Chesapeake Bay Retriever profile picture with illustrated embellishments

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay retriever, the only American-bred retriever, is a loyal family dog who loves a job, whether that’s hunting, hiking, or splashing around in the cold water of his namesake. 
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Breed Group
Dog Size
Other Traits
Temperament
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
height
  • 21-26 inches
weight
  • 55-80 pounds
life span
  • 10-15 years
breed size
  • medium (26-60 lbs.)
good with
  • children
  • seniors
  • dogs
  • cats
  • families
temperament
  • gentle
  • aloof
  • willful
  • playful
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • seasonal
exercise needs
  • high
energy level
  • active
barking level
  • when necessary
drool amount
  • low
breed group
  • sporting
coat length/texture
  • medium
  • wiry
colors
  • brown / chocolate / liver
patterns
  • bicolor
other traits
  • good hiking companion
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • easy to groom
  • cold weather tolerant
  • high prey drive
  • easy to train

The Chesapeake Bay retriever can be just about any dog you want it to be. Help you hunt ducks? Yup. Win Best in Show? Sure. Hang out with you and the kids at home? That, too. 

This American-bred dog—the only retriever originating in the United States—is quite versatile. With their double-coated, oily hair, Chesapeake Bay retrievers are substantial enough to swim through the icy waters of their namesake, so they'll go for a swim in your local pond with no problem (even at temperatures the local polar bear plungers may balk at). 

"They're the epitome of the water dog," says Heidi Henningson, chair of American Chesapeake Club's rescue committee. "They'll go in the cold water when other retrievers will not."

Their esteemed water-dog reputation goes hand-in-hand with their duck-hunting prowess. The retrievers even have the ability to work as drug-sniffing and search-and-rescue dogs, too.  

This semi-rare retriever is smart and can be clever, so they love having a job and getting in exercise. If you pledge to love and spend time with your Chesapeake Bay retriever, he might be the perfect dog for you. 

Appearance

There's limited variety when it comes to Chesapeake Bay retriever colors: shades of brown, sedge (a reddish brown you might find on an Irish setter), and deadgrass (a paler, yellowy brown that looks like, well, dead grass). You might also find some Chessies with white spots on their chests, bellies, and toes, according to the breed standard. While it's easy to confuse the two breeds, Chessies aren't chocolate Labrador retrievers.

chesapeake bay retriever wearing an orange collar standing on a beach
Chessies can look a bit like chocolate Labs, but their wavy fur on their neck, shoulders, and backs gives them away.
| Credit: Christopher Kimmel / Getty

Their trademark is the wavy hair Chesapeake Bay retrievers sport on their necks, shoulders, and backs. The retrievers' fur is made up of a dense undercoat and a shorter top coat. The fur also holds a natural oil that resists water and keeps the dogs warm. It's there, but you might not feel it to the touch, Henningson says, adding that they don't shed nearly as much as Labs (or many other dogs for that matter).

These dogs are similarly sized to Labs, too. Male Chessies are between 23–26 inches tall, while females stand between 21–24 inches. They're plenty sturdy, too: The boys weigh 65–80 pounds and the girls tip the scale at 55–70 pounds. 

Chessies' eyes are normally a yellow or amber color, according to the breed standard. 

Temperament 

Like most dogs, your Chessie's personality will depend on how you raise him, Henningson says. That means plenty of socialization with your Chesapeake Bay retriever puppies and positive reinforcement training so your pup knows the rules of the house.

Sure, these utilitarian dogs excel as hunting dogs, show dogs, and in obedience and agility competitions, but they make for perfect, loyal family dogs when they're off the clock, Henningson says. She adds that depending on how they're raised, they sometimes become devoted to one person, too. On the flip side, they're usually more aloof toward strangers. (You probably won't have one run up and lick your face out of the blue.) Chesapeake Bay retrievers are also generally quiet, usually only barking when necessary (like at a knock at the door or a ring of the doorbell). 

Outdoor portrait of Chesapeake Bay retriever, profile view
brown chesapeake bay retriever puppy sitting on brick pavement
Left: Even if you're not a hunter, you need to keep your Chesapeake Bay retriever busy. He'll love long hikes, games of fetch, and interactive toys to play with. | Credit: ktatarka / Getty
Right: Chesapeake Bay retriever puppies need early socialization and positive reinforcement training to grow into polite, friendly dogs. | Credit: ktatarka / Getty

These are active, smart dogs who can't have nothing to do; they need to be busy—whether that's hunting, drug-sniffing, or search-and-rescue missions. Even at home, without a little structure you can lose sandwiches off coffee tables or have a dog who can unlatch his kennel from the inside. Just ask Henningson. 

