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PUREBRED DOGS A Guide to Today's Top
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THE FLAT-COATED RETRIEVER: HISTORY, ORIGIN & UTILITY
B eing raised with working and herding dogs that we worked in obedience, herding, and guard work, I always felt committed to the purebred dog and its utility. In the late 1980s, after having my first son, I was in search of a “kid-friendly” breed to mix with my new, young family. I had my curiosity piqued while at a local gun club. In the distance, I saw a beautiful, athletic, black dog. The moderately feathered coat with its incandes- cence caught my eye. As it trained diligently with the trainer, I could see the willingness to work in the dog’s eye. When I asked, the trainer told me it was a Flat-Coated Retriever. I was hooked. My initial research into this fascinating breed has left me more dedicated to the betterment of this breed than I ever thought I would be. Developed as a water and land retriever in the mid-to- late 1800s, this retriever breed was originally known as the Wavy-Coated Retriever. This was likely the product of cross breeding with a variety of breeds, including Setters, Collies, and Poodles, among others. Most certainly in the proprietary mix was the St. John’s Newfoundland, otherwise known as the Lesser Newfoundland, an extinct breed today. Mr. Sewallis Evelyn Shirley (1844-1904), founder of the Kennel Club of Britain and an accomplished dog fancier and judge, took a keen interest in the breed and sought to distin- guish it from the Curly-Coated Retriever.
BY MARLA J. DOHENY
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THE FLAT-COATED RETRIEVER: HISTORY, ORIGIN & UTILITY
“The Flat-Coat has a reliable temperament and is an excellent companion dog.”
The Flat-Coated Retriever became a favorite among gamekeep- ers in England during the turn of the [20th] century. The Flat- Coat was a devoted companion with a unique willingness to work for its master. After a day’s hunt, the Flat-Coat would be sent over the fields and streams to pick up game that had been left behind. Considered “a hearth dog,” the Flat-Coat will work tirelessly with quite a high level of exuberance, but settle quietly in the house. Ownership of this breed peaked in the 1920s and suffered a serious decline until the mid-1950s. Contributing factors to this were the increasing popularity of the “other” retriever breeds, Sporting dogs that were better suited for high intensity fieldwork, and the tale of many Flat-Coats being decimated during the World Wars. Another important figure in the breed’s sustainability was Mr. Stanley L. O’Neill whose genuine concern for the breed prompted him to institute a Flat-Coated Retriever revival breeding program following the war. He worked diligently to advance the breed and save it from demise. One of the first Flat-Coats to be brought to the United States was a liver-colored bitch named Pewcroft Perfect that was sent to a Mr. Homer Downing in Ohio by O’Neill in 1953. In a few short years, Downing imported another dog, a liver-colored Flat-Coated Retriever female named Atherbram Stella. In 1956, the total population of Flat-Coated Retrievers in the United States was nine. Two litters of puppies were produced and
the population of Flat-Coats was 22 by 1957. Mr. Downing and his wife introduced these two biddable bitches to the obedience ring. Pewcroft Perfect achieved a UDT and Atherbram Stella, a UD title. Mr. Downing, under the kennel name Bramcroft, would play a huge role in perpetuating the breed as we know it today—a com- plete utility dog. Over the next fifty years, Flat-Coats would regain popularity, with stabilizing pedigrees, and achieve success in the breed ring, the field, and in all areas of AKC competitions. The Flat-Coated Retriever remains today a biddable working companion, not divided into performance versus show lines. In 2012, there were a total of 1,116 titles earned in the breed across all AKC events. The breed saw 552 dogs registered in 2012, ranking 92 out of 177; 96 litters were registered. The Flat-Coat has a reliable temperament and is an excellent companion dog. The Flat-Coat has been coined the “Canine Peter Pan” in A Review Of The Flat-Coated Retriever by Dr. Nancy Laugh- ton. This is the reason my husband and I chose the Flat-Coated Retriever to raise our children, but can also serve as a reason to proceed with caution when considering this breed. Although always known for their exuberant personality, train- ability, and persistently wagging tail—the Flat-Coat may be too much for the novice dog owner.
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FLAT-COATED RETRIEVER VERSATILE FAMILY COMPANION HUNTING RETRIEVER Distinctive and most important features are the silhouette, smooth effortless movement, and head type. QUICK STUDY
S cissors bite preferred, level bite acceptable. Severe faults: Wry, undershot or overshot bites, noticeable gap. Body slightly longer than tall, with length in ribcage. Deep chest and rib. Prominent prow, well-developed forechest; never loosely coupled. Medium bone, feet oval or round, medium-sized, tight with well-arched toes and thick pads.
Coat solid black or liver. Straight, flat-lying, moderate length and fullness, high luster. DQ: Yellow, cream or any other color than black or liver. Shown with as natural a coat as possible. Shaving or barbering of the head, neck or body coat must be severely penalized. Gait balanced, free, efficient. Best appraised at trot; loose lead.
