Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was developed during the 19th century by hunters to be a retriever with the requisite skills and physical attributes necessary to retrieve downed water fowl in the most unforgiving of environmental conditions. That being said, the specifics surrounding the actual development of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever are still somewhat of a mystery. This is mainly due to the fact that a large part its 19th century history was either not documented or has been lost to time. In researching this breed what we do have is the well documented account of how all modern Chesapeake Bay Retrievers trace back to two Newfoundland dogs; a male “Sailor” and a female “Canton” – both of which had been rescued from a stranded English ship. Beyond this there is little in the way of specifics such as early studbooks or documentation about the other breeds that were used in its development.

Breed Information

Breed Basics

Country of Origin: 
X-Large 55-90 lb
8 to 10 Years
Difficult to Train
Energy Level: 
Medium Energy
Protective Ability: 
Good Watchdog
Hypoallergenic Breed: 
Space Requirements: 
House with Yard
Compatibility With Other Pets: 
Friendly With Other Dogs
Generally Good With Other Pets If Raised Together
Not Recommended For Homes With Small Animals
Litter Size: 
6-12 puppies, average 9.6 puppies
Chesapeake Bay Retriever,Chessie, CBR, Chesapeake,Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog


23 - 26 inches, 65-80 lbs
21 - 24 inches, 55-70 lbs.

Kennel Clubs and Recognition

American Kennel Club: 
ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council): 
CKC(Canadian Kennel Club): 
FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale): 
KC (The Kennel Club): 
NZKC (New Zealand Kennel Club): 
UKC (United Kennel Club): 
Other Recognition: 
American Canine Registry (ACR)
American Pet Registry, Inc. (APRI)
Dog Registry of America, Inc. (DRA)
North American Purebred Registry, Inc. (NAPR)


The most widely accepted version of the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers history is that two Newfoundland dogs, a male and a female, originally destined for importation into England, were rescued along with the rest of the cargo and crew by the American ship, Canton, Captained by George Law, when the English ship they were aboard, was overcome by heavy seas following a storm and wrecked off the coast of Maryland in 1807.  After transporting both dogs and crew aboard his vessel to Norfolk, Mr. Law purchased the two dogs from the English captain. Shortly after purchasing the dogs Mr. Law; unable to keep them due to his seaward life chose to give them away.  The male dog, which was red in color, whom had been named Sailor was given to the former Governor of Maryland, John Francis Mercer of West River, Maryland. The female, black in color, whom had been given the name “Canton” in honor of the ship that rescued her, was given to Dr. James Stuart of Sparrows Point, Maryland, as gift in response to the hospitality he had shown to the sailors of the wrecked English ship.


Mr. Mercer and Dr. Stuart, both avid sportsman and hunters of waterfowl; living on opposite sides of the Chesapeake Bay, soon discovered the exceptional all weather retrieving abilities each of their dogs possessed. Word of this soon spread, making the bloodlines of each a much sought after commodity by local waterfowl hunters. Over the next few decades the two strains would develop independently along opposite shores of the Chesapeake through the introduction and outcrossing of other breeds such as English Otter Hounds, Flat-Coated Retrievers , Curly-Coated Retrievers , Irish Water Spaniels, several setter breeds, Coonhounds,  and  a few local duck retrievers; thereby by creating the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.


However, it wasn’t until 1877 that the offspring of the two strains would finally meet at the Poultry & Fanciers Association Show in Baltimore, Maryland.  After viewing both strains in action it was determined, that even though they had developed separately, they were sufficiently similar to merit being recognized as one breed; the Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog. Prior to this the breed went by any number of early names such as the Brown Winchester, the Otter Dog,  the Newfoundland Duck Dog and the Red Chester Ducking Dog to name a few.  One year later in 1878, the first Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog was officially registered by the American Kennel Club. The official parent club of the breed today; the American Chesapeake Club, would be founded in 1918 making it the first member breed club for retrievers.


