Vital Stats:Dog Breed Group: Sporting Dogs
Height: 1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet, 2 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: 55 to 80 pounds
Life Span: 10 to 12 years
It takes a tough dog to hunt waterfowl in the rough and icy chop of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever--nicknamed the Chessie — was born for these tough conditions. He's believed to be descended from two Newfoundland puppies — Sailor and Canton--who survived a shipwreck in the area in 1807. They were found to have fine retrieving qualities and were bred to local dogs. The result was this brown dog with a thick, water-shedding coat, a bright and happy disposition, and intelligence and courage.
Given their heritage, it's not surprising that Chessies love water. When introduced to water play at a young age, they become strong, powerful swimmers, using their straight or slightly curved tail as a rudder.
Chessies can fill many job descriptions. These sporting pups are prized as superb hunting dogs. They have excellent noses, and their stubborn streak — you knew there had to be a downside, didn't you? — comes in handy when they are searching for fallen game. There are authenticated stories of Chessies retrieving as many as 100 ducks in a day. With proper training, they do well as hunting companions, in hunt tests, and in the more competitive venue of field trials. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers can also do well in obedience competition if creatively trained to tolerate the repetitive nature of the sport, but rally, flyball, and agility might be better choices for them. And, of course, they're cherished companions.
Chessies are friendly, outgoing, and obedient, although they can have a mind of their own. With their strength and smarts, they can easily overpower an unprepared owner, but for the experienced dog person who can give them the training structure and discipline they need, they can become a willing and hard-working companion. Daily exercise in the form of long walks or opportunities to swim will satisfy his love of activity and ensure that he's a quiet companion in the home.
Like every dog, the Chessie needs early socialization — exposure to many different people, places, sights and sounds. Even with socialization, his temperament is such that as an adult he isn't exuberantly friendly with strangers; he tends to be reserved when meeting people for the first time. This characteristic makes him an excellent watchdog who is highly protective of his people and property. On the down side, some Chessies can be aggressive toward other dogs. In both instances, your Chessie must learn to defer to your leadership when it comes to interacting with other people and dogs.
Train your Chessie with consistency and positive reinforcement — rewards for correct behavior. Keep training fun and avoid repetition so he doesn't become bored. Always end training sessions on a high note, praising or rewarding him for something he's done well. In other words, quit while you're both ahead! He learns best from people he knows and loves, so don't try to take the easy way out by sending him off to a trainer. This loyal dog will work best for you if you train him yourself.
The Chessie often has an excellent rapport with children, but he won't tolerate abuse from them. In most situations, if he doesn't like the way he's being treated, he'll get up and leave the situation if possible. Interactions between small children and any dog should always be supervised.
A healthy, temperamentally sound Chessie puppy is active and inquisitive with a glossy coat and pink gums and tongue. Puppies should already be enthusiastically retrieving objects, unperturbed by loud noises, and eager to approach people. They should never seem shy, fearful, or aggressive.
With such a good start in life, plus your leadership and training, this serious, sensitive, and strong-minded dog will become a well-loved member of the family.
- Chessies require a great deal of exercise, including swimming if possible. If they don't receive adequate exercise, they can become frustrated and destructive.
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are not recommended for inexperienced or first-time dog owners.
- They can be prone to dominance problems if not properly trained and socialized. You must provide strong leadership without being harsh.
- Chessies can be more aggressive, willful, and reserved with strangers than other retrievers.
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers may be combative toward other dogs.
- Chessies are strong dogs, slow to mature, with a tendency to be territorial. They need firm training and management.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from a backyard breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is one of the few breeds that can claim to be born in the USA. The breed is thought to descend from two Newfoundland dogs named Sailor and Canton who were traveling aboard a ship bound for England in 1807. The ship ran aground, but the crew and the two dogs Sailor, a dingy red male, and Canton, a black female, were rescued. Sailor found a home with John Mercer of West River and Canton with Dr. James Stewart of Sparrow's Point.
Both dogs gained a reputation as excellent water dogs, especially when it came to duck hunting, and their puppies inherited their abilities — and their unusual yellowish or amber-colored eyes. There was no recorded mating of the two dogs, but seventy years later, when strains from both the eastern and western shores of Maryland met at the Poultry & Fanciers Association show in Baltimore in 1877, their similarities were sufficient that they were recognized as one breed, "The Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog." Records show that the offspring of Canton and Sailor were intermingled at the Carroll Island Kennels and spread from there throughout the region.