Neck moderately long. Topline strong and level, supple in motion. Tail extends to hock, fairly straight, in motion without curl.
Males: 23 to 24 ½ inches | Females: 22 to 23 ½ inches Variation more than 1 inch either way not practical for work.
Shoulder blades long, well laid back, upper arm of approximately equal length. Elbows clean, close to body.
“One-piece” head, muzzle nearly equal in length and breadth to skull.
Length from point of shoulder to rearmost point of upper thigh slightly longer than height at withers. Females may be slightly longer.
Good turn of stifle. Balanced angula- tion between front and rear. Second thigh as long or slightly longer than upper thigh. Hock well let down.
Drawings © Marcia Schlehr
Nose black on black dogs, brown on liver dogs; large, open nostrils.
Fairly flat skull, moderate breadth and flat, clean cheeks, with long, strong, deep muzzle well filled-in before, between, and beneath eye. Gradual, slight stop, brows slightly raised and mobile. Eyes set widely apart, medium-sized, almond-shaped, dark brown or hazel; eye rims self-colored and tight.
Ears relatively small, well set on, close to side of head and thickly feathered, not low set.
Jaws long and strong, with lips fairly tight, firm, and clean.
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SO YOU WANT TO BREED YOUR FLAT-COAT?
BY ANDREA HOLSINGER M ost Flat-Coat owners love their dogs. As a matter of fact, it has been the relationship between dog and owner that is the heart of the Flat-Coat breed. How- ever, loving your dog is not a reason to breed your dog. Instead, you must love the breed enough to become the most knowledgeable and educated Flat-Coat enthusiast that you can. To love the breed is to look long and hard at your Flat-Coat and ask: “Does my dog have anything to offer the breed as a pro- ducer?” To love the breed is to wait until you know this breed like the back of your hand before breeding a litter. To love the breed is to train and show judiciously so that you understand talent, type and temperament. Your first couple of Flat-Coats may or may not be of breeding quality. Also, more should go into the decision to breed than the quality of the dog. You need to be ready to breed and that takes time and effort. Using your first few Flat-Coats as learning tools is an excellent way to educate yourself. Set some goals in the breed ring, obedience, the field and tracking. Join a fly ball team and get involved with pet facilitated therapy. If you cannot find the time to educate yourself, then you should not breed Flat-Coats. Top breeders spend most of their free time thinking, breathing and working Flat-Coats. That commitment to our breed has protected it from harm. Anyone can put two dogs together and allow them to breed. The term “breeder” has been applied to such notable and influential people as Bonnie and Glenn Conner. The term breeder has also been applied to those who run puppy mills. Anyone can breed dogs; only a few put the time and effort into their programs to do it right. It is difficult to describe the level of knowledge that a person should achieve before breeding. The following is a checklist of ideas, not to be considered com- plete. Let us assume that your potential breeding stock is of accept- able quality, proven by achieving some titles and has something out- standing to offer the breed. Can you, the potential breeder, respond positively to the following: A. You are at a dog show. A group of Flat-Coat enthusiasts are outside the ring. They begin to discuss breed type, using sev- eral dogs in the ring as examples of different breed types. If all of the Flat-Coats in the ring look alike, you are not ready to consider breeding. B. You are at an obedience trial. Some people begin to discuss front end assemblies and their relationship to a dog’s abil- ity to jump. Different theories are presented. If you do not understand at all or understand the discussion but cannot see it with your own eye, or do not understand many of the terms used, you are not ready to breed. C. If you do not have a mental picture inside your head of the perfect Flat-Coat with every detail included, you are not ready to breed. “DON’T BREED YOUR DOG SO THAT YOU MAY BRAG TO OTHERS ABOUT THE VALUE OF HER PUPPIES. Your dog’s most important value should be in your heart.”
