Chesapeake Bay Retriever



The Chesapeake Bay Retriever (CBR or Chessie) is the world’s toughest retriever and the only retriever that is 100% American. The first CBR was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1878. It was appointed the official state dog of Maryland in 1964 and it is the mascot of the University of Maryland Baltimore Country. Some of the famous people to have owned, or to own a CBR include; General George Armstrong Custer, President Theodore Roosevelt, Paul Walker (The Fast and the Furious) and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter franchise).

The origins of the CBR go back to 1807, when two Newfoundlands were saved from a shipwrecked brig off the coast of Maryland. The dogs were mated with local retrievers. This interbreeding created a great waterfowl hunting companion. Today the CBR is primarily a family pet, watchdog and hunting companion. It is a breed that wears three collars: loyal pet, hunter and show dog.

The front door of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s, Maryland, is guarded by a pair of cast iron statues of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

This extremely versatile dog is accomplished in many areas beyond the field and water work it is famous for. It makes a wonderful companion and devoted family dog as it is good with children and protective of them. The breed is found excelling in all aspects of life from competition ring, Obedience trials, field trials, drug enforcement, service dogs to visiting nursing homes and search and rescue work.

The Chesapeake is first and foremost an excellent hunting dog and water retriever. It possesses a natural retrieving desire with an excellent nose and extraordinary ability to remember multiple falls.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a very high energy, strong, powerful, muscular dog and loves to swim. It is the toughest and most independent of the retrievers. It will dive into icy water and swim for long periods of time. Some owners have claimed their dogs are capable of more than a 100 retrieves a day.

Its powerful chest enables it to break through dense ice and choppy seas. The CBR is a double coated dog, with a dense, soft undercoat for warmth and an oily flat top coat to repel water. The webbing on its feet makes it a fast swimmer; it uses its tail as a tiller and it can extend its neck to be able to see the surrounding water environment while it is swimming. Three shakes leave the coat close to dry.

It has solid muscular legs and a powerful, wide muzzle which allows it to carry large water fowl.

It excels in obedience, tracking and field trials and CBR are frequently dual champions. A “dual champion in America” is given to a dog that has been awarded the AKC’s Champion Record after it has also been awarded Field Champion or Herding Champion.


The Chessie is an all-around dog, each one is an individual and responds to individual attention. It has an inherent quality of self-respect and a knowledge of its own worth. It is a friendly, loving, sensitive and perceptive dog, with a passion for the water, swimming and retrieving. The CBR makes an excellent hiking, boating and outdoors companion.

President Roosevelt believed his CBP called “Sailor Boy” had a masterful temperament and strong sense of both dignity and duty.

The Chessie is known for its enthusiasm and endurance. It is protective of its owners and family and is very possessive; a natural “watchdog” ready to protect family and property. It can be territorial, but also very sociable and welcoming of the owners’ friends, who become the CBR’s friends too.


The Chesapeake is an overall healthy breed, having only the typical orthopaedic issues of many large breeds, and testing is available for potential parents.

It can also experience Hip and Elbow Dysplasia and Perennial Retinal Apathy (PRA) and there is a DNA test for this genetic condition. The average lifespan for a Chesapeake is similar to other Retrievers and ranges from about 12 to 14 years.


The Chesapeake becomes firmly attached to its family, so does not rehome well and needs to be in a ‘forever’ home. It is intensely affectionate, sensitive and perceptive. It knows when it is liked and when it is not and responds in kind. It is reserved and cautious with strangers.

With a keen sense of hearing and a very protective nature, it is a good watchdog. Due to its natural protective instincts it must be properly socialised and trained. It is an active dog that needs regular attention and exercise.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is friendly, loving, obedient, brave and intelligent.

The Chesapeake is one breed for which it is essential to adapt handling techniques to the individual dog. Physical abuse will cause it to abandon its innate loyalty and desire to please.

Responsible breeders have made a conscientious effort to eliminate the bad-tempered dogs from the gene pool and they have, for the most part, been quite successful.


The CBR has a pretty face, with a muscular and athletic build, rather than an active and agile one, because it is a working breed. It has a coarse coat which is rough and thick, which comes in three basic solid colours that should blend with their working environment: brown, sage and dead grass. The coat is unique: the part of the hair close to the hair follicle has little pigmentation, giving it a soft woolly feeling and towards the tip, there are clumps of pigment that impart a coarse texture depending on the spacing of the clumps and the concentration of the pigment. The eyes, nose and lips tend to be of a similar colour. The ears are set high because it is a swimming dog. The eyes are amber in colour and oval in appearance with a quietly confident look.

The breed has had the good fortune of never being a particularly “popular” breed, so there is no split between “show” and “field” types.


The CBR is the most natural of all gundogs. No frills, feathers or trimmings for the Chessie. On a weekly basis, nails should be checked and clipped, they should never be so long that they touch the floor and the ears need to be checked and cleaned.

The coat, unless very dirty or in the shedding stage, doesn’t need to be fussed over. A metal brush should never be used as it will get rid of the undercoat.


The Chessie like other large breeds may carry the genes for hip dysplasia, and the hereditary component of this disorder is still under investigation. The CBR also needs to be tested for any hereditary eye diseases, such as cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy. The breed’s life span is usually 10 to 14 years.


The Chessie requires a large amount of physical activity. They love to retrieve and swim and therefore are not suitable for apartments. Basic obedience training is not an option but a must. The coat is low maintenance. The CBR, when part of a family, is a devoted companion and a great watch dog, with the advantage of seldom barking for no reason.

The CBR has a lot of energy and they can never get enough exercise. So expect to spend ample time playing fetch, teaching obedience exercises and taking your dog hiking or swimming. It enjoys chewing and carrying objects in its mouth and therefore it is important to provide appropriate toys for doing so.

A Chessie perceives itself as a friend, a partner, not a servant: so Chessies learn guidelines, habits a modus operandi, and they make decisions accordingly. And so, they don’t learn commands. They are bred to work seven days a week over 10 hours a day.

Words: Aurea Palma

Image: Submitted by Wendy Schwendeman

In Conclusion

Now you know a little about the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, you may think that this is the dog for you. Before you make a decision, please make contact with the breed club or your State controlling body for purebred dogs. They will be able to give you information about available puppies and also suggest dog shows where you can see the breed and speak to breeders. In this way you will gain a better perspective of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and its needs, and whether this breed would suit your lifestyle.