"They're precocious in some ways," she says. "They're more than capable of getting in trouble by just getting bored in a house."

But while their intelligence can make them a little too clever for their own good, it's still Henningson's favorite Chesapeake Bay retriever trait: They have an "ability to do anything," she says.  

Living Needs

Chesapeake Bay retrievers can live in apartments, but they'll be happier with a fenced-in yard for running and playing fetch. If you do reside in an apartment, you'll need to walk your retriever at least twice a day and maybe even more, Henningson says. 

chesapeake bay retriever running in water
With his insulating double coat, a Chesapeake Bay retriever can splash and swim in waters that are much too cold for other dogs.
| Credit: ktatarka / Getty

Assuming you send your pup to puppy kindergarten and do a good job socializing him, he'll be great with adults and kids alike. Chessies are good with other dogs—Henningson owns three Chesapeake Bay retrievers herself—and some will even get along with cats. (One of her dogs would even sleep next to a stray cat in his doghouse.)

Do you have access to a pond or other water feature? Your Chessie will love it. Like to hike? Perfect—here's your new hiking buddy. They'll love to take part in your active lifestyle.

The biggest things that Chesapeake Bay retrievers need, however, are your attention and love, Henningson says. First-time dog owners, especially, take note: You need to invest time in positive reinforcement training, exercising, and playing with your Chesapeake Bay retriever.  

"A dog's a commitment, and if you're not willing to make it, don't adopt," she says.

chesapeake bay retriever sitting in the sun
Credit: ktatarka / Getty

Care

Raising and caring for any dog requires some work, but here's the good news when it comes to the Chessies: The grooming needs are minimal. You'll want to brush your Chesapeake Bay retriever when he sheds in the spring and fall, but otherwise you won't need to spend too much time brushing him, Henningson says. 

An occasional bath might be in order if your dog smells or if he got into something outside. As with any dog, you'll want to strike up a routine of brushing your retriever's teeth and trimming his nails. Most of these retrievers won't need specialty dog food, Henningson says.

Health

For the most part, Chesapeake Bay retrievers are healthy dogs, says Deb Eldredge, DVM and a Daily Paws contributor. 

Chessies move and run plenty, so you'll want to make sure your retriever is screened for hip and elbow problems—like hip dysplasia—Eldredge says. You'll want to conduct eye exams yearly as well. The American Chesapeake Club also recommends routine heart examinations. 

closeup of a chesapeake bay retriever
Though loyal and loving toward their family, Chessies can be a little aloof around new people at first.
| Credit: Erich Bucher / 500px / Getty

More recently, degenerative myelopathy—a neurological disease that can destroy spinal cord tissue and eventually prevent your dog from walking—has been shown to affect some Chessies. Owners can order a DNA test to maybe indicate if their dog is at risk, but that might be inconclusive, Eldredge says. 

"When purchasing a Chessie puppy, I would look for parents who have had the tests recommended by the Chessie [Canine Health Information Center] program," Eldredge says. "While not a guarantee for never developing those problems, the risk is greatly decreased [if the tests have returned healthy results]. Many breeders will have the first eye exam done on their puppies before placing them."

While food is necessary, make sure it's not too much. Overweight dogs can have joint issues, Eldredge says. A veterinarian can recommend how much and how often to feed your pup.

As for a Chesapeake Bay retriever's lifespan, you can usually count them getting to 10 years old, Henningson says. Some even make it to 13–15.

History

You'll find plenty of dogs named for places outside the United States—NewfoundlandsBelgian Malinois, and even America's most popular dog, Labrador retrievers. But this breed is named for an American landmark: the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary and home to tasty seafood.

Some more facts about the bay: It's mostly shallow, cold, and a haven for ducks and geese. The Chesapeake Bay retriever, likely bred from Newfoundlands, Irish water spaniels, and unknown hounds, became the perfect dog for splashing into the frigid water to retrieve the downed waterfowl. 

chesapeake bay retriever standing near purple flowers carrying a duck toy in her mouth
Bred to hunt ducks, the Chesapeake Bay retriever thrives when he's outside.
| Credit: tara gregg/EyeEm / Adobe Stock

The dogs' fur, an insulating double coat equipped with water-resistant oil, allows the dogs to even do their jobs when there's ice out on the water. Legend has it that some Chessies can retrieve 300 ducks in one day.

The breed's history is traced back to two dogs in particular, Sailor and Canton, who a man named George Law gave to two men he knew on the bay in 1807. He called them Newfoundlands, but their color, shorter coats, and swimming ability indicates that they were the early ancestors of today's Chessies.

The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1878.

Fun Facts