What happened with the Flatcoated Retriever?

That’s my question: what happened with the Flatcoated Retriever? The reason for posing the question, is the interconnections between the history of the Flatcoat and the Golden. Both originate from the Wavy-coated Retriever. So, you would expect two similar looking dogs with exception of their colour. However, that’s not quite the case. The Flatcoat is smaller-boned in comparison with the Golden. Moreover, the Flatcoat’s head is different. The stop is far less pronounced and the head is more narrow-built.

See what I mean?

It’s interesting to compare older pictures as well. See for example a famous, winning black Flatcoat in the first decade of the twentieth century: Sweep of Glendaruel and contrast him with, for example, Bess of Kentford (b.1920).

The heads of these two dogs are very similar, with a pronounced stop. So,brings me back to my question: what happened with the Flatcoated Retriever?  There have been rumours about crossings with Borzoi’s. That theory seems quite unlikely. Far more simple is the thought that breeders selected upon this very property. I know of some breeders who are very keen to maintain bloodlines with the  typical Flatcoat head.

I wonder whether it would be possible to breed the ‘original head’ back?  I definitely would like it!


One response to “What happened with the Flatcoated Retriever?

  • retrieverman

    Harding Cox, S.E. Shirley’s protégé, always claimed that borzoi had been crossed in. Cox had been known to breed his wavy/flat-coats with Irish setters to refine them. Some flat-coats will show natural pointing behavior because of the Irish setter in them.

    The original dog, as far as I can tell, was nothing more than a long-haired St. John’s water dogs, i.e., long-haired proto-Labrador. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador preferred a smooth-coated dog to work on the fisheries, but feathered puppies were often born to smooth parents. The feathered dogs were exported to England, especially around the port of Poole in Dorset.

    The English discovered that this type of “Newfoundland dog” was quite a fine retriever, but it was a bit lacking in nose. So they crossed it with setters. The old engraving of Paris and Melody represents dogs at both ends of the spectrum. Paris was said to have been purely of the St. John’s water dog type, just with feathered coat. Melody represents the cross between this dog and the setter.

    The original retriever people preferred the heavier built dogs. Rawdon Lee would write that in the middle of the nineteenth century, everyone wanted a large retriever that could easily carry a large hare a vast distance. The flat-coat/wavy-coat Ch. Zelstone was of this type– he could have passed for a modern conformation line golden retriever.


    Nous, the foundational stud dog at Guisachan, was also of this type, as were nearly all of the early goldens– although the first cross between Nous and Belle clearly were not.

    By the 1890’s the wavy/flat-coated type became trialled, and it was decided that the smaller, more lightly built dog was more functional, so both goldens and flat-coats moved in that direction. When the golden became a distinct breed it was decided to breed them closer to the older type. Rev. Davies would say claim that the golden was the last surviving strain of the old wavy-coated retriever– a claim that I think was essentially correct.

    Flat-coats nearly became extinct after the Second World War. There had been a popularity crash in the period following the First World War, but because of the rationing during the Second World War, the remaining dogs became quite rare. The modern flat-coat is derived from that remnant population, which was quite straight-coated and narrow-headed.

    But originally, the dogs varied in type from quite heavily-built, like Zelstone or a modern European conformation-type golden, to quite lithe and wiry dogs. Size varied greatly, but the larger, more “Newfoundlandish” were popular from circa 1860-1885 and the smaller, more lithe dogs were popular from 1885 onwards.

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