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rec.pets.dogs: Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Breed-FAQ

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Last-modified: 22 Dec 1998

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This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below. 
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
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                         Chesapeake Bay Retrievers

     * Cindy Tittle Moore, July 1995.
          + Further comments on color added Jan 1996.
          + Clarifications on color & notes in health section added Aug
   This version is Copyright 1995, 1996 by Cindy Tittle Moore. It may not
   reside at web pages anywhere other than at my site. Please feel free
   to include a link to it if you wish, however. You are free to download
   a hardcopy for your personal use; please contact me for permission for
   further redistribution.
Table of Contents

     * History
     * The Chesapeake Today
     * Characteristics and Temperament
          + Pet and Companion
          + Activities
          + Choosing a Puppy
     * Special Medical Problems
          + Joint Problems
          + Eye Problems
     * Resources
          + Books
          + Email List
          + Web Sites
          + Breed Rescue Organizations
          + Breeders
          + Clubs

   To understand the rise and development of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever
   it is essential to understand something about the region from which it
   comes. The Chesapeake Bay is on the East Coast of the United States,
   running north up toward Baltimore. This is a land of harsh winters,
   icy water, and huge numbers of migratory birds. James Michener
   describes the duck hunting in this region in his novel, _Chesapeake_.
   There were literally so many birds that they could be shot out of the
   sky en masse, resulting in 10 to 20 ducks for their dogs to then go
   out and retrieve at a time. The guns used were more properly
   boat-mounted cannons. These hunters needed dogs that were capable of
   going out and retrieving all of these ducks, in particular going after
   cripples first and then back to pick up the dead ones.
   There are many stories and legends about the origin of the Chesapeake
   Bay Retriever. The favored story involves the 1807 shipwreck of an
   English ship bound for Poole, England. The crew and two puppies
   survived the wreck: a brown male named Sailor and a black bitch dubbed
   Canton in honor of the rescuing ship. These two puppies were St.
   John's water dogs, no doubt bound for Lord Malmesbury's estates, which
   at this time was developing the prototype for the Labrador Retriever
   breed. These puppies found homes in the Chesapeake Bay area, on the
   opposite shores, and were trained and used for duck retrieving. The
   dogs that descended from these two ultimately became collectively
   known as Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.
   Whether or not Canton and Sailor contributed as much to the breed as
   they are credited with, or even whether they were bred to one another
   at all, it's clear that the Chesapeake, or Chessie as it is often
   called, developed in this area from avid hunters who cared about two
   things: a fanatical retriever, and a brown coat to blend in with its
   surroundings. Thus, many dogs would have been used for breeding stock
   as long as they were good hunters and retrievers and had brown coats.
   Other St. John's dogs from Newfoundland and retrieving dogs, including
   the Labrador upon its return to the Americas, were no doubt used in
   the quest for the ultimate duck retriever.
   While it's temptingly romantic to paint a picture of a breed coming
   about by natural selection in this rugged climate, in all likelihood,
   Chesapeakes were bred quite carefully by the families along the Bay
   for the qualities they desired. There is anecdotal evidence of
   breeding records and pedigrees tracing back to at least the beginning
   of the 19th century. In particular, the Carroll Island Gun Club was
   devoted to Chesapeakes in the latter half of the eighteenth century
   and reportedly kept breeding records going back for decades. The
   club's members bred Chesapeakes and hunted over them; sportsmen came
   from all over the country to witness their prowess. Unfortunately, in
   a contribution to the puzzle of this breed's origins, the club's
   records were lost in a fire near the turn of the century. Some of the
   other breeds believed to have played a part in the Chesapeake's
   development include coonhounds, Curly Coated Retrievers, Irish Water
   Spaniels, and setters.
   The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was the first individual retriever breed
   recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878. The first recorded
   Champion in this breed is CH Barnum (born 1892); the first Field
   Champion is FC Skipper Bob (mid 30's), with the first dual Champion,
   Dual CH Sodaks Gypsy Prince (1937) following shortly after. The
   American Chesapeake Club became the official national breed club in
   1918. In contrast, the rest of the retrievers were lumped together
   until the late 1920's when the AKC finally separated them into the
   ones we know today.
The Chesapeake Today

