The Chesapeake Bay Retriever: A Guide for Owners - PetHelpful - By fellow animal lovers and experts
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The Chesapeake Bay Retriever: A Guide for Owners

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.

The lovable Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

The lovable Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Throughout the world, there exists only a handful of dog breeds that can be consistently described as affectionate, intelligent, and industrious. One of these dogs is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Originally bred in the 1800s as a water retriever, the Chessie continues to play a vital role as a hunting breed in the modern day due to its steadfast loyalty, intelligence, and endurance. This work examines the Chessie and provides an in-depth analysis of the animal’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general traits. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed will accompany readers following their completion of this work.

Scientific Classification

  • Common Name: Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: Canis Lupus
  • Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
  • Other Name(s): Chessie
Chesapeake Bay Retriever (pictured above) participating in hunting excursion.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever (pictured above) participating in hunting excursion.

History of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

  • Life Span: 10 to 13 years
  • Group: Sporting Group
  • Area of Origin: United States
  • Date of Origin: 1800s
  • Original Function: Water Retriever
  • Family: Gundog; Retriever

Origins

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a powerfully-built breed of dog first bred in the early 1800s. The animal is believed to have originated from two Newfoundland dogs that arrived on the East Coast of the United States (in 1807). Renowned for their high-level of physical and mental endurance, the Chessie is often considered the “toughest” of the water retrievers, and was bred in response to the large market (and demand) for duck along the East Coast in the Nineteenth Century. Using two Newfoundlands as a base, breeders crossed the pair with a variety of hounds and Irish Water Spaniels to develop the modern-day Chesapeake Bay Retriever that we know and love today.

Function

Due to its function as a water retriever, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was bred with a number of characteristics and traits in mind. Through rigorous selection criteria, the dog was deliberately designed with a strong love of the water, as well as a thick waterproof coat. Powerful legs and stamina were also desired by breeders, as well as a heightened sense of intelligence to aid them in hunting excursions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, breeders of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever were bred with loyalty and protection in mind for both their owners and game. To this day, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever (or “Chessie”) is considered one of the most beloved hunting companions in the world.

Appearance

Body

  • Height: 23 to 26 inches (male); 21 to 24 inches (female)
  • Weight: 65 to 80 pounds (male); 55 to 70 pounds (female)

The Chessie is a medium-sized breed of dog with a well-balanced and muscular appearance. Possessing a wide chest and relatively broad shoulders, the Chessie’s overall height is relatively proportionate to the dog’s length and varies by only a small degree. Depth of the dog’s chest typically slopes to the Chessie’s elbows, with shoulder-to-elbow matching the length of elbow-to-ground.

Head

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever’s skull is relatively broad with a rounded appearance. Accentuating the skull is a series of medium-sized eyes that vary between yellow, clear, or amber in coloration. The dog is also known for its pair of relatively small ears that hang loosely atop the head. Completing the skull region is a medium-sized nose and muzzle that is the same length of the head and which follows a tapered (pointed) appearance.

Forequarters

The Chessie’s forequarters are well-muscled and defined with its shoulders sloping towards the rear. The front legs of this breed are also medium-sized in length with a straightened appearance that runs perpendicular to the ground. Finishing the forequarters is a pair of webbed feet (for swimming), and a series of rounded toes.

Hindquarters

The Chessie’s hindquarters follow many of the same characteristics as the front, portraying a strong and muscled appearance to onlookers. The only major difference in the hindquarters is that the dog’s legs are slightly angulated to provide the animal with better mobility and acceleration. Dewclaws are also known to present themselves with this breed and should be removed to prevent injuries to the Chessie.

Tail

The tail of the Chessie is considered medium-sized in length and thickness. Tails should be straight and exhibit only slight curvature. Tails that curve inward or to the side are considered major deformities and should be examined by a qualified veterinarian.

Coat and Coloration

Coats on the Chessie are relatively short and thick, with an average length of approximately 1.5 inches. Hair is generally quite short on the face and legs, but becomes shaggier on the shoulders, back, loins, and neck. Feathering is also quite common on the rear hindquarters and tail. As a water-retriever, the overall texture of the Chessie’s coat is extremely important as it aids in protecting the dog from adverse weather and environmental conditions. For this reason, outer coats are usually rough and abrasive, whereas the undercoat is typically classified as “wooly” in texture. Combined with the Chesapeake’s skin, the dog is capable of drying extremely rapidly.

In addition to their unique coats, the Chessie comes in a variety of colors. These include: brown, sedge, and deadgrass. Self-colored (meaning “uniform” in coloration) is usually preferred for this breed. However, white spots are acceptable on the breast, toes, feet, or belly. Black is considered a major deformity with this particular dog breed and is considered disqualifying in regard to AKC standards.

Chessie posing for the camera.

Chessie posing for the camera.

Are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Right for Your Home?

