The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a unique breed with plenty of working ability and intelligence to match. The breed originates from the chilly Chesapeake Bay, where its sturdy build and strength made it ideal for retrieving ducks. Today, Chesapeakes make fine hunting companions as well as family dogs for active, experienced dog owners. Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppies, while undoubtedly cute, are not for the novice dog owner. Not only do they need ample training in puppyhood, but their aloof nature with strangers and the need for mental stimulation means that your training should be consistent and firm.
Think you have what it takes to adopt a Chesapeake Bay Retriever? Read on to find out more about the breed, as well as its history, care, and some frequently asked questions.
Most research agrees that the Chesapeake Bay Retriever’s story began back in 1807. An American ship, called the Canton, happened upon a distressed brig in the choppy waters of Maryland. Bound for Poole Harbor, Dorset, the brig was heavily loaded with codfish from Newfoundland. Two puppies were purchased from this ship for a guinea a piece by George Law. The puppies, named Sailor and Canton, were described as Newfoundlands but were more likely to be St. John’s Water Dogs. George Law described them as having short but thick hair, light eyes, and proficiency for working with duck hunters.
The two dogs lived apart from each other, on separate shores. From here, the Chessie developed thanks to avid hunters who sought to produce a fanatical retriever that could blend in with its surroundings. To achieve this, the dogs were crossed with spaniels and hounds of the area. By 1877, the two Chesapeake strains finally converged and became close enough to produce the distinct Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was recognized by the AKC in 1918. The American Chesapeake Club’s breed standard became the national standard for the breed. Interestingly, all other retriever breeds were put together as one until the 1920s, giving the Chessie unique importance.
In the 1930s, the Chesapeake was one of the most popular retrievers in America, suggests VCA Hospitals. Later in 1964, Chessies became the official dog of Maryland thanks to their popularity and excellent reputation. As of 2019, the Chessie ranks 46 of 193 in the AKC’S Breed Popularity list. This places the breed above the Akita, but below the Shiba Inu. This is a small decrease from 2018, where the Chesapeake Bay Retriever ranked 45 of 192. Similarly, the breed ranked at 43 of 177 in 2013. These trends suggest that, while the Chesapeake was once among the most popular dog breeds in America, it is now being surpassed by others at a gradual rate.
Equally excelling on land and in water, the Chessie is made for working in the most adverse water conditions. The breed is strong, well-balanced, and powerfully built while also being medium in size. Its power should not come at the expense of stamina or agility. Overall, the Chesapeake is built for work, with a distinctive outline and a coat to match its dark and muddy environment.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have broad, rounded skulls with a medium stop. The ears are small, well-set, and hang loosely from the head. As well as this, their ears have medium leather. Next, the muzzle should be the same length as the skull, but pointy without being sharp. Similarly, the lips are thin and not pendulous. A scissor bite is preferable for the breed, but level bites are also acceptable in the ring. The Chesapeake’s jaws are long enough to firmly grasp game birds but short enough to ensure a good, strong grip. Lastly, a Chessie’s eyes are very clear, wide apart, and yellow or amber color. Other eye colors are not acceptable in the breed and may reflect a non-purebred ancestry.
The body is a medium length with well-tucked flanks and hollowness from underneath. Similarly, the back is short and powerful, and the chest is strong and deep. The rib cage is also deep and barrel-rounded. The neck is a medium length with a muscular appearance. There should be no weakness in the forequarters and the shoulder should have full liberty of action. In line with this, the legs are medium, straight, and sport good bone and muscle. Similar to the forequarters, the hindquarters are powerful with no tendency to weakness. The hindquarters’ power is especially important for driving power when swimming.
If the body’s conformation is correct, the gait of the Chessie is smooth, free, and effortless. It gives an impression of great power and strength. The Chessie needs to have good reach in the front and plenty of drive in the rear. When moving towards you, a Chessie’s elbows should not stick out. Moving away from you, the Chessie should not show signs of being cow-hocked.
Coat & Colors
One of the Chesapeake’s most distinctive features is its coat. The coat is thick but short with a fine wooly undercoat. The hair on the breed’s legs and face is short and straight, with wavy tendencies only on the shoulders, neck, back, and loins. Dogs with a coat that tends to curl, or curls all over, are disqualified. Moderate feathering of less than 1 3/4 inches is acceptable on the hindquarters and the tail.
The color of the Chessie’s coat resembles its working environment. Any brown color, sedge, or deadgrass is acceptable for the breed. One color is not preferable over another, but self-colored Chesapeakes are preferred. A white spot on the chest, belly, toes or hind feet is permissible, but the smaller this spot the better. The coat may not be black.