By the time the American Kennel Club was established in 1884, a definite Chesapeake variety had been developed and was well known for its prowess in the rough, icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The American Chesapeake Club was formed in 1918. The American Chesapeake Club held the first licensed retriever trial in 1932. Fittingly, the front door of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael's, Maryland, is guarded by a pair of cast-iron statues of Chessies.
Males stand 23 to 26 inches at the shoulder and weigh 65 to 80 pounds; females 21 to 24 inches and 55 to 70 pounds.
A proper Chessie has a bright and happy disposition combined with courage, intelligence, a strong work ethic, and an alert nature that makes him an excellent watchdog. He's strongminded, though — read: stubborn — and requires firm, consistent training by all the adults in the household. You can't let him do something "just this once," or you'll spend days or weeks retraining him. If you're providing the right leadership, a sharp look or verbal reprimand is enough to rein in bad behavior; more severe punishment is overkill and will only cause him to become sulky and unresponsive.
The Chessie can have a goofy sense of humor, but the entertainment value can be offset by his sometimes obsessive stubbornness. Once he gets an idea into his head, it can be hard to remove. And when he wants something, he will be persistent in going after it. That's great if you have him retrieving ducks, not so great if he's bugging you for something else, like a kid in the grocery store who wants candy.
Temperament doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who's beating up his littermates or the one who's hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who's available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you're comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Socialization helps ensure that your Chessie puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
Chessies are generally healthy, but like all breeds of dogs, they're prone to certain diseases and conditions. Not all Chessies will get any or all of these diseases, but it's important to be aware of them if you're buying or living with a Chessie.
- Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you're buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Fortunately, dogs can use their other senses to compensate for blindness, and a blind dog can live a full and happy life. Just don't make it a habit to move the furniture around. Reputable breeders have their dogs' eyes certified annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist and do not breed dogs with this disease.
- Von Willebrand's Disease: This is a blood disorder that can be found in both humans and dogs. It affects the clotting process due to the reduction of von Willebrand factor in the blood. A dog affected by von Willebrand's disease will have signs such as nose bleeds, bleeding gums, prolonged bleeding from surgery, and prolonged bleeding during heat cycles or after whelping. Occasionally blood is found in the stool. This disorder is usually diagnosed in your dog between the ages of 3 and 5 and cannot be cured. However, it can be managed with treatments that include cauterizing or suturing injuries, transfusions of the von Willebrand factor before surgery, and avoiding certain medications.
- Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat): Commonly called bloat, this is a life-threatening condition that affects large, deep-chested dogs, especially if they're fed one large meal a day, eat rapidly, drink large amounts of water rapidly, or exercise vigorously after eating. Bloat occurs when the stomach is distended with gas or air and then twists. The dog is unable to belch or vomit to rid himself of the excess air in his stomach, and blood flow to the heart is impeded. Blood pressure drops and the dog goes into shock. Without immediate medical attention, the dog can die. Suspect bloat if your dog has a distended abdomen, is drooling excessively, and retching without throwing up. He also may be restless, depressed, lethargic, and weak with a rapid heart rate. If you notice these symptoms, get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
- Epilepsy: Chessies can suffer from epilepsy, a disorder that causes mild or severe seizures. Epilepsy can be hereditary; it can be triggered by such events as metabolic disorders, infectious diseases that affect the brain, tumors, exposure to poisons, or severe head injuries; or it can be of unknown cause (referred to as idiopathic epilepsy). Seizures may be exhibited by unusual behavior, such as running frantically as if being chased, staggering, or hiding. Seizures are frightening to watch, but the long-term prognosis for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy is generally very good. Epilepsy can be controlled with medication, but it cannot be cured. A dog can live a full and healthy life with the proper management of this disorder. If your Chessie has seizures, take him to the vet right away for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
- Chondrodysplasia: This genetic disorder is commonly mislabeled as "dwarfism." Dogs with the deformity have abnormally short limbs for the breed. It ranges in severity from "nearly normal" to severe crippling. In less severe cases, dogs have lived full and healthy lives but a dog that is diagnosed with chondrodysplasia or screened as a carrier should not be bred so as not to pass on the genes for the condition.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers like a cool climate. They do best in a warm climate if they have frequent opportunities to swim. Chessies require a great deal of exercise to remain happy, and if they do they're quiet housedogs who will be happy to relax with you while you watch TV. Give him a minimum of 20 minutes per day of intensive work, training, water retrieves, or play, or up to an hour of a more sedate walk. Chessies love to swim and do well if swimming can be included in their daily exercise regime. They are a country or suburban dog, not a city dog.
