Chesapeake Bay Retriever

In earlier days it was sometimes referred to as the Red Chester, the Brown Winchester, the American Duck Retriever or simply the Ducking Dog. Its primary role is as a cold-water retriever of game birds. It is known to its friends as the Chessie.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a tough, workmanlike dog, sturdy rather than elegant, with a thick, oily coat that protects it "like a duck’s plumage" from the often icy waters in which it works. Its stamina, energy and feats of endurance under terrible conditions are legendary, and there are asserts that a single dog was once capable of extracting as many as 300 downed ducks in a single day, from waters at near freezing temperatures.

Even heavy seas do not deter it. One author described the spartan nature of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever when he commented that "he cannot be enticed into a kennel, but must sit out on the frozen shore, rain or shine". Another praised it as "the greatest heavy-duty water dog America has ever seen... a steam-roller of a dog". It is such a remarkable retriever that the only explanation for its lack of success as a modern breed must be that, in personality, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a rather plain, homely dog. For those who have worked with it, however, this has never been a problem.

Unusually, we know the precise date of origin of this breed. It is the result of crosses made at the beginning of the 19th century between a pair of Newfoundland dogs - Sailor and Canton, and local Maryland retrievers. In 1807 a British vessel was shipwrecked off the Maryland coast and two Newfoundland puppies on board were rescued and taken ashore. There they were kept until adult, when they were mated with native retrievers. The offspring of these crosses inherited the aquatic abilities of the Newfoundlands and the retrieving skills of the local dogs. This combination proved so successful that hunters in the region of Chesapeake Bay reared more and more of them, and a new breed was born. It was improved and refined throughout the 19th century and by the 1880s had been more or less perfected in its modern form. Its fame spread across the US and a national breed society, the American Chesapeake Club, was formed in 1918.

It is not clear exactly which breed of retriever was involved. One early author referred to them as "English Water Poodles", but it is more likely that several breeds were involved. Flat-coated and Curly-coated Retrievers, and even coonhounds, have been suggested as possible ancestors.


Inexhaustible, strong, and energetic, the breed has a well-developed muscular body; a deep chest; a broad, rounded head with a medium-length muzzle; and yellow eyes set wide apart. Its dense woolly undercoat is covered with an oily, short, dense, partly wavy outercoat (except on the face, where the hair is straight) that ranges from dark brown to tan. White markings on the chest, abdomen, and paws are permissible for show dogs.


The breed is a heavily built, tan to dark brown dog of indomitable character, with a massive head and exceptionally powerful hindquarters — the powerhouse of its amazing swimming strength.

Gentle, friendly, and deeply loving with people, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever adjusts to urban living as long as it gets adequate exercise. It is an avid bird hunter.


Health is quite straightforward with a well-bred, well-raised Chesapeake. Of course breeding stock should be dewclaws removed at birth. The ears of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever should be medicated if inflamed. This occurs when water in the ears starts an inflammation and invites an invasion of ear mites.

Care and Exercise

Coats normally shed yearly and a warm bath or two helps the old hair to shed, leaving a clean base for the new coat to emerge. A working Chesapeake Bay Retriever should not have frequent baths since baths destroy the natural oils that make it shed water. The breed responds well to many kinds of training. This dog needs plenty of exercise away from other dogs, as it tends to attack them.

Puppies and Training

The litter of seven to eight puppies will develop adult coloration within four months. Puppies should be well socialized before ten weeks of age.

Gallery of Chesapeake Bay Retriever