Flat, Curly Coated and Golden Retrievers

Goldens - mother & pupGoldens - mother & pup

Once the shotgun became popular with wealthy sportsmen, specialized dogs that would find and retrieve dead and injured game without harming it, had to be developed. These dogs had to have the trait known as 'soft mouths'. Along with selective breeding for dogs with soft mouths came their docile and gentle temperament. This gentleness made the Golden Retriever as well as the Flat and Curly Coated exceptionally docile with people. Hence their popularity in modern society.

History of Retrievers

Wavy or Flat Coated Retriever c 1880Wavy or Flat Coated Retriever c 1880

Before motor transport, it was common for types of dogs which have resulted in today's pure breeds, to develop separately in England, the Border Region and Scotland. These three retrieving breeds are typical examples. The Wavy or Flat-coat developed in the more southern part of England, the Curly was more common to the north around Tweed River and the border region between England and Scotland and the Golden was a product of Scotland. During the 1800's when game was shot, it landed some distance away from and out of the sight of the shooter, often also in dense undergrowth. Hence the necessity to develop specialized soft mouthed retrievers that could find the shot game on land or maybe also in water.

Wavy (Flat) Coated Retriever c 1870Wavy (Flat) Coated Retriever c 1870

Most of the gundogs could be taught by patience and practice to retrieve fur or feather, but game carefully and skillfully shot is easily rendered valueless by being mauled by powerful jaws not schooled to gentleness. And this question of a tender mouth was certainly one of the problems that perturbed the minds of the originators of the breed. The difficulty was overcome by a process of selection, and by the exclusion of all hard-mouthed specimens, with the happy effect that in the present time (1907) it is exceptional to find a hard working Retriever who does not know how to bring his bird to hand without injuring it[1].

History of the Flat Coated Retriever

Wavy (Flat) Coated Retrievers c 1872Wavy (Flat) Coated Retrievers c 1872

After the strong swimming dogs were brought back to Britain from the Canadian Provence of Newfoundland and Labrador, they usually landed at Poole in the more southern districts of England. In the early 1800's these were bred with the Setters commonly used for shooting in that part of the country. These crosses produced the Wavy or Flat Coated Retriever that was to become extremely popular in the second half of the 1800's. By 1860 the first classes for Retrievers were held at Birmingham followed by the first Field Trial in 1866. The more wealthy sportsmen of that time, keen to succeed at both Field Trials and Shows with the same dog, set about creating a truly dual-purpose dog. Prior to World War One, the Flat Coated Retriever was the most popular of all the Retrievers[6].

History of the Flat Coat in Australia

Wavy (Flat) Coated Retriever c 1907Wavy (Flat) Coated Retriever c 1907

At the first dog show held in Melbourne in 1864[4] listed are sixteen Retrievers with no indication of coat colour or type. This was possibly due to Australia having no formal registration system in place until Tyzacks Annual was published in 1912. This listed two Wavy Coated Retrievers as being imported from Britain[4]. Although there is some scant evidence that Flat Coated Retrievers were present in Australia from these early times, they did not really make their presence felt until 1974 when Faye and Robert Pargetter imported a dog and bitch from England with Dorothy Sutch importing another bitch from the same famous English Stonemead kennel. Dorothy bred the first litter sparking incentive to establish the Flat coated Retrievers here[5a]. This has been followed by steady but small stream of Flat Coats from overseas keeping this breed alive in Australia.

History of the Curly Coated Retriever

Curly Coated Retrievers c 1875Curly Coated Retrievers c 1875

Meanwhile on the estates of England wealthy sportsmen hunted with large dogs long before the advent of guns. It is believable that these larger dogs were bred with the Tweed Water Spaniel (now extinct) which was popular in and around the border of England and Scotland in the 1800's. But sadly today it is extinct. But by the time a specialized retrieving dog became necessary, the tallest of the retrieving dogs, the Curly Coated Retriever had emerged as a pure breed. Although both the Flat Coated Retriever and Curly Coated Retriever were usually black, sometimes liver or yellow specimens appeared but were not popular for no logical reason.

History of the Curly in Australia

Wavy (Flat) and Curly Coated Retrievers c 1870Wavy (Flat) and Curly Coated Retrievers c 1870

In Tyzacks Annual two Curly Coated Retrievers are listed as being imported from the UK with a further thirteen Curlys being registered in their Stud Book[4]. In contrast to the Flat-coats, a small band of enthusiasts have kept the presence of the Curly Coated Retriever in Australia alive continuously since the early 1900's. Mr Olaf (Olly) Michelson with his Tabilk kennel in Victoria kept this breed for over a half a century founding many other kennels including Viki Knowles' Blazeaway kennel who has carried on his good work to this day[5b].

