By Sally J. Terroux (Re-posted from AKC Gazette, October 2007, Vol. 124, No. 10)
Part One
In the United States we seem to be chasing length of muzzle, which is commendable except that we are losing breadth and depth. British authority Stanley O’Neill said of this, “All writers agree that the foreface should be broad at the nostril, but none mention depth. Obviously, it will not have the square finish at the tip which the heavier-lipped breeds show, but in actual substance and skeletal structure, a good Flat-Coat foreface is at least as strong and deep as any gundog breed.”

Our breed standard states, … long, strong, deep muzzle … nearly equal in length and breadth to the skull. We are seeing muzzles that are narrow, shallow, and snipey in an effort to increase length. Length of muzzle without breadth and depth does us no good in breeding stock.

When considering head type – one of the breed’s most distinguishing characteristics – it is useful to consider function. The Flat-Coat must have as good scenting ability as possible, to enable him to locate the faint scent of the live bird to flush, or the dead or wounded bird to retrieve, as well as long, broad jaws to enable him to carry large birds gently and repeatedly throughout the hunting day.

Indeed, many breeds have good scenting ability, but let’s compare the functional structure of the scenthounds to the sight hounds. The typical scent hound has breadth and depth of muzzle, which gives him space to process scent. The sight hounds have long and very punishing jaws, but less breadth and depth of muzzle, because they are bred to use sight more than scent.

Breeds smaller than retrievers have jaws broad enough to carry game gently, but if the game is too large, they have to grip more tightly to hang on to it. To retrieve large game birds gently and repeatedly throughout the hunting day takes a dog with jaws long enough and broad enough to cradle that bird without putting a tooth mark in it. You can’t put a bird on your table with a dog’s tooth mark in it. This requires a dog with a long, broad, strong underjaw as well. We didn’t spell that out when we wrote the breed standard. We felt that requiring breadth and depth of muzzle as well as length, would naturally include the underjaw.

When selecting a Flat-Coat puppy, select for a broad, long, and deep muzzle, even though there might be longer muzzles in the litter. Remember O’Neill’s reference to a brick: “Almost like a brick, skull and foreface fell in almost the same continuous straight line.” O’Neill also said, referring to the breed’s minimal stop, “There is nothing of the two-brick formation of the head. It is a one-piece casting.” Look for puppies who have rectangular backskulls (no wider at the ear than at the eye); clean cheeks; minimal stop; well filled-out forefaces; and broad, deep, fairly long muzzles. The pronounced brow and expressive eyes and ears add personality and expression.

Sally J. Terroux
14601 W. 72nd Ave.
Arvada, CO 80005-4603
AKC Gazette, October 2007, Vol. 124, No. 10