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Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Info, Pictures, Facts & Traits

Written by: Brooke Billingsley

Last Updated on May 6, 2024 by Dogster Team

female Chesapeake Bay Retriever playing in the snow

Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Info, Pictures, Facts & Traits

If you’re a fan of retriever breeds, then you’re likely familiar with popular breeds like the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever. You may not be aware of their intelligent and energetic cousin, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, also known as the Chessie by its enthusiasts. This versatile breed has a distinctive coat with a notable wave to it and an oily finish. Keep reading for more information about the charming Chessie.

Breed Overview


21–26 inches


55–80 pounds


10–13 years


Brown, dark brown, dark deadgrass, deadgrass, light brown, light deadgrass, sedge, tan

Suitable for:

Active families, hunters, people interested in canine sports


Adaptable, intelligent, protective, energetic

The Chessie is an adaptable breed that falls into the retriever, gundog, and sporting dog categories. This is a complex breed, often showing greater emotional complexity than other gundog breeds. Because they were bred primarily for hunting waterfowl, the Chessie has a waterproof coat that is covered with natural oils that help maintain its waterproofing. This breed is the ideal hunting companion, but the Chessie can be tenacious and stubborn.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Characteristics

High-energy dogs will need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy, while low-energy dogs require minimal physical activity. It’s important when choosing a dog to make sure their energy levels match your lifestyle or vice versa.
Easy-to-train dogs are more skilled at learning prompts and actions quickly with minimal training. Dogs that are harder to train will require a bit more patience and practice.
Some breeds, due to their size or their breeds potential genetic health issues, have shorter lifespans than others. Proper exercise, nutrition, and hygiene also play an important role in the lifespan of your pet.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every dog will have these issues, but they have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Some dog breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other dogs. More social dogs have a tendency to run up to strangers for pets and scratches, while less social dogs shy away and are more cautious, even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed, it’s important to socialize your dog and expose them to lots of different situations.

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Chesapeake Bay Retriever Puppies

chesapeake bay retriever puppy in the field
Image by: Tanya Consaul Photography, Shutterstock

Although not an overly popular breed, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever has enthusiasts and breeders across the country, so you shouldn’t have much trouble getting a puppy. You may also find a puppy or adult dog through a breed-specific rescue or shelter.

When it comes to choosing a breeder, it’s extremely important that you choose a breeder who performs all health testing recommended by the national breed club. There are multiple serious genetic conditions that this breed is susceptible to, but these conditions can be mitigated through health testing.

When it comes to owning a Chessie puppy, early socialization and training are both important aspects of raising your pup. The stubbornness inherent in this breed can make training a challenge, especially if not started early, but this is a highly intelligent breed that often aims to please, which may give you a training advantage. Positive reinforcement training and engaging training sessions are great tools for training a Chessie.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Breed Origin & History

During the 1800s, duck hunters along the Chesapeake Bay were finalizing the breed that would go on to become the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. When the AKC was founded in 1884, a standardized breed had been established, with regional names for this new breed including the Brown Winchester and Red Chester. Because of the frigid temperatures of the Chesapeake Bay, it was essential for the breed to be built to withstand the harsh environment. The oily coat of the Chessie waterproofs and insulates them, while their webbed toes and broad shoulders make them strong swimmers.

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Temperament & Intelligence of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever 🧠

The Chessie is not only a smart dog but also an emotionally intelligent dog. This breed does a wonderful job of picking up on the emotions of their people and then providing comfort, which makes them a good option for therapy work. They are sometimes standoffish with strangers, but early training and socialization can reduce the likelihood of this trait, and they are likely to be protective of their people.

As a highly adaptable breed, the Chessie is capable of performing a variety of jobs outside of retrieving, including search and rescue, drug and bomb detection, and canine sports.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪

Although loyal and sensitive, the Chessie isn’t always the ideal option for homes with small children. They are typically gentle and sweet with children but may be intolerant of smaller kids. This breed is sensitive and affectionate with its people but is also protective and may be uninterested or suspicious of strangers. Early socialization will provide your Chessie with confidence and trust, setting them up to be the best companion for your family that they can be. With proper socialization and training, the Chessie makes an excellent family dog.

chesapeake bay retriever dogs
Image by: Popova Valeriya, Shutterstock

Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets? 🐶 😽

When it comes to other dogs, Chessies can be socialized to other dogs and typically they are tolerant of other dogs when proper introductions are performed. This breed isn’t the top pick for multi-dog homes, though, due to their sensitivity and desire to protect their people. When it comes to cats and other small animals, socialization is key. This is a hunting dog, so they may view small pets as prey to be caught, leading to injuries or even death.