General Characteristics

  • Energy Level: 3/5
  • Exercise Needs: 3/5
  • Playfulness: 3/5
  • Affection Towards Owners: 4/5
  • Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 3/5
  • Training Difficulty: 2/5
  • Grooming Level: 2/5

Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)

Temperament

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a highly independent and lovable breed renowned for their sense of loyalty to owners. Although this breed can be quite independent and strong-willed, it loves to both play and learn on a regular basis. One worrisome characteristic of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, however, is its natural tendency to be protective over its owner. While this breed makes for an excellent guard dog, its protective instincts can result in aggression towards strangers and other pets. For these reasons, owners should take special care when introducing new animals or individuals to their Chesapeake Bay Retriever in order to avoid unpleasant encounters. Failure to heed this warning can result in serious injury (or death) to smaller animals.

Are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Good With Children?

Yes! The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is well-known for their dedication and loyalty to owners, and are often quite protective (and tolerant) of children. It should be noted, however, that the Chesapeake Bay Retriever responds best to kids when introduced to families during their puppy stages of development. Early socialization helps the dog to develop trust and loyalty that will last a lifetime if treated with affection and love.

Despite their love and natural affinity for children, experts agree that the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is not usually suitable for households with smaller children due to the dog’s large size, “bouncy” energy, and tendency to “mouth” smaller hands that get in the way. As a result, this dog is often better suited for homes with older children.

How Smart are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers?

The Chessie is an incredibly smart breed. However, due to their stubbornness and independent minds, they can be quite difficult to train. As a result, the Chessie requires a confident and firm owner (who also possesses a great deal of patience) to overcome this natural tendency (see the “training” section below). Despite these issues, the Chessie is considered to have a remarkable degree of intelligence and is capable of learning both quickly and efficiently.

Chesapeake Bay Retrieving playing fetch with their owner.

Chesapeake Bay Retrieving playing fetch with their owner.

Grooming and Training Needs

Grooming Requirements

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever possesses a dense and spring-like coat of fur that is relatively oily. Despite this combination of traits, the coat requires only minimal grooming by owners. Brushing once or twice a week with a rubber brush is usually all that is required to keep shedding and clumping to a minimum as the dog’s natural oils help to keep its fur in top-notch condition year-round. Due to its coat’s waterproof qualities, it should be noted that overgrooming can have adverse effects for this breed’s fur as excessive brushing and baths often strip the hair’s oils away.

As with any dog breed, owners should also pay particular attention to their Chessie’s nails and teeth. Regular nail trimmings and teeth brushings should be followed to prevent the onset of injuries and dental problems, respectively.

Training and Exercise Needs

The Chessie is incredibly smart and generally classified as “agreeable” when it comes to training (akc.org). Nevertheless, new owners will quickly discover that the Chessie possesses a stubborn personality that is difficult to break. For this reason, it is generally recommended that owners begin obedience training at an early age to prevent bad behaviors from becoming long-term habits. As with most dogs, young puppies are far more receptive to training than fully-grown dogs.

As your Chessie continues to grow (and additional training is undertaken), the breed often responds well to advanced commands (and tricks). To amplify their receptiveness to learning, experts agree that reward-based commands (such as dog treats/snacks) usually garner the best results with the Chesapeake. With patience, this breed can excel at a wide array of dog sports, including tracking and agility-based events.

In regard to exercise requirements, owners should note that the Chessie is a highly-energetic breed that requires a great deal of exercise (on a daily basis) to thrive. This is due, in part, to their size and original purpose as a hunting breed. As a result, owners should plan to devote 20 minutes a day (minimum) towards high-intensity exercise, with at least an hour of walking/running. Failure to meet these basic exercise requirements can result in destructive behaviors from your Chessie as they attempt to “entertain” themselves through excessive chewing, barking, or digging.

Dog Quote

“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. ”

— Roger A. Caras

Nutritional Needs

As with most breeds, high-quality dog food should always be the number one priority for your pet. This is certainly true with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever which requires a steady diet of high-quality meals on a daily basis. These meals can be prepared by a manufacturer, or at home following the guidance and supervision of your dog’s veterinarian. It is crucial to note that a number of human-based foods can be harmful to your Chessie. As a result, owners should take great care in avoiding “table scraps” when feeding their Chesapeake as they can cause serious harm or injury to your pet. The following list details 10 foods that owners should avoid giving their pets.

Foods you shouldn't give to a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Foods you shouldn't give to a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

How Much Food Should a Chesapeake Bay Retriever Eat Per Day?

As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. For this reason, owners should work actively with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s specific needs. Nevertheless, average feeding requirements for the Chesapeake Bay Retriever are in the vicinity of 2 to 2.5 cups of dry food a day (divided into two separate meals). Again, this number can be adjusted significantly depending on your particular dog (i.e. less food for obese animals, and more if they are underweight).

Water Needs

Maintaining proper hydration is also extremely important for the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Nearly 70-percent of a dog’s body is comprised of water. As a result, owners should pay close attention to their dog’s hydration needs throughout the day as requirements can change in response to both outside temperatures and daily activity levels. Generally speaking, water requirements are typically determined by your dog’s overall weight. For every seven pounds of weight, a Chessie should consume approximately 6 ounces of water each day. For example, an 84-pound dog would require 72 ounces of water in a day’s time (minimum). Highly-active breeds, however, would require far more (100+ ounces a day).