D. Can you answer, in detail, a question about why you want to breed your bitch? In other words, what does she have to offer the breed? Also, do you know her faults, and how to choose a dog to offset her faults and compliment her? If you cannot answer these, you are not ready to breed. E. Do enough Flat-Coat people know and respect your accomplishments in the breed to consider purchasing a puppy from you? Are you ready to educate new puppy owners and to keep strings on your stock? Are you ready to enforce the terms of your agreement if someone breaks them? Will you put written spay and neuter agreements on all non- breeding stock? If not, do not breed. An excellent litter of Flat-Coats in the wrong hands can damage the breed. Be responsible for your stock. F. Do you understand the following terms and have you worked your dog enough to know where she fits into each of these? IN THE FIELD: Nose, Style, Marking Ability, Memory, Courage, Physical Ability, Birdiness, Trainability IN OBEDIENCE: Style, Stability, Willingness, Intelligence, Trainability BREED RING: Style, Conformation, Attitude, Stability, Type THE HOME: Stability, Temperament, Social interaction w/ people, Social interaction w/other dogs, Sensitivity G. Do you have long term goals established in your breeding program? Do you know what you want to accomplish and do you have a general idea of how you are going to do that? If you cannot think past your first litter and do not know if you want to breed past one litter, then why do it at all? Let some- one else breed and buy a puppy from an experienced breeder. Just having a breeding quality dog does not a breeder make. Your level of knowledge about the bred is just as important as the quality of the dog. If you expect to reap some monetary benefits from the production of puppies do not breed. Often, people try to express their love for and pride in their dog by defining those feelings in monetary terms. For instance, you exclaim to a friend, “My dog just became a champion, which makes her worth a lot of money. Her puppies will sell for a lot too.” Most people feel embarrassed about expressing their love for their dog and, instead, try to explain the situation in terms they think their friends will understand. Most people outside the dog world still believe that involvement with dogs is a business situation. Few think of dogs as a hobby. For most of us, that is exactly what it is. Don’t breed your dog so that you may brag to others about the value of her puppies. Your dog’s most important value should be in your heart. The truth is that very few dogs out of any litter should be bred. The odds are against any one person getting a breeding quality ani- mal every time they purchase one. The odds stack even more heav- ily against that person being someone who should be breeding dogs. Breeding Flat-Coats indiscriminately is a dangerous and insidi- ous practice. There are no exceptions to the rule. Anyone who breeds a litter when they have questionable stock or lack an exten- sive base of knowledge is endangering this breed. Please, if you love this breed as most of us do, then help protect it. The formu- la is a simple one: If you are not prepared, do not breed. If you do breed, control what you breed with co-ownerships and spay/neuter agreements.
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FLAT-COATED RETRIEVER THE
1. Where do you live? What do you do “outside” of dogs? 2. How many years in the Flat-Coated Retriever? Showing? Judg- ing? Breeding? 3. What, in your opinion, is the secret to a successful breeding program? 4. Flat-Coats are currently ranked #91 out of all AKC breeds. Do you think this position fosters a responsible breeding program? 5. Do you feel the breed gets its fair share of attention in the group ring? 6. What is your favorite dog show memory? 7. Is there anything else you’ d like to share about the breed? Please elaborate. KURT ANDERSON My involvement in purebred dogs began in 1974 with the purchase of a Golden Retriever. I purchased our first Flat-Coated Retriever in 1985. A life member of the FCRSA, I currently chair the Judge’s Education program for the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America. I have also held the offices of President, Recording Sec- retary and Board Member and chaired the 1999 and 2009 FCRSA National Specialties. I am currently approved by the AKC to judge the Sporting group, 5 Herding breeds and Junior Showmanship. I live in Connecticut and am retired after a 40 year career with a global telecommunications company. I’ve owned purebred dogs for over 40 years, starting with Golden Retrievers. I have owned Flat-Coated Retrievers for just over 34 years, and have exhibited in the breed ring for pretty much the entire time. I have judged the breed for 18 years. The secret to a successful breeding program is having great men- tors, keeping an open mind, never stop learning and being ruth- lessly honest with yourself and others regarding both the successes and challenges you face in your breeding program. Do I think the breed’s ranking fosters a responsible breeding program? I’m not sure the Flat-Coat ranking has a bearing on what fosters a responsible breeding program. I do feel the Flat-Coat breeder community for the most part is quite collegial and most folks are more than willing to lend advice and assistance to those new to the breed. Do I feel the breed gets its fair share of attention in the group ring? I think any “lesser known” breed faces some challenges get- ting attention and recognition in the group ring. The Sporting Group is a large group very often with many worthy choices, many from breeds that are shown in larger numbers. That said, judges who appreciate the Flat-Coated Retriever do seem to be awarding them placements in the group more often now than was the case 15 or 20 years ago. I have many wonderful memories of both dogs and individuals I have met through my involvement in pure-bred dogs. My favor- ite memory is likely the privilege afforded me judging our national specialty a few years back. Two things I’d like to share about the breed: I think new judg- es misunderstand proper substance, which translates into proper
silhouette. I also think judges don’t fully understand or appreciate the importance of one of the hallmarks of our breed, the unique long, strong, clean, “one piece” head, which is unique to the Flat- Coated Retriever. I see more and more generic heads being reward- ed in the show ring. Additionally, temperament is of paramount importance. Please don’t reward dogs that exhibit any signs of aggression or excessive timidity. JAKE CASSADY I live in New Jersey. I have a
health and nutrition business, I have been an electrician for 30 years. I have 16 years with Flat- Coats, 13 years showing and 13 years breeding. The secret to a successful breeding program? That would first depend on what you mean by successful. I think many factors go into creating a great Flat-Coat. Starting with pick- ing the appropriate dog and bitch, raising puppies, find-
ing great homes, picking the next generation that will bring or keep inline to the standard, not to mention coaching new fami- lies, coaching new show owners and many more items for a good breeding program. It takes many people to work together over many years. The one thing above all probably is a dedication to the con- tinuing of our breed. Do I think the breed’s ranking fosters a responsible breeding program? I am not sure how this impacts being responsible. Do I feel the breed gets its fair share of attention in the group ring? That is always an interesting question, I am not exactly sure how to answer. I think Flat-Coated Retrievers are becoming a more noticeable breed in groups for a number of factors: better dogs, great handlers and, again, dedication. “I think Flat-Coated Retrievers are becoming a more noticeable breed in groups for a number of factors: better dogs, great handlers and, again, dedication.”
