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Chesapeake Bay Retriever Dog Breed information: Facts, Traits & Pictures

Are you considering a Chesapeake Bay Retriever for your next family pet or hunting companion? Chessies are amazing family pets, but they do have some quirks about them that are important for potential owners to understand. In this breed guide, you'll learn everything you need to know about these beautiful pups.

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Last Updated: June 29, 2023 | 18 min read

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever, affectionately nicknamed the “Chessie”, hails from Maryland– more specifically, the Chesapeake Bay area they get their name. They were originally used to hunt and retrieve waterfowl and have been bred to be excellent at this job. Chessies are hardy dogs with plenty of stamina and a great talent for swimming. They share these traits with the other dogs of the Retriever family. However, they aren’t as happy-go-lucky as other Retrievers and will often be quite strong-willed and independent.

Despite this, the Chessie is a fantastic dog with high intelligence and a strong love for their family. As the most powerful of the Retrievers, they can be protective, valiant dogs. This makes them a suitable addition to many families willing to take on the challenge of caring for them. They have a storied past that has made them much beloved over the few centuries they’ve been around.

Are you planning to welcome a Chessie into your life but need to know more before taking the next step? In this guide, you’ll learn about the breed’s history, temperament, and appearance, plus everything else you need to know about caring for them. Ready to take the plunge? Let’s dive into all the facts you need to know about this fantastic water dog.

Breed History

Brown Dog Standing on a Log
The Chesapeake Bay gets his name from the town he originated from, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

Just by looking at their name, it’s easy to guess where the breed originates. This dog hails from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, making them one of the few breeds that come from the United States. While this may be certain, theories about their development are conflicting. There are many different stories about the origins of the Chesapeake.

One popular story traces their beginnings to 1807, where an English ship was found wrecked just off the shores of Maryland. There were two puppies on board the wrecked ship– the male Sailor and the female Canton. Canton was named after the ship that saved the crew. Sailor and Canton were said to be dogs from Newfoundland.

Whether they were Newfoundland dogs or the extinct St. John’s Water Dogs is uncertain, though both breeds share a fondness for water and a great tolerance to cold temperatures– which they definitely have in common with our beloved Chessie. Regardless, Sailor and Canton went on to achieve fame as great water dogs, with a talent for aiding in hunts and duck retrieval.

With their prowess in their duties serving their masters, particularly their endurance in the icy cold waters and weather, a breeding program formed for Sailor and Canton. It is not known if they were bred with each other. However, they were crossed most notably with the Irish Water Spaniel and hounds such as the Coonhound.

Breeding continued by selecting the best puppies from the litters, then breeding them together until the pups consistently presented the desired characteristics. Said characteristics went beyond just talents in the hunt. The Chessies’ predecessors were bred to be excellent intimidators who would guard their masters’ game while they went out hunting for more. This intimidation tactic was prized over aggression, and the puppies bred soon developed great protective instincts.

By 1877, the puppies bred over the many years had eventually been bred to look all quite similar. With the strains having converged, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed was confirmed. All the characteristics bred into the Chessie in those days can still be seen today with a responsibly bred pup.

This incredible dog has even been said to retrieve nearly 200 ducks in one day. In the year 1878, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was one of the first 9 breeds registered in America, and was formally recognized upon the American Kennel Club’s founding in 1884. In over a century since their recognition, breeding efforts continued to preserve the Chessie’s physical and mental characteristics, which brings us to the dog we know and love today.

During 1964, the state of Maryland declared the Chessie as its official dog. This distinction has been with them since the foundation of the breed. They have had famous owners over the many years that they have been an established breed. President Theodore Roosevelt had a Chesapeake named Sailor Boy whom he loved dearly. More recently, actor Tom Felton had a Chessie named Timber. In the year 2020, the AKC found the breed to be the 50th most popular breed in the United States. Today, the Chessie continues to be loved and cherished not just in the US, but the whole world over.

Temperament

Happy Brown Dog Smiling with Tongue Out
This breed is an excellent hunter and is intelligent, hardworking and very smart.

The Chessie is a skilled hunting dog. They carry the traits needed for the profession wherever they go. They are intelligent, hardworking, and steadfast dogs. Chessies love to work, and as such, will need plenty of structure in their lives. They perceive their work as being play, so training is as necessary as playtime to them.

This, combined with their headstrong personality, makes them a dog only suited to seasoned dog owners who are ready for the challenge. They will need a steady hand, a watchful eye, and plenty of patience for when they are stubborn– which they certainly can be. Your Chessie will always be an independent thinker, unafraid to let everyone know that fact.

