About the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Following on from my last article about the Irish Water Spaniel, my next breed of interest is the Chesapeake Bay retriever or more affectionately known as the Chessie.

In 1807, a British ship wrecked off the coast of Maryland in the waters of the Eastern Seaboard and among the rescued were two dogs named Sailor and Canton. Early reports were that the dogs were Newfoundlands, but that’s become the subject of some debate over the years. Some contend that Sailor and Canton were Lesser Newfoundlands, or St. John’s Water Dogs, a breed now extinct. Regardless, the two shipwreck survivors were instant celebrities—both for surviving, as well as for their soon-apparent remarkable adeptness at retrieving waterfowl. The dogs caught the eyes of local enthusiasts, who bred them to hounds, setters, water spaniels, and other retrievers. The results of those breedings served as the beginnings of today’s Chesapeake Bay retriever. By1878, the first Chesapeake Bay retriever, named Sunday, was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club.

They are strong, powerfully built gundogs, standing anywhere from 21 to 26 inches at the shoulder. A male can weigh up to 80 pounds. The distinctive breed trait is a wavy coat that is oily to the touch. The Chessie are solid-coloured, either chocolatey brown, sedge, or dead grass, with keen yellow-amber eyes that nicely complement the coat.

Chessies are more emotionally complex than the usual gundog. They take to training, but they have a mind of their own and can stubbornly pursue their own path. They are protective of their humans and polite, but not overtly friendly to strangers, being a little stand offish until they get to know you.

Chessies make excellent watchdogs and are versatile athletes. A well-socialized Chessie is a confident companion and working dog. They are great water dogs and ideal for wildfowling.

The temperament of the Chessie is certainly an interesting case. They are assertive and confident, but with a softer side. The best way to train them is with early socialization and positive reinforcement. These dogs bond intently with their loved ones and even a harsh look or word can be hurtful to them. Chessies are smart and eager to please their owner.

The Chessie is an “up for anything” dog—especially if it involves physical or mental work. They thrive if you engage them in field trials, work them on the shooting field, working tests, agility, tracking or obedience.

Shedding and dog smell are things you may just have to learn to accept about this breed. The Chessie loves being in the water and that oily coat is built for it. But it can be a bit… smelly. As for shedding, at least once a year, plan on some pretty epic hair loss. Even with regular brushing, it seems endless.

I have had the opportunity to meet a few Chessies as we train with them quite a lot, they are similar to the Irish Water Spaniel with their aloofness and quirky behaviours. However, they do have a presence about them that is endearing once you get to know them. So, if it’s a loving, hard-working, loyal dog you want, it’s worth considering the Chessie!

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