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Flat-Coat Retriever Q& A
breeding under, Blixthalka Flat-Coats. I enjoy judging Jrs and try to help as many kids in showing I can, especially give the boys words of encouragement. I live in Rogers, Minnesota.Outside of dogs, I enjoy snowmobil- Ing with my husband, Wayne. Also enjoy having friends over for bbq’s and doing fun things with pour kids. I have been in Flat-Coats since I was about ten and started our showing for a family friend and that turned into Sarah and her dad mentoring me in the breed. Bred some litters with them under the kennel name of Folly Retrievers. Now my husband, Wayne and I have been breeding Flat-Coats together. We are hoping for puppies sometime this fall! I have my Jr.s judging license and so enjoy judg- ing kids! I handle dogs for other people, so right now i just keep it at judging the kids. Someday I will get my Flat-Coat breed license. The secret to a successful breeding program, read your breed standard and don’t just breed to the “flavor of the month” dog that you see win day in and day out or what you have in your backyard just because it’s there. Be honest with the faults your dog or bitch has and look for what is going improve those faults and keep the ones that are correct. We are seeing way to many that are dropping off at the croup, bad fronts and not very pleasing heads. Really take a look at What it is going to take to fix your dogs faults and do what needs to be done to improve the breed. If that means breeding to a dog that is not in the United states, see what it costs to do that. If that means breeding to a dog that belongs to people you really aren’t good friends with, do it. I was given great advice a long time ago, you are breeding to the dog/bitch, not the people. We are pretty protective over our breed. Flat-Coats are a breed that is not for everyone. We screen our puppy people well to make sure they are going to the best home possible. We don’t breed our dogs just to have puppies. When we breed we are doing it for a rea- son because we are wanting to better the breed and make sure Flats are around for a long time to come. Do I feel the breed gets its fair share of attention in the group ring? No, I don’t feel like the Flat-Coats get a fair share of attention in group. Flat-Coats are not flashy dogs like the Golden or even the Setters. We shouldn’t be flashy like them. Flats are a happy-go-lucky breed, but also a good hunting dog. I also feel like many judges just don’t understand the Flat-Coat or like judging them. We have some that love judging our breed! They comment on it when handing our ribbons. This breed has a hard time standing still. The tail is ever wagging and most like to try and give judges kisses when being examined. That’s our breed and some judges act annoyed at their antics and want to get the judging over with. They don’t call them the “Peter Pan” dogs for no reason! One of my favorite memories was when I was just about nine months pregnant with my first kid. Was at a show in California where I lived at the time and was during a warm summer show. Was in open dog in Flat-Coats and the judge walked down the line before our first go around. He got to me and said, “You aren’t going to pop today are you?” We laughed and I said, “No.” After the first
My favorite dog show memory: I have a lot. But I think between two, one was a barbecue we had with my friends that show together most have Flats. My liver girl, Echo, took me around the ring as fast as I could run. We had a great weekend. The other is a Christmas show we all managed to get in a great photo. Both times lots of laugh and fun with my Flat-Coat friends. This breed is amazing in their ability to understand language. They value their family and pack. They are funny, charming, ornery, smart, sometimes defiant, always loving and generous. They will own you much more than you own them. The people in this breed are a reflection of their dogs. Its been amazing to be part of the world of the Flat-Coated Retriever. MARLA J. DOHENY I live in Florida and Connecticut and I am retired. I have been judging Flat-Coated Retrievers for just under ten years. To have a successful breeding program it takes years of hard work and a fair amount of luck. You must reach deep into what information is available to you and hope that in the end it all works out for the betterment of the breed. Do I think the breed’s ranking fosters a responsible breeding program? Any breed, no matter how rare or popular, can foster a responsible breeding program. Do I feel the breed gets its fair share of attention in the group ring? In my opinion the breed gets plenty of attention in the group ring. I don’t think this was so in the past. My favorite dog show memory—there have been so many. I sup- pose it was my first Group One placement. 550 dogs defeated—the size of some shows today. Lastly, to FCR judges. Reach deep and find the quality, not the generic black dog. Do your best to interpret the standard, and try not to reinvent it to what may be more popular or pleasing. MICHELLE HEIKES I have been in dogs/dog
shows since about age five. Lived in California until 2007 when I moved to Minnesota. Married to my husband Wayne who has been in Flat-Coats for 15 years. I have worked my way up from being kennel help for handlers in California to being a handler. I special- ize in sporting, working and hounds. I have been breeding Flat-Coats with Wayne for some time now and now have our own kennel name we are
“THIS BREED HAS A HARD TIME STANDING STILL. THE TAIL IS EVER WAGGING AND MOST LIKE TO TRY AND GIVE JUDGES KISSES WHEN BEING EXAMINED. That’s our breed and some judges act annoyed at their antics and want to get the judging over with. They don’t call them the ‘Peter Pan’ dogs for no reason!”