History of the Golden Retriever

Tweed River RetrieverTweed River Retriever

Meanwhile in Scotland in 1868 Lord Tweedmouth began developing the Golden Retriever from a yellow wavy coated retriever and a Tweed Water Spaniel. He methodically line-bred these two with other Tweed Water Spaniels, Retrievers and Gundogs keeping meticulous records from 1835 to 1890[2]. This process was continued by one of his descendants, the Earl of Ilchester at the Guisachan Estate, forming the basis for the Golden Retriever's eventual recognition by the Kennel Club (UK) in 1920 after they had been already classified by the Kennel Club as Flat Coated Retrievers but defined by their yellow colour. Today the  Golden Retriever enjoys enormous popularity because of his docile and loving temperament resulting from so many decades of selective breeding.

History of the Golden in Australia

Golden Litter from Artificial Insemination 1979Golden Litter from Artificial Insemination 1979History for the entire dog world was made in 1975 when English frozen semen was brought out here from the big winning English Champion Cambrose Cabus Christopher. Firstly Mrs Hope Phillipson from Queensland produced a litter of four. Then in 1979 after the death of the sire, Fred and Beryl Hession from New South Wales produced a litter of six (pictured), three of which became Champions[5c].

In Australia, although there are some reports of Golden Retrievers being brought here for field work earlier, documented proof of the establishment of the Golden Retriever here was not until 1937 when Miss Grice of Mount Macedon in Victoria brought Grakle of Tone from the UK. Several imports followed establishing her Rahween prefix. After World War Two the popularity of the Golden Retriever grew with many new enthusiasts emerging. Roger from the already established Taumac kennel of the Bridgford family was one who began in 1958 and still remains active over fifty years later.

Flat Coat Recreational ShootingFlat Coat Recreational Shooting

The technique of using frozen semen not only made a solid contribution to Golden Retrievers in Australia, but it also gave impetus for a new direction for our dog world by proving that the best dogs and bloodlines anywhere in the world could be made available to us.

The Golden, Flat and Curly Coated Retrievers Today

Curly Coated RetrieverCurly Coated Retriever

Today the ready availability of food has removed the necessity to use dogs to hunt. Although shotguns historically developed for hunting are still used for Retrieving and Field Trials and recreational shooting, political correctness is putting more and more restrictions on enthusiasts of these activities.

But these three Retrievers are kept alive because of their aesthetic beauty, their intelligence and their willingness to please. But their sound structure has given them the ability to adapt to modern formal dog activities of obedience and agility and has also made them ideal pets for physically active people who love the outdoors.

Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever

Although the Golden Retriever has retained his instinct to retrieve, he is particularly suited to modern society. His love of people combined with his willingness to please has made him ideally suited to being trained not only as a guide dog for the blind, but also as an assistance dog for the elderly and people with physical disabilities. Modern research has also found the Golden Retriever useful for those suffering with mental disorders, particularly children with autism.

Comparison between the Golden, Flat Coat and Curly Coated Retrievers

A convenient way to study the similarities and differences between these three Retrievers, is by a the comparison table below:

Golden Retriever Flat Coated Retriever Curly Coated Retriever

Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever

Flat coated RetrieverFlat coated Retriever Curly Coated RetrieverCurly Coated Retriever
General Appearance Symmetrical powerful but well balanced cream or gold dog with a kindly expression Medium sized black or liver elegant dog showing power without lumber and raciness without weediness The tallest of all the retrievers, an upstanding, strong black or liver dog with a distinctive curly coat
Size Height: Dogs 56-61 cms (22-24 ins) Bitches 51-56 cms (20-22ins) Height: Dogs 58-61 cms (23-24 ins) Bitches 56-58cms (22-23 ins) Preferred weight in hard condition Dogs 27-38 kg (60-80 lbs) Bitches 25-32 kg (55-70 lbs) Height: Dogs 69 cms (27 ins) Bitches 64 cms (25 ins)

From the palest cream to the deepest yellow is equally acceptable as long as it is neither red nor mahogany. Black or liver Black or liver
Coat Double coated with a thick water resistant undercoat and a flat or way top coat without curl, giving the coat a somewhat harsh feel. The feathering behind the front and back legs on the underside of the body and tail and the body coat sometimes needs trimming which is acceptable. Consistent with his name, the Flat Coated Retriever's coat should be as flat as possible and although dense, should never be curly. His elegant outline is completed by his medium textured good quality coat and the feathering behind his legs and on the tail.

Curly's CoatCurly's Coat

The body, neck and tail should never have any thin or bald patches. Instead the dog is completely covered in small tight-knit screw astrakhan type water-resistant curls that feel oily and crisp. Although curls on the ears may be looser, the hair on the foreface, front of legs and feet is short, smooth and straight with a slight feathering on the back of the forelegs.
Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever Flat Coated RetrieverFlat Coated Retriever Curly Coated RetrieversCurly Coated Retrievers
Head Without being coarse, the skull is broad and slightly rounded, and the very strong, wide and deep muzzle should not have too much flew. The length of the muzzle should equal that of the skull and the nose should be black. The skull is long and looks moulded with a strong muzzle the same length as the skull. This head should be sufficiently strong to be capable of carrying a hare. The large nose should have open nostrils. The head is wedge-shaped when viewed from either the side or the front. The skull and muzzle are of equal length with parallel head planes. The lips are tight and the nose black or liver depending on the coat colour.
Stop Well defined Slight Slight
Eyes Size to balance the head, set wide apart to give a soft, kindly expression, dark brown with tight dark rims Medium sized but not obliquely set, dark brown or hazel with an intelligent expression Large but not prominent, oval in shape and obliquely set. Dark brown in blacks but in livers colour to blend with coat.
Ears Moderate size, set on approximately level with the eyes Small and set on close to the head Rather small and set on slightly above the level of the eye
Mouth Normal scissors bite Normal Scissors bite Normal scissors bite
Neck Of sufficient length to balance the body and clean (without dewlap) Fairly long without dewlap Medium length and slightly arched, without dewlap
Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever Flat Coated RetrieverFlat Coated Retriever Curly Coated RetreiverCurly Coated Retreiver
Body The correct balance of body is slightly longer than Height at withers. In depth it should measure the same from withers to elbow as elbow to ground. The chest has a prominent but not exaggerated prosternum Balanced with a level topline and long deep ribcage with moderate tuck-up. The fore ribs are fairly flat, the center ribs more arched but they become rather lighter towards the hindquarters. Deep chest with brisket well-defined Slightly longer than height at withers with well spring ribs and deep brisket. As the Curly is an upstanding dog, it is important that the ribs reach the elbows but does not extend beneath them
Front The Golden has a good lay of shoulder with the shoulder blade and humerus being of equal length. This places the elbows well under the body. The forelegs should be straight with good bone and only a slight slope of pastern The shoulders are obliquely set, the and the forelegs perfectly straight with good quality bone and flexible pasterns The Curly also has well laid shoulders and shoulder blade and humerus of equal length. The legs are straight with round bone and strong, flexible pasterns
Feet Round and cat-like Round and strong with well arched toes Round and tight with well arched toes with some webbing in between them
Hindquarters Strong and muscular with a good turn of stifle and short straight hocks neither turned in nor out Muscular with moderate turn of stifle and straight hocks so he dog stands true Powerful muscular hindquarters with moderate turn of stifle to give the dog overall balance
Tail Set on and carried level with the back, strong and covered with thick coat, it should be straight and never curled or hooked Set straight off topline, the tail itself should be short and straight Flows from a slightly sloping croup, thick at the root and tapers to a point and is completely covered with short curls
Golden RetrieverGolden Retriever Flat Coated RetrieverFlat Coated Retriever Curly Coated RetrieverCurly Coated Retriever
Gait Powerful with long and true stride Free, flowing and true front and back Effortless, powerful gait with good extension

References and Further Reading

[1]   "Cassell's New Book of the Dog" by Robert Leighton assisted by eminent authorities on the various breeds. Published 1907 by The Waverley Book Co Ltd. Vol II, Chapter XXV L.P.C. Astley, "The Flat-Coated Retriever" Part 1 Page 225

[2] Joan Tudor, "The Golden Retriever" published by 'Popular Dogs' publishing Co Ltd 3 Fitzroy Square, London W1 ISBN 0 09 129360 x

[3] "Catalogue of the First Exhibition of Sporting & Other Dogs", Thursday & Friday April 7 & 8, 1864 promoted by the Council of the Acclimatisation Society, printed in Melbourne by Mason & Firth, Printers, Flinders Lane West Page 5

[4] " Tyzack's Annual" Compiled by T. W.Tyzack and C.S.Turner Published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club Printed in 1912 by Bellamine Bros. Printers, 66-70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Pages 81 and 87

[5]  " The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia" published by OzDog Newspaper 1997

[5a]  Ibid., "The Flat Coated Retriever" by Peter Kennon Page 137

[5b]  Ibid., "The Curly Coated Retriever" by Vicki Knowles Page 107

[5c]  Ibid., "The Golden Retriever" by Beryl Hession Page 161

[6]   Dr Nancy Laughton, "A Review of the Flat-coated Retriever" Self-Published 1968 Introduction Pages 17-20