The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

He's been called the "most rugged retriever:" the courageous and water-loving Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a powerful gundog, renowned for his prowess in rough, icy water especially. His keen, yellow-amber eyes draw attention to an upbeat, intelligent face. He's smart, with a notably bright and happy disposition, but he is also quiet and affectionately protective of his people—including the family cat—and his turf. His friendly, if occasionally reserved, demeanor makes him an excellent and trustworthy companion animal.

Other Names

Chessie, CBR

Physical Description


The distinctive breed trait is a thick, water-resistant double coat that's oily to the touch; it is wavy on the shoulders, neck, back, and loins, but not elsewhere. The outer coat is short and harsh, and the undercoat is dense, fine, and wooly, with an abundance of natural oil, an adaptation to working the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The oil helps keep the cold water from reaching his skin, resisting it the same way a duck's feathers do; it also helps the coat dry quickly—when the Chessie 'shakes' his coat, it does not hold water at all. Chessies are solid-colored, either "chocolate-y" brown, sedge (red-gold), or deadgrass (straw), occasionally with white spotting on the chest or feet; no single color is preferred over another.


Average Height: 21-26 inches


Male: 65-80 pounds

Female: 55-70 pounds

Breed Standard & History

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has a round, broad head with jaws made to carry large game birds tenderly. He is strong, well-balanced, and powerful, moderately sized and of a medium length, with a deep, wide chest; his hindquarters are a tad higher than his shoulders. His medium-large eyes are clear, in a yellowish or amber hue, and set wide apart in the head. His smallish ears hang loosely, attached high on the head, and his muzzle is about as long as his skull. His height as measured from the shoulder to the ground is slightly less than his length as measured from the breastbone to the buttocks. His tail is straight or slightly curved, and his good-sized feet are well webbed. His gait is smooth and effortless, with no restriction of motion, and leaving an impression of power and strength.

This purely American breed was developed along Maryland's Chesapeake Bay to hunt waterfowl under punishing weather conditions, and has been known to stoically break through icy waters without concern, time and again during the course of multiple retrieves. The original pair were Sailor, a red male, and Canton, a black female, each of them Newfoundland puppies rescued in 1807 from the wrecked American ship Canton. Sailor and Canton grew into superior retrievers and were bred to other local dogs (but never to each other), giving rise to the thick-coated, bright, and happy Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a distinct breed. They were first recognized in 1877 at the Poultry and Fanciers Association Show in Baltimore as the Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the CBR in 1878, and the American Chesapeake Club held the first licensed retriever trial in 1932.

Today the Chessie is as much prized for his companionship as for his prowess in the field.

AKC Breed Category

Sporting Group


General Temperament

The most powerful of all the retrievers, and the most headstrong, the adult Chesapeake Bay Retriever is bright, sensitive, perceptive, and family-oriented. But don't expect an effusively friendly dog in the company of strangers—the Chessie is more discriminating than Goldens or Labs during introductions, and will warm up to new people in his own time. The consummate outdoorsman's dog, this steady and dependable breed wants a job to do, and a simple walk around the block is not likely to satisfy his need for industry. If you will not hunt with him, enroll him in training for fieldwork and load up on hunting dog supplies. Or, at the minimum plan to play vigorous games of fetch, and often, as you may not appreciate the games he'll invent if you leave him to his own devices.

Family Life

Are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Good with Kids? They make exceptionally good family dogs, and are good with kids, but should be supervised. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever does not tolerate abuse from children; he will most likely simply get up and walk away in this scenario, but an adult should monitor any situation where there is interaction between a Chessie and children. Be advised that Chessies sometimes guard food and toys, and thus might make a poor choice as a companion animal in a household with very young children who have difficulty respecting boundaries.

Are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Good with Other Pets? Chessies do well with other household animals around whom they've been raised. They can be aggressive towards other dogs and for this reason must be trained to defer to the human in charge when it comes to interactions with other animals and people. In short, Chessies are good with other dogs with supervision. And while most Chessies get along with the family cat, don't be surprised if yours takes off in pursuit of an unknown neighborhood feline.


Are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Good Guard Dogs? The Chessie barks when necessary; he makes an excellent watchdog, highly protective of his family and property.

Energy Levels

He is a moderately active dog, but mellow around the house. When working, Chessies are indefatigable.

Specific Concerns

  • While generally obedient, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever can have a mind of his own: he is not recommended for a novice dog owner. He does best with an active human who can also give him plenty of structure and discipline.
  • He needs early socialization, with exposure to lots of people and situations.
  • He is not exuberant and outgoing around strangers, and typically reserved when he meets new people.
  • Without adequate exercise he may turn to destructive chewing to stave off boredom.
  • Chessies may attempt to show dominance without early socialization and obedience training.
  • The Chessie may be combative towards other dogs.
  • He is slow to mature and can be territorial.
  • He has a strong stubborn streak and must not be allowed to get away with something "just this once," because it will take an eternity to regain the upper hand with him.



The Chesapeake Bay Retriever adapts poorly to apartment living, nor is he recommended as a good first dog for the novice owner in any living arrangement. But for an experienced human with an active lifestyle, the Chessie makes a happy, quiet house dog so long as his exercise requirements are met adequately. Once he's given a minimum of 20 minutes (but preferably more) of intense work, training, retrieving, or playing, he's as happy to be a sofa dog.


