The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was developed to hunt waterfowl under adverse conditions, facing strong tides in rough water, high winds, and sometimes even having to break through ice. They are extraordinary swimmers, with a strong, yet tender, bite enabling them to carry birds. They have powerful limbs and webbed feet. The Chessie is slightly longer than tall, with hindquarters as high, or higher, than its forequarters. The coat is rendered virtually waterproof by virtue of their oily, harsh outer coat and dense wooly undercoat. The color matches its working surroundings: any shade of brown, sedge, or dead grass.
The history of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is one of the most fascinating— and fortunate—in dogdom. In 1807, an American ship rescued the crew and cargo from a shipwrecked English brig off the coast of Maryland. Among the rescued were two presumably Newfoundland pups that were given to the rescuers. These pups (one black and one red) later proved to be skilled water retrievers, and as their reputations grew, many local retrievers of uncertain background came to be bred to them.
It is also thought that Irish Water Spaniel, Newfoundland, Bloodhound, and other local hound crosses added to the development of the breed. Gradually a distinct local breed emerged, a dog that would repeatedly swim through the rough icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay and unerringly retrieve duck after duck. By 1885, the breed was thoroughly established and recognized by the AKC. Despite being one of the oldest AKC recognized breeds, as well as one of the few breeds that can boast of being made in the United States, the Chessie’s popularity has remained modest.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is hardy enough to not only withstand, but also relish, repeated plunges into icy water. He loves to swim and retrieve. Despite an active life when outdoors, inside he tends to be calm. The Chessie tends to be independent, although he is eager to learn. He is reserved with strangers and can be protective; he also can be aggressive toward strange dogs if challenged. This is the hardiest, most strong-willed, and protective of the retriever breeds.
The Chessie is a large active dog that needs a daily chance to exercise. The oily, wavy coat needs weekly brushing but is generally easily maintained. The Chessie seldom needs washing; in fact, it’s hard to get a Chessie wet! Bathing destroys the coat’s oils and thus, its water resistance.