The Flatcoat today – by Dr. N. Laughton    

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 Varietywas stabilised in type mainly by Mr. S. E. Shirley who founded the Kennel Clun I 1873.  Up until, and for years after, the turn of the century, no self-respecting field sportsman was without one.  As a gamefinder he was indispensable, and as a campanion 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 1902 and 1912 respectively, but interbreeding with the Labrador tokk place for a number of years.

The Flatcoat’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed a good deal over the years.  In the nineteen-forties his numbers reached a dangerousl low level on account of the World War, but some lines was escued 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 mommercial 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 of the working dog.  Many breeders have leaned too heavily on the dual-purpose concept, but their stock has not been properly testet in the field. Because this has not been done, as it shoul have been at each generation, very little genuine working stock is available to sportmen 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 characteristic of the dog.  This group ( the group Mr. Wilson Stephens referred to in his article in the “Field” and October 1984) wil aim towards the elimation of penal faults, such as “whining” and “hard-mouth”, and to improve working ability and trainability be selective breeding these ends.  Attention will be paid to tood temperament, general soundness and stamina.  A register of satisfactory breeding stock will be compiled.

It is vital that the group be recognised by the shoting 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 Retriver Society. In the main the group consist of people wh 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 ae 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 there routine is  that the “pickers up” have to gorgo their work in favour of foru Flatcoats under test. Printed guidelines are ade 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 is second to none.  Many today are seen “piking 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 realise 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 discipline in basic obedience and hand training before the important step of introduction to the shooting field is taken.

Nancy Laughton


© Alex Faarkrog 2017