Traits, Personality and Behavior
The ideal Flatcoat is, with the exception of size (large) and shedding (lots), just about as good a family dog as it gets -- as long as you don't mind a dog who loves to be wet. The breed was developed to be a working retriever, and few breeds have a higher percentage of dogs who still serve as family dogs during the week and companion hunters on the weekend. That working heritage means a high level of activity is a must for these dogs. While many of them would probably rather hunt than do anything else, the Flatcoat also excels at the highest level of agility and loves dock-diving (naturally!) and other active sports. People who enjoy running, hiking and cross-country skiing will also find this breed a perfect companion.
Ignore the working heritage at your own risk: If not trained, socialized and exercised daily, the good-natured exuberance of these dogs -- especially as adolescents and young adults -- can be overwhelming, and even frightening to small children despite a dog's best intentions to be (overwhelmingly) friendly.
There's generally less coat on a Flatcoat than on a Golden -- "Flatcoat" refers to how the coat falls in a straight line from the body -- but these dogs do require regular bathing and brushing, especially since few of them have ever met a mud hole without jumping in.
Flatcoats love everyone, but that love for people will often translate into jumping as a form of greeting. Basic, early obedience training is a must for these big, rambunctious dogs. Fortunately, they are very easy to train, and a small investment of time when the dog is young will pay off when he's full-grown and will readily sit on command, walk on a leash without pulling and come when called.
Health Issues Common to Flat-Coated Retrievers
The Flat-Coated Retriever can suffer from a number of serious genetic health problems, including cancer, hip dysplasia and luxating patellas. The Flat-Coated Retriever community in the United States is strongly involved in issues related to the health of their dogs. The Flat-Coated Retriever Society has created the Sharon Myers Health Committee to improve the genetic health of Flat-Coated Retrievers.
Unfortunately, there is no genetic testing for the cancers that claim many of these dogs, often between the ages of 8 and 10 years of age. No line of Flatcoat is exempt from this sadness, and any owner of a Flat-Coated Retriever is urged to take every sign of illness and every lump, bump and lameness seriously. Early veterinary intervention can extend a high-quality life for these dogs.
Breeders must have written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that their dogs' hips and elbows are free of dysplasia, and ideally should also have OFA clearances on the parents' thyroids and hearts.
Because Flat-Coated Retrievers can suffer from a number of eye problems, your puppy's parents need to have eye clearance within the previous year from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF).
While less common than in some other breeds, Flat-Coated Retrievers can suffer from hip dysplasia, a crippling malformation of the hip socket that requires costly surgery to repair and that can result in painful arthritis later in life.
Flat-Coated Retrievers can also suffer from bloat and torsion, a condition in which the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Bloat strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it's wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.
Another condition affecting the Flat-Coated Retriever is a kneecap defect known as "luxating patellas." The dog's kneecap will slip in and out of place, causing lameness that comes and goes. This condition can be corrected with surgery.
A good breeder will be able to discuss how prevalent all health problems, those with and those without genetic screening tests, are in her dogs' lines, and help puppy buyers make an informed decision about health risks to their dog.
6 Tips to Bringing Home a Healthy Flat-Coated Retriever Puppy
Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
Start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America, which offers a breeder referral service; choose one who is a member in good standing and has agreed to be bound by the club's Code of Ethics, which prohibits its members from selling puppies to pet stores and requires them to take lifetime responsibility that every dog they breed has a home.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing, and any breeder who says her lines are free of all these problems, or that they're not a concern, is either lying or knows almost nothing about Flat-Coated Retrievers. Look for your puppy elsewhere.
Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Flat-Coated Retrievers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out.
Puppy or adult, take your Flat-Coated Retriever to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Pet Insurance for Flat-Coated Retrievers
Pet insurance for Flat-Coated Retrievers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Flat-Coated Retrievers are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Flat-Coated Retrievers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Flat-Coated Retriever is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.