How to Train a Flat Coated Retriever

The Peter Pan of the Sporting Group, the forever-young Flat-Coated Retriever is a gundog of relatively recent origin. Happy, self-assured, and willing to please, a good Flat-Coat will retrieve a duck or a show ribbon with equal aplomb. The Flat-Coated Retriever’s eponymous flat-lying coat comes in lustrous black or liver, with feathering at the legs and tail. A distinctive breed hallmark is the long head’ unique among retrievers’ which projects a smart and kindly expression. A Flat-Coat will stand as tall as a Labrador Retriever, but in silhouette they present a leaner, more elegant look. Dogdom’s champion tail-waggers, Flat-Coats are among the happiest of all breeds. They mature slowly; some owners say that they never grow up at all, retaining a puppyish taste for rambunctious mischief into old age. This can be either delightful or exasperating, depending on your tolerance for such monkeyshines. This highly energetic breed requires lots of outdoorsy exercise.


Flat-Coats are one of six AKC retriever breeds: tireless, trainable lake hunters who retrieve downed waterfowl. Retrievers mark where a duck falls and, on command, swim a straight path to the game, grip it gently in their mouth, swim a straight path back to the hunter, and deliver the prize to hand. In the park or backyard, a retriever’s hunting traits are expressed in seemingly endless games of fetch, an affinity for water, and an eagerness to work closely with an adored human.

Flat-Coats were first bred in the mid-1800s, a relatively recent development in the AKC universe, where many breeds go back to antiquity. Flat-Coats were once Britain’s most popular retriever, before being overtaken by Labs and Goldens, and was once called the “Gamekeeper’s Dog” because of its widespread use on the sprawling estates of the English gentry.

Among the component breeds in the Flat-Coat’s genetic background are the St. John’s Dog (an early version of the Lab) and various setter types. From the beginning, the coat was a striking aspect of the breed. Alternate breed names have included the Wavy-Coated Retriever, the Black Wavy Retriever, and Smooth-Coated Retriever, all referring to the breed’s unique beauty. Aside from its good looks, the coat is highly functional: it protects these superb retrievers from harsh weather, icy water, and punishing ground cover.

Quick Facts

Temperament: cheerful / optimistic / good-humored

Height: 22 to 24.5 inches

Weight: 60-70 pounds 

Life Expectancy: 8-10 years


There are several health and genetic screening considerations specific to the breed. Responsible Flat-Coat breeders test their stock for conditions the breed can be prone to and communicate with other dedicated breeders regularly, working together for breed health and preservation of the breed’s unique qualities. A Flat-Coat’s ears should be checked regularly for signs of infection, and the teeth should be brushed often, using a toothpaste designed for dogs. Regular visits to the vet for checkups and parasite control help to ensure the dog a long, healthy life.

Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
  • Patella Evaluation
  • Hip Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation


The Flat-Coat’s moderate-length coat requires a weekly grooming with a brush and a metal dog comb to remove dirt and loose hair and keep the dog looking his best. The ears should be regularly inspected and cleaned if needed. The nails should be trimmed often, as overly long nails can cause the dog discomfort and problems walking and running.


The Flat-Coat is an active sporting breed and requires ample exercise every day for his physical and mental well-being. This can come in the form of long daily walks and play sessions with his owner. The breed also exercises mind and body by participating in obedience, tracking, agility, rally, and other activities that can be enjoyed by dog and owner.


Flat-Coats are very intelligent, responsive, and eager to please, so they are generally easy to train. They have a sensitive nature and don’t respond well to harsh corrections or training methods. A Flat-Coat wants to be with his family, and undesirable behaviors can result if he is regularly left alone for long periods of time. Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended and help to ensure that the Flat-Coat grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.


The Flat-Coat should be fed a high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) and activity level. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet or the dog’s breeder if you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should always be available.