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Flat-Coat Retriever Q& A
“They are smarter than they appear at times. You need to be three steps ahead of them in their thinking.”
go around, he came over to me and made me go sit down in his chair and said you are not to move until I tell you. Just sit there because I am not going to deliver a baby in my ring today! Flat-Coats are not a breed for everyone. They like to be active and enjoy doing things with their people. They are smarter than they appear at times. You need to be three steps ahead of them in their thinking. They are a great family dog and love to do different things. They like to be busy, but the flip side they will also lay on the couch with you to watch tv. ANDREA HOLSINGER The Bertschire Kennel name belongs to Nancy and Mark Caval- lo, who were kind enough to give me my first Flat-Coat and to allow us to be a part of the Bertschire kennel name. Thanks for that! I live In a small town just outside of Athens, Georgia. I am a Hospice Nurse. I am also a retired nursing supervisor from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, where I was employed for 34 years. I enjoy gardening when I get the chance. We love to travel. I live a quiet (but crazy) life with my partner of 22 years, Kass and her sister, Donna. I have 32 years showing, working and breeding Flat-Coated Retrievers. It was my greatest honor to judge puppy and veteran sweepstakes at the 2002 FCRSA National Specialty. I am not a licensed judge. The secret to a successful breeding program? There are many secrets. Honest evaluation of one’s own breeding stock, an ethical standard that respects the breed, it’s working roots and the reasons for which the breed was developed. The willingness to evaluate and remove poor producers or poor specimens of the breed, the will- ingness to continue to learn and the interest in helping others to succeed are all attributes. Oh, and a very thick skin! Lastly, without an artistic eye for dogs, it is just impossible to improve the breed. Do I think the breed’s ranking fosters a responsible breeding program? I think responsible breeders foster responsible breed- ing programs. If each of us screens our homes and works with individuals who purchase breeding stock from us, giving them education and guidance, our breed will continue to benefit from responsible breeders. Do I feel the breed gets its fair share of attention in the group ring? No. On the other hand, I am not enamored of the impact that “group attention” can have on a breed. Breed type in the Flat- Coated Retriever remains a mystery to most judges. I would like to see our system of judging change in this country to reward “breed specialist” judges. We need to get back to the business of judging breeding stock. My favorite dog show memory? Winning the 2013 FCRSA National Specialty with our home bred, owner handled dog, BISS GCh Bertschire Horse Power, JH, WC. Or maybe it was winning the 2003 national with an imported class dog that no one had ever seen. We met him in The Netherlands and fell in love with him as a 13 month old dog. He was loaned to us by our very generous friends, Richard and Wilma Van der Horst. His name was BISS Ch. Steelriver Could it be Magic, JH. It might have been winning the 2005 national with our lovely bitch, BISS GCh Huntlane’s Under the Sea, JH. She was bred by our friend, Jennifer Andrews. She
was shown by our friend and professional handler, Cathy Pullian to that win. Our breed is suffering from a devastating rate of cancer. Our gene pool is tiny and if we are to ever pull ourselves out of this corner we are in, we must utilize genetic diversity testing. We must expand our gene pool and consider that as an important cornerstone to our breeding programs. LIZ SAUNDERS We live in southern Alber-
ta, Canada, between Fort Macleod and Lethbridge. I run my own business developing and illustrating nature con- servation related educational materials such as interpretive signs, displays and booklets. I also create some of my own art work and am an avid pho- tographer. My husband, Andy Hurly, is a retired biology pro- fessor and avid hunter. We have lived with Flat- Coated Retrievers for 23 years.
We showed our very first Flat-Coat in conformation and have con- tinued to show our own dogs. Our dogs have always been hunting companions, mostly for waterfowl hunting, but also some upland work. Because our winters are long and cold, we turn to obedience and rally when field training is not possible. We bred our first litter 15 years ago and have had 11 litters to date. In 2018 I had the great honor of judging Veteran and Puppy Sweepstakes at the FCRSA National Specialty in Pennsylvania. My first serious venture into judging was an amazing experience as it was such a thrill to get my hands on so many puppies and veterans. In my opinion, a successful breeding program is one that con- sistently produces dogs that are sound in mind and body, can do well in the show ring and retain the natural instincts needed to be a valuable hunting companion. There is no one “secret” to a suc- cessful breeding program, it is a combination of hard work, passion, commitment with a bit of good luck thrown in! Some of the elements that I believe are key to a successful breed- ing program are: Knowing the breed standard thoroughly and understanding the relationships between form and function. Con- stantly evaluating dogs we have produced helps us make better deci- sions in the future, which means keeping in touch with all puppy owners through the lifetime of the dog. Being knowledgeable about structure and how it affects a dog’s outline, movement and working ability (our mentors, Hans and Margareta Berin, always stressed the importance of this in their breeding program and we have tried to follow suit). We also put a lot of thought and effort in to how our dogs and litters are raised—providing them with high quality food, plenty of free exercise in natural environments and opportunities to explore and learn.