   The Chesapeake is fortunate at this point in that it has not split
   between show and field as has happened with the more popular retriever
   breeds. To some extent this is probably due to its being one of the
   rarer Retriever breeds, with Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers
   far surpassing the Chesapeake in litters registered annually with the
   AKC. In 1994, there were two Dual Champions. There have been a total
   of eleven Dual Champions in the breed, and three more that had a breed
   Championship and an Amateur Field Trial Championship.
   The American Chesapeake Club today maintains the breed Standard,
   organizes annual National Specialty Shows and Field Trials. The club
   has a code of ethics for its members, and supplies information upon
   request about the breed and those in the breed.
Characteristics and Temperament

  Pet and Companion
   The Chesapeake is a talented and driven dog. He can be stubborn and
   strong-willed and is not the best dog for most novice owners. He is
   excellent with children, though he will not tolerate abuse and will
   get up and leave in such a situation. In any case, any interaction
   between young children and dogs of any breed should be supervised by
   an adult.
   The Chesapeake is an intensely loyal dog with a strong protective
   streak. This is coupled with an excellent temperament; the consequence
   of which is that while the Chesapeake makes an excellent watch dog, he
   is a poor attack dog as he will not injure others. His loyalty also
   means that it is difficult for anyone else to train the dog except for
   his family. As a rule, Chesapeakes are friendly rather than
   affectionate with strangers. Poor results are obtained by "sending the
   dog away" for training and is not advised. This is a breed that makes
   a wonderful family pet and does badly when kenneled away from the
   Because he is a retrieving breed, he is likely to chew quite a lot
   throughout puppyhood and adolescence. Because he will grow to be
   relatively large and have a protective streak, it is imperative to
   socialize him as a puppy with plenty of strangers and have him be used
   to obedience work.
   Chesapeakes are first and foremost superb hunting dogs and well known
   for their love of water. They are credited with excellent noses and
   perserverance in finding fallen game, in particular going after
   crippled birds first then the dead ones. For example, there are
   authenticated stories of Chesapeakes retrieving as many as 100 ducks
   in a single day! With good training, your Chesapeake should easily be
   an excellent hunter. 
   Chesapeakes are shown in field trials and do very well, However, they
   are consistently outnumbered by Labradors at these shows (who
   outnumber all the other breeds eligible for these trials).
   Nevertheless, the breed continues to have Dual Champions, a tribute to
   the continued working ability of the breed as a whole.
   In contrast, Cheaspeakes are never very numerous at the show ring.
   They are easily shown however; requiring little grooming. It is
   sometimes difficult, however, to find a judge that truly understands
   the breed's type.
   Chesapeakes do well in obedience, especially under experienced
   trainers. Since they have a mind of their own, however, it may be a
   task to convince them to do things your way rather than theirs!
  Choosing a Puppy
   Look for puppies with the following points:
     * Sound temperament -- no shyness, fear, or aggression.
     * Good health -- active and inquisitive, glossy coat, pink gums and
     * Ideally should be retrieving items with eagerness at an early age
     * Unperturbed by loud noises.
     * Eager to approach strangers.
     * Parents that are certified free of hip and elbow dysplasia and
       examined annually for hereditary eye diseases.
   Look carefully at the parents to give you an indication of what the
   puppies should grow up to be like. If you don't like the dam or the
   sire, you should probably pass on the puppies. There are more general
   tips given in the FAQ on "Getting A Dog" for finding reputable
   breeders and asking the right questions. This article is posted
   monthly to General help for dealing with puppies
   can be found in the "New Puppy" FAQ, also posted monthly to
   A Chesapeake puppy's coat color can become either darker or lighter
   with maturity. Puppy and adult colors can both range from a very light
   "deadgrass" color to a rich, dark chocolate shade. It is common to see
   a wide range of colors within the same litter.
Frequently Asked Questions

