The Flat-Coated Retriever was first bred in the mid-1800's in the United Kingdom. Hunters sought a hard-working bird dog, and fishermen needed an able swimming dog capable of retrieving their catch from the water. These needs led to the cross-breeding of Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, and perhaps the now extinct St. John's water dog, in order to create an all-around sporting dog that excelled in swimming and retrieving.
The first Flat-Coated Retriever is said to have been shown around 1859, though the breed was not established as a stable type until some years after that. In 1915, the American Kennel Club opened registration to the breed. During these years, the popularity of the breed was growing rapidly, but by the 1920's the Labrador Retriever as well as the Golden Retriever had surpassed it in number. When World War II came to a close, the Flat-Coated Retriever was so rare that some thought the breed would go extinct. Fortunately, a man named Staley O'Neill, said to be one of the great authorities of the breed, went to task about reviving the breed, and in the 60's these dogs began to see a resurgence. Today the breed is once again prospering both in the United States and the United Kingdom, though it has not regained the popularity it saw during the pre-World War I years. Several of these dogs have won awards in the last two decades, including a 9.5 year old Flat-Coated Retriever named Vbos The Kentuckian (nicknamed Jet) who won Best in Show at Crufts in 2011.