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Behavior of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers

Rescue dogs have histories. Up until their placement in adoptive homes, some of them may not have had very good lives at all. Some may have been tied up in the backyard their whole lives - except for the one or two times a year the owner decided to go hunting. Some may have been badgered into submission and distrust by unrealistic owners. Most have likely spent some time in an unfamiliar setting - a kennel, a shelter or a foster home. These kinds of histories often make us wonder at how a rescue Chessie will adjust to a loving, adoptive home. This section is meant to highlight some common roots of behavior problems in rescue dogs, some specific observed behavioral problems seen in rescued Chessies, and to offer some guidance for dealing with these behaviors so that the rescued Chessie can adjust to the good life and become a valued member of the family.


Neglect is surely the number one cause of behavioral problems in rescue dogs. Socialization of dogs should begin early (10-16 weeks old). Proper training goes hand-in-hand with socialization to shape our canine good citizens. Exposure to strange people and places should happen continually through a dog's life. If thorough socialization, with positive reinforcement, is not done, dogs can develop "fearful-aggressive" tendencies. When cornered, grabbed or reached for, these dogs will bite out of fear.

Neglected dogs may never get properly housetrained and are apt to show destructive behavior. If owners leave a dog for the entire day, then yell at the dog when they return (for an accident or chewing rampage several hours earlier), the dog will fear the owner's return - not understanding the source of his owner's anger. Oftentimes, attention to the dog, proper exercise and a realistic routine can "cure" these behaviors due to neglect.

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are famous for their loyalty to their owners. If we remove them from the only home they have known, no matter how neglectful, will they readjust and bond to new owners? Alternatively, will a Chessie who had the "good life" but whose owner has had to surrender him, due to a death or divorce, adjust to such a radical change?

Rescue work has proven to us over and over again that these dogs will adjust and bond to new owners. The adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks is hogwash. Adult animals can often make adjustments easier than puppies. After all, they've lived a little and are probably wiser. They understand, at some level, the dog-people relationship. Most understand "house manners."

Chessies often will be very anxious at their new home for the first half year - they will follow the new owners very closely and attach (not necessarily bond) to them. After a couple of months of firm handling and routine schedules, this intense need to be with the new owner lessens and the dogs relax into their new roles.

During this stage, routine and consistency are the two most important approaches to helping a rescued Chessie adjust to a new home. See the sections on the rescue website about "bringing home your rescued Chessie" for hints on establishing a routine.

Many superficial "behavior" problems can stem from health problems that went undetected before adoption. Dogs with even mild hip dysplasia can have pronounced pain response if touched or pushed on the spine. A dog bumped accidentally could snap, leading to his surrender to a shelter.

Skin diseases, chronic ear infections and even external parasites lead to very objectionable dogs to many people. "Stinky, scratching" dogs routinely lose their cuddly "house dog" status with a discouraged owner. Once these dogs are thrown out of the house, they often bark constantly (trying to get the family to come outside and play) or try and escape. When the family members do come outside to the dog, he gets so excited that he jumps up, knocks people down, or scratches children. These behaviors lead to owner surrenders. Routine veterinary care and treatment would clear up both these problems.

Malnutrition also leads to stunted development - both mentally and physically. These dogs can become so food motivated that they become overly protective of their food bowl, chew toys and treats. Mealtime behavior should be carefully monitored until new owners understand the underlying causes of food protectiveness.

- some text from article by Gary Clemons DVM, and NAIA (http://www.naiaonline.org)


Dominant, Assertive Dogs
Within each litter of puppies there is a range of personality types - from dominant to submissive. Many rescued CBRs are two year old, un-neutered males who have not yet discovered that he is NOT the leader of the pack! If you are dealing with a dominant dog, the following information can be of help.


  • Dominant, assertive dogs think they are the "leader of the pack." These dogs are often ready to challenge for the right to lead. Once allowed to become the leader, the dog may be willing to fight to retain the position.
  • Dominant dogs do not, as a rule, do well around children. They will not tolerate the quick movements and unpredictability of children. You must supervise dominant dogs around small children.
  • Dominant dogs may be subtle in their manipulation of you. When you stop stroking the dog, he may nudge you to resume. Assertive dogs take your compliance to mean that they have the right to make you obey them. It is a surprisingly small step from such behavior to growling and snapping when you insist, finally, that he gets off the couch!