   _Aren't Chesapeakes a kind of Labrador?_
     NO, although the breeds are related. Unfortunately, since Labradors
     are much better known, the comparison is inevitable, and too often
     the Chesapeake is simply described in terms of how it differs from
     the Labrador, or worse, as "another kind of Labrador."
     Physical differences: In Chesapeakes, the ears are set higher, and
     the legs tend to be longer. The eyes are shaped differently and set
     a little more forward in the head. They are not as stocky as
     Labradors, especially show Labs, and they have a different topline
     since their rear may be high. The coat of a Labrador is not woolly,
     and if there is a wave to it, is not nearly the same as a
     Chesapeake's. Moreover, Chesapeakes only come in various shades of
     brown (from a wheaten "deadgrass" color, to reddish brown, to a
     deep rich chocolate), whereas Labradors can be yellow, black, or
     chocolate. The easiest way to distinguish a chocolate Labrador from
     a dark Chesapeake is by the lighter pigment of the Chesapeake's
     nose and eyes and the woolliness and curliness of its coat. Eye
     color doesn't always give you a clue as many chocolate Labradors
     have yellow eyes rather than the correct hazel or brown. Certainly
     poorly bred specimens of either breed may make it nearly impossible
     to decide which breed they are.
     Temperament differences: The Chesapeake is a loyal breed, bonding
     closely to its family and not taking direction from strangers very
     well although they may be unfailingly polite or friendly to
     strangers. The Labrador is often indiscriminately affectionate and
     many will work for nearly anyone. The Chesapeake has a protective
     streak which most Labradors lack or possess to a significantly
     lesser degree. Extensive kenneling and isolation seems to affect
     Chesapeakes more strongly than Labradors. Both breeds can be
     equally stubborn, however, and they do share many other common
     retriever traits: high intelligence, trainability, a high activity
     level, and a love of water.
   _What are the different colors of the Chesapeake?_
     _Deadgrass_ -- is without any red tone in either the light, regular
     or dark variations. Deadgrass can vary from almost yellow to tan.
     _Sedge_ -- almost a "strawberry blonde" coloration. Definite
     reddish undertones on a relatively light colored coat.
     _Browns_ -- darker and may have red undertones (light brown, brown
     and dark brown).
     Liver -- ???. This color was a disqualification for a long time,
     but has been dropped in the latest version of the standard. It's
     not clear how this color differs from shades of Brown.
   _So are Chespeakes always a solid color?_
     White markings can show up but unless limited to spots on the
     chest, belly or feet, they are disqualifications. Any black
     markings are disqualifications. The Chesapeake can have hound
     markings though this is not preferred.
     However, if you examine a solid colored Chesapeake, you will likely
     find a subtle range of colors on it, down to variations on a single
     hair shaft. This is perfectly normal.
   _Which color came first? Which is better?_
     While the exact color of a Chesapeake is inconsequential, the range
     of colors and their historical devevelopment is nevertheless of
     academic interest.
     In researching old AKC Stud Book pages, the predominant registered
     color of the Chessie in the late 1800's was sedge. However, there
     is some evidence that because sedge was a prized color at the time,
     dogs were being registered as sedge simply to help move puppies.
     Also, as many Chesapeakes change colors from puppyhood to
     adulthood, it is unclear how many puppies might have been sedge
     when young and a different color when adult. Nevertheless, this
     practice started such an uproar at the time that "sedge" was very
     nearly dropped as a color description. This is probably also when
     the worn out argument of which color is "better" originated.
     According the stud books, which, again, are open to interpretation,
     a trend toward the brown color started at the turn of the century.
     Brown in those days was called by several different names including
     sable, bay, mink, brown, dark brown, red brown, and light brown.
     There were also several dogs registered as liver in color. From
     1889 to 1904, one deadgrass and a handful of tans were registered
     (and one as "sedge grass"). This suggests that Chesapeakes have
     always come in a wide range of colors. Because of the
     dominant/recessive nature of the colors, there will be a greater
     number of browns than other colors. There is no evidence that
     deadgrass developed later or elsewhere.
     (Thanks to Thomas McClanahan for supplying the information about
     the stud book records and to Meghan Connor for discussing their
     interpretation, both on the Chessie-L list.)
   _So how important is color?_
     Not very. So long as the Chesapeake has no disqualifying marks, the
     color of its coat is unimportant. Of course, individuals have their
     private preferences, but this ideally does not carry over in to the
     show ring, and certainly does not affect the dog's hunting ability.
     You can find quality dogs in any of the permitted colors for the
   _Alright, if color is not important, then what is?_
     The coat quality! It's important that the coat be harsh and crisp,
     with plenty of undercoat. A correct coat will be only mildly damp
     after the dog shakes when coming out of the water. If it retains
     water so that the dog is soaked, it is not correct. Nor should the
     coat curl (defined in the Standard as the hair curling around far
     enough to touch itself again).
     Color appears to play some part in the coat quality, as a variety
     of colors in the coat often signify variations in texture necessary
     for a quality coat. This is not to say, however, that a particular
     color is somehow better than the rest.
   _Is the eye color supposed to match the coat?_
     Not according to the Standard. Individual breeders may have
     personal preferences, of course, but a long as the Chesapeake's
     eyes are yellow to amber in color, it does not matter whether the
     coat is deadgrass or dark brown or any other color in between.
   _Is the topline supposed to have the rear be higher?_
     Again, according to the standard: "Topline should show the
     hindquarters to be as high as or a trifle higher than the
     shoulders." Many breeders prefer "a trifle higher," citing improved
     working ability as a result. The Chesapeake is one of only a few
     AKC recognized breeds that allow high rears.
   _Are Chesapeakes stubborn and hard to train?_
     They have often been accused of such, but this directly contradicts
     the personal experience of many Chesapeake owners. Most often you
     will hear this accusation from professional hunting or field trial
     trainers, most of whom are more accustomed to working with the
     Labrador. As previously noted the Chesapeake is more responsive to
     his family than to a stranger and this is doubtless a large factor
     responsible for the trainers' perceptions. If you will be sending
     out your Chesapeake for hunting training, be sure to look for a
     trainer that has trained Chesapeakes and is willing to work with
     their differences rather than train them in the same way all their
     other dogs are trained, or try to force them into the Labrador
     The other thing to keep in mind is that Chesapeakes are intelligent
     and sometimes bored with pointless (to them) repetition. Thus their
     talent for doing some things their own way! Anyone training
     Chesapeakes must work with this tendency or ultimately be
   _How much do they shed? Do they require a lot of grooming?_
     No! The coat is nearly maintenance free and can in fact be damaged
     by over grooming. Many people do not know what the proper coat
     texture is for a Cheasapeake; it should be springy and resilent to
     the touch, not soft or smooth. Brushing your Chesapeake weekly with
     a rubber brush is all he needs. The regular brushing will help
     distribute oils evenly throughout the coat and help shed any dead
     hair. In particular, you should not use a rake or a slicker on the
     coat, which can break down all the wave and kink in your
     Chesapeake's coat. A properly maintained Chesapeake coat will be
     only slightly moist after it shakes itself off when it comes out of
     the water. Since the Chesapeake is a double coated breed, it does
     shed, more than you might expect for a relatively short haired dog,
     but less than a long haired dog.
   _How much exercise do they need?_
     Like all the retriever breeds, the Chesapeake is an active dog and
     will become destructive if bored or underexercised. Note that any
     regular and/or heavy exercise should wait until your Chesapeake is
     at least a year old. While puppies should have plenty of
     opportunities for exercise, the exercise should be self selected
     (eg, allowing the puppy to run around in a field rather than
     dragging it along to go jogging with you).
   _Are they good swimmers?_
     Most Chesapeakes love the water! However, you should use good sense
     when introducing a puppy to the water. Throwing it in could cause
     the puppy to become afraid of the water. Instead, select a calm
     body of water, with plenty of shallow area for him to romp in. If
     you have another dog that loves to swim, this is the best way to
     entice a puppy into the water. Keep an eye on very young puppies in
     the water to be sure they don't get into trouble.
     Adult Chesapeakes are excellent swimmers. You will see their
     toplines just below the water and their tails acting as a kind of
     rudder. They will swim with powerful strokes and pull their head
     and shoulders out of the water to locate objects in the water.
   _Just how well do they tolerate really cold water?_
     An adult Chesapeake in good condition and aclimatized to the winter
     will do just fine in icy water. Do be sensible and observe
     precautions if you are near iced-over rivers or lakes that may
     break through. Make sure your dog dries off completely and quickly
     once he finishes swimming: with the correct coat, a quick shake is
     sufficient, if your dog has gotten wet down to the skin, a towel
     may help. Working Chesapeakes are often expected to work all day in
     icy water conditions.
Special Medical Problems

