Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Breed At A Glance


Friendly, intelligent and willful

Life Expectancy
10-12 years

Average Height
Males 23-26 inches; Females 21-24 inches

Average Weight
Males 65-80 lbs; Females 55-70 lbs

Coat Color
Brown, red or tan

Coat Length/Texture
Oily and water-repellent harsh outer coat and dense undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Consistent year-round

Also known as Chessie

General Temperament

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is revered for it’s intelligence, loyalty, and dedication to it’s work as a waterfowl retriever. Many are capable of retrieving up to 200 ducks in one day, thus exemplifying their limitless stamina and love for the hunt. They tend to be a bit more aggressive that other retrievers, but nonetheless are loving, happy family pets. They are affectionate and good companions for children. With proper training, a Chessie can excel at hunting, retrieving, guarding, watchdogging, tracking, field sports, and competitive obedience.

Although they possess a high level of intelligence, they can be willful and a bit slow to learn. They have a mind of their own and, at first, may hesitate to follow orders or change their behavior. But once trained, a Chessie will act accordingly from that point forward. The owner of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever will need to maintain dominance over the dog for the whole of it’s life, otherwise it will take over as “alpha dog.” In fact, all family members should learn to be firm with the dog.

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers show more aggression towards other dogs and are more reserved with strangers than most other retrievers; extensive socialization during puppyhood is essential to avoid any combative problems during adulthood. Chessies enjoy the company of dogs they were raised with, but tend to fight with stranger dogs. They will get along well with household cats, but will chase other felines that enter it’s territory.

Chessies prefer colder climates, although they can be happy in a warmer climate if they have access to a body of water. They are not recommended for apartment life, as they are nature lovers and need extensive exercise (including swimming, if possible). At least an average-sized yard is recommended. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are usually happy to sleep outside, although they do require plenty of interaction with their owners.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is not a dog for the first-time, novice or apathetic owner. They are intensely loyal and protective, but they also need an extensive amount of exercise and interaction with their human companions. If not properly stimulated, the Chessie will become destructive out of boredom or loneliness.

Breed History

The development of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is simple and clear-cut. In 1807, a British ship wrecked off the coast of Maryland. Among the passengers, all of whom survived, were two Newfoundlands who were later given to local dog lovers. Those two specimens were mated with local retrievers, creating new breed that proved to be excellent and extremely efficient waterfowl retrievers. Careful breeding over the years, with the inclusion of the English Otter Hound, Flat-Coated Retriever, and Curly-Coated Retriever, created an enthusiastic hunter with seemingly unending endurance and a waterproof coat, ideal for retrieving ducks in the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was well-established by the time the American Kennel Club was founded in 1884. The American Chesapeake Club was founded in 1918.

Body Structure and Composition

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a muscular and powerful dog with a relatively short, water-resistant coat. The head is broad and round, and the tapering muzzle is equal in length to the depth of the skull. The ears are on the small side for a retriever and set high on the head. The muscular neck leads down to a topline that is sometimes higher at the hindquarters than at the shoulder. The Chessie has a deep and wide chest, allowing for immense endurance; the legs are strong boned and muscular for long swims. The straight or slightly-curved tail is strong at the base and is usually carried at the level of the back.

Medical Information

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a breed is generally very healthy, although like many other retrievers, some lines are highly prone to Hip Dysplasia. This condition occurs when the head of the thigh bone no longer fits firmly in the “cup” provided by the hip socket, causing loss of mobility and arthritis-like symptoms.

Various eye problems, including cataracts and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), can also be problems for Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. (PRA causes a degeneration of the retina, resulting in loss of sight, beginning with night vision.) Allergies and Alopecia (hair loss) can also be problems for this breed.

Be careful not to overgroom a Chessie, as this will damage their rugged, water-repellent coat. Brushing with a stiff bristle brush is all that’s needed. Bathe only when necessary to control odor.

Anecdotal Information

“You can order a lab; ask a golden; but you must negotiate with a Chesapeake.” (Author unknown)

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was declared the official dog of Maryland in 1964.

The mascot of the University of Maryland (Baltimore County) is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

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