What’s happened to the flatcoat retriever?

Every once in a while, often at a country house owned by people who don’t much like throwing things away, one comes across old copies of Shooting Times. It is always reassuring to note the extent to which our sport is still the same but, of course, things do change with time. One very striking difference is that in copies from the 1930s and 1940s, almost every picture of a day’s shooting has a flatcoat in it. Nowadays, however, seeing one on a peg or in a picking-up team would certainly make you look twice. The flatcoated retriever emerged in the mid-19th century from crosses between Labradors and setters — probably English and Gordon — with the aim of combining the best of these breeds. The breed is now overseen by the Flatcoated Retriever Society which has an active working section, as do the other regional breed clubs that encourage members to maintain an interest in working abilities. Champion status As I type, I can see a book on my shelves that I bought almost 40 years ago. It includes a photograph of Lady Amelia Jessel with FTCh Werrion Redwing of Collyers, a dog that is one of only seven flatcoated retrievers to have achieved field trial champion status. Since Jessel’s day, the breed has slipped into obscurity and is now very much second fiddle to the Labrador. Last year the Kennel Club registered roughly 1,100 flatcoats compared with more than 35,000 Labradors. Talking to those who have trained flatcoats is most revealing when it comes to working out why so few are seen. The breed is not a quick fix when it comes to training and in a world where ticking boxes in record time is the norm, no matter what you are trying to achieve, the flatcoat does need more time and its trainer needs plenty of patience. A great advocate of the breed is Caroline Hewison who, with husband Chris, owns the Casblaidd kennel in West Yorkshire. Caroline is the working secretary of the Northern England Flatcoated Retriever Association (NEFRA). The couple currently has five flatcoats which, as well as picking-up on shoots throughout the season, are no strangers to winning top awards in flatcoat working tests. Big personalities “Flatcoats have big personalities and a good sense of humour. They are slower to mature than Labradors, and anyone new to the breed has to appreciate that. But there’s no doubt that the end result is well worth waiting for,” she says. “I think a lot of people today want instant results from training a gundog, but the flatcoat can take a little longer.” A team of three Casblaidd flatcoats will be regulars on shoots of up to 400-bird days this season — and it’s the breed’s thoroughness in its work that wins the dogs a deal of praise from the Guns. “Once a flatcoat has mastered his skills as a working gundog he has a phenomenal ability to mark the fall of a bird,” says Caroline. “They … Continue reading What’s happened to the flatcoat retriever?