In 1845, George Law, the aforementioned Captain of the Canton gave the following account of the events surrounding the rescue of the dogs and what became of them afterwards:

“In the fall of 1807 I was on board of the ship Canton, belonging to my uncle, the late Hugh Thompson, of Baltimore, when we fell in, at sea, near the termination of a very heavy equinoctial gale, with an English brig in a sinking condition, and took off the crew. The brig was loaded with codfish, and was bound to Pole, in England, from Newfoundland. I boarded her, in command of a boat from the Canton, which was sent to take off the English crew, the brig's own boats having been all swept away, and her crew in a state of intoxication. I found onboard of her two Newfoundland pups, male and female, which I saved, and subsequently, on our landing the English crew at Norfolk, our own destination being Baltimore, I purchased these two pups of the English captain for a guinea apiece. Being bound again to sea, I gave the dog pup, which was called Sailor, to Mr. John Mercer, of West River; and the slut pup, which was called Canton, to Doctor James Stewart, of Sparrow's Point. The history which the English captain gave me of these pups was, that the owner of his brig was extensively engaged in the Newfoundland trade, and had directed his correspondent to select and send him a pair of pups of the most approved Newfoundland breed, but of different families, and that the pair I purchased of him were selected under this order. The dog was of a dingy red colour; and the slut black. They were not large; their hair was short, but very thick-coated; they had dew claws. Both attained great reputation as water-dogs. They were most sagacious in every thing, particularly so in all duties connected with duck-shooting. Governor Lloyd exchanged a Merino ram for the dog, at the time of the Merino fever, when such rams were selling for many hundred dollars, and took him over to his estate on the eastern shore of Maryland, where his progeny were well known for many years after; and may still be known there, and on the western shore, as the Sailor breed. The slut remained at Sparrows Point till her death, and her progeny were and are still well known, through Patapsco Neck, on the Gunpowder, and up the bay, amongst the duck-shooters, as unsurpassed for their purposes. I have heard both Doctor Stewart and Mr. Mercer relate most extraordinary instances of the sagacity and performance of both dog and slut, and would refer you to their friends for such particulars as I am unable, at this distance of time, to recollect with sufficient accuracy to repeat.”


Many of the above details can be confirmed by examining the account of General Ferdinand C. Latrobe. The man many credit with being primarily responsible for the unique nature and characteristics present in the breed today. In his book “Iron Men and their Dogs”, published in 1941 and printed by Koppers Company, General Latrobe provides the following insight into the early history of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever:


"The puppies had been particularly selected by the ship-owner's instructions from two different families of the most approved Newfoundland breed. The dog was of a dingy red color and the slut, black. They were not very large, their hair was short but very thick coated, and they had dew claws. Law gave the dog Sailor to John Mercer of West River, Anne Arundel Country, who sold him to Governer Edward Lloyd, of Wye Heights, Talbot Country, where the dog became the sire of the Eastern Shore strain of Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dogs.


"The slut, Canton, Law gave to Dr. James Stewart of Sparrow's Point, on Patapsco Neck, where she became the ancestress of the Western Shore strain of the Chesapeake Bay's extraordinary breed of dogs, whose devotion to their master is not equaled by any other breed of dog, and whose clearly displayed love of the sport is incomprehensible to those who have not been ducking companions with them"


Which helps to confirm the fact that the Chesapeake Bay Retriever did in fact develop from two separate strains, located on two separate sides of the Chesapeake Bay, but both coming originally from the two dogs rescued from the sinking English ship. Latrobe continues by stating:

"...that these dogs on being crossed with the local yellow and tan hounds or coon dogs, began the Chesapeake Bay breed. Later there were evidently crosses with spaniels and what-nots about the countryside until the breed gained its distinctive liver color and became celebrated for its strong power of scent, its hardihood, shorter hair, medium size, and remarkable endurance resulting from the hound crosses.


