Although a flat-coated retriever might resemble a wavy, longer-haired black Labrador, he's more closely related to the golden retriever. One big difference between these two similar retriever breeds is popularity—the Labrador is far better known than the flat-coated retriever. If you're looking for a sporting dog even more energetic than the lab, the flat-coated retriever makes the cut.
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Flat-coated vs. Labrador retriever heritage
The flat-coated retriever actually predates the dog known today as the Labrador retriever. The flat-coated retriever's ancestry includes the Newfoundland, along with various spaniel and setter types of dog.
The Labrador retriever also originated in Newfoundland from the St. John's water dog, bred to aid the cod fishermen. The breed was exported to England in the early 1800s and called the Labrador to differentiate it from the Newfoundland. It was in Great Britain that these canines of North American ancestry were developed into their respective breeds.
Differences in size
The Labrador retriever ranges in height from 21.5 to 24.5 inches at the withers, with males larger than females. Males mature at 65 to 80 pounds, with females weighing 55 to 70 pounds fully grown. The Labrador has a sturdier, stockier build than the flat-coated retriever.
The breed standard for the flat-coated retriever is slightly larger than the Lab, with heights between 22 to 24.5 inches. Again, females are smaller than males. The American Kennel Club standard doesn't indicate a weight limit but notes that, as a working dog, the flat-coated retriever should be shown in "lean condition," with no excess weight. He's definitely not cobby in conformation.
Coat length and texture differences
The black Lab's short, thick coat feels hard to the touch. He has a softer, water-resistant undercoat. The flat-coated retriever's hair is not only longer but quite lustrous. While waviness is allowed, the coat can't be curly. His chest, ears, thighs, legs, and tail have thick feathering for protection.
While Labrador retrievers also appear in shades of yellow and chocolate, the flat-coated retriever can be liver-colored instead of black. With either breed, you'll need a good vacuum cleaner. They're both notorious shedders.
Health and life span
Labrador retrievers have an expected life span of 10 to 12 years. They have a few genetic conditions to be aware of including hip and elbow dysplasia, hereditary myopathy, and progressive renal atrophy. Flat-coated retrievers are also at risk for hip dysplasia, elbow problems, and eye conditions. Cancer is also a concern for this breed. They have a slightly shorter life span of just 8 to 10 years.
Flat-coated vs. Labrador retriever temperament
Both breeds make great family dogs. They're smart, personable, and good with kids and other canines. If you're looking for a decent watchdog, the flat-coated retriever makes the better choice. He's not aggressive but will bark to sound the alarm if strangers appear at the door. While some Labs bark to let you know someone's there, others just ignore the person.
Both retriever breeds possess a lot of energy and require plenty of exercise. If it's possible that any dog likes swimming more than a Lab, it's the flat-coated retriever. Keeping that retriever exuberance manageable means early obedience training is wise for both breeds.
Working vs. show dogs
While the Labrador retriever now consists of working and show lines, the same is not true of the flat-coated retriever. Although he makes a fine family pet, he's bred for work, and his capacity for that endeavor is endless.
The working line of Labrador retrievers resembles the flat-coated retriever's in that they need even more training and exercise than their show-line relatives. If you don't hunt, give your dog plenty to do with agility training, field trials, Frisbee competition, rally, or other active canine sports.