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Things to Know When Owning a Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

A high-quality diet that meets WSAVA recommendations is the best baseline for choosing a food for your Chessie. For the average pet Chessie, a diet that is appropriate for their age will suffice. However, for working dogs, a working or sport dog food may be necessary to provide them with enough energy to perform and maintain their body weight. If your dog has extremely active days irregularly, like during duck hunting season, then you may need to adjust their daily intake, providing them with extra food on days when they’re active.

Exercise 🐕

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an active breed that needs daily exercise to thrive. They excel at canine sports, including agility, dock diving, Cani-cross, and obedience. This is a breed that is happiest when provided with a job to do, but for a dog without a job, you will need to provide plenty of exercise every day. Running, hiking, and fetch are good options for keeping your Chessie active.

Training 🎾

Early training is best for this breed. As they age, Chessies can become quite tenacious and may be rebellious. Starting training while the dog is still young will ingrain the training into them, helping ensure you have an obedient adult dog. When it comes to hunting and retrieving, the Chessie is driven by strong instincts, so many of them will naturally perform these tasks with minimal training.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever dog Swimming with Ball
Image by: John Funk, Shutterstock

Grooming ✂️

The Chessie has a rough, short outer coat with a soft coat below it. They are moderate shedders, but weekly brushing will reduce loose hair and dander. Brushing will also help to distribute the natural oils of the Chessie’s coat, maintaining the natural waterproofing and the health of the skin and coat. Keep the nails trimmed to prevent breakage and injury to the feet. This breed is prone to ear infections, so routine cleaning of the ears with a vet-approved ear-cleaning solution may be necessary, especially for dogs that swim a lot.

Health and Conditions 🏥

Minor Conditions:
  • Ear infections
  • Dental disease
  • Alopecia
  • Congenital cataracts
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
Serious Conditions:
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Osteochondritis dissecans
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Exercise-induced collapse
  • Bloat
  • Ectodermal dysplasia

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Male vs. Female

Male Chessies are slightly larger than females, with males reaching up to 26 inches and 80 pounds, while females typically stay below 24 inches and 70 pounds. When it comes to temperament, females are usually more laid back and less likely to be aggressive than males. Females also tend to be more loving and gentle. Males, on the other hand, are likely to have a higher energy level than females, as well as a stronger protective instinct.

male and female chesapeake bay retrievers
Image Credit: Ricantimages, Shutterstock

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3 Little-Known Facts About the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

1. They’re Masters at Retrieving

The Chessie may be a versatile dog, but retrieving is its strongest skill, with the breed having been developed primarily for this purpose. Generally, a Chessie could be expected to retrieve around 100 ducks per day, but some reports indicate that Chessies can retrieve even more than that.

2. They Have Webbed Feet

Common among breeds that were developed for retrieving game from water, the Chessie has webbed feet. This provides them with built-in “flippers” that make them more powerful swimmers than dogs without webbed feet. Being a strong swimmer serves the Chessie well in the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

3. The Breed Started With Two Dogs

In 1807, two St. John’s Water Dogs arrived in Maryland, forming the basis for the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Sailor, the male, and Canton, the female, were not recorded as having had puppies together, but both dogs were bred to other dogs in the area, including hounds and spaniels. The combination of breeds and traits that were put together in the early days of the breed resulted in one of the finest retrieving breeds in the world. dogster face divider

Final Thoughts

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an excellent retriever with strong instincts for both performing its job and protecting and loving its people. This breed can be stubborn but is typically trainable and eager to please its people. This is an emotionally sensitive breed that is a suitable candidate for therapy work, and its many great qualities also make this breed suitable for a variety of canine jobs.


Featured Image Credit: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH. Shutterstock

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