Retriever, Flat-Coated

Flat-Coated Retriever

Energetic, puppy-like Flat-Coated Retrievers have a clownish nature that persists into adulthood. They greet everyone with a wagging tail and an invitation to play, and jumping and bouncing is to be expected. Their lighthearted, happy nature and is enough to earn forgiveness when their willful ways show through. Though incredibly intelligent and eager to please, the Flat-Coated Retriever has a stubborn streak. Early, continued training and plenty of exercise will help Flat-Coats burn energy—agility, running, swimming, and playing fetch make the top of the favorites list.

Other Names

Flat-Coated Retrievers are also known as Flat-Coats or Flatties. They were once called Wavy-Coated Retrievers, which is a breed separate from—but related to—Curly-Coated Retrievers.

Physical Description


Flat-Coated Retrievers have a smooth, glossy coat of black, liver, or yellow. The coat is of medium length with feathering at the ears, legs, and tail. The male coat may be heavier around the neck. The coat is weather- and water-resistant.


Average Height: 22-25 inches


Male: 60-80 pounds

Female: 55-75 pounds

Breed Standard & History

The versatile Flat-Coated Retriever is a hardy hunting dog as well as a devoted family companion. A medium-boned substance and muscular, work-ready build create a well-balanced appearance. Solid—but not massive—the build should lend itself to hunting and retrieving. Wide-set eyes offer an alert, intelligent expression. Their moderately-long, straight, flat-lying coat is full, dense, and glossy, and may be black or liver; yellow is a disqualification. The coat must protect the working dog from all manner of weather. Trimming of the coat is not recommended, as the most natural possible appearance is desirable. The Flat-Coated Retriever moves efficiently. The family companion should present a cheerful, good-humored, and friendly temperament, but should also be keen and birdy. – AKC Breed Standards

The Flat-Coated Retriever is rumored to have been developed from the St. John's Water Dog in the mid-19th century. But there is no proof to back that claim, and it is more likely that the Flat-Coat was developed from Newfoundlands, Collie-types, and Setters. The hunting companion gained popularity through the early 1900s, but Labs and Goldens soon outranked the Flattie.

The AKC recognized the Flat-Coated Retriever in 1915. The numbers of Flat-Coats dwindled after World War II, and an effort to build the breed's population emerged in the 1960s. The breed is uncommon, partially due to the significant health issues that persist in the genes.

AKC Breed Category

Sporting Group


General Temperament

Flat-Coated Retrievers are amiable family dogs who also perform as hunting companions. They are a gregarious, loves-everyone, cheerful breed. The Flattie's state of perpetual puppyhood means he is always goofy and eager to play. While smart and willing to please, he may have an impish side as well. He responds poorly to harsh training methods—positive reinforcement, praise, and treats are the best approach with this sensitive breed.

Family Life

Are Flat-Coated Retrievers Good with Kids? While friendly with everyone, Flat-Coated Retrievers may be too bouncy and exuberant for small children. An active household with bigger, dog-experienced kids is a better match. They can be mouthy due to their retriever instinct.

Are Flat-Coated Retrievers Good with Other Pets? Flat-Coats tend to get along with other dogs and cats, but due to the breed's hunting instinct and birdiness, birds are not a good match.


While loyal and alert, the Flat-Coated Retriever lacks strong guarding instincts. They may bark when someone approaches the home, but are more likely to greet new people with a wagging tail than with protectiveness.

Energy Levels

The Flat-Coated Retriever is an active, high-energy dog who requires lots of exercise.

Specific Concerns

  • Desires a lot of attention from family members, dislikes being left alone
  • Playful, energetic, and bouncy
  • Is often mouthy and chews or carries things around—regardless of whether it's a favorite dog toy
  • Significant health concerns and shorter life span than other retriever-types
  • Can be stubborn
  • Needs at least 90 minutes of quality exercise per day, more than just walks around the block



Though the Flat-Coat can adjust to many living conditions, the breed needs plenty of exercise each day to prevent destructive behaviors. Their rambunctious nature and excess energy may be too much for apartment living. A home with a yard and the opportunity to run and play outdoors is ideal.


The Flat-Coated Retriever's coat is made to withstand all manner of harsh weather, but the breed is not meant to live outdoors full-time. The people-oriented breed should get plenty of time to exercise and play outdoors accompanied by his people, and should not be left outdoors without supervision due to his tendency to roam.