"It's love of water, however, the close furry coat, and the excessive oil secretion that make it possible to withstand freezing temperatures in the water, and its general good temperament are due to the Newfoundlands"


Latrobe also confirms the fact that the first meeting of the two strains occurred in 1877  “…and their likeness to one another was sufficient to permit the distinct breed of the Chesapeake Bay dog to be recognized. All this occurred at the Poultry and Fanciers Association Show in Baltimore, where it was decided the Chesie would be displayed as a breed. It was at this meeting many fanciers of the Chesie banded together for the first time to nail down distinguishing characteristics that could be sure to appear upon each mating. "


He goes on to describe how they initially adopted three categories of Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog. The first being the otter dog, which was described as yellowish brown color or tan colored with wavy hair, the curly-haired dog, and the straight haired dog; the last two being red-brown in color. The otter dog was so named for the fact that it was rumored its water proof coat and swimming abilities were the result of a distant mating between otter and dog.


Another lesser told and less likely version of the story is that following the shipwreck both dogs were in actually given to Dr. James Stuart by the British seaman.  Again, Stuart, the avid sportsman and hunter of waterfowl soon discovered that his two new dogs were first-class retrievers. From this point, female dogs from all over were brought to be mated with Sailor. Of these, many were the common yellow Coonhound; which explains the varying shades of brown present in the Chesapeake Bay Retriever of today. According to this version of the story, the progeny of these initial mixes would be the dogs that would eventually evolve and establish a distinct Chesapeake breed by 1885.  Also in this version, Dr. Stuart is believed to have mated Sailor with Canton and jealously kept these pups for himself; away from other hunters.


Although little exists in regards to accurate historical documentation on their development following their rescue from the doomed English vessel, it is believed that the Carroll Island Gun Club; of which the aforementioned General Latrobe was a respected member, played a huge part in creating the Chesapeake Bay Retriever we know today.  However, no breeding records exist as a fire allegedly destroyed them all near the turn of the twentieth century. 


What we do know is that along the Gunpowder River northeast of Baltimore during the mid to late 1800s, the Carroll Island Gun Club had Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and was the place to be for waterfowl hunters. Officially formed as a stock club in 1880 when 20 members put up $2,500 a piece to purchase the entire island; the reputable and distinguished Carroll Island Gun Club would become host not only to wealthy sportsman but also to Presidents and dignitaries from all over the world (it would be purchased from private ownership by the United States Army in 1917 and is now part of the Edgewood Arsenal). Records indicate that the island was used for shooting waterfowl as early as 1750 and that a formal club may have existed on Carroll Island as early as 1830 which would make it the oldest wildfowl shooting preserve in Maryland.  The lack of bag limits during this time and the plethora of ducks that frequented the island led to it being said that "teams of oxen were sometimes required to carry the downed ducks back to the clubhouse."


Known not only for its great hunting but also for its breeding of “Chesapeakes” the Carrol Island Gun Club is credited by many as being the true birth place of the modern Chesapeake Bay Retriever. It is however, unknown when the first Chesapeake Bay Retreivers arrived there, how their breeding program began, or exactly what other breeds were used in the process. All that is known is that they did have and breed Chesapeake Bay Retrievers at the club and that General Latrobe was the one primarily responsible for breed related decisions.

What else is known is that over a span of about 40 years the Carrol Island Gun Club, would also be used to supply other local hunt clubs with gun dogs. It is also considered to be  the place primarily responsible for the development and refinement of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever as we know it today.


By the late 1800’s it is believed that many great lines of Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dogs were taking shape and that consistent selective breeding by club members had led to the development of a definite strain that was almost always dark brown, shading into a reddish brown. In 1890 it was agreed upon that the name of this new dog would be the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.  Also around this time the Chesapeake Bay Dog Club of Baltimore was formed and a studbook came into use. The Chesapeake Bay Retrievers ability to battle the environment and ability to retriever 200 – 300 ducks in a single day made it the market gunner and sportsmans dog of choice. This breeds devotion to the hunt and the fact that it would rather give up its life to the icy waters before letting a dead or crippled duck drift away with the tide made it a valuable commodity for gun clubs to have on site. This also probably explains the way in which the kennels at the Carrol Island Gun Club became responsible for supplying all other clubs in the area with dogs.


