Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Standing side profile of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever

CaptureLight / Getty Images

The Chesapeake Bay retriever is a medium-large sporting dog breed with a medium-length waterproof coat and amber eyes. This breed is a skilled swimmer and was bred to retrieve waterfowl for hunters. The Chessie is loyal, athletic, and tireless. And it can also be a bit sensitive and independent, which might not make it ideal for a first-time dog owner. 

Breed Overview

GROUP: Sporting

HEIGHT: 21 to 24 inches (female), 23 to 26 inches (male)

WEIGHT: 55 to 70 pounds (female), 65 to 80 pounds (male)

COAT: Wiry, wavy, medium-length

COAT COLOR: Shades of brown, deadgrass (yellow to tan), sedge (red), tan

LIFE SPAN: 10 to 13 years

TEMPERAMENT: Active, energetic, loyal


ORIGIN: United States

Characteristics of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chesapeake Bay retrievers generally have an affectionate and devoted temperament with their family. But they also have a protective streak to their personality that makes them only moderately open to strangers. In addition, their high energy level makes them very bright and alert dogs.

Affection Level  High
Friendliness  Medium
Kid-Friendly  Medium
Pet-Friendly  Medium
Exercise Needs  High
Playfulness  Medium
Energy Level  High
Trainability High
Intelligence  High
Tendency to Bark  Medium
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay retriever can trace its roots to, naturally, the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland and Virginia in the early 1800s. Waterfowl hunters in the region needed an athletic dog that could retrieve their game swimming in frigid waters. 

Various breeds, including the Newfoundland, Irish water spaniel, and hounds, went into creating the Chessie. What arose was a dog with a thick, oily coat that repelled water and insulated the dog from the cold. It had excellent stamina, a wide chest that could break through ice in the water, strong legs for swimming, and even webbed feet. 

Several prominent people, including President Teddy Roosevelt, have owned Chessies over the years. And it’s even the official dog breed of Maryland. The American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1878.

An early illustration of a Chesapeake Bay retriever
NNehring / Getty Images

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Care

Be prepared to spend lots of time and energy exercising your Chessie. Likewise, it's important to be consistent with training and socialization. Fortunately, this breed only requires basic grooming.


Chessies don’t seem to tire, and they prefer to be busy. They have lots of physical and mental energy to burn. Plan to spend ideally at least two hours per day exercising your dog. Brisk walks, running, hiking, and swimming all are good activities for the Chessie—as is a rousing game of fetch for this retrieving dog. Plus, dog sports, such as dock diving, can help to exercise this breed both physically and mentally.


This is a moderately shedding dog breed. Plan to brush your dog weekly to remove loose fur and prevent mats. You might see an increase in shedding a couple times a year, often in the spring and fall, that will require more frequent brushing to keep up with the loose fur. 

Bathe your Chessie every couple of months or so, depending on how dirty it gets. This breed has a natural musky odor due to its oily coat. Check the nails roughly every month to see whether they need a trim. And look in the ears at least weekly for wax buildup, debris, and irritation. Make sure to dry the ears well after your dog goes swimming or otherwise gets wet. Finally, aim to brush your dog’s teeth daily.


Training and socialization, ideally from a young age, are essential to have a well-mannered Chessie. This breed is smart and can learn quickly. But it also can be independent-minded and stubborn. So it’s key to be consistent in your training to prevent bad habits from forming. Use only positive training methods for this sensitive breed; harsh corrections can cause it to shut down and not learn.

Aim to expose your dog to different people, other dogs, and various settings from as young of an age as possible. Having positive experiences can help to offset the breed’s protective instinct and make it comfortable and confident around strangers. 

Chesapeake Bay retriever with duck dummy
Tara Gregg, EyeEm / Getty Images
Two Chesapeake Bay retrievers in the water
Jasmin Leonard / Getty Images
A Chesapeake Bay retriever puppy
Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Chesapeake Bay retrievers are generally a healthy breed, but they are prone to some hereditary health issues, including:

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water available for your dog. And feed a nutritionally balanced, high-quality canine diet. Most owners feed two measured meals per day. But you should always discuss the type of food and the amount with your vet to make sure you’re meeting your dog’s individual needs. For instance, if your dog leads an active lifestyle, it might have increased protein and calorie needs.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Chesapeake Bay Retriever

While the Chesapeake Bay retriever isn’t as common as golden or Labrador retrievers, it’s still worth checking local animal shelters for a dog in need of a home. Also, look for breed-specific rescue organizations in your area. If you’re looking to acquire a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $900 to $5,000 on average.

For further information to connect you with a Chesapeake Bay retriever, check out:

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Overview

  • Good for those with an active lifestyle

  • Loyal and affectionate

  • Generally responds well to training

  • Can be stubborn

  • Not always friendly with strangers

  • Needs high amount of exercise and mental stimulation

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Make sure to do your research first before deciding whether a Chesapeake Bay retriever is right for your lifestyle. Talk to vets, breed owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups. If possible, visit with some dogs in person. 

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

  • What’s the difference between a Chesapeake Bay retriever and Labrador retriever?

    Chesapeake Bay and Labrador retrievers look similar at first glance. But the Chessie has a wavy coat while the Lab's is straight. And Labs tend to be a bit more friendly and playful.

  • Are Chesapeake Bay retrievers good family dogs?

    Chesapeake Bay retrievers have a moderate tolerance for children. They might be too energetic and sensitive for young children, but they can be good for families with older children.

  • Are Chesapeake Bay retrievers aggressive?

    Chesapeake Bay retrievers are typically loving with their family. But they can be protective of their family and territory, which might lead to aggression without proper training and socialization. 

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Dogs. VCA Hospitals.

  3. Ear Infections in Dogs (Otitis Externa). VCA Hospitals.

  4. Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs. VCA Hospitals.

  5. Exercise-Induced Collapse (EIC). U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.