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Do I Really Want a Chesapeake Bay Retriever?

Why do you want a Chesapeake Bay Retriever? Hopefully it’s not because your neighbor has this really neat Golden Retriever and so you’d like to get one of those retriever dogs too. That’s the first thing we need to clear up now.

Chesapeake Bay retrievers are not related to Goldens or Labradors – and because of this very basic genetic difference, you cannot compare Chessies to these breeds. Chesapeakes are unique, intensely loyal, protective, sensitive, and serious dogs – traits that require thoughtful consideration before adopting a dog.

Unique: Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are the result of crosses with Newfoundlands, hounds, setters, water spaniels and other dogs and were first recognized as a distinct breed in America in the middle of the 19th century. They were ducking dogs used by market hunters for retrieving waterfowl and protecting the day’s catch. These early objectives in breeding and selecting for outstanding ducking dogs has endured in today’s Chessies – they are still remarkably tough working dogs and loyal, protective companions.

Intensely Loyal: Today’s Chessie enthusiasts like to describe this breed as a truly all-around dog. The reason this can be is that Chessies are intensely bonded to their family – anything you consider fun they will try and work at liking it too. As Nancy Lowenthal has written, “they make exceptionally good, quiet house dogs because they want nothing better than being with their owners.” My dog, who loves water, will still hike to a water-less mountain summit with us and smile for the camera. Chessies are field champions, show champions, obedience champions, tracking dogs, therapy dogs – all because their owners thought to ask. Older Chesapeakes can bond very firmly with new owners; particularly if they have never had much attention. Consequently, Chessies need to be part of the family. Dogs always kenneled outside or tied up in the backyard are miserable. Chessies will not thrive, bond or work well under these conditions. A Chessie would much rather be crated inside the house. Another result of the Chessie loyalty is that they are indifferent to other people and dogs – very different from Goldens and Labradors.

Protective: Chesapeakes are protective by nature. They feel a strong sense of responsibility to protect their owner’s property – the yard, the house, the car, the children, the cats, the house guests. Our dog even claims any isolated mountain summit we’ve climbed – she’s very inhospitable (at first) to new hikers that join us – her form of “planting the flag!” As long as dog can be controlled this is not unacceptable behavior. Chessies must never be encouraged to become aggressive.

Sensitive: Because Chessies can be intensely loyal and bonded to their owners, they can be quite sensitive to their owners and members of his family. Once bonded to an owner and taught to respect that owner, a Chesapeake can be disciplined with a look or a low, sharp word. Over disciplining a Chessie can result in the dog “shutting down.” These big dogs require obedience training and must be kept under control – you must work with your CBR in a constant, steady manner to achieve a good working relationship. Chessies oftentimes do not work with enthusiasm for trainers other than their owners – this is where they get their “stubborn” reputation.

Serious: Chesapeakes were bred to work hard and the modern dogs still thrive on work. Anyone who owns one should be able to devote at least 20 minutes a day either working, training, retrieving or playing with them. Chesapeakes that are not worked – both physically and mentally – are prone to mischief and will not “think.” Because of their love of water, 20 minutes of water retrieves is usually much more intense work than an hour walking around the neighborhood nicely on the leash. These active, intelligent dogs need jobs and responsibilities – it is best if you designate what these jobs are – you might not agree with what your Chessie decides is important!

We recommend that you read all that you can in print and on the internet about the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. One book we recommend is the recently published book edited by Janet Horn and Dr. Daniel Horn, The New Complete Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Howell Book House, New York, 1994.