Flatcoat Revival 

by Dr. Nancy Laughton

from Letter to the Editor, Shooting Times & Country Magazine, July 18-24, 1985.

Sir, I must compliment Mrs. Louise Petrie-Hay on her excellent article on some aspects of gundog training (June 27).  However, my main reason for writing is to respond to Miss P. D. Chapman’s letter on Flatcoats (June 13).

I am pleased to hear that she supports the working Flatcoat to a degree.  She expressed the opinion that to breed selectively to maintain and improve working ability would result in the Flatcoat type being lost.  With this I disagree. Flatcoats have arisen from a very narrow breeding base: very much aggravated by the last World War, by the late 1940’s, breed numbers were exceedingly low. At that time we older breeders had to seek out, from all over the country, all possible lines (many of which had been lost completely) to save the breed.  From this effort type has been re-established over the years and, in my opinion, improved greatly.

I agree that in selective breeding to maintain working ability it is also necessary to keep a good conformation as this goes with working physique, the main details of which closely stated in the original, then retriever variety standard, drawn up in 1924 by the original club of the working Flatcoat, the Flatcoated Retriever Association (who showed their dogs only occasionally).  All the frills and fancy standards, have added nothing to the working ability of the Flatcoat. An extreme example (which admittedly spoils the dog’s expression) is a sub-standard lightness of eye, dogs with these are not known to be associated with indifferent work.  In fact, many sporting owners have asserted that these dogs possess excellent marking ability and neither do lighter-eyed dog show any defect in temperament.

Other gundog breeds, such as the HPR’s, and even Labradors, have lighter eyes than Flatcoats and work none the worse for them.

The group of Flatcoat patrons which is now striving to breed selectively for working ability has in mind the above-mentioned conformation, good temperament, soundness and stamina in their stock; but they have no antagonism against the people who disagree with them, only deep regret that they do not appreciate how low the breed has sunk in the eyes of sportsmen, who value a really good game-finding gundog (which the Flatcoat undoubtedly is) which is quiet in the field under good control and tender with game.

As Miss Chapman says, quite a few Flatcoat owners pick-up in the shooting field and are acclaimed for their gamefinding ability, but, unfortunately, many of their owners fail to study and understand the etiquette of this sport; their dogs are not always under good control, some whine, some damage game and the owners seem oblivious to these faults. Many are not interested enough to try seriously to inform themselves of how to train their dogs to a proper standard of field work and how to eliminate serious faults by selective breeding. Help is at hand from various quarters if the handler is keen enough to seek it.

Miss Chapman compares the relatively small number of Flatcoats with much larger numbers of gundog breeds.  For example there are many more Labradors than Flatcoats , but the Labradors that are the good workers have been selectively bred over very many years for this ability.  This also applies to Golden Retrievers and Spaniels. In contrast, the great rise in Flatcoat numbers has been brought about by its popularity as a companion, a pet and a show dog, all unfortunately, associated with commercialism.  The majority is never tested in the field. Show-winning bitches are mated to Show Champion dogs with no thought for work, which should really be tested for at every generation in a working gundog.

We older breeders spent our money without financial reward, but solely for the love of the breed. We implore present owners to think more of the welfare of the working Flatcoat and think deeply.

Nancy Laughton (Dr),

Henley-in-Arden, West Midlands

    © Alex Faarkrog 2017

       © Alex Faarkrog 2017