Chessies crave outdoor activities, and swimming especially. When a Chessie is introduced to the water as a pup, he will become a strong and powerful swimmer, learning to use his tail as a rudder. He tolerates the cold and ice exceptionally well, but access to swimming water is best for a Chessie who will spend time outdoors in the heat.


This smart, active breed needs plenty of exercise and can easily overpower an inexperienced owner. Daily opportunities for long walks or the chance to swim will satisfy this dog and keep him quiet at home, resting comfortably in his memory foam dog bed.


Chessies in the field face wind, tide, and long, cold swims: they rise to these occasions, functioning with ease, efficiency, and endurance.

Activity distance rating

  • Running Miles: Although he's probably not up for a marathon, the Chessie still makes a respectable showing on "best breeds for running" lists. If you live or run near the water, he'll be a more willing workout buddy, although you'll need to train him to come when you call. Wait until he reaches maturity to take him running, and condition him for it gradually.
  • Hiking Miles: Once conditioned for it, the Chessie makes an enthusiastic and willing hiker who can easily manage long treks over steep terrain. Increase his hiking mileage gradually, and keep him leashed on populated trails: remember that your Chessie may be inclined to protect you from other dogs and people you encounter on a hike.


Most Chesapeake Bay Retrievers thrive on about two cups of high-quality dry kibble daily, divided into two meals. But how much an individual dog needs depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Consult your vet for help fine-tuning your Chessie's diet.

Alone Time

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever does not do well left in isolation for long periods: invite him into your family's fold, and give him plenty of affection, which he'll return to you in kind.

Health and Grooming

Life Expectancy

10-13 years


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is only an average shedder who blows his coat seasonally, but his distinctively thick, wavy hair benefits from a brushing weekly with a rubber curry brush. Chessies need little bathing, and over-bathing can strip the coat of the oils which make it so wonderfully water-resistant to begin with. Save bathtime for the heaviest shedding seasons to help release dead hair so the new coat can come in.

Brush your Chessie's teeth a couple of times a week to reduce tartar buildup, and trim his nails once or twice monthly if he does not wear them down naturally through activity. Check his ears every week for redness or odor that indicates an infection; wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle ear cleaner.

Common Health Issues

This hardy breed is generally healthy, but the following issues can occur in a Chessie:

  • Hip dysplasia, an orthopedic condition where the femoral head does not fit snugly into the pelvic socket of the hip. This can lead to lameness and/or arthritis; medication or surgery can help.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness. A reputable breeder does not breed a dog with PRA.
  • Von Willebrand's disease, an inherited blood disorder caused by a clotting deficiency. Signs are excessive bleeding after an injury or surgery. Most dogs with von Willebrand's lead normal lives.
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus, a potentially life-threatening condition commonly called 'bloat.'
  • Epilepsy, a seizure disorder that can be mild or severe; it may be hereditary or triggered by other health events, but the prognosis for a dog with epilepsy is generally good.
  • Chondrodysplasia, a genetic disorder where a dog's limbs are abnormally short in proportion to the rest of his body. A dog with chondrodysplasia can be severely crippled by it, or live a normal life. In either case, this disorder should be reported to a breeder so the carriers of the gene can be removed from the breeding line.

You can minimize serious health concerns in a Chesapeake Bay Retriever by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.



Basic obedience training is a must for Chessies, who generally respond well to it; positive reinforcement and food rewards are the best strategies. And your Chessie will enjoy more success in basic obedience training when you keep sessions interesting, avoiding too much repetition. Quit while you're ahead: end all obedience sessions on a high note.

Advanced Training

Chessies tire of the repetitive nature of obedience competition, but can do it with creative training. They're best at rally, flyball, agility, and any kind of water sports.

Sporting Dog Training

The Chessie is a born hunter with an excellent nose, a superior gundog in the field. He possesses a stubborn streak, which serves him well when searching for fallen game. The lore surrounding the breed suggests some dogs have retrieved as many as 100 ducks in a single day. The CBR can be trained for hunting, for hunting tests, and also for competitive field trials.

Breed FAQ

Here are a few commonly asked questions about Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

Explore Other Breeds

Chessies tend to have relatively large litters, averaging close to 10 puppies. But although the breed excels at hunting, the overwhelming majority of CBRs are bred for companionship.

No. Although the Chessie shares some traits with other types of retrievers, he is a distinct dog breed unrelated to Goldens or Labs.

The Chessie is a willful dog who benefits from obedience training, and the sooner the better: you can start teaching him basic commands the first instant he crosses your threshold, as he is a quick study and tends to retain his training. Enrolling in an 8- to 10-week basic obedience course is recommended once he's been dewormed and had his first series of vaccinations, and is deemed generally healthy. If you give him an inch, he'll take a mile, so it's especially important to be consistent in your expectations and make sure everyone in the household observes the same dog rules.

It's simply a quirky habit: Chessies possess a toothy, ear-to-ear grin, at times even comically baring the front teeth. This peculiarity is generally believed to indicate happiness, which Chessies also express occasionally with vocalizations.