With the development of the shotgun, the need arose for a dog with excellent game-finding ability who would retrieve dead and wounded game.  At that time, any dog who would return with game was called a "retriever", even though they were often a mix of many different breeds.  During the early to mid-1800s sportsmen began to breed selectively to refine the desired working skills and physical traits.  Dogs known as the St John's Waterdog had been brought to England from Newfoundland and they were crossed with the setters and spaniels to develop the Retriever.  Originally known as the Wavy-Coated Retriever, stablization of Flatcoated Retriever type was credited to S.E. Shirley, who was also the founder of the English Kennel Club.  At one time, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Flatcoat was the most prized of all retrievers for both their working ability and beauty.

With time the Labrador Retriever, and later the Golden Retriever, overtook the Flatcoat in popularity.  There were a number of reasons for this, and the two World Wars made the situation worse as many of the gamekeepers (who were the strongest proponents of the breed) went off to serve in the war.  During this time very little breeding was done and by the end of World War II, Flatcoat numbers had fallen to dangerously low levels.  It was only the pain-staking work of a handful of breeders that saved the breed from extinction.

From the earliest time, the patrons of the Flatcoat have emphasized the multi-purpose nature of the breed.  Unlike most other sporting gundogs, the breed has not been divided into "working" and "show" types, although pressure in that direction has been increasing.  Also unlike many other breeds, Flatcoat appearance has not changed extensively.  The dogs of 100 years ago would not look out of place in the show rings of today.  This multi-purpose emphasis has the disadvantage that progress comes more slowly, especially in today's world of increasing specialization.  But the greater and more important advantage is that the breed is still an unparalleled personal hunting companion and family friend with an enchanting personality.

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