The Chesapeake Bay Retriever, peerless duck dog of the Mid-Atlantic, is an American original who embodies the classic traits of a good retriever: loyal, upbeat, affectionate, and tireless. The Chessie is famous for his waterproof coat. Chessies are strong, powerfully built gundogs standing anywhere from 21 to 26 inches at the shoulder. A male can weigh up to 80 pounds. The distinctive breed trait is a wavy coat that is oily to the touch. Chessies are solid-colored, either chocolatey brown, sedge, or deadgrass, with keen yellow-amber eyes that nicely complement the coat. Chessies are more emotionally complex than the usual gundog. Chessies take to training, but they have a mind of their own and can tenaciously pursue their own path. They are protective of their humans and polite, but not overtly friendly, to strangers. Chessies make excellent watchdogs and are versatile athletes. A well-socialized Chessie is a confident companion and world-class hunting buddy.
Wealthy owners of duck clubs that lined both shores of the Chesapeake Bay during the 19th century set the basic breed type of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Newfoundlands, Irish Water Spaniels, and hounds of undetermined origin were among the dogs thought to be in the genetic mix. By the time the AKC was founded in 1884, a definite Chessie type had been established. (Colorful regional breed names for the era’s Chessie included the Red Chester and the Brown Winchester.)
To understand the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, you must understand the Chesapeake Bay. For this purpose, there are two key features of this 200-mile-long estuary surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. First, because the bay is relatively shallow, it has a low capacity for storing heat; water temperatures get down around freezing in early winter and stay there until spring.
Second, the Chesapeake Bay is located along what’s called the Atlantic Flyway, a flight path taken by ducks and geese to their winter homes. Every year, the bay hosts a third of all migratory waterfowl wintering on the East Coast.
Old-time sportsmen hoping to exploit this duck hunter’s paradise built a retriever well-suited to the bay’s frigid waters. The thick, oily, double coat of the Chessie is both insulating and waterproof; it repels moisture much the way a duck’s feathers do. His broad chest acts as a plow against the ice floes and powerful hindquarters and large webbed feet enable him to swim tirelessly against the slashing winds that whip across the bay. Ideally equipped to perform their primary function, it has been reported that some Chessies are capable of retrieving 300 ducks in a single day. Whether this is true or simply the fireside boasting of hunters, it does convey an essential truth: The Chessie is a reliable, indefatigable retriever.
Happily, the Chessie isn’t a one-trick dog. These perceptive and sensitive souls make excellent therapy workers. Their sturdy build and acute scenting ability are highly valued by K-9 handlers in the fields of search-and-rescue work and drug and bomb detection. And their dashing good looks and athleticism are employed to great advantage in show rings and in a variety of dog sports.
Temperament: bright / affectionate / sensitive
Height: 21 to 26 inches
Weight: 55-80 pounds
Life Expectancy: 10-13 years
Hip dysplasia is a concern in most dogs, Chesapeakes included. There are some other hereditary diseases that can affect the breed, but fortunately there are tests that responsible breeders use to assess these and screen breeding stock. It is important for breeders to supply the health information about the sire and dam to anyone interested in obtaining a puppy. As with all breeds, a Chesapeake’s ears should be checked regularly for signs of infection, and the teeth should be brushed often, using a toothpaste designed for dogs.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Hip Evaluation
- PRA Optigen DNA Test
- EIC DNA Test
- Degenerative Myelopathy DNA Test
- Elbow Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
This is a shorthaired breed with a soft undercoat and a harsh outer coat. They do shed, and a good brushing about once a week will keep the dead hair on your floor to a minimum. Basically, Chessies don’t require much grooming or bathing. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can cause discomfort and problems walking and running.