Breed standards are essential for maintaining the integrity and unique qualities of a dog breed. As such, the Chesapeake should conform to a breed standard as described by a kennel club or breed club. There are no major differences between each breed standard as the standard has remained untouched since its debut.
Chesapeakes are bright in disposition, intelligent, and have an affectionate, protective nature. These dogs are known for their courage and good work ethic, willingness to work in harsh conditions, and having a great love of water. Extreme shyness or aggressiveness are not desirable traits for a companion nor a gun dog, so these traits are not typical of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. As with any breed, however, these dogs can become shy and defensive if not socialized well in puppyhood, so you must socialize your Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppies with a wide array of people and dogs to prevent this.
Unlike other retrievers, Chesapeakes may be wary of or indifferent to strangers. While Chesapeakes are generally friendly to family members, they are more inclined to ignore other people rather than being aggressive towards them. With early socialization, Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppies can learn to be more friendly with strangers.
With Other Pets
Chesapeakes have a moderate prey drive. They may also struggle to accept strangers. As a result, your Chesapeake may get along well with cats already living in your home but might chase other cats and small animals that they do not know. As with any breed, you must supervise the Chesapeake when it interacts with small animals to prevent any tragedies from occurring.
Intelligence & Trainability
Chesapeakes are known to be intelligent dogs. In The Intelligence of Dogs, a 1994 book by Stanley Coren, the Chesapeake is listed as “above average” in intelligence, understanding new commands with 15 to 25 repetitions, and obeying the first command 70% of the time or more. This puts the Chesapeake on a similar level as the Irish Setter, Australian Shepherd, and the Portuguese Water Dog.
The Chesapeake is a versatile breed that can be trained to compete in field trials, hunt tests, obedience, tracking, and conformation. As such, the breed learns at a high speed and responds well to consistent, daily obedience training. Experts also recommend including playtime before and after training to keep these dogs ready and willing to learn. This is because the Chesapeake can be independent-minded, stubborn, and difficult to train, according to the accounts of some owners.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have an average lifespan of 9 to 10 years. The American Chesapeake Club conducted a health survey of the Chesapeake and found that the breed has an average lifespan of 9.4 years, however, 1 in 5 dogs did not live past 5 years. This survey is no longer available to view on the club’s website. According to the Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club, the breed most commonly develops hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, degenerative myelopathy, and hereditary cataracts.
Hip Dysplasia (HD) – This disease has a genetic and environmental component, so dogs with HD should not be bred. Symptoms include stiffness, exercise intolerance, and an abnormal gait. This disease is diagnosed using X-rays, which are then sent to the OFA for evaluation.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) – PRA is an inheritable disorder, with prcd-PRA being the most common in Chessies. PRA causes the retina to degenerate, causing failing eyesight at low light levels before full blindness sets in. Responsible breeders will not breed Chesapeakes with PRA.
Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) – DM is a progressive neurological disorder. Early signs include a wobble in the hind legs, followed by dragging the rear feet. According to the KC, this disorder is an autosomal-recessive condition, so care must be taken when breeding dogs that are at risk.
Hereditary Cataracts – Hereditary cataracts are genetically-inherited and are the result of a mutation in the HSF4 gene. Dogs are often affected in both eyes, causing cloudiness in the lens and eventual blindness. Genetic tests are available for HC to prevent passing HC on to puppies.
Your Chesapeake is a unique dog with a variety of needs that differ from other breeds. As such, you must adapt your feeding schedule, grooming techniques, and exercise regime to suit your furry friend.
The typical adult Chesapeake needs about 2 1/2 cups of high-quality dry food per day, divided between two meals. This amounts to around 560 grams of food per day. Without question, the Chesapeake is an athletic breed that requires a premium diet to keep up with their high-performance lifestyle. Your Chessie should receive high-quality dog food containing essential animal protein and carbs. Cheap and generic dog foods are likely to lack these vital nutrients.
Like other retriever breeds, Chesakeapes shed heavily. Be sure to brush your Chessie’s coat weekly with a curry brush to distribute their skin’s oils through the coat. Regular brushing with a curry brush also helps to remove dead hair, thus keeping shed hair out of your home. You should avoid using a slicker brush or a coat rake, as these brushes can break down the distinctive wave in the Chessie’s coat. As with other breeds, avoid bathing a Chessie where possible to avoid stripping protective oils from the coat. Breeders suggest bathing your Chessie every 3 to 4 months.