This popularity also led other gun clubs to establish Chesapeake Bay Retreiver Kennels on their property. As evidenced from the book Waterfowling: The Upper Chesapeake’s Legacy, 1983, the author C. John Sullivan quotes an earlier description by Captain Harry W. Spraker of a hunting club located on the upper Chesapeake Bay called the San Domingo clubhouse in the 1920’s in which he stated:

“The three-story frame building contained many large rooms with very high ceilings and large open fireplaces with fancy mantels. The floors throughout were heavily carpeted with imported coverings. Scatter rugs made from the skins of wild animals were much in evidence, as were also mounted animals and birds. The house was furnished with antique furniture and there were many oil paintings and old chests of Colonial silver. Two of the rooms were filled with guns in racks and cabinets. There was also a two-story stone house, a large bank barn, carriage and boat houses, and, in addition, a kennel of Chesapeake Bay retrievers and many fines spans of horses.”


A brochure advertising the Green Run Lodge, on Assateague Island; believed to be from around 1949, shows that at one time this breed had become so synonymous with duck hunting that in order to be a competitive hunting club and attract business you had advertise that you had Chesapeake Bay Retrievers on site. The brochure states in part, that the Green Run Lodge has:

“accommodations for 28 persons and facilities have been installed for men and women . . .inside showers and toilets, recreational rooms, with fire-place; billiard and card tables .. . . large Electric Plant for light and power . . . .Bed lights for night reading with pressbutton in each room for service to guests . . . modern sanitary sewerage system . . . the superintendent and his wife, guides and porters cater to the pleasure of guests. The Club also has a chef that knows Maryland cooking and how good food should be served . . . prepares and packs hot lunches for the Gunners . . . .Porter Service is maintained at the Lodge, and not one item of service is missing . . . . Guides are all experienced . . . have followed the hunting business all their lives. . . . All Guides and employees are housed and roomed separately, hence their early morning preparations to go to the Blinds do not disturb the guests until breakfast call is made . . . .The Lodge has over 500 wooden Geese and Duck decoys; several motor boats, out-board motor boats, and several skiffs to haul decoys to the blinds. The Lodge also has one light draft motor boat, which has a covered cabin with a very light draught [sic], built just for going to and from the shore and island blinds. . .Green Run Lodge has some 32 shooting blinds . . . . We have Chesapeake Bay Retrievers at our Lodge. Guests are permitted to bring free of charge their Retrievers to our Lodge . . . ."


It was during this era, from 1930 to the 1950s, that the Chesapeake Bay Retriever reached what would become the height of its popularity.  Kennels, lodges, and hunt clubs from coast to coast were advertising Chesapeake dogs and puppies for sale or use. However also during this time the great bird populations of the past were rapidly declining, making it necessary for retriever fanciers to find a way to simulate hunting in an artificial setting. The shift from real hunting to simulated hunting caused many people to forget the fact that the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was originally developed for use as a robust, all weather, retrieving dog. This was also the beginning of a split in the breed as some kennels began breeding their dogs for the show ring while others got involved in the newly established retriever field trial games.


The result of this splitting of the breed was that it created two physically different types of Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Show breeders, not interested in athletic ability created very good looking conformation dogs; that were by all accounts incapable of actual field work. The opposite was also true, as the breeders of field and trial dogs put little emphasis on appearance so long as their dog could successfully perform in the field. This made for some very successful atheltic dogs, but in so far as the standard is concerned, ugly Chesapeake Bay Retrievers competing in field and trial games. Luckily, the American Chesapeake Club (ACC) recognized this divergence and worked hard to halt its progression. That is why the gap between the field and conformation lines of the modern Chesapeake Bay Retriever has nearly closed and the breed is more uniform in terms of appearance and working ability throughout.


