Complete Guide To The Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Health, Personality, Feeding and More

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a tough and rugged dog that is strong enough to withstand the cold and choppy water of the Chesapeake. Their tenacious attitude and work ethic make them quality hunting companions. But, for those who want a loving pet, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever may be too much for the novice pet owner with its stubbornness and sometimes overwhelming obsessiveness. 

I’ve seen a number of Chessies in my veterinary career and currently there are at least a half-dozen in my practice. They’re a complicated dog and potential owners need to understand the breed in its entirety before getting one. Read further to find all about this interesting dog breed.

How Big Does A Chesapeake Bay Retriever Get?

Male23″ – 26″ at the shoulder65-80 lbs
Female21″ – 24″ at the shoulder55-70 lbs

What Do Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Look Like?

This breed of dog is a large breed dog built to be tough, strong, and athletic. Larger than a Labrador and more solidly built than a Golden.

A trademark characteristic of this dog is the thick, oily coat. The dog’s fur acts to repel water and works the same way a duck’s feathers repel water. The Chessie’s fur is thick and wavy and is usually a solid color. The topcoat is dense and can be brown, dead grass, or sedge color. The dog also has a wooly undercoat that helps to keep it warm even when swimming in cold and icy water.  

What Is The Personality Of A Chesapeake Bay Retriever?

Compared to an average gun dog or hunting companion, the Chessie has a complex personality and is very emotional. They are loyal and loving with their family and companions and can even be protective if need be. This dog isn’t super friendly with strangers and can make excellent watchdogs due to its loyalty and hefty size. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever can even have a fun sense of humor, and those who are lucky enough to call him a companion will see this silly side come out on occasion.

But, this dog is not for novice dog owners. Between a stubborn mentality and a borderline obsessive nature, the dog can quickly overrun a novice. If you ever have the attitude of “just this once,” expect to have months of work to retrain the unwanted behavior out of your dog. This dog is tolerant of children and can even form close bonds with them. But, if it is not happy with the treatment it is receiving, it will simply get up and walk away from the situation.  

**In veterinary circles, this breed is known to be the most temperamental of all the Retriever breeds. While I have nothing but awesome, friendly Chessies in my practice right now, I’ve known more than a few in my career that had issues with aggression.

To get the best possible dog, be sure to research breeders to find ones that breed for temperament. Meet all of the breeding dogs (not just the parent dogs) if possible to see if the breeder truly values a good personality.

How Much Grooming Does A Chesapeake Bay Retriever Need?

Chessie’s are pretty simple dogs to care for despite their thick and wooly fur. They have short hair that will shed, particularly with the changing seasons. Simply brushing the dog a few times a week will help eliminate dead and loose fur from collecting in your home. Only bathe the dog when necessary.

Be sure to keep the nails trimmed short, especially if they are not naturally worn down by walking on rough surfaces. If you swim your Chessie, be sure to clean their ears afterwards with a commercial dog-specific ear cleaner to help prevent infections.

How Much Exercise Does A Chesapeake Bay Retriever Need?

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a high-energy dog that needs plenty of exercise to keep it occupied. This dog excels at swimming and would like nothing more than going for a daily swim to burn off some energy. This dog is also happy to go for a walk, long walk, or hike every day.  

If trained correctly and with enough patience, the Chessie can perform well at canine athletic competitions. This dog has been known to excel at trackingagility, and obedience. Plus, this dog is excellent at hunting and fieldwork. When the Chessie does not receive enough exercise, he can become bored and destructive, turning to nuisance behaviors.  

What Kind of Dog Food Is Good For A Chesapeake Bay Retriever?

Personally I believe that most foods are fine for most dogs. Some dogs may not do well on some foods. However, as a rule I don’t blanket-prohibit any dietary ingredient from any breed at this time.

This is a breed that requires a large-breed puppy food to help control growth. Growing too fast can cause growing pains and potentially developmental orthopedic issues. For this reason, I recommend to my Lab owners to switch to adult food at around 6 months of age.

Best Puppy Food For Chesapeake Bay Retrievers:

Best Adult Food For Chesapeake Bay Retrievers:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

It’s very important they remain at their optimal weight throughout their life. Have your vet go over with you exactly where to feel to know when your dog is too big.

How Long Does A Chesapeake Bay Retriever Live?

10-13 years of age based on information from the AKC

What Health Problems Can Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Have?

I’ve seen quite a few Chesapeakes in my veterinary career and a lot of what I write here is based on my experience. The following health conditions are ones that I see fairly commonly:

  • Hip Dysplasia/Arthritis
  • Elbow Dysplasia/Arthritis
  • ACL Tears
  • Obesity as they age
  • Hypothyroidism

This is a breed that absolutely should have pet insurance at a young age. Check out my overview of pet insurance options here.

Where Can I Find Out More About The Chesapeake Bay Retriever?

American Chesapeake Club

AKC Breed Profile

Where Can I Find A Chesapeake Bay Retriever?

This American-bred dog is relatively easy to find and is a popular dog to own as a hunting companion or a pet. Be sure to thoroughly vet your breeder and ensure your dog has the proper health checks before adoption.

You will want to meet all puppies in the litter and ensure you pick a Chessie pup that matches your personality. You never want to choose a puppy that is overly aggressive or shy and fearful. Try to meet both the mother and father dog to get a good indication of what your puppy will be like as an adult.

Breeder Listings from the American Chesapeake Club

Of course, it may also be possible to adopt a Chessie who needs a forever home. Many people purchase purebred Chesapeake Bay Retrievers not fully ready to commit to the training this dog requires. As such, several rescues specialize in this breed of dog. Try searching for dogs at the Chessie Rescue VA, American Chesapeake Club Rescue Network, or the Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue group.  

Fun Facts About the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

  • This dog was born and bred in the United States, and one of the few dog breeds to claim American heritage. The Chessie was a water dog first used in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland.  
  • Although the ancestry of the Chessie is unknown, it is believed to be the result of two Newfoundland puppies. These puppies were rescued from a shipwreck in 1807. The two dogs excelled at retrieving and hunting and were bred with local dogs. The result was a water dog with thick fur and a tenacious mindset, trademark qualities of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.  
  • The front door of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is guarded by statues of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers made from cast iron.  
  • The first American Chesapeake Club was founded in 1918, and the first trial for retrievers was held in 1932.
  • A hallmark of the Chessie is eye coloration. These dogs have distinct amber gold-colored eyes.