Like all breeds, the Chessie requires daily exercise to stay physically fit and mentally healthy. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are average to high-energy dogs. Chessies appreciate at least 30 to 40 minutes of brisk walking every day. However, they need more than one way to vent their energy and to use their intelligence – don’t settle for just one walk per day! Chessies are retrievers with a natural affinity for water, and many owners find that their dogs enjoy swimming and retrieving in the water. Just be aware of the signs of water intoxication in dogs. Chessies also enjoy hunting, and many owners use this to compete in field events.
With their intelligence and stubbornness, the Chesapeake is usually not recommended for novice owners. The Chesapeake needs regular exercise, a specific grooming routine, and plenty of mental stimulation to thrive in your home. If you are confident that you have what it takes to be a Chesapeake owner, we will now cover the price and buying procedures of the breed.
The cost of your Chesapeake varies depending on many factors. This includes the breeder’s location, litter size, the lineage of the puppies, and the breeder’s reputation. However, the cost of a registered Chesapeake typically varies from $1,400 to $1,500. For Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppies with top breed lines and a champion pedigree, you may budget upwards of $5,900. In contrast, the price of an unregistered puppy, or one with an average pedigree, is $800.
You must also consider the other costs of owning Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppies. For example, you must be able to cover veterinary costs such as vaccines, worming medicine, and heartworm medicine, among others. As an active and intelligent breed, you may also invest in dog training classes or even dog sports to keep your pooch mentally on the go.
There are many things to consider when buying your Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppies. First, double-check the reputation of the breeder. Do they have any testimonials? Are there negative reviews? Take these into consideration before proceeding with your purchase. If the breeder has a good reputation, do they also carry out health screenings on their dogs? Chesapeakes are prone to inheritable diseases such as hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, and degenerative myelopathy. Make sure that your puppy is clear of these potentially devastating diseases before buying. The breeder must be able to provide proof of these tests. Similarly, the breeder should provide you with a written contract when you buy your puppy, and should provide you with a puppy pack if you need one.
Lastly, we do not endorse buying puppies from pet shops or puppy mills. Always do your research and support rescue centers or reputable breeders instead.
On average, Chesapeakes may have an average litter size of 7 to 10 puppies. However, information on the specific litter size of the Chesapeake is scarce, and this may not reflect the true average number of Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppies. Generally speaking, the litter size of any breed varies depending on the dam’s age, size, health, and fertility. Litter sizes and quality will also depend on the stud’s sperm quality.
Chesapeakes are not especially prone to dystocia. In fact, dystocia is more common in breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers. However, you must still be aware of the warning signs to prepare for such a problem. Dystocia, or “difficult birth”, is an emergency that causes a retained puppy at the vulva, black or green discharge without puppy delivery, straining for greater than two hours with no delivery, and abdominal contractions lasting more than 30 minutes with no delivery. Be sure to get your dam veterinary assistance as soon as possible if she shows these signs. Your vet can provide her with medicines to stimulate more contractions or perform a C-section under anesthesia.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever Breed – FAQ
Have any more questions about the charming Chesapeake? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions for more information. If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are less gregarious than other retrievers, but generally like children and get along well with members of their family. Also, they tend to be protective of their families and make good watchdogs because of this. However, Chesapeakes can be aloof with strangers and other dogs, which can make it more difficult to train and socialize them.
As a high-energy retriever, the Chesapeake needs a great deal of variety in their exercise, and at least 30 to 40 minutes of it, to stay mentally stimulated. Chessies benefit from intensive work, exercise in water, playing with stimulating dog toys, and varied walks.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever originates from a mix of St. John’s Water Dogs, spaniels, and various hounds on the coasts of Chesapeake Bay. It is unclear which specific spaniels and hounds made up the Chesapeake, but some sources suggest that Coonhounds and Irish Water Spaniels were used.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are prone to hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, degenerative myelopathy, and hereditary cataracts. Fortunately, these diseases can be tested for, so dogs with these diseases can be identified and removed from breeding programs.
The average price of a Chesapeake is $800, with prices rising to $1,400 for those with AKC registration and quality breed lines. For a puppy from a champion pedigree, costs can rise to $5,900 or more.
Chesapeakes should be bathed every 3 to 4 months. Bathing more often than this can strip the coat of oils, causing dry skin and decreasing the coat’s waterproof quality.
- Adult male weight30-36 kg
- Adult female weight25-32 kg
- Adult male height58-66 cm
- Adult female height53-61 cm
Fur & Coat
- Coat lengthShort
- Coat colorsBrown, Sedge, Deadgrass
- Registered puppyUS$1500-5900
- Unregistered puppyUS$800-1400
- Litter size7-10 whelps
- Gestation period58-68 days
- AKC GroupSporting Group
- KC GroupGundog Group
- FCI GroupRetrievers, Flushing Dogs, Water Dogs (Group 8)