring around 22.5 to 24.5 inches and females at 21.5 to 23.5. You’ll find that a Lab’s coat is shorter than that of a Flat-Coat, and they come in different colors. You can expect Labs to be black, brown, or yellow.

Like Flat-Coats, Labs need to be brushed weekly. Their desire to please their owners make them easy to train like the Flat-Coat, and they are just as friendly and outgoing.

Curly-Coated Retriever

Curly-Coated Retriever

These dogs share the same pointed nose as the Flat-Coat, but differ in their coat. Like the Flat-Coat, the Curly-Coated Retriever’s coat serves as protection from cold water and harsh ground cover. However, instead of being flat and smooth like the Flat-Coat, a Curly’s coat is thick and curly. Curly-Coated Retrievers love their owners and will be affectionate, but you’ll probably find them to be more independent than your Flat-Coat.

Generally bigger than Flat-Coats, Curlies can weigh around 60 to 95 pounds. They’ll stand at 25 to 27 inches for males, and 23 to 25 inches for females. They’ll shed less than Flat-Coats, and will also require even less grooming than the weekly brushing you’ll need to give your Flat-Coat.

Though they are also part of the sporting dog breed group, Curlies tend to be a little bit calmer. They’ll still need a good amount of exercise, but you’ll find it much easier to get a Curly to settle down than a Flat-Coat.