If you are able to rein your Chesapeake Bay Retriever in, you’ll find them to be a fantastic family companion. Their loyalty to their family is remarkable. They are true, devoted dogs who love being at rest with their loved ones. CBRs do not particularly need a lot of attention. They are simply happy to be in the presence of those they love.

They are great with kids in their family, and get along well with pets they have been raised with. Yes, they may have a tough exterior, but the Chessie is truly soft-hearted and even a bit sensitive. They’re meant to be treated kindly, always keeping fairness in mind.

The AKC breed standard describes some of their most important traits as “courage, willingness to work, [and] alertness”. They can be very protective, which makes them a great watchdog. They aren’t much suited to guard dog work, as they aren’t usually aggressive to strangers.

CBRs may have apprehension towards unfamiliar dogs, so training them to behave well is necessary. You will find that because of their love of work, Chessies make fantastic service dogs. Their natural intelligence and strong bodies also make them greatly suited for competitive obedience and agility trials.

Size and Appearance

Brown Dog Posing for Camera
The Chessie is one of the more powerful retriever breeds and have very muscular builds.

The AKC describes the Chessie as being “of moderate size and medium length”.Breed standard dictates that male Chesapeakes stand at 23 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder, whereas female dogs must be 21 to 24 inches tall. Males weigh anywhere between 65 to 80 pounds, and females weigh 55 to 70 pounds. Chessies are powerful dogs– the most rugged of the Retriever breeds. They are often mistaken for the chocolate lab though, due to their similar coloring.

Chessies’ heads are broad and round. Their muzzles are around as long as their skulls and must be tapered, though never sharp. Their wide-set eyes are very clear, of medium-large size, and yellowish or amber in color. These are soulful and wise– key to the characteristic “intelligent expression”: one of the most important parts of breed standard. Their ears are set high up on the head, hanging loosely. A CBR’s lips are usually thin and not pendulous. All these characteristics come together to form the regal, refined face we know and love about the breed.

Chessies have strong, well-defined, muscular bodies. Their necks are firm, of medium length, and taper to the shoulders. Their topline shows that their shoulders are around as tall as their hindquarters, if not a little bit shorter. They have strong chests that are deep and wide, with a round rib cage. The flanks are tucked up. A Chessie’s tail is of medium thickness at the base, where it then tapers until the tip. It is straight and does not curl over the back.

The forelegs and hindlegs are exceptionally powerful and free of restrictions in movement. This is especially true for the hindquarters, as they provide the driving strength required for swimming. The feet are of a good size and well-webbed. The CBR’s gait is described as “smooth, free, and effortless, giving the impression of great power and strength.”

Coat & Colors

Rusty Colored Dog Looking into Camera
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has a thick coat to keep them warm in harsh conditions.

Chessies will have a generally short outer coat. Their undercoat is dense and wooly, allowing them to keep warm in harsh weather conditions. Both layers are oily, which is of utmost importance in keeping your dog dry and warm as they swim. The oils prevent too much water from reaching your dog’s skin and also aid in quick drying. As we know, oil repels water.

The Chesapeake has a coat that has a tendency to wave, but only on the shoulders, neck, back, and loins. The AKC disqualifies curly coats, but certainly exists in some Chessies. This goes for coat length, too. Coat texture and length are unique to each Chessie. You may find a Chesapeake with fur a good bit longer than the prescribed 1.5 inches. Unfortunately, these pups do shed, making them ill-suited for allergy sufferers.

As for coat color, we normally see three basic colors: brown, sedge, and deadgrass. Sedge is a reddish brown that you can often see on dogs like Irish Setters. Deadgrass is a yellow-brown color that simply looks like… dead grass. These range across many different shades. Taupe or gray colors are sometimes seen, but are not preferred. Self-colored dogs (where the coloration is the same throughout the body), are the preference of the AKC. However, a white spot found on the breast, belly, toes, or back of the feet is okay too.

Exercise

Reddish Brown Dog Running with Toy in Mouth
This breed will need around 60 minutes of exercise each day.

Chessies are incredibly active dogs. They need at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, though it is not surprising if they ask for more. Truly, Chesapeakes need more than just your regular hour-long walk each day. Being very intelligent, they require variety in their exercise routine.

It’s important to keep both body and mind engaged, as insufficient mental stimulation can lead to bad behaviors– like chewing on things they aren’t allowed to. Prepare games for them to play, such as fetch and tug-o-war. Keeping them away from boredom is the surest way to ensure they are satisfied and well-behaved.

