The Flatcoat today.  

– by Dr. N. Laughton

from “The Working Gundog”, Summer Quarterly Issue, 1985.

The prototype of modern retrievers was the black wavy-coated dog.  From these the Flatcoated variety was stabilised in type mainly by Mr. S. E. Shirley who founded the Kennel Club in 1873.  Up until the turn of the century, and for years after, no self-respecting field sportsman was without one.  As a gamefinder he was indispensable, and as a companion he was lovable, extremely loyal and elegant.  He fell from fashion with the emergence of the modern Labrador and the Golden Retriever which were recognized by the Kennel Club in 1903 and 1913 respectively, but interbreeding with the Labrador took place for a number of years.

The Flatcoat’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed a good deal over the years.  In the nineteen-fourties its numbers reached a dangerously low level on account of the World War, but some lines were rescued by a great effort on the part of a few devoted adherents.  Numbers built up slowly with a gradual progressive increase, but exploded with his popularity as a show dog.  This cult was fuelled by the winning of the much sought after Supreme Championship at Crufts in 1980 by a Flatcoat, with its tendence to produce commercial interest in the breed, and to many old and new breeders, showing became of paramount importance.  Today the great majority of Flatcoat breeders have little or no interest in working ability which is always taken for granted.

There has been very little breeding on the working dog.  Many breeders have leaned too heavily on the dual-purpose concept, but their stock has not been properly tested in the field. Because this has not been done, as it should have been at each generation, very little genuine working stock is available to sportsmen who value the Flatcoat’s excellent working potential in the field.

This situation has been a source of great worry to a number of sporting Flatcoat patrons over many years, but nothing radical has yet been done to counter it.  Now, at last a group of likeminded people agree that action must be taken to protect the working characteristics of the dog.  This group (the group Mr. Wilson Stephens referred to in his article in the “Field” of October 1984) will aim towards the elimination of penal faults, such as “whining” and “hard-mouth”, and to improve working ability and trainability by selective breeding towards these ends.  Attention will be paid to good temperament, general soundness and stamina.  A register of satisfactory breeding stock will be compiled.

It is vital that the group is recognised by the shooting man and the working gundog world in general, and to this end a declaration of aims was made at the 1985 Annual General Meeting of the Flatcoated Retriever Society. In the main the group consists of people who have strived for this endeavour on their own in the past, gamekeepers, shooting men and keen field trailers.  Members of the group were responsible for the establishment of a test of working ability in the shooting field.  Successful entrants are awarded a “Shooting Dog Certificate” in one of two grades, the difference resting only on steadiness as this is a matter for the trainer rather than the dog.  Although judged by two Grade A field trial judges the test is not run on field lines.  It is held on an ordinary shooting day by courtesy of the shooting members; the only alteration to their routines is that the “pickers up” have to forgo their work in favour of four Flatcoats under test. Printed guidelines are made available so that the details of the procedure are quite clear to all concerned. Entrants are advised that the dogs should have had reasonable experience of game in the field and should not whine or damage game. The dogs are tested for hunting, game finding, entering thick cover and water and being reasonably under control.  Every effort is made to let each dog collect a ”runner” as well as an adequate number of dead birds. The handler is allowed to move about fairly freely to help the dog.  The results of these tests over three seasons have revealed faults such as to preclude some of the dogs as breeders.

A good working Flatcoat is still renowned for his ability, and in game finding he is second to none.  Many today are seen “picking up” at formal shoots and those that are under reasonable control and intelligently worked by their handlers are very welcome and earn the praise given to them in the field.

Perhaps the Flatcoat possesses great charisma which endears them to so many who experience this and because he carries the exuberance of youth into adult life. Maturity comes later than in the Labrador, but this has its compensation in a longer active life in the field. However, patience is needed on the part of the trainer and he must realize that the Flatcoat’s natural working ability makes him self-reliant and tend to work independently. So it is essential that he must be well disciplined in basic obedience and hand training before the important step of introduction to the shooting field is taken.

Nancy Laughton


    © Alex Faarkrog 2017


       © Alex Faarkrog 2017