Today, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever has fallen from grace; largely being replaced in the minds of most waterfowl hunters by the Labrador Retriever as the  dog of choice when someone needs a tough and reliable retrieving dog. Although the Labrador may be those things, it falls short of the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers gritty toughness and ability to use the sheer brute strength and endurance of its more muscular body to power through heavy weather conditions and unforgiving surf to recover a downed bird. 


Oddly enough, the things that made the Chesapeake Bay Retriever so sought after in the past have the opposite effect today. The breeds natural attributes and abilities that served it so well and made it such an effective Retriever in any weather condition such as its thick, oily coat, heavily muscled body and ability to rely upon its own intelligence and intuition to find downed birds; is more often than not met with criticism today such as that the breed smells, its stubborn or is too heavy to take out on a boat. 


Many blame the decline in the breeds popularity on the decline of the migratory bird population and institution of bag limits; which made it unnecessary to keep a dog with the physical attributes necessary to work an entire day retrieving up to 300 birds in icy cold rough water.  The current bag limit and possession limit as per the Department of Natural Resources for Maryland website states that:

“The daily bag limit of ducks (including mergansers) is 6. The 6-duck limit shall consist of no more than 5 long-tailed ducks, 4 scoters, 4 mallards (max. 2 hen mallards), 3 wood ducks, 2 pintails. 2 redheads, 2 scaup, 2 hooded mergansers, 1 canvasback, 1 black duck (during black duck season), 1 fulvous tree duck, and 1 mottled duck.  All other species of ducks (except harlequin duck) may be taken up to the 6-duck limit. The possession limit is twice the daily bag limit. In addition to the duck bag limit hunters may take 15 coots per day. “


The current bag limit of only 6 ducks per day means that a lighter duty dog such as Labrador Retriever will generally get the job done, leaving todays' Chesapeake Bay Retriever out in the cold so to speak. Currently the breed is ranked 48th in popularity according to the American Kennel Clubs (AKC) “2010 Most Popular Dogs in the U.S” list, (a drop of nearly 10 places since 2000). Additionally, there are only a few kennels in the United States today that specialized in breeding and even fewer that specialize in training Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.  Although the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a great and capable breed with a full and rich history it is highly unlikely that it will ever again enjoy the type of popularity it did during the early 1900’s through the 1950’s. There is also a real fear by fanciers of the breed that many of the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers today have been watered down by less scrupulous breeders trying to make them more attractive as a family pet and more comparable to the highly popular Labrador Retriever.




The Chesapeake Bay Retriever of today, although a bit more refined than its early ancestors, carries with it many of the same basic physical attributes that once made it the dog of choice for wild fowlers in the North East. A fact that becomes readily apparent when the modern version of the breed is judged against the 150 year plus old description given by John Francis Mercer of ‘Sailor’; one of the two Newfoundland dogs responsible for founding the breed. Mercer is said to have described Sailor as a dog that was: 

“…of fine size and figure-lofty in his carriage, and built for strength and activity; remarkably muscular and broad across the hips and breast; head large, but not out of proportion; muzzle rather longer than is common with that race of dogs; his colour a dingy red, with some white on the face and breast; his coat short and smooth, but uncommonly thick, and more like a coarse fur than hair; tail full, with long hair, and always carried very high. His eyes were very peculiar: they were so light as to have almost an unnatural appearance, something resembling what is termed a wail eye, in a horse; and it is remarkable, that in a visit which I made to the Eastern Shore, nearly twenty years after he was sent there, in a sloop which had been sent expressly for him, to West River, by Governor Lloyd, I saw many of his descendants who were marked with this peculiarity.”


