Chesapeake Bay Retriever (Chessie): Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A Chesapeake Bay Retriever

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The Chesapeake Bay Retriever (often referred to as the Chessie) is a breed that originates from the State of Maryland where they were developed for their excellent waterfowl retrieval skills. They are a very intelligent, tenacious, loyal, and athletic breed. Unlike their Labrador and Golden Retriever relatives though they do not have such easy-going personalities and can be very strong-willed. This means they are not always a good choice for a novice dog owner.

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting

Height: 23 to 26 inches (males); 21 to 24 inches (females)

Weight: 65 to 80 pounds (males); 55 to 70 pounds (females)

Coat and Color: Short, wavy, waterproof coat that comes in solid shades of brown, deadgrass and sedge

Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Characteristics of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

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 High

History of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chessie was developed specifically as a retriever of ducks from the Chesapeake Bay estuary, which runs through the States of Maryland and Virginia. The Bay is the home to vast numbers of waterfowl during their winter migrations.

It is believed that the origins of the breed came about after the arrival of two Newfoundland Dogs in the area in the early 19th century. After being bred with local dogs, the first of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever dogs was born. The breed was developed to withstand the freezing temperatures of the water in the Bay. They have a very thick, double, oily, waterproof coat which is an effective insulator. They are superb swimmers with a muscular and athletic physique and webbed feet. They also have great tenacity and scenting ability, meaning they are capable of retrieving hundreds of birds in just one day. They were also often used to protect the catch of the day, and this guarding instinct remains strong to this day.

The breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1918 and became the official dog of Maryland in 1964, and it is often seen on tourist paraphernalia for the area.

They are still used as hunting dogs to this day. Their intelligence and acute sense of smell mean they are also often used for search and rescue work and sometimes even bomb and drug detection.

An early illustration of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever
A Woodcut of an early Chesapeake Bay Retriever dog hunting. Periam and Baker 1882. NNehring / Getty Images

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Care

Unlike their much easier-going relatives, the Labrador and the Golden Retriever, the Chessie is not a breed that is normally recommended for a novice dog owner.

While they are equally as intelligent, they are also much more strong-willed and driven. They have a serious work ethic and need a very active and stimulating home to prevent problem behaviors surfacing due to a lack of appropriate enrichment. They are a breed that excels in many competitive dog sports; from agility to obedience, to scent trials. Their love of water means they are frequently seen in Dock Diving competitions too.

They are a breed that develops a strong bond with their family. They thrive on the company of their humans and will also often bond strongly with other dogs in the household. Chessies are a dog that will be happier in a home where they have company for most of the day. When it comes to strangers, though, they tend to be much more aloof and standoffish.

This loyalty also means they can be excellent guard dogs, and they are often strongly protective of their family and territory. Care must be taken to ensure this type of behavior does not become out of control as this can lead to aggression.

They are a highly intelligent breed and are usually very eager to please their owners. They tend to be extremely tenacious, and this can sometimes be interpreted as stubbornness; patient and clear training is required to focus this tenacity in a positive way. Chessies can be a sensitive breed and respond best to consistent positive reinforcement training methods.

The breed does not have a high maintenance grooming regime. Their short, oily double coat does not require any clipping. They do shed excessively during their annual moulting though, so a good vacuum cleaner and effective de-shedding tool, like a Furminator, is recommended.

Because of their love of water, it is also important to ensure that their ears are regularly cleaned and inspected to ensure they do not develop any nasty infections.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever with duck dummy
Chessies are still extremely popular working dogs who excel in their retrieval skills. Tara Gregg, EyeEm / Getty Images
Two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers in the Water
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have a love of water and the opportunity of a daily swim can be a great way to give them some exercise. Jasmin Leonard / Getty Images
A Chesapeake Bay Retriever Puppy
Chesapeake Bay Retriever Puppies benefit greatly from early and appropriate training and socialization. Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

While generally considered a healthy breed, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever can be subject to a number of hereditary conditions. If you are buying a puppy, you can reduce the risk of them developing these types of conditions by seeking out a reputable breeder. They will have carried out appropriate health screening on prospective parents.

Some of the conditions they can be prone to include:

Hip Dysplasia: This is regarded as the most common problem facing the breed, and it is important that you select a breeder that carries out health screening of parents.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a degenerative condition that results in eventual blindness. There is no cure and while a dog that becomes blind can still lead a high-quality life, again it is important to look for a breeder that carries out health screening.

Chronic Ear Infections: Because of their love of water and their low hanging ears, the breed can be prone to developing serious ear infections. You should perform regular checks and look out for signs such as bad smells coming from the ear, more frequent scratching, or head shaking. If these are left untreated, it can result in irreversible damage and even deafness.

Diet and Nutrition

As with all dogs, a Chessie should be fed a high quality and appropriately portion-controlled diet. If your Chessie is a working dog that is regularly out in the field, they may need a diet that will meet their energy requirements, with a higher protein content.

Pros

  • If you lead a very active lifestyle, then the high energy Chessie is likely to fit right in

  • You couldn't ask for a more loyal and steadfast companion. The Chessie forms a strong bond with their family

  • They are an extremely intelligent breed and they respond well to positive reinforcement training

Cons

  • Their drive, tenacity and protective nature means that they are not best suited to novice dog owners

  • They tend to be aloof with new people and dogs, so if you are looking for a super sociable dog then a Chessie is perhaps not the best choice

  • If you are looking for a happy-go-lucky, goofy breed then the Chessie is not for you. They are usually serious and sensitive.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Chesapeake Bay Retriever

When looking for a Chessie puppy, it is vital that you do your research and look for a reputable and responsible breeder. They should have carried out appropriate health checks on the parents, the puppies should be in a nurturing home environment alongside their mother, and they should not be released to their new homes until they are at least eight weeks old.

The American Chesapeake Club could be a good place to start in terms of finding respected breeders.

Adopting a dog can be an extremely rewarding experience. While it would be unusual to find a Chessie in your local pound, there are some breed-specific rescues out there doing great work.

These include:

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you are a new dog owner and think the Chesapeake Bay Retriever may be too big of a challenge or will not fit in with your lifestyle, there are lots of other dog breeds out there for you to do your research on.

Why not consider: