2010 FLAT-COATED RETRIEVER NATIONAL SPECIALTY EDUCATION EVENT
By Terry Fowler
On Thursday night of Specialty Week, we were treated to a wonderful Educational Event put on by Ed and Pat Gilbert. We were enlightened, challenged, amused, and invited to re-think some old myths concerning not only our beloved Flat Coated Retrievers, but the dog world in General.
Quoting from the seminar handouts: The objective of the seminar was to
Understand Breed Specific Form and Movement
Breed Type First and then Breed Soundness
Look for Quality
Listen, Question, Think, Learn and Be Challenged
Here is a small recap of we learned during our all too brief time with the Gilberts.
The talk opened with a lively discussion of common “myths” in the dog show world.
Some of these include:
“Form Follows Function” - how many times have you heard that said? Technically, this is not true...different forms can accomplish the same function.
“If it’s built right, it will move right” - again - untrue. So many other factors influence movement, including the nervous reflex system, physical and mental condition, rest position of the muscles - it would be more correct to say “If a dog is built right, it has the possibility of moving right!”
“The tip of the shoulder blade is the withers of the dog” - incorrect, the withers is actually the area from the 1st through 9th vertebrae.
Most generalizations about dogs such as feet should be straight forward - flat feet are a fault - cow hocks are a fault - are actually not true for ALL breeds. We learned about an amazing breed called the Norwegian Lundehund, who will be admitted into the AKC non-sporting group on January 1, 2011. This little dog is truly a unique character - with traits not found in any other breed. He turns everything you thought you knew about dogs on it’s head! Most of his breed characteristics would be a fault in any other breed. His purpose is to retrieve live puffin birds from the crevices of the steep vertical cliffs on islands off the coast of Norway. If you have a chance to do an internet search for this breed, you will be amazed! It is always interesting to study breeds so very different from our own.
And so, when learning about any breed of dog, the history of the breed must be considered. What is the origin of the breed? What was it’s purpose? What was the environment it was meant to perform that purpose in? A dog’s structure is to help it perform that function. Before dog shows came along, breeds were developed specifically for work purposes, and looks were not a consideration. Technology, scarcity of game, environmental changes, and more, eliminated the need for many breeds.
As dog breeds were developed, dogs were used for many specific tasks - hunting, herding, protection, vermin control, guarding, war, companions - and yes, show dogs.
When breeding for type, the breeder should keep in mind that there is one correct type for the breed - and that’s the breed standard! There can be various “styles” within the breed - but only one type. Of course, type requires interpretation. Breed standards were originally meant to be a guideline for people who knew about dogs, and are very vague in many cases. Thus, type can vary depending upon the interpreter. Sometimes, the “style” of dog that is winning in the show ring is not necessarily in line with the breed standard, but can influence the direction of the breed.....not always in the right direction! One should always keep the standard in mind when breeding.
Flat coat type is very unique - power without lumber, raciness without weediness - the distinct one piece head - slightly longer than tall - the impression of a blunted triangle - proud carriage and waving tail - the silhouette (both moving and standing) - smooth effortless movement - these traits set our breed apart from the other retrievers. Type, soundness and temperament are all critical. Soundness does not only mean physical soundness, but mental soundness as well. Both are equally important! Soundness also should translate to fitness of the dog and it’s ability to perform the function of the breed’s original purpose - in the case of Flat Coats - as a working, hunting retriever who can carry a pheasant, duck or hare with ease.
When observing dogs we should remember that we are ALL judges. The difference is the time scale. The breeder takes many years to create their breeding program and carefully consider their dogs before placing them in the correct homes. The dog show exhibitor has weeks, days, hours, to see their potential “show puppy” before bringing them home, and many months before they show that potential dog at it’s first show.
The dog show judge, on the other hand, has two minutes per dog.
Study anatomy and structure, study the breed, put your hands on lots of dogs, and learn!
Of course the headpiece of the flat coated retriever is the hallmark of our breed. It is unique among all dogs and the standard is very specific in describing the head. The Gilbert’s pointed out that playing tug with flat coat pups is not a good idea, as this will develop the muscles in the jaw and can spoil the flat planes of the face. They also mentioned that many times in retriever breeds, the two lower incisors can be out of line. This is caused by retrieving and in their opinion is NOT a fault!
The forequarters of the dog carry 60 percent of the dog’s weight. Movement is assisted by the forequarters. Shoulder blades can slide parallel with the ribcage which is why it is important to have a well-muscled dog - poor muscle development will lead to movement problems. A common myth is that the layback of the shoulder is at a 45 degree angle. In actuality, the shoulder blade points to the 2nd-3rd vertebrae. Shoulder blades too far forward on the chest will cause paddling movement. The upper arm is always longer than the shoulder blade. Many breed standards say that they are equal in length. The apparent length is the same, but the actual length is not.
In the hindquarters, the first (upper) thigh and second (lower thigh) should be well-muscled, with lean muscle, not bulky. The rear and loin are the “power pack” of the dog! In the field the dog will gallop with ease. In the show ring trot, the drive comes as much from the front as the rear. The trot should have equal action at both ends. A dog cannot pull on the ground, only push. Forward reach is only for balance. The rear and the front both provide thrust. Common gaiting faults include overstepping, front reach bending at the elbow, an off beat cadence with a short hopping step taken to correct leg action, and having the front and rear out of balance which with a straight front will cause a dog to lift it’s front or to pound while trotting.
The ribcage of the dog should slant backward. A tip from the Gilbert’s based on years of observation - if the last rib (the 13th “floating” rib) angles at about 45 degrees when looking down at the dog from the top, this will correspond with good layback of shoulder. The angle of this rib will never change, from young puppy to veteran dog. A straight 13th rib will equal a straight front.
The first nine ribs of the ribcage begin at the prosternum - a prominent prosternum in the Flat Coat will give good lung and heart room. There should be good length of sternum from the prosternum to the 9th rib connection. Check to see where the ribcage begins to “open” at the 9th rib. This should be 2.5 to 3” behind the elbow. If the ribcage opens at a shorter length, this will cause endurance problems in the dog.
As you can see, a lot of information was given during the seminar. The discussion was always lively, interspersed with quotations and anecdotes from Ed and Pat Gilbert’s years of judging and working with dogs and their people. The seminar was very well presented and alas, much too short.
If you would like to learn more about the Gilberts, you can find them online at:
You can also subscribe to their very informative and interesting newsletter from their website. And do pick up a copy of K-9 Structure and Terminology, which is the kind of book so jam-packed with information you can read it over and over and learn something new each time.
I have a new goal - to attend a full weekend seminar given by this very entertaining and knowledgeable duo! KUDO’s to the Education Committee for sponsoring such a great event!