Puppies have special exercise needs. From 9 weeks to 4 months of age, puppy kindergarten once or twice a week is a great way for them to get exercise, training, and socialization, plus 15 to 20 minutes of playtime in the yard, morning and evening. Throw a ball for them to fetch or let them splash in a kiddie pool. From 4 to 6 months of age, weekly obedience classes and daily half-mile walks will meet their needs, plus playtime in the yard. Start teaching them how to swim in a pool or lake, weather permitting. From 6 months to a year of age, play fetch with a ball or Frisbee for up to 40 minutes during cool mornings or evenings, not in the heat of the day. Continue to limit walks to a half mile. After he's a year old, your Chessie pup can begin to jog with you, but keep the distance to less than a mile and give him frequent breaks along the way. As he continues to mature, you can increase the distance and time you run. These graduated levels of exercise will protect his developing bones and joints.
Chessies work well with people, but they can be independent, with a mind of their own. Train them with kindness and consistency, using positive reinforcements that include food rewards and praise. The Chessie who's treated harshly will simply become more stubborn and less willing to do your bidding. Your best bet is to keep training interesting and make him feel as if he has a choice in what he's doing.
When your Chessie does something inappropriate such as countersurfing or lifting his leg in the house, you must let him know right then and there — loudly and firmly — that his behavior is unacceptable and not to ever be repeated. No exceptions!
Recommended daily amount: 2 to 2.5 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.
NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl. Puppies eat a lot, but err on the side of slenderness to protect their still developing joints. You should be able to feel but not see their ribs, and they should have a visible waist when you look down at them. A four-month-old puppy may eat two cups of adult food or large-breed puppy food twice a day, for a total of four cups.
For more on feeding your Chessie, see our guidelines for buying the right food, feeding your puppy, and feeding your adult dog.
Coat Color And Grooming
As befits his purpose as a water retriever, the Chessie has a coat that resists water in the same way that a duck's feathers do. The top coat is short, thick, harsh, and oily, and the undercoat is fine, dense, and woolly. Together, they provide super insulation, allowing him to hunt in all conditions, including ice and snow. The oily outercoat and woolly undercoat prevent cold water
<p>When your Chessie does something inappropriate such as countersurfing or lifting his leg in the house, you must let him know right then and there — loudly and firmly — that his behavior is unacceptable and not to ever be repeated. No exceptions!</p>from reaching his skin and help him to dry quickly. After he leaves the water and shakes, his coat is merely moist because it doesn't hold water.
The Chessie's coat is meant to help him blend in to his surroundings — canine camouflage, as it were. He can be any shade of brown, sedge, or the dull tan or strawlike color known as deadgrass, a perfectly descriptive term.
Deadgrass has no red tones. Deadgrass can vary from almost yellow to tan. Sedge is an almost strawberry blonde coloration with definite reddish undertones on a relatively light-colored coat. Brown is darker and may have red undertones (light brown, brown and dark brown).
Occasionally the Chessie may have a white spot on the chest, belly, toes, or back of the feet immediately above the large pad.
Like most retriever breeds, Chessies shed heavily. Brush the coat weekly with a rubber curry brush to remove dead hair and distribute the skin oils throughout the coat. Regular brushing will help keep loose hair on the brush and off your clothes and furniture. Avoid using a wire slicker brush or coat rake, which can break down the wave and kink in the hair. Bathe a Chessie as little as possible to avoid stripping out the protective oils and destroying the coat's water resistance. A warm bath or two during shedding season helps release dead hair, however, so the new coat can grow in.
Children And Other Pets
In general, Chessies love kids but won't put up with a lot of harassment, instead preferring to walk away. They can, however, be possessive of food and toys, which can make them a poor match for homes with young children. They are protective of children but can misinterpret their play with their friends and react inappropriately. Many breeders won't sell Chessie puppies to families with children younger than 8 years of age. An adult Chessie who's familiar with children is a better match for a family with young kids.
Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he's eating or to try to take the dog's food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Chessies can be aggressive toward strange dogs, but should get along fine with other family dogs and cats if they're raised with them.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are often purchased without any clear understanding of what goes into owning one. There are many Chessies in need of adoption and or fostering. There are a number of rescues that we have not listed. If you don't see a rescue listed for your area, contact the national breed club or a local breed club and they can point you toward a Chessie rescue.