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Breed information

Group: Sporting
Life span: 10-13 years
Height male: 58-66 cm/ 23-26 inches
Height female: 53-61 cm/ 21-24 inches
Weight male: 29-36 kg/ 65-80 pounds
Weight female: 25-32 kg/ 55-70 pounds
Character: Happy, Affectionate, Dominant, Intelligent, Protective, Quiet


Chesapeake Bay Retrievers trace their history to two pups who were rescued from a foundering ship in Maryland in 1807. The male "Sailor" and female "Canton" were described as Newfoundland dogs, but were more accurately Lesser Newfoundland or St. John's water dogs. These two lived in different parts of the bay area and there is no record of a litter being produced together. They were bred with area dogs, with more consideration given to ability than to breed, to create the beginnings of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed. There are few records of the breeds of these early dogs, but spaniels and hounds were included. Dogs from both Chesapeake Bay shores were recognized as one of three types of Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog in 1877. In 1918 a single type, called the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, was recognized by the American Kennel Club, and there have been few changes to the breed standard since then.

George Law, who rescued the pups, wrote this account in 1845 which appears on the website of the American Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club

In 1964, it was declared the official dog of Maryland. It is the mascot of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Members of the breed were owned by General George Armstrong Custer, President Theodore Roosevelt, Senator John McCain, and actors Paul Walker and Tom Felton.


The breed’s characteristics are specifically suited to enable the Chesapeake to function with ease, efficiency and endurance. In head, the Chesapeake’s skull is broad and round with a medium stop. The jaws should be of sufficient length and strength to carry large game birds with an easy, tender hold. The double coat consists of a short, harsh, wavy outer coat and a dense, fine, wooly undercoat containing an abundance of natural oil and is ideally suited for the icy rugged conditions of weather the Chesapeake often works in. In body, the Chesapeake is a strong, well-balanced, powerfully built animal of moderate size and medium length in body and leg, deep and wide in chest, the shoulders built with full liberty of movement, and with no tendency to weakness in any feature, particularly the rear.


The breed is subject to a number of hereditary diseases. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Hip dysplasia.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy.
  • Type 3 von Willebrand disease.
  • Regional Alopecia in both sexes.

A UK Kennel Club survey puts the median lifespan of the breed at 10.75 years (average 9.85). A US breed club survey puts the average lifespan at 9.4 years. 1 in 4 lived to 13 years or more while 1 in 5 don't live past 5 years.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has the strongest personality of all retrievers. They are not as easy-going as the other breeds, are more independent and are probably the hardest to train. Despite that, they are some of the most durable hunting dogs around. They love to swim and can handle an entire day of retrieving ducks or sticks from frigid waters. They are a true outdoorsperson's dog and will happily accompany people on hikes, bike trips, jogs or camping excursions.

Activity Requirements

Chesapeakes need a lot of exercise and a couple of walks around the block won't cut it. They are a hunting dog who loves to be outdoors – they can retrieve in cold water all day long (up to 200 ducks a day) and never tire of working alongside hunters. They also enjoy jogging, hiking, chasing sticks and catching frisbees. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is by no means an apartment dog. They are rowdy and rambunctious well into adulthood, need a lot of exercise, and if they don't get it they can be quite destructive.


Chesapeakes are a strong-willed breed and should not be confused with Golden Retrievers, who love to please. This breed requires consistency above all else. If you give them a little leeway, they will consider it an open door to make their own rules. Though they require a strong leader, Chesapeakes should never be treated harshly and they don't respond well to discipline. Positive reinforcement and a lot of patience is the best recipe for a well trained dog.

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Behavioral Traits

A bored Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a destructive Chesapeake Bay Retriever. If they do not have a lot of regular, vigorous exercise, this breed can get out of control quickly. They naturally experience a long puppyhood and bounce around well into adulthood – if they don't get enough time to run, this bouncing can be constant. When left alone, they can make quick work of couches, chairs or flower beds. They aren't the best watchdogs, but Chesapeakes are naturally distrustful of strangers. It is important that socialization take place early and often, so that the dog learns the difference between a welcome visitor and and unwelcome visitor. If left unchecked, this distrustfulness can possibly turn into aggression. They are notorious for putting things in their mouths. Sticks, rocks, toys, shoes, books, and hands are common targets of the Chesapeake and his mouth. He must be trained to chew his toys, bones or sticks only, otherwise there may be no shoes left in the house for anyone to wear and everyone's hands will be bruised from dog nips.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever, like all retriever breeds, sheds heavily all year long. The coat should be brushed at least once per week to remove dead and loose hair as well as to distribute the oils of the skin. Picky housekeepers may wish to brush a Chessie more often. Over-bathing this breed can cause the natural, water-resistant oils of the skin to break down, so only bathe a Chesapeake Bay Retriever as needed. The Chessie's ears should be checked on a weekly basis for signs of infection, especially if the dog spends a lot of time in the water. Using a veterinarian-approved cleanser can help prevent painful ear infections. Weekly tooth brushing helps promote healthy gums and teeth and will keep dog breath at bay. Nail clipping may be required if the Chessie does not wear down his nails naturally. If he makes a clicking sound on hard floors, a trim is in order.

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