This early description, aside from the coat and eye colors, would apply to many modern Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and is remarkably similar to the description given in the ‘General Appearance’ section of the modern day breed standard as published on the American Kennel Club website, which reads: 

“In body, the Chesapeake is a strong, well-balanced, powerfully built animal of moderate size and medium length in body and leg, deep and wide in chest, the shoulders built with full liberty of movement, and with no tendency to weakness in any feature, particularly the rear. The power though, should not be at the expense of agility or stamina. Size and substance should not be excessive as this is a working retriever of an active nature.”


Today’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever is the product of years of selective breeding to produce a dog with the durability, stamina, and physical characteristic necessary to retrieve downed waterfowl in the most unforgiving of cold weather climates and conditions. An athletic and muscular breed, males Chesapeakes should be 23-26 inches at the withers and weigh 65-80 pounds, while females are slightly smaller and lighter; 21 to 24 inches and 55 to 70 pounds. Nearly squarely built, the height from the top of the shoulder blades to the ground should only be slightly less than the length of body from the breastbone to the point of buttocks.


The large head of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever should be in proportion to the overall size of the dog The skull is broad and round, with a stop of average prominence. The muzzle should taper slightly from stop to nose and be nearly the same length as the skull or ½ the total length of the head. The jaws should be of sufficient length and strength to carry large game birds with an easy, tender hold; a scissors bite is preferred. The well spaced, medium to large sized, deeply set eyes are a hallmark of the modern Chesapeake Bay Retriever. They should be very clear and of yellowish or amber hue. The loosely hanging smallish ears are should be of medium thickness set back and well spaced upon the head.


The strong muscular neck should be of medium length and taper seamlessly into the shoulders. The strongly muscular shoulders should be sloping and provide a full, fluid range of motion with plenty of power. The strong, deep and wide chest should extend down at least to the elbow, forechest is well developed and muscular as well. The legs are well boned, muscular, straight; not turning either in or out; when viewed from the front or rear. The well webbed hair feet should be on the larger size with well cushioned pads and well rounded close toes.  The ribs are well sprung from the spine, round, deep and barrel shaped. The back should be short, powerful and well coupled; when viewed in profile, the topline should show that the hindquarters are as high as or slightly higher than the shoulders. The medium length tail should be a natural extension of the spine, slightly curved or straight, thicker at the base and tapering slightly toward tip. The tail is generally carried in a cheerful or lighthearted way; never curled over the back or kinked out to the side.


Essential to the overall function of the breed in its duties is a well developed set of hindquarters to provide power and propulsion on both on land and in the water. The loins are powerfully muscular and of sufficient substance to supply the driving power for swimming. The medium length, well boned rear legs should be straight when viewed from the front or rear. Dewclaws, should always be removed from the hind legs.


The thick, short and waterproof coat of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is another hallmark of the breed.  Featuring a double coat with a coarse longer top coat with and a dense fine wooly undercoat the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is kept dry and well insulated when working in the icy cold waters common to the North East. The overall length should not exceed 1 1/2 inches long at any point on the body. The longest hair is found on the shoulders, neck, back and loins and has a tendency to be a bit wavy, while the hair of the face and legs should be very short and straight. The most important feature of the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers coat is the naturally secreted body oils present in both the outer coat and the under coat that provide it with its water proofing ability. By design the coat of this breed should resist water in the same way that a duck’s feathers do, so that when the working dog leaves the water and shakes, the coat should hold no water.


The color of the coat should be such that it mirrors or camouflages the dog with its working surroundings as much as is possible. Thus any color of brown, sedge or deadgrass is acceptable, with solid-colored Chesapeakes being preferred, although, a white spot on the breast (a tribute to its ancestor the St. Johns Water Dog?), belly, toes or on the back of the feet is acceptable.