The Chessie does their best exercise in the water, especially if it is cold. They will be happiest with access to water, where they can splash, swim, and play to their heart’s content. Thus, it is essential to have a pool, pond, or other body of water where your Chesapeake can exercise. Hiking is also an excellent way for your Chessie to exercise. They’re sure to enjoy trotting along beside you as you make your way through forests and rugged terrain.

Living Requirements

Reddish Brown Dog Sitting in Grass
Chessies love to explore, however, it can do well in smaller living environments, given they get ample outdoor activities.

Living in a more rural area means lots of potential for exploration and exercise, which is great news for your Chesapeake Bay Retriever. However, they can still do well in more urban settings, provided they are given enough exercise. Since they aren’t very noisy dogs, Chessies can still stay in apartments, though you will need to take them out several times a day for walks. Chesapeakes will always be happiest with a yard they can run around in– the bigger, the better.

Chessies prefer cold climates to warm ones, thanks to their double coats. They will have nearly no problem playing in winter weather, though they should still be kept warm as the temperatures get harsher. Be sure to give them plenty of water and shade during the summertime, as they are prone to overheating. They should also have plenty of toys to chew on and play with all year round to prevent destructive behavior.

Training

Small Brown Puppy Sitting Patiently
Their strong independent mindset makes this breed a little more challenging to train.

The Chessie is an intelligent dog, though training them does not always come easy. As previously mentioned, they have a strong, independent mindset. It is crucial that you be firm and consistent in their training, never allowing them to misbehave even just once. They can be quite willful, which can prove to be a handful if not trained as early as possible.

It’s also important that everybody in the home takes part in training your Chessie so they get used to the pecking order. Helping them understand that they are not the alpha is key to their good behavior. Still, you must never be unkind in their training. Chessies are very sensitive dogs who will quickly grow resentful of perceived unfairness. Positive reinforcement in their training is the best way to go, as this instills correct behavior much more easily.

After you have established a good rapport with your Chessie, you’ll find their high intelligence working for you instead of against you. You can move on to more complicated tricks, which they will find incredibly fulfilling as it provides plenty of mental stimulation. Keep up with your routine and be consistent in their training to see the best results. You can even work on getting them ready for competitive obedience and agility trials if you plan to enter them in any competitions. They take easily to this as long as they are being rewarded for their good efforts.

Socialization is incredibly important for this breed, as they can be very reserved around people and animals they don’t know very well. Their socialization training should be done as soon as they enter your home. Allow them to get used to new people, animals, and environments at a safe and steady pace. This will help them build confidence and prevent any unnecessary aggression toward unfamiliar situations. It is a great idea to enroll them in puppy kindergarten classes so they can learn how to behave appropriately with other dogs around them.

Health

Reddish Brown Dog Looking off Camera
Always do a thorough background check on your breeder when purchasing a dog for any potential health risks.

Purchasing your purebred puppy from a breeder with good credentials helps to ensure that they are as healthy as can be. Good breeders will assure you that your dog will be free of potential hereditary illnesses. Chessies have a lifespan of around 10 to 13 years. Keeping them healthy throughout those years is key to their happiness and well-being and may even lengthen the time they have with you.

Still, it is important to understand any potential health risks that your dog may have. Knowing about these illnesses is crucial to their quick treatment with a veterinarian. While your Chessie may not experience the illnesses we’ve outlined below, it’s always good to know about them in advance, as the breed is predisposed to them.

Hip Dysplasia

It is common for many Chessies to develop hip dysplasia. This is a condition that occurs when the thigh bone does not fit properly into the hip socket. This results in irregular posture, an unusual gait, or a limp in one or both hindquarters. This can be a very painful condition as your CBR carries a lot of weight on their hips and legs. As this condition is often hereditary, it’s a good idea to ask your breeder about this condition and if your Chessie has a chance of getting it. Responsible breeders always have their puppies screened for hip dysplasia.

Gastric Torsion

Since your CBR has a deep chest, it’s possible for them to develop gastric torsion or bloat. This condition is serious and potentially fatal. It occurs when the stomach becomes distended–filled with air or gas– and then twists. The dog’s blood pressure drops since they cannot expel the contents of their stomach, often going into shock. This condition demands immediate veterinary attention. Signs of bloat are a distended belly, retching without vomiting, increased heart rate, restlessness, and excessive drooling.