  Joint Problems
   Chesapeakes are susceptible to hip dysplasia as well as other joint
   problems. All breeding stock should be x-rayed and certified clear of
   hip dysplasia by the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals).
   Elbow problems, including Ununited Anconeal Process, and Degenerative
   Joint Disease (all called "OCD," or generally "Elbow Dysplasia") may
   be upcoming problems in the breed: both the closely related breeds
   Labradors and Flat Coats are finding increased incidences of these
   problems when they look for them. Ideally, breeding stock should begin
   clearing both elbows AND hips with OFA.
  Von Willebrand's Disease
   A form of von Willebrand's Disease, a blood clotting disorder.
  Eye Problems
   They are also susceptible to an eye disease called PRA (Progressive
   Retinal Atrophy). This insidious disease of the eyes eventually causes
   blindness. It is believed to be inherited by a simple recessive mode.
   This means that for a dog to be affected, both parents must be either
   carriers or affected themselves. The problem is that this disease has
   a late onset where the dogs do not show symptoms until they are over
   four years of age, in which case they may have already been bred.
   Carriers show no symptoms. All breeding stock should be examined
   annually and have their eyes cleared through CERF (Canine Eye
   Registration Foundation). At present, this is believed to be more of a
   problem in other retriever breeds than the Chesapeake.
   Currently there is a blood test to identify affected and carrier dogs
   in Irish Setters. Hopefully there will soon be a test that will work
   on other breeds.
   As dogs that develop blindness later in life may have tested normal in
   previous ophthalmological examinations, it's important to find a
   breeder that not only tests all breeding stock annually, but also
   continues to test dogs that were used for breeding in their old age.
   Other eye problems include Entropian and occasional cataracts.