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration in the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

What Type of Home is Good for a Chesapeake Bay Retriever?

Are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Good With Other Pets?

No. As a large and highly independent breed of dog, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever often struggles to adapt to homes with other pets. As a dominant and relatively aggressive breed, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever (particularly the males) are known for their territorial instincts, and will actively attack other dogs that come too close. Due to their original purpose as hunting companions to sportsmen, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever’s natural instinct to hunt can also prove problematic for smaller animals within the household as the dog will actively chase pets (particularly cats) that it deems as prey.

Are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Good Guard Dogs?

Yes! The Chessie is considered a great watchdog due to their protective instincts over family members and property. Although generally friendly, would-be burglars will face a dramatically different dog once the Chessie senses danger is near. In fact, the Chessie can become quite aggressive towards others, and will produce a loud bark to let their owners know of disturbances. Aside from these qualities, this breed also makes a good guard dog due to their sheer size. While the Chessie is far from huge, their larger presence will certainly deter intruders from crossing their path.

1915 drawing of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

1915 drawing of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Health Concerns

Recommended Medical Tests and Evaluations for the Chesapeake Bay Retriever:

  • Hip Test
  • Eye Exam
  • Thyroid Function Test

As with most larger breeds of dog, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is prone to a variety of health issues involving the joints and muscles as they age. Hip dysplasia and elbow malformation are common ailments to this breed, as is retinal atrophy and cataracts. Although most Chesapeake Bay Retrievers remain generally healthy for much of their lives, owners should actively schedule check-ups with a qualified veterinarian to prevent (or delay) the onset of health issues. Early detection and treatment of various ailments will go a long way in helping your dog achieve a quality life full of happiness and good health. With proper nutrition and exercise, owners can expect their Chesapeake Bay Retriever to live between 10 to 13 years (with many living several years beyond this number).

Pros and Cons of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Pros:

  • Very protective of owners.
  • Even-tempered breed.
  • Serious-minded dog that is both loyal and dependable.
  • Minimal grooming requirements.

Cons:

  • Can be extremely stubborn (to a fault)
  • Requires early socialization to prevent bad behavior towards people and pets (specifically, their aggressive tendencies).
  • Requires extensive exercise on a daily basis.
  • Known to be rowdy during its puppy years.
  • Known to display territorial aggression towards other animals.

World's Greatest Dog?

In closing, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a remarkable dog breed known for its intelligence, industrious spirit, and sense of loyalty toward its owners. Although this breed is stubborn (to a fault) and can be difficult to train, few dogs display a greater love and devotion towards their owner than the Chessie. With proper attention and dedication, owners can expect a truly rewarding relationship from their Chesapeake. For these reasons, the Chessie will likely remain one of the most popular dog breeds in the world for years to come.

Works Cited:

  • American Kennel Club. The New Complete Dog Book 22nd Edition. Mount Joy, Pennsylvania: Fox Chapel Publishing, 2017.
  • “Chesapeake Bay Retriever Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, November 6, 2017.
  • “Chesapeake Bay Retriever.” Dogtime. Accessed May 22, 2020.
  • “Chesapeake Bay Retriever Dog Breed - Facts and Traits: Hill's Pet.” Hill's Pet Nutrition. Accessed May 22, 2020.
  • Coile, Caroline. The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC. Hauppauge, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.
  • Dennis-Bryan, Kim. The Complete Dog Breed Book. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2014.
  • Larkin, Peter and Mike Stockman. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds, & Dog Care. London, England: Hermes House, 2006.
  • Mehus-Roe, Kristin. Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog. Irvine, California: I-5 Press, 2009.
  • O’Neill, Amanda. What Dog? A Guide to Help New Owners Select the Right Breed for their Lifestyle. Hauppauge, New York: Interpret Publishing Ltd., 2006.
  • Schuler, Elizabeth Meriwether. Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Dogs. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, Incorporated, 1980.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” (PetHelpful). 2019.
  • Slawson, Larry. “The 10 Best Dogs for Children.” (PetHelpful). 2019.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 Larry Slawson

Comments

Jusmi Saikia from Bangalore, India on June 26, 2020:

A very well written and informative article. Would be looking for more !!

Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on June 13, 2020:

Thank you, Ann! I'm glad you enjoyed. And I know what you mean! Its almost like losing a loved one when they pass.

Ann Carr from SW England on June 10, 2020:

Lovely looking dog! Never heard of them but they sound as though they have a mind of their own! Gorgeous dog to own. I love dogs, have had 5, but will never have another one as it's too heartbreaking when they go.

Great detail here and a good read.

Ann

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 08, 2020:

Larry, I am not a dog owner. But I find the story very interesting. Thanks.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 08, 2020:

This is a great looking dog and you have written a very thorough article about this breed. Even if they are a little difficult to train I think they would make a good pet if you have the patience to get through the initial training.