Thankfully, gastric torsion is easily avoided. Bloat gets triggered if a dog eats too quickly or too much, drinks too fast and in excess, or exercises too soon after eating. Giving your dog the correct amounts of food and water can help prevent this condition. Also, for their safety, only allow your dog to engage in rigorous activity after an hour or so has passed since their last meal.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Chessies may develop Progressive Retinal Atrophy in their later years. Sometimes this occurs earlier in life, from puppyhood, where it is then called retinal dysplasia. This is when the cells of the retina do not develop properly. Both conditions lead to partial or complete blindness. It is not painful, though it will affect your dog’s quality of life. In this event, you must manage the condition with your veterinarian to see what your options are, as well as understand what to do in the event that vision loss occurs.

Nutrition

Reddish Brown Dog Eating Food
Chessies will need a high-quality, protein diet for proper development.

Your Chesapeake Bay Retriever needs consistent, balanced nutrition to set the foundations for their good health. They need a high-quality diet that will serve them through each life stage, with protein that comes primarily from meat.

The easiest way to provide this to them also happens to be the best way– through high-quality dry kibble. It’s important that you give them food according to the needs of each life stage. Puppyhood demands nutrition for proper development so they can grow into a good, healthy body. Adult and senior life stages entail maintaining that body and keeping their overall vitality up.

It will not be difficult to find food for your Chessie. However, you will still need to keep their activity level in mind when you are deciding portion sizes. Chessies are very active dogs and, as such, will be eating more than a lot of dogs in their breed size. Puppies need calorie-dense food for their proper growth. Their portion sizes will be changing as they grow. Adult CBRs will need more food portion-wise but will not need their food to be as nutritionally-dense. Seniors will be eating the least, though they still need a lot of protein to keep their muscles strong.

There are many factors to consider in determining how much to feed your Chessie. These are age, size, and activity level. Asking your vet for help in determining portion sizes is the best way to ensure your dog is getting the correct amount. Too much food can lead to obesity, which opens the door to many preventable diseases.

In case your CBR develops pickiness with their food, you may be finding yourself at a loss as to how to address it. One good way is to be firm about feeding times. Chesapeakes need plenty of structure in their lives. You must give them that structure also at mealtime. Leave their food out for 30 minutes. If it goes untouched, take it away until it is time for the next meal. You may also try mixing wet food into your dog’s dry kibble, as this makes the food more palatable.

Grooming

Brown Dog Shaking off Water
Grooming this breed is fairly low maintenance and will only require a couple baths a year and weekly brushing.

Despite them shedding heavily, as Retriever breeds do, grooming your Chesapeake Bay Retriever isn’t a difficult task. They will need weekly brushing with a rubber curry brush in order to remove excess fur, distribute the oils in the coat, and maintain the wave of their coat. For that last reason, you should not use a wire slicker brush, as this can damage the coat’s texture.

As far as bathing goes, Chessies only need a few baths a year. A good idea is to do it as the seasons change to help them blow out their coats more efficiently– to remove the excess fur. Overbathing is to be avoided at all costs, as this can remove the natural oils that give their coat the super water-and-weatherproofing characteristic to them. You will not need to clip your CBR’s coat, as it naturally stays short. This low-maintenance grooming is one of the many reasons that make Chesapeakes such appealing dogs.

Be sure to always keep your dog’s ears clean. Chesapeakes do not always need this done as their ears seem to do a good job of keeping themselves clean. Still, it’s always a good idea to have a regular grooming routine. Simply use a cotton pad and a cleaning solution recommended to you by your veterinarian. Wipe gently at the parts of the ear that you can see to remove dirt and debris.

You should also take care to brush your Chessie’s teeth a few times a week to keep their pearly whites sparkling. This is done with a toothbrush and toothpaste made just for dogs. Trim their nails regularly too, to prevent injury.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Small Brown Puppy Sitting in Flower Field
Expect to pay around $1,000 to $1500 for a purebred puppy.

It’s a great idea to adopt a Chessie from a reputable breeder. However, you must still do your research to ensure that the breeder you purchase from has done their breeding responsibly. Responsible breeding is important to the preservation of the breed.

There are many unscrupulous breeders who have set up puppy mills where profit is the only thing taken into consideration. These operations have little respect for the animals that they rear, and will abuse the dogs for the sake of producing as many puppies as possible. Living conditions are unsafe and unclean, without access to fresh air and clean food and water. Stay away from these breeders at all costs. Many of them will be advertising unusual colors for the CBR’s eyes and coat.