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Flat-Coat Retriever Q& A
“FLAT-COATS ARE HAPPY ACTIVE DOGS. STANDING STILL IS NOT THEIR FORTE.”
I had a broken bone in my foot. She had won three previous BOS awards and I had pretty much given up on the dream of a breed win. I bred, owned and handled her. Flat-Coats are happy active dogs. Standing still is not their forte. Hand stacking rarely shows them off at their best. They look won- derful free baited and standing with the typical happy wagging tail. CINDY ZELBST I have lived in a small com-
Attending national specialties is another critical component. Specialties give us a “snap shot” of the breed in time (in both con- formation and working abilities) which helps us to see where our own dogs are lacking, where they excel and what to work on in the future. Similarly, visiting shows and breeders in countries where Flat-Coats are more numerous, such as in Europe, can be extremely useful in gaining a higher understanding of the breed. For the most part we handle and train our own dogs in confor- mation, obedience and Retriever work. I believe that this helps us to appreciate the subtleties of what constitutes a well-built and good working Flat-Coated Retriever. I think that excellent quality Flat-Coats are usually noticed and rewarded in the group ring. I hear talk about how it is more chal- lenging to do well in the ring with a liver-colored Flat-Coat, but I have not found that to be the case, as long as they are a high-quality dog. However, keeping a liver coat in show condition is significantly more challenging than with black dogs. It’s difficult to pick just one favorite show memory, but recently we have had some lovely wins with our veteran bitches. At the recent Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America’s National Specialty in Albany, Oregon our home-bred veteran bitch won Best Veteran in Sweeps (under long-time breeder Judy Gladson) and then went on to win Best of Opposite (under long-time breeder-judge Helen Szostak). Blazingstar Puffin is about to turn nine years and is a clas- sic example of how Flat-Coated Retrievers improve with age and converge more towards the breed standard once they are six years old and beyond. Big wins by veteran dogs is not that unusual for our breed. Vbos the Kentuckian was a super example of that, winning Crufts at the age of nine years in 2011. Flat-Coated Retrievers are a dual-purpose breed, so it’s critical to be cognizant of factors that play into working ability (such as drive, birdiness, biddability and natural marking and scenting abili- ties) when making breeding decisions, rather than only breeding for dogs that are competitive in the show ring. The dual-purpose nature of Flat-Coats is what attracted us and many others to the breed in the first place. We feel very strongly that it is important to retain the working side of the breed along with the attributes that constitute a good show dog. HELEN SZOSTAK, DVM I live in Plymouth, Michigan and I am a veterinarian in my “other life”. I got my first FCR in 1974 and I believe had my first lit- ter in about 1978. I judged the our National Specialty this spring as a Breed Club recommended/requested judge and am in the process of completing the requirements for a “real” judging license. The secret to a successful breeding program is having a good strong bitch line. Do I think the breed’s ranking fosters a responsible breeding program? I think it is good that our breed does not have great popularity. Flat-Coat breeders are very careful with puppy place- ments and with trying to produce dogs that remain true to their original purpose—that of a working Retriever and family com- panion. Health, type and temperament and working ability are of extreme importance. Do I feel the breed gets its fair share of attention in the group ring? It is still difficult to do much in the group with an owner handled dog, even a very good one, and even if it is well presented. My favorite dog show memory is winning Best of Breed at our National Specialty in 1999 with my very special girl, on a day that
munity, nestled in the Wichita Mountains in southwest Okla- homa, called Meers, my whole life. Outside of dogs, my hus- band and I manage my family ranch where we raise Angus cattle. I am also involved with the Meers Volunteer Fire Department, one of the old- est volunteer fire departments in Oklahoma. I serve on the Board of Directors for the Comanche County Conserva- tion District. In addition, I am
President of Mid-Del-Tinker Kennel Club, Vice-President of the Lawton Dog Fanciers Association, and am a member of the Board of Directors of the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America. I’ve been involved with Flat-Coated Retrievers since 2000 and have been breeding Flat-Coats since 2003. For me, the secret to a successful breeding program is having a great mentor and I had one. I also believe that to have a suc- cessful breeding program, you must talk to other breeders and learn from them. Having a successful breeding program is an on- going learning process. I also try to have a very critical eye regard- ing my own dogs and breed based upon the needs of the areas I have identified that need improvement, while keeping in mind the pedigrees involved. Do I think ranking #91 fosters a responsible breeding program? Yes, I do believe our ranking does foster, for the most part, a success- ful breeding program. Flat-Coat breeders are a fairly small group, compared to other breeds. It’s easy for us to talk to each other about our breeding programs. There are many of us who communicate with each other regarding where our puppies go. There are a lot of us who either get referrals from other breeders, or we send prospec- tive puppy homes to other breeders. As a whole, we have a good idea where our puppies go and what puppies might become a part of a breeding program. My favorite dog show memory is pretty recent. My dog was awarded Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club show in 2018. I was humbled beyond words by the award. I immediately thought of all of the breeders before me and currently who have been involved in the breed a lot longer than I have who have yet to achieve that goal. I thought about the breeder, who was also my mentor, who would have been so very proud of that moment, who sadly and suddenly passed away in 2015. I so wished I could have called her to tell her the wonderful news. I thought about all of the breeders, Flat-Coat and otherwise, who have given me guidance throughout the years. I thought of all of the miles my first FCR and I traveled to shows together and what started me on the path that I’m on today.
