Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a large breed of gundog with was originally developed in the USA by crossing the Newfoundland with the Labrador. It is an exceptional duck hunter and has an innate love of water. Today, the breed still excels in working roles, both as a gundog and as a sniffer and rescue dog. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is intelligent and highly trainable and is generally eager to please but is not a breed that is suitable for first time owners as it needs firm and consistent handling with plenty of positive reinforcement.

The breed is generally good with children, especially when socialised from a young age, although should be supervised. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is loyal and enjoys human company but this means it can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety and should not be left alone for extended periods of time. The breeds’ thick coat is extremely weatherproof and does not require specialist grooming but it can shed heavily, especially during seasonal changes and should be brushed regularly at home. Although reasonably healthy, the breed can still suffer from some inherited health problems, so careful selection of a healthy family line is important.

About & History

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a large breed of dog that belongs to the gundog group of breeds. It is also known as the Chess, CBR or Chesapeake. It was originally developed in the Chesapeake Bay area of the USA at the beginning of the 1800s by crossing the Newfoundland with the Labrador Retriever – combining the ability of the Newfoundland in the water with the retrieving abilities of the Labrador. As legend has it, two Newfoundland puppies were apparently rescued from a sinking ship on the Maryland coast and these were then crossed with dogs from the area and the Labrador to create the breed. The breed is unique in terms of its coat colour, which provides camouflage in dead grass and reeds. It is renowned for its exceptional ability to retrieve ducks. It is considered to be the toughest of the retriever breeds and will happily work in icy cold water all day long.

Today, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever continues to be used for working roles and excels in its original role as a gundog but also as a sniffer dog, as well as in dog sports such as obedience, working trials, agility and flyball.


Chesapeake Bay Retriever Large Photo

There are several colours which the UK Kennel Club will accept for registration:

  • Ash
  • Brown
  • Light Brown
  • Dark Brown
  • Deadgrass
  • Sedge

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever should measure between 53 to 66 cm at the withers. The height at the withers should be a little less than the overall length of the body and the body should be at least as deep as the elbow, which should make up half of the overall height. The body should appear short but not stocky. The neck should be strong, of medium length and become broader towards the junction with the shoulders. The front legs should be powerful with plenty of bone. The chest should be wide and deep and the back should be level and strong leading to muscular hind legs that appear proportionate to the front legs. Feet should be webbed and of reasonable size. The tail should be medium length, and thick at the base.

The breed has a broad round head where the muzzle and skull are of equal lengths. The muzzle should not form a sharp point and the jaws should be strong with a scissor bite. The pigmentation of the nose and lips should correspond with the coat colour. The eyes are medium sized, wide set and of a clear yellow or amber colour. The breed should have ears which are fairly small, high set and of a medium thickness, folded over close to the head.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever should move with a smooth, free gait that apears effortless but at the same time conveys a sense of strength and power. The gait should cover plenty of ground and have good drive, which comes from the hind end.

Character & Temperament

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a loyal, devoted dog who is eager to please and is friendly, although it can be a little suspicious of strangers at first. Physically, it resembles a larger Labrador Retriever type but has a different character, often being more willful and protective. The breed is typically good with children if used to them from puppyhood and socialized properly, but should be supervised with young children.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever enjoys company and can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety so is not suited to households where it will be left alone for extended periods of time. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is not a typical guarding breed but it will protect its owners and home if it feels threatened and can also be quite vocal, warning of danger.


Photo of Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppy

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is intelligent and quick to learn, always being keen to please its owner. It has in the past been considered stubborn but it is thought that modern training methods that are less harsh and focus on positive reinforcement help to keep the breed interested and obtain much better results.

The breed is not suitable for inexperienced owners and needs firm and consistent handling with positive reinforcement training to get the most out of it and ensure it does not become unruly. It makes an excellent working gundog and enjoys having a purpose in life. This means that training is not usually a problem and the breed is quick to learn recall and pick up on house training, especially if it has plenty of access to outside space.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has an average life expectancy of 10 to 12 years of age. It is classed as a Category 1 breed by the UK Kennel Club but does still suffer from some health problems, some of which can be tested for. These include:

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

Hip dysplasia is a condition where the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers hips develop abnormally. There are several different problems and abnormalities that can contribute to hip dysplasia, but they can all lead to joint problems and arthritis later in life.

Experts use established criteria in dogs over a year old to score x rays of the hips. The maximum score for both hips is 106 and the lower the score the fewer the signs of hip dysplasia are present. Although hip dysplasia is transmitted its development can also be influenced by environmental factors.

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is a where the elbow joint develops abnormally, eventually leading to joint problems and arthritis. There is a large genetic factor to the condition and ideally only dogs given a score of 0 should be used for breeding.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

Progressive retinal atrophy is an inherited disorder that can include various different inherited conditions, leading to degeneration of the retina and eventually blindness. It can be either developmental or degenerative.

Developmental types tend to occur in young dogs and progress quickly and degenerative types occur in older dogs and have a slower progression. This condition can be tested for by means of a DNA test and responsible breeders should try to breed only from dogs that are clear of the condition.

Hereditary Cataracts

Cataracts cause the lens or lens capsule to become opaque and this affects vision. Dogs should be tested regularly to monitor for signs of cataracts and any that show signs of the condition should not be used for breeding.

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative myelopathy is a degenerative neurological disorder that progresses over time starting with unsteadiness in the hind legs and eventually ends in paralysis. There is now a DNA test that can be used to show whether dogs are carrying one of the genes associated with the condition and are therefore at risk from it.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an active lively breed of dog with exceptional strength and stamina. It requires two or more hours of walking a day. Ideally as much of this time as possible should be spent off the lead so dogs are able to run freely.

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have lots of energy and are happiest in working roles to prevent them from becoming bored and developing behaviours associated with a lack of mental or physical stimulation. This means that they are not suited to urban environments and are happiest in the countryside with a large garden or plenty of outdoor space.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has a short, thick, wavy coat which is weather resistant and can feel slightly oily to touch. This oily topcoat provides protection against the icy waters where it was used to work in the Chesapeake Bay. The breed does not require any specialist grooming but can shed heavily, especially during seasonal coat changes, requiring regular brushing to prevent large amounts of hair being shed around the house.

Famous Chesapeake Bay Retrievers

Some examples of famous Chesapeake Bay Retrievers include:

  • The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is the official state dog of Maryland
  • True Grit is the mascot for the University of Maryland Baltimore County
  • Sailor Boy was the Chesapeake Bay Retriever who belonged to President Roosevelt
  • Boone is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever who belonged to the actor, Paul Walker


Some popular Chesapeake Bay Retriever cross-breeds are:

  • Chesador – Cross between a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and a Labrador
  • Mastapeake – Cross between a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and a Mastiff
  • Rottpeake – Cross between a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and a Rottweiler
  • Weimapeake – Cross between a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and a Weimaraner

User comments

There are no user comments for this listing.