On the other hand, many great breeders exist who take great care of their dogs. This is plainly seen if the breeders are enthusiastic about the breed and eager to show you where the puppies live. The space will be clean and comfortable, with lots of activities for your puppy to enjoy.

Good breeders will also encourage you to get to know your puppy before you bring them home. This makes for a better transition into a harmonious home life. They will also be happy to answer any questions you may have about the breed, as well as everything you need to know. They will also provide you with certifications from the vet detailing tests, vaccinations, and deworming.

Finding a wonderful, responsible breeder is not a difficult task. Your veterinarian may be able to help you with leads if you ask them. Dog shows are also a great way to get information. Getting the facts straight from the enthusiasts will make your search easier, especially if any of them have a Chesapeake they love.

There are many forums that exist online that can point you in the right direction, as well. Otherwise, the AKC has a fantastic online resource for breeder referrals. Expect to pay around $1,000 to $1,500 for a Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppy, with show-quality dogs costing more.

Rescues and Shelters

Small Brown Dog with Blue Eyes
It’s always possible to find a Chessie up for adoption at the local shelter.

Breeders are always a good option to turn to when you are looking for a puppy to adopt. However, we always recommend that our readers try to adopt from a rescue or a shelter.  It’s definitely possible to find a Chessie up for adoption at the local shelter. Many dogs up for adoption are older dogs or dogs who have special needs, so they will leave the extra care.

Adopting versus shopping will give a dog a new chance at life. There are 3.3 million dogs put into shelters each year, with many of them being euthanized. It’s highly possible that your Chessie is among those dogs, so be sure to give everything a good look.

When picking out a Chessie to rescue, take the time to ask the staff at the shelter everything you need to know about your new dog. Having a good understanding of your dog’s complete background–everything from their temperament to health issues–  will help give you a clearer picture of the care that you are supposed to give them. Understanding their special needs, if any, becomes much easier if you don’t have to do any of the guesswork.

While rescuing a dog is a heroic thing to do, you should always remember to be patient with your new canine companion. As the newest member of your family, they are potentially frightened about their new environment, as well as the new people and animals they have to get to know. This can be a stressful time for them, so be sure to treat them kindly as they adjust to their new home. Many of these dogs have lived tough lives and will need all the help they can get to warm up. With the right love and care, you will find your Chessie back to being confident and happy with their new life in no time at all.

If you are having a hard time looking for a Chessie to rescue, there is an amazing resource provided by Chesapeake Bay Retriever – Relief and Rescue. This is sure to point you in the right direction so that you and your furry friend can unite in the soonest time possible.

As Family Pets

  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are the most powerful of the Retriever breeds.
  • They are suited to working and will enjoy it as much as they enjoy playtime.
  • The breed tends to be more reserved than Golden or Labrador Retrievers.
  • They will not be as happy-go-lucky as their other Retriever cousins.
  • The breed does love to be around their family.
  • They are incredibly loyal dogs with great protective instincts.
  • Chessies do well around other animals in the home– even cats.
  • These pups are highly active and will need a lot of exercise each day.
  • Chessies are independent thinkers.
  • They will require their owners to take charge and provide structure.
  • The breed can survive in an apartment but do better in homes with a large yard.
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are not hypoallergenic.
  • Chessies prefer colder and moderate weather to warmer weather.
  • The breed is known to have a few genetic health issues that need monitoring.
  • They are easy to groom as they only need to be brushed once a week.

Final Thoughts

We hope that this article has shed light on everything you need to know about caring for your new Chesapeake Bay Retriever. While it’s guaranteed that there will be some difficulty in raising your canine companion to be the best they can be, your Chessie is more than worth it. These magnificent dogs have so much to give, so it’s important that we are able to give them back the love and care they need to thrive and have their best life. This is the best way to have a fulfilling life together with your Chessie.

The regal Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a loyal and affectionate family canine companion. They are content to be wherever you are and are sure to be amazing hiking and swimming buddies.  They would love nothing more than two be with you on all of life’s adventures. Be prepared to match the intensity of the love they give. With the knowledge you have received from this guide, you are equipped to begin your journey with your Chessie. You’ve now got a head start at providing them with the happiest and healthiest life they could possibly have.

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1 Comment

  1. I rescued a Chessie four years ago. He has become my emotional support animal and then a comfort dog. He loves people and is in tune to those experiencing emotional difficulties. Buddy is amazing! He will also try to take care of any smaller animal. I love my Chesapeake Bay Retriever, my Buddy!

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