The Chesapeake Bay Retriever, affectionately known as the Chessie, is an American breed. In 1807 two Newfoundland dogs were rescued when the ship they were on was damaged and started to sink off the coast of Maryland. These dogs were carefully bred with other retrieving breeds including the Flat Coated Retriever and the Curly Coated Retriever to produce a reliable and enthusiastic working dog which would cheerfully fetch birds from the icy waters of Chesapeake Bay.
During the mid 1800’s, the Chessie was exclusively bred by the Carroll Island Gun Club, and for some time they alone held the rights to their pedigree. The breed had many names over the years, including Chesapeake Bay Duck Dog, but in 1890 they were formally named the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. These dogs are the largest of the retriever breeds, and the breed was recognized by the AKC in 1878.
The Chessie looks very similar to the Labrador Retriever, but with a few characteristic differences. This breed comes in three main colors – brown, sedge (anything from reddish yellow to chestnut), and deadgrass, the faded tan or straw color of dried grass.
The rear end of the Chessie is taller than their forequarters, and they have a thick oily double coat which keeps them warm when they have to retrieve in cold water. Unlike the Labrador Retriever, their coat is wavy, particularly over the shoulders and neck. Their webbed hind feet make them strong swimmers.
These dogs grow to a height of 26 inches, or 66cm at the shoulder, and when they are adult, they can weigh up to 70lbs (30kg).
Most owners of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers will agree that their dogs are affectionate, intelligent and courageous. They make good watchdogs because they bond closely with their families and look after their loved ones. The Chessie often expresses their pleasure by “grinning”, which may be mistaken for a sign of aggression.
These dogs love water, and will take every opportunity to have a paddle. They don’t mind whether it is the beach, the lake or the backyard toddler pool, they will be in there.
This breed is thought to be more assertive and stubborn than the other retriever breeds, which can make them harder to train. For this reason, fanciers feel that the Chessie isn’t a good dog for a novice dog owner. They need a firm, fair and consistent handler who will train their dog and teach them their place in the family pack.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever shares some health issues with other retrieving breeds.
They can suffer from progressive retinal atrophy, which initially shows up as night blindness. Over time the blindness progresses, and results in a complete loss of vision. This is hereditary and breeding dogs can be tested to see if they carry the gene for this condition.
Hip dysplasia is another health concern in the Chessie. This debilitating disease has many causes, but genetics is the main contributor to a dog being affected. Any dog that is part of a breeding program should have x-rays taken and their hips scored. This allows Chesapeake Bay Retriever owners to only choose the soundest dogs for their breeding program, which will help to reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia in their puppies.
The Chessie also can suffer from Von Willebrand’s Disease, a hereditary disorder of blood clotting. Affected dogs may develop skin bruising or internal bleeding, and they are at risk of hemorrhaging during surgery. Again, pre-mating testing can help to identify carriers of this disease, to prevent it occurring in their offspring.
Degenerative myelopathy is a condition where a dog’s spinal cord degenerates until they can no longer walk with their hind legs. It is thought to be hereditary, and scientists are working to try and identify the gene involved.
Chessies can also have the gene for exercise induced collapse. Affected dogs will develop weakness of the hind legs and collapse after exercise. These episodes of collapse can last up to 30 minutes. Again, genetic testing will identify carriers of this gene and responsible breeding practices will prevent it being passed on to puppies.
Care of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever is relatively easy. Their thick, short coat doesn’t need bathing very often. In fact, you are better off not washing your Chessie, because shampoo will strip the natural oils from their coat. They should be brushed regularly to remove dead hair.
These large dogs require quite a bit of exercise; ideally this will come in the form of long walks and regular swimming. A good swimming session will tire them out more than a long walk, and they will enjoy it more. They are intelligent, and benefit greatly from obedience or agility training, to keep their minds active. If possible, you should give your Chessie the opportunity to do what they were bred to do – hunt and retrieve birds in water. Failure to give your Chessie enough physical and mental exercise will result in bad behavior due to boredom.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is extremely affectionate and does exceptionally well in homes with children. However, they do need a leader who will keep them in line, and teach them how to behave.
They are not suited to living outdoors in the back yard, because they want to be with their people. This means they will cope with apartment living, providing they are given enough physical and mental exercise.
If you are looking for a friendly, fun loving dog that will accompany your family on your adventures and outings, the Chessie may well be the breed for you. However, be prepared for their assertive nature, and make sure you train them well. They will share your life for up to 12 years.