By Stanley J. O'Neill
Some have said the Flatcoated Retriever fell between two stools, show and work. Purcell Llewellin, whose name will never die whilst an English Setter lives wrote "I have always been handicapped by trying to combine type and working points. If I had ignored type, and gone, as my opponents do, for work alone, or ignored brains, and gone for show points alone, the task would have been far easier." Two magnificent illustrations in the 1872 edition of "Stonehenge" make it clear that when Llewellin was laying the foundation of his strain the Flatcoat in its present form was established on the horns of this dilemma, where it has balanced pertinaciously, if not always precariously, to this day.
In the fullest and truest sense the Flatcoated Retriever is a dual-purpose dog: the show dog and the working dog are one dog. There are no Show strains and Field Trial strains. Of the last seven Field Trials held annually by the Flatcoated Retriever Society 4 Champions have between them won five and a C.C. winner herself the daughter of two Champions has won another.
This working outlook has an important bearing on Showing. The specialist judges, instead of searching for close adherence to the classical features of head or body, tend to stress the opening phrases of the Standard. "A bright, active dog with an intelligent expression, showing power without lumber, and raciness without weediness." This may explain why so many newcomers to the breed go right to the top for it offers great scope to the qualities of love of one's dog, enthusiasm and hard work. Exhibitors should shape their Show Training on this quotation from the Standard. Hard but varied exercise (galloping, trotting and walking) is the basis of everything. Do not put the dog on a lead only in traffic and crowds or he may associate it with unpleasantness or boredom and never become a cheerful shower. Do it in the wood or field where he most loves to hunt and run loose. Judges like clean, spirited movement. Choose the nearest flat stretch of road or land where you can trot the dog at your side for 200 yards and then back again. If this is done daily before his meal, he will acquire that brisk but controlled trot which tells in the Ring. In a small Ring with a run of only twelve or fourteen yards you must jump the dog into his stride at once. Below a certain speed a dog has to pace (left hand and left fore etc.) in order to keep his balance. IN walking round move as fast as you can and watch for signs of pacing. If he drops into a pace, chuck him under the chin with the lead hand to shake him out of it. Similarly with the coat, hard grooming is at the bottom of good coat. Start at the stern and work the hair with the fingers the wrong way right up to the skull. Then brush it the wrong way – against the lie. Then comb it the right way and finally brush it the right way. The finger process can be omitted for convenience when the coat is in good condition. If the coat shows signs of being cast the best course id to give the above treatment with great vigor. The quicker the old hair is removed the quicker will be the new growth. If it is desired to keep the falling coat in for another two or three weeks to fulfill a Show engagement, brush only with the lie of the hair except the day before the Show, when a light brushing against the lie for cleaning purposes should be given. The legs should be well feathered and brushing can help a lot. Brush across the back of the forelegs downwards and inwards, downwards and outwards, upwards and inwards, upwards and outwards. Change the order of these directions and observe the results. The run of the hair varies with each individual and only testing will tell which of the four should be the final one to give the best finish. Sometimes a horizontal finish with two brushes is required. For the Breeching on the hindquarters straight upwards and downwards usually suffices.
Little trimming is necessary. In the old days when hawk-eyed judges punished severely any evidence of the use of a cutting instrument on the coat and all superfluous hair had to be removed with the finger and thumb rubbed in resin, longer tails were seen. Today tails are simply shortened with the stripping comb until the hairs project only half or a quarter of an inch beyond the flesh or cartilage itself. The longest hairs are left on the upper side and the hairs falling below the tail on the underside are trimmed gradually from the densest point in the middle to the tip. It must be remembered that a retriever's tail is thick and not fringy. If it is desired to prevent a too heavy ear from obtruding itself the stripping comb should not be brought into action until everything possible has been done by ordinary grooming processes. Never let hair accumulate between the toes. A good confident stance is more effective than a host of minor refinements of toilet. It is very seldom that exhibitors "set up" a Flatcoat in the Ring, or even place his feet.
The best stance is considered the natural one, as being most likely to give the impression of activity. If the dog is encouraged to hold his head up and look for a tidbit in the raised hand he will get his forefeet on the same parallel line with his weight on his toes. He will get his hind feet either where they balance him best or where they are prepared to move on a pace. If he loses this pose in the Ring wheel him quickly round behind you and bring him up in front again. Only home routine will bring fluency and perfection. Whatever a dog does at its early Shows avoid scolding it. Humor it and do all in your power to make a show a happy place for the dog.
Footnote: This article is reprinted here by the courtesy of Max Parrish & Co. Ldt. It was specially written for The Book of Show Dogs edited by Barbara Woodhouse.