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Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a large purebred often referred to as CBR, Chesapeake or just Chessie. It is an American bred retriever from the 1800s and is the largest and strongest retriever dog. It is still now as it was then a great hunting companion and family dog. It is a dog best suited to experienced owners because of its strong will. It has talents in guarding, tracking, hunting, competitive obedience and retrieving. While it is similar looking to the Labrador Retriever they are not related and it has a wavy coat rather than the Lab’s smooth one.

Here is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever at a Glance
Name Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Other Names Chesapeake
Nicknames Chessie, Chessy Dog, CBR
Origin United States
Average size Large
Average weight 55 to 80 pounds
Average height 21 to 26 inches
Life span 10 to 13 years
Coat type Harsh, short, thick, water-repellent
Hypoallergenic No
Color Brown
Popularity Fairly popular – 42nd ranked by the AKC
Intelligence Quite intelligent – it is a smart dog
Tolerance to heat Very good – can handle hotter climates well
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle colder climates quite well
Shedding Moderate to high – there will be a lot of hair to clean up
Drooling Some – drools an average amount
Obesity Above average – measure food and exercise it well
Grooming/brushing Easy to groom but needs daily brushing
Barking Occasional
Exercise needs High – this is a very active dog
Trainability Moderate – needs firm and dominant trainer
Friendliness Good – tolerant but more friendly to those it knows
Good first dog Low – this dog needs an experienced owner
Good family pet Very good to excellent
Good with children Good – needs socialization
Good with other dogs Low – socialization is essential
Good with other pets Moderate to good – needs socialization
Good with strangers Low – socialization and supervision is essential
Good apartment dog Low – this is too large and too energetic for apartment living
Handles alone time well Moderate – prefers not to be left alone for long periods
Health issues Generally in good health some issues include joint dysplasia and eye problems
Medical expenses $485 a year including pet insurance and basic care
Food expenses $270 a year for dry dog food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $235 for toys, license, basic training and other miscellaneous costs
Average annual expense $990 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $800
Biting Statistics Attacks doing bodily Harm: 3 Maimings: 2 Child Victims: 3 Deaths: 0

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever’s Beginnings

This dog can trace its origins directly to a shipwreck of Maryland’s coastline in 1807. Those on board including two dogs who were St John’s water dogs were saved by a man called George Law who wrote an account of it later on in 1845 saying ‘I found onboard of her two Newfoundland pups, male and female, which I saved, and subsequently, on our landing the English crew at Norfolk, our own destination being Baltimore, I purchased these two pups of the English captain for a guinea apiece. Being bound again to sea, I gave the dog pup, which was called Sailor, to Mr. John Mercer, of West River; and the slut pup, which was called Canton, to Doctor James Stewart, of Sparrow’s Point.’

The dogs were bred with local dogs over the years that included Curly coated retrievers, English Otter Hounds and Flat coated retrievers as well as some spaniels. It was bred to be a great retriever of waterfowl in the cold and rough waters of Chesapeake Bay. It was bred to have great endurance, enthusiasm and to have a coat that could easily shake off the water it entered. It could retrieve hundreds of birds from the icy waters in just one day. Back then there were three types of Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dogs and this was one of them.

New Lease on Life

In 1884 the American Kennel Club was established and by this point the Chessy was a clear and defined breed of its own. In 1918 the American Chesapeake Club began and also in 1918 the AKC recognized the breed. The Club held their first trial in 1932. In 1964 it was made Maryland’s official dog and two cast iron Chessies guard the doors of Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. It is the University of Maryland’s mascot and famous owners include President Roosevelt, General Custer, Tom Felton and Paul Walker. It is ranked 42nd most popular dog by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

This is a large dog weighing 55 to 80 pounds and standing 21 to 26 inches tall. It is a strong, powerful dog with a broad chest, broad head, wide set eyes that are amber or yellow, high set and small ears that hang over. Its thin lips are at the end of its medium size muzzle. Its tail was also medium length and it has webbed feet to make it a better swimmer.

Its coat is a double short, thick, harsh and water-repellent. It is oily and has a distinct odor. Common colors are red, tan, brown, sedge and deadgrass with sometimes a white spot somewhere in the coat.

The Inner Chesapeake Bay Retriever


The Chessy is a happy, affectionate and protective dog. It is alert and not only will it bark to alert you to an intruder it is likely to act to defend you. However it is definitely a dog with its own mind and can be very stubborn so it is best with an experienced owner. It loves to get lots of attention and when with the right owner it is an obedient, quiet and loving companion.

It is intelligent and brave too and even if not being used for hunting still retains strong retrieving instincts. It is friendly but more so to people it already knows. It needs strong management and training and socialization is essential. It is also important to be aware that as a dog slow to mature you are going to be dealing with a puppy/adolescent minded dog for a while.

While the Chessy is certainly the strongest willed retriever it still has good sense, great loyalty, and a steady temperament. A well raised CBR is a dog you can depend on and it is more reserved with strangers. It can be destructive if it gets bored though so pay attention to it getting the mental and physical stimulation it needs. Also without socialization it may be shy or even aggressive towards people it does not know.

Living with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever

What will training look like?

If the owner is firm, consistent, positive and a strong experienced leader, then the training is moderately easy. However some prove more difficult and will need a lot more patience. Results will be gradual but this is a dog that trains well. Using treats, praise, encouragement and kindness is going to get better results than harshness or scolding as it is a sensitive dog. There are classes you can take it to at professional schools or you can hire a professional trainer if you need to.