Exercise—and lots of it—will keep the Flattie happy and healthy. Running, swimming, fetch, and hiking are favorite Flat-Coated Retriever activities. At least two 45 minute jogs per day are necessary, and more high-energy romping is ideal.


Full-grown Flat-Coated Retrievers in good health have plenty of stamina and are likely to outlast their human companions.

Activity distance rating

  • Running Miles: Running is a favorite pastime of this breed and Flat-Coated Retrievers in good health may have the endurance to run five miles—maybe more if properly conditioned.
  • Hiking Miles: A long day on the trail may be no trouble for the outdoorsy Flat-Coated Retriever.


The active Flat-Coated Retriever needs between 3½ and 4½ cups of food per day. This amount is based on average weight and activity level, and should be split between two meals, or can be offered in a food-dispensing puzzle toy. Bloat is a concern for this deep-chested breed, so activity should be limited for an hour after feeding, and precautions may be necessary for dogs who eat too quickly.

Flat-Coats do not tend to guard their food, but children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating.

Alone Time

Time alone can be difficult for the Flat-Coated Retriever. While they may be left alone for up to eight hours during the day, Flatties who don't get enough exercise or interaction may become destructive. At least 90 minutes of high-impact exercise is necessary for this rambunctious breed. Loneliness, boredom, and too little activity may be the root of undesirable behaviors such as destructive chewing. Ensure your Flat-Coated Retriever has enough quality attention throughout the day to prevent this behavior.

Health and Grooming

Life Expectancy

10-12 years


While the Flat-Coated Retriever's weather-resistant coat isn't high-maintenance, it does shed. Weekly brushing will help cut down on loose dog hair, a few times per week during seasonal shedding—but shedding is a fact of life with the Flattie. Baths are necessary only as needed. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or a broken nail.

Common Health Issues

Flat-Coated Retrievers are especially prone to cancer—50% of Flat-Coat deaths are attributed to cancer, often at an early age. Breed-specific concerns in the Flat-Coated Retriever can include:

  • Rare, aggressive forms of cancer
  • Shorter life span
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Obesity
  • Patellar luxation
  • Gastric torsion (bloat)

You can minimize serious health concerns in a Flat-Coated Retriever by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.



The Flattie is easy to train and willing to please—but puppy energy and a clownish nature may disrupt training sessions. Positive reinforcement methods and a sense of humor are necessary for training Flat-Coats. With consistent training, they are well-behaved dogs—but they may always be a bit mischievous. Early training for a no-fail recall and off-leash manners is important if you plan to field train your Flat-Coat.

Advanced Training

Advanced training is a hit with the intelligent Flat-Coated Retriever—but they often prefer a job over silly tricks. Agility, flyball, tracking, retrieve sports, and dock dog competitions are great options for this energetic breed.

Sporting Dog Training

The Flat-Coated Retriever was developed as a bird hunting companion. Once trained, they perform well, but their energetic and youthful nature may make training more difficult than it is for the typical retriever. When it comes to hunting upland birds or waterfowl, Flatties make admirable hunting companions, but once the job is done, their silly nature resurfaces.

Breed FAQ

Here are a few commonly asked questions about Flat-Coated Retrievers.

Explore Other Breeds

Rarely, a yellow Flat-Coated Retriever may be born, but the color is not accepted in the breed standard and yellow Flatties are disqualified from the show ring. A yellow Flattie is the result of two Flat-Coats with yellow recessive genes producing a litter. While yellow Flat-Coated Retrievers may be registered with the AKC, in order to prevent undesirable health risks they may not reproduce—if they do, their offspring will not be eligible for AKC registration. DNA tests are available to determine the genetic makeup of dogs, including whether a Flattie carries the recessive yellow gene.

Though disqualified by the AKC, a yellow Flat-Coat can be a loving companion for a family who does not intend to show or breed their dog.

Unfortunately, Flat-Coated Retrievers have a higher instance of cancer at an early age—especially the rare malignant histiocytosis, which affects the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, spleen, and nervous system. Though treatment with chemotherapy may offer some hope for survival, the prognosis is generally poor due to the aggressive nature of malignant histiocytosis. Selective breeding for traits such as head shape and coat length also comes with other risks—a small gene pool and little genetic diversity mean undesirable qualities like the risk for cancer are harder to breed out. As Flat-Coats appear to have a genetic predisposition to cancer, studies are underway to determine the cause—and a potential fix—for the problem.