The American Chesapeake Club (ACC) provides the following additional information on the issue of color:

"Three basic colors are generally seen in the breed: Brown which includes all shades from a light cocoa (a silvered brown) to a deep bittersweet chocolate color; sedge which varies from a reddish yellow through a bright red to chestnut shades; deadgrass which takes in all shades of deadgrass, varying from a faded tan to a dull straw color. Historic records show that some of the deadgrass shades can be very light, almost white in appearance, while darker deadgrass colors can include diluted shades of brown called ash, that appear as either gray or taupe. The almost white and ash/taupe/gray shades are not commonly seen, but are acceptable.

The difference between a sedge and a deadgrass is that the deadgrass shades contain no significant amount of red, while the sedge shades do have red. Coat and texture also play a factor in the perception of color. The self-color pattern is preferred by the standard (One color with or without lighter and darker shadings of the same color). You will see dogs with varying degrees of other markings such as: masking on top of the skull, striping effect of light & dark through the body and on legs, distinct & indistinct saddle markings, agouti coloring and tan points. All are acceptable, they are just not preferred.

There also has been some confusion about eye color. The eye color of the Chesapeake is either a yellowish or amber color. There is no preference for either color over the other. Eye color does not necessarily have to match coat color e.g. a brown dog may have yellow eyes. While individual breeders may have a personal preference for eye and coat color to match, the standard DOES NOT require this. Brown dogs with light eyes or deadgrass/sedge dogs with dark eyes should not be faulted.

The standard also states a preference for solidcolored, meaning no white. This does not mean that a poorer conformed and coated specimen without white should be selected over a better quality animal with white. Again, consideration should be weighted to those qualities that are more important to function."




A fanatical and highly capable retrieving breed, the natural attributes that made it so successful in the past like its intelligence; independence and courageous nature are met with prejudice today. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a talented and driven working dog that can be a bit stubborn or strong-willed at times. This tendency to work independently of its master and rely upon its own intelligence in the field has given rise to sayings such as: "you train a golden with your voice,  a lab with a stick, and a Chesapeake with a 2 X 4." This saying like many others, exaggerates a particular attribute to make a point; in this case the point is that Chesapeake Bay Retrievers can be rather difficult to train, not that they need to be beaten into compliance.


Those experienced with the breed have noted that the best training results are obtained when the owner respects the dog’s natural intelligence while providing intelligent and firm but kind correction. Overly harsh or abusive treatment will in all likelihood create a stubborn, mistrustful and resentful dog that will willingly disobey. Remember respect, kindness, persistence, and patience will yield the most positive results with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.


The above is no way meant to imply that they do not make a good house pet for the experienced dog owner, as they make excellent family companions. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is noted for being an extremely loyal dog toward his master and his masters family with a desire to listen to them and only to them. This kind of loyalty also means that sending the dog away for training or bringing in a stranger to train the dog will more often than not yield poor results as this breed is perfectly capable of  choosing whom it will listen too. Training should always be conducted with the owner present and with the owner directing the dog. If an outside trainer is used, that person should place the most emphasis on directing the dog’s owner on how to get the best results from their own dog. 


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is not recommended for the novice dog owner as they can also be a fairly dominant  breed of dog. This can lead to willfully disobedient acts or the development of dominance related problems in environments where the owner is non assertive.  This dog is best suited for an owner that is an assertive, alpha personality willing to enforce rules, boundaries and limitations in an assertive but kind way.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is also noted for being protective of his master and his masters belongings. However, like many of the Retriever breeds, this breed, was developed to be of excellent temperament; which means that although they will bark and alert the owner when something is amiss, they will not attack the intruder. Typically this breed is best described as amiable, but not overly friendly or affectionate with those that it does not know.


As a loving and patient dog, Chesapeakes are usually excellent with children. However, like any breed, interaction between small children and dogs should be supervised closely to prevent the possibility of the dog being forced into a situation that would make it feel the need to act out aggressively in order to protect itself or establish boundaries. 


