There are three varieties of the Retriever-the curly-coated, the flat coated (formerly described as the wavy-coated), and the Labrador. The first and last named are the two oldest varieties, the flat-coated dog being of modern manufacture-in all likelihood the product of the two, with a splash of Spaniel, Newfoundland, or Setter.
As to the real origin of the Curly-coated Retriever there is no authentic information, but there can be little doubt that he has been manufactured by a cross with the Poodle, the Irish Water Spaniel, and the Newfoundland, Labrador, or Setter. When and by whom he was first evolved, however, it is impossible to say, beyond pointing to the fact of his existence at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, as shown by old prints and paintings, which was certainly before the advent of the flat-coated variety, either as a sporting or bench-show dog.
Be that as it may, we have the dog before us whose features are quite distinct from any other variety, and which have long been thoroughly recognized. Indeed, at one time the Curly-coated Retriever was by far the most popular of the three varieties, but he has been somewhat supplanted in the affections of the devotees of this breed by the flat-coat. Still a large number of shooting as well as show men hang tenaciously to the curly-coat, and declare that in all that goes to constitute an allround sporting dog he stands without his equal in the field.
The main reason the dog has lost some favor with sportsmen is: first, because of the trouble involved in keeping his coat in order, more particularly for the show bench; and secondly, because he has been to a great extent supplanted by his flat-coated relative.
In size, head, and general conformation, the flatcoated variety differs but little from the curly-coat. The points and features are all practically the same, the only real difference being in coat. This, as already stated, should be flat, the outer coat rather harsh to the touch, there being an undercoat for warmth, the outer one being for weather resistance. The legs, both before and aft, and the tail should be feathered, and the feet protected by well-feathered pads.
In breeding flat-coated Retrievers the object is to produce a strong, well-made, useful dog, showing quality-a workman in architecture, with the finish of a gentleman. Length of head, good shoulders, a strong loin and quarters, with straight forelegs, and a flat coat are the chief points to aim at and preserve. The flat-coats have rarely the same spring of rib as the curly-coats, in which they reveal their unmistakable Setter ancestry; but this should be cultivated. Light eyes are a prevailing defect in the flat-coats, and should be avoided as much as possible, as it is invariably an indication of uncertain temper or a headstrong disposition.
The chief points to look for in the selection of flat-coated Retriever puppies at from two to four months old and after, are: A long, level head, free from lippiness; dark eye; nicely balanced skull; small ears set close to side of head; short back; short, straight tail; deep chest; well sprung ribs; straight forelegs; well boned, and a flat, close, dense coat.