Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Hunting Dog Profile: The Brawny, Brainy Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The Chesapeake Bay retriever is one of the best duck dogs in the world. But it’s not a dog for the faint of heart.

The powerful and beautiful Chesapeake Bay retriever — commonly known as a “Chessie” — is a true workhorse of a hunting dog. Bred to take on the frigid, rolling waves of the mid-Atlantic  off the coast of Maryland, there may not be a tougher waterfowling dog out there.

With the right training, a Chessie is an exceptional companion, both in the house and outside of it. But this is a breed that requires more work than, say, a golden retriever or even a labrador.

Let’s meet the Chesapeake Bay retriever, shall we?

Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Breed Info

Chesapeake Bay Retriever hunting

Born of the 19th century, the breed is rumored to be a mix of Newfoundlands, Irish Water Spaniels, and a few other indistinct hounds. They are most certainly a dog of place, and they are well suited to the temperamental Chesapeake Bay of their namesake.

The Chessie most often sports a dusky brown coat with yellowish or amber eyes, and their unique double coat is a telltale sign of the breed. It’s wavy, thick, and oily to the touch. The soft undercoat combined with a harsh outer coat makes for a system that is extremely water-resistant and quick-drying.

Size is typical of your common retrievers. Height ranges from 21-26″ at the shoulder, and weights from 55-80 pounds. Males tend to be bigger and heavier than females.

A Chessie’s personality is a bit more complex than the average retriever, however. They tend to have an independent streak, matched with an intense loyalty to their owners and families.

If not properly socialized, Chessies can become wary of strangers. Unlike other retrievers, they do make for a better watchdog. But it would be wise to think of them as being closer in personality to a German shepherd than a golden retriever. This is certainly a sensitive breed who might do best in an experienced home.

That said, the Chessie is highly intelligent and trainable. And once trained, they’re extremely confident. They make excellent working dogs. And outside of hunting, Chessies can be found in bomb-sniffing units and search-and-rescue teams.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Hunting

Chesapeake bay retriever puppy

If hunting waterfowl in frigid weather and cold water is your jam, the Chessie is the ultimate companion. The American Kennel Club described the Chessie’s work ethic as “indefatigable” and certainly this is a retriever that is tireless in its efforts.

A Chessie can break ice, swim in rough waters, and retrieve birds likely longer than you can feel comfortable outside. Their waterproof coat keeps them warm in all sorts of weather, and their strong constitution keeps them focused and intent on the job.

Although regarded as a lights-out waterfowler, don’t count the Chessie out as a fabulous upland flusher. Their work ethic spills over in whatever terrain they face, and there’s no limit to what this smart, hard-working dog can accomplish in the field with the right teammate at the helm.

Reputable breeders will provide hip dysplasia checks and health certifications, in addition to talking through the needs of the Chesapeake Bay retriever with future owners.

Final Thoughts

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chessies aren’t necessarily for everyone. Their sensitive and strong-willed manner requires a thoughtful and experienced owner who is dedicated to building a concrete foundation. Of all the retriever breeds, the Chesapeake Bay retriever is the toughest and most complex.

But for hunters and folks looking for a working dog that’ll tackle extreme environments with ease, the Chessie is an excellent partner.

Hunter with Rifle standing next to yellow Labrador Dog
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Nicole Qualtieri

Based in Montana, Nicole Qualtieri is GearJunkie's Hunt + Fish Editor. She also serves as a Board Director for Orion the Hunters Insititute, a non-profit promoting fair chase and hunting ethics nationwide. A DIY hunter, she comes from a non-traditional hunting background and began hunting and fishing in her 30s. She's been a voice for hunting, fishing, and conservation since 2014, when she got started working on the television show MeatEater. She's an avid horsewoman, bird dog aficionado, snowboarder, hiker/backpacker, food nerd, and all-around outdoorswoman. Find her online at @nkqualtieri.