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by HELEN SZOSTAK
The Flat-Coated Retriever Form & Function
T he Flat-Coated Retriever originat- ed in England in the mid 1800s. Man’s improved ability to shoot game at a distance necessitated a dog capable of retrieving it and Flat-Coats came to be for exactly that purpose. Early Flat- Coats were kept as personal shooting dogs and were favorites of gamekeepers. The breed was brought to type by Mr. Shirley, who was also the founder of the Kennel Club in England. As dog shows became popular, the handsome and elegant Flat-Coat became popular at shows. Gamekeepers and other owners brought their prized shooting dogs to show to compete based on their conformation. Flat-Coats were popu- lar competitors in early field trials as well, for many years they were the most popular field trial dog in England. When working in the field, Flat-Coats have excellent noses, soft mouths and great heart. Watching them you can’t help but see the incredible joy they have in doing their job. They are good markers and steady workers, they are also very smart and somewhat inde- pendent. They work with moderate speed and style. They love to work and work with people and are always happy. This quality has made them a very multipurpose breed. Many Flat- Coats that win in the conformation ring also have initials after their names. The breed excels in any activity requiring a working relationship between dog and human. When judging the Flat-Coat it is of para- mount importance to remember the purpose for which the breed was created. The modern Flat-Coat is one of the few sporting breeds that have not diverged into a working and a show type. The same dog that wins in the show ring today should be able to run in a hunt test or trial tomorrow, and then go and run agility or do obedience. Many Flat-Coat owners are involved in multiple aspects of the dog game and Flat-Coats easily transition between them. As owners, we prize and take pride in this abil- ity of Flat-Coats to be beautiful and work- manlike and we try very hard to preserve it. Flat-Coats are one of the few Sporting breeds that do not have a division in type between the working and show dogs. We as Flat-Coat breeders are trying hard to keep it that way. We want our dogs to be able to do it all.
Silhouette of the Flat-Coated Retriever, both moving (above) and standing (below). (Illustrations by Marcia Schlehr from The Illustrated Breed Standard of the Flat- Coated Retriever)
“Watching them you can’t help but see the incredible joy they have in doing their job.”
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FCR retrieving to hand. (Photo by Wendy Tisdall)
These are two very nice bitch heads. (Photo by Cheryl Ertelt)
The breed standard of the Flat-Coat- ed Retriever was written as a blueprint to describe the visual appearance and tempera- ment of the dog, i.e. those things that make him a Flat-Coat rather than, for example, a Labrador. In doing so, it also describes the attributes that the dog needed to have to be a good and efficient working Retriever. I am going to discuss parts of the stan- dard in relation to what is required from Working dogs. The Flat-Coat is famously described as a dog having, “Power without lumber and raciness without weediness.” Your first impression of a Flat-Coat should be that of a moderately sized, happy dog, with a constantly wagging tail. He should appear strong, workmanlike and with moderate bone and good substance. He should not be course or short on leg. He should be elegant, with gentle lines, all running smoothly together. He should not be refined, weak, leggy or rangy. He should always be shown in lean, hard-working condition. Fat does not equal substance. The most important things that make a Flat-Coat what he is are his “silhouette, both moving and standing, smooth effortless movement, head type, coat and character.” The silhouette of the Flat-Coat is that of a dog with a “Long, strong clean one- piece head” well set on a moderately long neck, flowing into a level topline. The body should be strong with a deep chest, promi- nent forechest, well-angled shoulder, long ribcage and a moderate tuck up. The rear should be strong and in balance with the front. That tail should come off the back as an extension of the topline and should be carried level or slightly above the level of the back. In the water, the tail acts as a
rudder and a gay tail is not a very efficient rudder. The Flat-Coat is described as being longer than tall. The length should be in the ribcage and the loin relatively short. He should never look square or cobby. All of these attributes describe a capable, work- manlike dog able to work all day under difficult conditions. The head of the Flat-Coat is distinctive and very different from most other Sport- ing breeds. The skull and muzzle give the impression of being “cast in one piece.” The skull is fairly flat and moderately wide. The stop is “gradual, slight and barely percep- tible.” There should not be a down or dish- faced appearance. The eyebrows are promi- nent, active and should not be confused with a stop. The stop should be evaluated in profile. The muzzle should be long, deep and strong. The muzzle and skull should be approximately the same length. Strength of muzzle is important to allow the dog to carry a large bird for a long distance. Lips should be tight to keep the dog from getting feathers stuck in their mouths. Eyes should be almond-shaped, dark brown or hazel and widely set. It is important that eyelids be tight so that they do not pick up seeds and debris while working in the field. The head of the Flat-Coat is very important, but please do not consider them a head breed alone. A good Flat-Coat should have a good head but also all of the other attributes that make him a functional Retriever. The Flat-Coat’s personality is described as having a “happy and active demeanor.” When judging a ring of Flat-Coats, you should see a line up of happy dogs with constantly wagging tails. Flat-Coats should be shown standing freely and moved on a loose lead. A ring of Flat-Coat puppies is a