    Does this mean you can't pet your dominant dog or let your dog up on the furniture? No, it just means you must be very aware of how this particular dog interprets your actions. You need to learn his body language. You also need to learn about leadership and establishing yourself as the leader of the pack - so that you not only have the right to allow the dog on the couch but also can make him get down when you want.

See the training sections below on establishing leadership and maintaining a positive relationship with your dog. Professional obedience training is invaluable when dealing with a dominant dog - a trainer will notice such behaviors and give you tools to deal with specific aspects of its behavior.

Submissive Behavior
After all the concerns we have in rescue about aggressive CBRs, we often overlook or dismiss as unimportant behavior that may suggest a dog is displaying submissive behavior. Dogs that act submissively toward people roll on their backs, exposing neck and genitalia. Disciplining, even with just a sharp look or word, can induce urination. Without recognition, understanding and behavior modification, submissive dogs can turn into nippers and biters with little warning. Of equal frustration to new owners is the urination in the house.

When a dog acts submissively in the presence of humans, and those humans praise/pat the dog to calm it down or whatever, the submissive behavior is actually reinforced. This dog will do what benefits it most. The dog is learning by repetition and association that his displays of submission are rewarded by praise and attention.

Grant Teeboon, a RAAF Police Dog handler, suggested a new approach to these dogs on the dog-rescue lists recently. Mr. Teeboon's simple rule is "any positive interaction between dog and handler must occur only when the dog has all four feet firmly on the ground." If the dog should ooze into submissive mode in mid-pat, then the handler simply walks away and ignores the dog.

Submission in rescue dogs is also seen when past owners had unrealistic expectations of the dog which led to screaming whenever the dog flinched. These dogs feel they have no freedom whatsoever - they do not know what is expected of them. New owners can use Mr. Teeboon's simple rule in combination with a firm routine schedule, clear expectations of dog behavior and positive reinforcement. These dogs should never be yelled at, screamed at or yanked about. They will shut down, ignore all commands and likely urinate as a consequence. Submissive urination, if dealt with in a calm, patient manner, will lessen in frequency as the rescue dog settles into his new home and feels safe. This is often of little comfort to a frustrated adoptive home, so making sure the dog stays on easy-clean surfaces is important for owner patience!

-credit due to Grant Teeboon (http://www.thepawman.com.au)

Chessies bark. In fact, CBRs are endearing because they are vocalizers - they will growl, rumble, roo-roo-roo and howl to "talk" to their owners. These vocalizations, including barking, are normal and natural Chessie behavior. Barking in itself is not wrong - Chessies were specifically bred to protect their owner's property. Uncontrollable barking in a rescued Chessie, for excessive amounts of time or at inappropriate times, should be discouraged.

Rescue CBRs may bark excessively due to past neglect and anxiety. When a Chessie is first placed in his new home, he is likely to bark at odd things and noises in his new home . This is not considered problematic as long as this kind of barking lessens over time, as he gets used to the creaks and bumps and neighbors' comings and goings. Again, one or two barks is normal and it is probably unrealistic to not expect some protective response, either a bark or a low gruff "ruff", in response to strange noises or people.

Usually a firm command such as QUIET or ENOUGH, followed immediately by a firm, upward jerk with a training lead and slip collar, will be enough to stop the dog from barking. If overstimulated the dog may need a firmer correction. Hold the dog by the scruff of the neck with both hands, look him in the eye and saying QUIET, and give him a couple of quick, firm shakes before release. This is the type of correction his mother probably gave him as a pup. You must be consistent and timely when enforcing the command. Upon release, putting him in a sit or down position gives him "work" to do instead of barking - to refocus him and settle him down.

A well-trained, obedient Chessie is a happy dog and a joy to live with. Chessies want nothing more than to please their owners and need a job to do. Training gives them the opportunity to do both. A well-trained dog has more freedom. He can go more places and do more things with you because he knows how to behave.

To achieve a well-trained rescue dog, you need to understand 1) punishment vs. correction and 2) how to become leader of your "pack."

 - some text excerpted from Progressive Animal Welfare Society pamphlets, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals pamphlets, and an article written by Vicki DeGruy, Chairman of the Chow Chow Club, Inc.'s Welfare Committee (http://www.chowclub.org).

For information about CBR Relief & Rescue, email us at info@cbrrescue.org. Please send all corrections or comments about this website to webmaster@cbrrescue.org.

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