   Bliss, Anthony, ed. _The Chesapeake Bay Retreiver_. Published by The
   American Chesapeake Club 1933/36. Rare and out of print, an excellent
   source of information.
   Cherry, Eloise H. _The Complete Chesapeake Bay Retriever_. Howell
   House, 1981.
   Horn, Janet and Dr. Daniel Horn. _The New Complete Chesapeake Bay
   Retriever_. Howell Book House, 1994.
   Spencer, James B. _Hunting Retrievers: Hindsights, Foresights and
   Insights_, Alpine Publications.
   _Chesapeake Bay Retriever Champions_, 1952-1987. Camino Book Co. PO
   BOX 729, Kings Beach, CA 96143-0729. Tel: 702-831-5553
   Byron, Gilbert. _Chesapeake Duke_, ill. by Jack Lewis published in
   1975 by Tidewater Publishers, Cambridge, MD 21613. Out of print.
   (fiction) Tidewater Publishers are now in Centrevill, MD, but don't
   appear to carry either this or _Grover_.
  Email List
   Tom MacClanahan ( and Teri Grodner
   ( maintain an email list for owners of Chesapeake
   Bay Retrievers. To subscribe, send email to
   LISTSERV@APPLE.EASE.LSOFT.COM with no/any subject line and in the body
   of the message, put SUBSCRIBE CHESSIE-L yourfirstname yourlastname.
   Another list is run by George Makatura (;
   subscription is via email to CHESSIE-L-REQUEST@LISTS.BEST.COM with no
   subject line and subsingle as the only word in your message. You will
   get further instructions on how to complete the subscription process.
   The original Chessie-L mailing list at was discontinued shortly
   before Christmas 1996; archives for this list are still available.
  Web Sites
     * American Chesapeake Club Homepage, at
     * Working Retriever Central, at
     * Chesapeake Bay Retriever Website, at
  Breed Rescue Organizations
   You should contact the national breed club for information on local
   regional clubs where you can get to meet and know breeders in your
   area. The FAQ "Getting a Dog" details many tips on finding a reputable
   breeder. This FAQ is posted regularly to
   American Chesapeake Club
          PO Box 18443, Chicago IL 60618-0443
          _Send $1 and SASE for Club, Breed, Puppy, and Stud Service
   Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club of Canada
          Jane Goodfellow 788 Reynolds St., North Bay, Ontario, P1B 5C4.
          _Please send SASE when inquiring_
   Evergreen Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club
          Marge Bakken (SEC), 826 South 136th, Seattle, WA 98168; (206)
          243 - 0611

    Chesapeake Bay Retriever FAQ
    Cindy Tittle Moore,
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