This is a dog who can be dominant and if the owner is too meek and lenient it will lead to behavioral problems. Make sure that as well dedicating time to training you also give it socialization as early as possible. This is key to improving how it deal with other pets, dogs and even children.

How active is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever?

This is certainly not a dog suited to apartment living, it is too large and too active. Ideally it needs a yard of at least average size to play in too. The Chesapeake is not a dog for owners who are not happy to be active. It has a lot of needs in order to ensure it is happy, healthy and not bored. It loves to swim, play fetch and other doggy games. It would greatly benefit in a place where it can go off leash as it loves to run and can run very fast.

A good idea is to get it to a dog park on a regular basis as this is not just a chance to go off leash somewhere safe it is also a chance to practice its social skills, something it will need. It will also need a least two long walks a day. It is a dog you could have join you for a jog or bike ride or hike with training.

When it is a puppy under 4 months it should have 15 minutes twice a day of play in the yard along with training and socialization. Between 4 to 6 months it can go up to half mile walks each day along with play in the yard and socialization and training. This is also a time to teach it to swim. From 6 months to a year it can go up to 40 minutes a day of play along with its half mile walks. After 1 year it is ready to start jogging with you though it will need to start at small distances and frequent breaks.

Caring for the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Grooming needs

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has moderate grooming needs and sheds quite a lot on a regular basis. While it will not need lots of trimming or stripping it will need daily brushing to keep up with some of that loose hair. Use a firm bristled brush or rubber curry brush not a coat rake or wire slicker brush as the latter will damage the hair. You can also expect to deal with hair around the home that will also need dealing with.

Its coat, because of the oils in it for making it water-repellent, does have a unique odor. Owners need to avoid being tempted to bathe it too often in an attempt to eliminate that odor. It is something that this dog comes with and bathing too often strips its natural oils which can cause skin problems and an unhealthy coat.

Brush its teeth at least two to three times a week, check its ears for infection once a week and give them a wipe clean and trim its nails when they get too long. If you are not knowledgeable or experienced with dog nails have someone do it for you or show you how. There is a lower section called the quick that has live blood vessels and nerves. Should it be cut or even just nicked this causes a great amount of pain to the dog and bleeding.

Feeding Time

As a large dog it will probably need somewhere between 2 to 4 cups of a good quality dry dog food each day, split into at least two meals. The exact amount your dog will need is going to depend on its activity level, age, size, health and metabolism. It is important to get the amount right and to not let your dog graze all day as that is what can lead to obesity.

How do they get on with children and other animals

A well socialized and raised Chessy is good with children, happy to play and bounce around outside in the yard with them and affectionate too. But that socialization is important, without it there can be a strong lack of patience and some aggression sometimes. It is also not going to put up with being tugged on and teased. Mostly it will just walk away from it, but for these reasons young children need to be supervised and taught the do’s and don’ts. Some breeders will not sell a Chessy to a home that has children younger than 8 years.

If it has been raised with other pets such as cats already it is more accepting of them. But it may still try to chase strange cats and it is territorial when it comes to other pets and other strange dogs. Until your dog is well trained and socialized care must be taken when around other dogs at dog parks or when out walking.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

In general this is a healthy breed with a life span of 10 to 13 years but as with any dog there are certain conditions they are prone to. These include hip dysplasia, eye problems, Von Willebrands disease, bloat, epilepsy and chondrodysplasia.

Biting Statistics

When looking at reports of dog attacks on people in Canada and the US over more than three decades, the CBR is involved in 3 attacks that did bodily harm. Two of those were maimings, meaning the victims suffered from permanent scarring, disfigurement or loss of limb. All three victims were children but none led to a death. This amounts to an average of 1 attack every 11 years. This makes this dog one to be considered less aggressive than others and very unlikely to cause an incident.

Keep in mind though that any dog can snap or turn aggressive given certain situations and that how it is raised and cared for are critical in how it is likely to react. Make sure this dog is well exercised, socialized and trained. Give it the attention it needs and the love it needs and it is more likely to be a dog you can trust and rely on.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

The price of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever is going to depend on where you get it from and the kind of dog you want. Getting one from a shelter or rescue is the cheapest option at $50 to $400 but you will probably be adopting an adult dog rather than a puppy. There are also cheap options from backyard breeders and puppy mills but you really should avoid supporting such bad breeding practices. From a good breeder for a pet quality dog it is going to be $800 to $1000. For something show quality those prices can go up even more.

There are going to be some costs once you have your dog for things it will need and some medical concerns to take care of. A crate, collar and leash and bowls along with a few miscellaneous items are going to start at $200. It will also need micro chipping, neutering or spaying, blood tests, vaccinations, a physical exam and deworming and this will cost around $300.

On a yearly basis for costs expect to pay for medical and non-medical concerns. Just basic medical needs like pet insurance, check ups, shots, tick and flea prevention come to a starting figure of $485.

For annual non-medical miscellaneous costs like toys, license, basic training and the like there is a starting figure of $235 a year. Food and treats is going to be around another $270 a year. This gives a total annual starting cost of $990.


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The Chessie is a great dog with the right owners. It needs a lot of exercise, socialization and because of its independent nature sometimes training can be harder. It needs strong leadership but can be very rewarding with its loyalty, energy, affection and cheerful nature.

Featured Image Credit: Kerrie T, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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