Chesapeake Bay Retrievers that have been socialized also tend to get along well with other dogs of either sex. As a hunting/retrieving dog they may have problems when it comes to other small animals and poultry; this is instinctive and may be a hard habit to break. Typically they do well with cats that live in the home with them but may chase and kill cats outside of the home. As with any breed of dog, start socialization as early as possible to try and familiarize the dog with those things you want them to coexist with in adult life.


This breed also possesses a superb love of the water, so individuals that own pools, have ponds, live on lakes or have other standing bodies of water easily assessable to the dog should expect that the dog will make use of it at every available opportunity. This love of water, when combined with the breeds unique water-repellent coat makes them a highly efficient transporter of dirt into the home. Most of which will be deposited onto the floors, rugs and furniture of the home. 


Grooming Requirements: 


Chesapeake Bay Retrievers do shed or blow their coat twice annually; especially in areas with clearly distinguishable seasons. Owners of this breed seem to agree that a Chesapeake Bay Retriever can quite literally leave its entire coat on the floor when they shed; typically during the spring and fall. In areas with a more temperate climate Chesapeake Bay Retrievers will typically shed a little throughout the year. As a shedder, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers can be hard on vacuum cleaners or those with pet related allergies.  That being said, it is possible to reduce the shedding and keep the coat healthy with regular preventative maintenance by brushing with a slicker or bristle brush.


These brushes allow you to removes dead hair from the coat while at the same time helping to evenly distribute the natural oils of the coat. For dogs that shed seasonally, during the non shedding season it may only be necessary to brush the dog once a week to remove any dead hair. However, in the spring and fall while shedding it may be necessary to brush the dog everyday or multiple times a day to keep the shedding under control. For those dogs that live in a more temperate climate that tend to shed a little year round, it will be up to the owner to determine how frequently brushing should be performed to keep shedding at an acceptable level.


Chesapeake Bay Retrievers grooming is all about establishing a routine and making sure that you are on top of the situation. Fail to maintain a consistent grooming schedule or slack off for a few weeks and you can expect to find huge piles of hair all over the place. The best practice is to brush the dog a little bit each day, not only will this help maintain the coat, but it is a great way to create an emotional bond with the dog.


Health Issues: 


Like most purebred dog breeds, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is prone to certain congenital health defects. The vast majority of Chesapeake breeders today are more responsible than those of the past and have made great strides in lessening the occurrence of many conditions through generations of selective breeding. If you are considering purchasing a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, always ensure that you seek out a knowledgeable and reputable breeder that only uses breeding stock that has passed the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification, or preliminary certification that there are no signs of hip dysplasia and that have also passed the screening by the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) that there are no signs of genetic eye problems. Reputable breeders should also be willing to provide information and pictures not only of past litters but the contact information of people that have purchased dogs from them in the past.


The most important trait that any responsible breeder should monitor is temperament. Dogs that show any aggressive tendencies toward people or other dogs should be eliminated from any chance of ever being bred. This is truly important when you consider that the number #1 behavior related problem reported on the American Chesapeake Club Health Survey of 2004 which sampled 1,666 dogs was “Dog Aggressive Behavior” reported in 5.1% of dogs sampled.


Also taken from the same survey it was reported that:

“Longevity in Chesapeake Bay Retrievers is just over 9 years on average (median age of death for all dogs sampled was 9.4 years). On a positive note, one in four dogs live for 13 years or more. However, one in five don’t survive past their fifth year. Most respondents indicate dogs dying younger than the total for the population as a whole.”


A study conducted by J.M. Fleming, K.E. Creevy, and D.E.L. Promislow; titled “Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related Causes of Death” listed cancer as the primary cause of death among Chesapeake Bay Retrievers; occurring in 28.5% of the dogs surveyed.


According to the the American Chesapeake Club Health Survey of 2004:

Lymphoma was the most-reported form of cancer, followed by mast cell tumors, liver cancers, and breast cancers, which all occur at approximately the same rates.”


Additionally the following hereditary illnesses have been reported to affect the breed:



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