ring full of joy and mischief. One of my first happy memories in the breed was showing my very first puppy. The judge had a cor- sage on, when she bent over to examine my puppy, she quickly lost that corsage. For- tunately, she had a sense of humor. I was mortified. They should never be shy, fear- ful nor aggressive, any dog showing these characteristics should be severely penalized. A dog that is aggressive towards other dogs or humans should be excused. Dogs must work together when out hunting or picking up and must all be able to get along. The movement of the Flat-Coat should be sound and efficient. He must be able to work all day. His movement should be bal- anced with good reach and drive front to rear. His topline should be strong, level and supple. He should not have a huge rear kick. This seems to be the fashion today, but dogs that do this do not move efficiently. They would quickly tire in the field. They gen- erally have much more angulation in the rear than they do in the front and although many think it is “pretty”, it is incorrect and impractical in a Working dog. Balance in the important word. Exaggeration is impractical in a Working Retriever. There is a large range of acceptable size in a Flat-Coat, from a 21-inch minimum for a small bitch up to 25 ½ inches at the maxi- mum for a dog. The size range is because a larger or smaller dog might be advanta- geous in different hunting conditions. Ani- mals outside of this size range should not be considered practical for the purpose of the breed. Too small and the dog might not be able to easily carry a large bird and too large, it would take up too much room in a duck boat or blind. Big is not better.
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This bitch shows smooth, efficient movement and balanced reach and drive. (Photo by Chris Butler)
The breed is named the “Flat-Coated Retriever”. The coat is therefore very important to the breed. It is first a functional jacket, it must be sufficient to protect the dog in all sorts of weather and cover conditions. It is moder- ately thick, straight and flat-lying with sufficient fullness, length and texture to protect the dog. It is not fluffy, silly or curly; it may be slightly wavy. This breed was once called the Wavy-Coated Retriever and this type of coat still appears in the breed. As long as it is flat-lying, it is not penalized. When in full coat, the ears, front, chest, back of forelegs, hind legs, thighs and bottom of the tail are feathered. The coat should not be excessive. Exces- sive coat will pick up more burrs and weeds, and impede the dog’s ability to work in heavy cover. The dog may have a mane of thicker, longer coat over the neck, shoul- ders and withers. Sometimes this ends in the middle of the back, giving the impression of a dip in the topline, which is not real. Please use your hands to evaluate the topline if necessary. The standard requires that the dog be shown in as natural coat as possible. He should not be penalized for lack of trimming as long as they are clean and well brushed. Tidying of the ears, feet, underline and tip of the tail is acceptable. It has become fashionable in some countries to strip or shave the necks of FCs to just above the sternum; they think this helps to show the neck and emphasize the forechest. I’m hopeful that our North American judges can tell the difference between a puff of hair and the actual forechest on a dog. We want our Flat-Coats to be able to go hunting tomor- row. Stripping his neck of all of its hair removes pro- tection from brush, bramble and leaves the dog more open to cold water or injury. The standard states that, “Shaving or barbering of the head, neck or body coat must be severely penalized.” Dogs that are severely bar- bered should not be awarded first place ribbons, nor should they be given group placements. Dogs with a proper coat should not need to be barbered. Our dog is a Working Retriever, he needs the protection his natu- ral coat provides. For the same reasons whiskers should not be cut off our dogs, they are sensory organs and help to protect the dog’s face and eyes from injury. Several words have been used repeatedly in this arti- cle: strong, elegant, moderate, happy and workman- like. It is important that a winning Flat-Coat be all of those things.
A very nice male head.
Standing dog. (Photo by Wendy Tisdall)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Helen Szostak, DVM, has been a breeder and exhibitor of Flat-Coated Retrievers for 43 years. Her Grousemoor Flat-Coats have produced many champions, National Specialty BOB and BOS winners, Group winners and placers, OTCH, Mach, MH and TDX dogs as well as other title holders. She was awarded the AKC’s Sporting Dog Breeder of the year award in 2003. She has been an AKC delegate, National Specialty Chairperson and has held many offices in Breed and All Breed Clubs. She currently belongs to the Flat-Coated Retriever Society’s of the US, Canada and the UK and the Marshbanks Golden Retriever Club.
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