The beginnings of the breed are said to stem from two Newfoundland dogs (Sailor and Canton) rescued from a brig sinking in Chesapeake Bay. Sailor, the dog, was described as a dingy red color with some white on the face and breast. His coat was short and smooth but very thick and dense. His eyes were light in color and this trait marked many of his descendants. Canton, the bitch, was black with a tremendous endurance in pursuit of wounded waterfowl. Whether they were ever bred to each other is not certain. While market gunners did have dogs that they used for retrieving, their economic circumstances did not allow for the keeping of a large kennel of dogs needed to create a breed. We do know that the many ducking clubs that dotted both shores of the bay were instrumental in developing this breed of dog. These clubs shot thousands of birds in a season for the markets of the large East cities too. The breeding records from these clubs indicate that Sailor and Canton’s descendants were bred together along with infusions of various hounds and Irish Water Spaniels of the area. The Chesapeake was on the bench at the first Westminster KC show in 1877. The breed was popular not only in the East but in the Mid-West, Canada and the West Coast. Today the breed competes in all sorts of activities and services.
The breed was and is first and foremost a dog for water work in harsh conditions-“ water a temperature just above freezing-beads of ice decorate your clothes and the blind where the splash hits-and in the water place floating ice or slush 6 inches thick, or, if you are close in shore, even surface ice an inch thick”. Selection was based on working attributes of: love of water, thick coat, and conformation for swimming, birdiness, strength, intelligence and perseverance. The dogs were expected to figure out problems, be protective but not aggressive of his master’s birds and blind and be devoted to his “family”.
Selection in breeding during the breed's development though was not based on appearance but entirely for their work. “Certain physical qualities have been recognized as necessary for the proper performance of the work expected of them, such physical qualities as a strong and well-muscled frame especially suited to the motion of swimming; a color that will not show prominently when they are lying down on a marsh or among the autumn weeds or fields of grain; feet well webbed and opening out so as to form broad paddles; and a coat that will protect their skin from the icy, cold water into which they have to go.” Mic-Mac The American Field Under this criteria, the breed became famous among waterfowl sportsman- “You have one variety of dog unrivalled in all the world for the purpose for which he is intended; I mean your native retriever a fine specimen of which I saw on Carroll’s Island and among the gentry of the Eastern Shore…. These dogs are of noble presence, of almost human intelligence and of indomitable pluck…. They make in the hardest weather and roughest water the most powerful and best retrievers of wild fowl to be found in any country.” A Sporting Family of the Old South 1936. Held in such high esteem that Robert Barnwell Roosevelt writing in 1884 in his book Florida and Game Water Birds writes, “The only really distinct breed of retrievers is known as that of Baltimore.” The working aspect of the Chesapeake must always be kept foremost in mind when breeding or judging.
The important, distinctive double coat consists of a short, harsh, wavy outer coat and a dense fine wooly undercoat. It should resist the water in the same way that a duck's feathers do. In the 1870's, three coat styles were recognized: curly, straight and the “otter” coat. To some extent those three styles can still be seen in the breed even today. The breed's waving patterns are varied with some with more profuse waves that others. However, the key is the density of the coat and a water resistant oil in it. Undercoat is a must. No one style of coat is preferred (coat length varies from 1/2" to 1 1/2") as long as it is dense with undercoat.
In keeping with the working ability as an extremely important aspect, Chesapeakes are not a cookie cutter look alike breed. Moreover this is not a breed that has been "improved" but that still looks much like his original ancestors. Photos from the 1880's show a dog that looks very similar to the dogs of today. The Chesapeake’s signature traits are those that enable him to work: a water-resistant double coat that has a thick wooly undercoat for protection against the cold and a coarse and waved outer coat; a strong and muscular body with a broad deep chest, well laid back shoulders, a powerful rear with well webbed large hare feet (feet in which the two middle toes are longer than each side toe) for swimming; a head that has small ears held high as to be out of the water, and a pointed but not sharp muzzle shape with length to hold the game birds easily. His whole appearance should be that of a strong, balanced, powerfully built animal of moderate size with medium length of body and leg. He has a distinct outline-a top line that can be level or with a trifle rise to the rear and an underline. The underline is classic to the breed-it rises from underneath starting at the base of his deep chest, up the rib cage to a definite tuck at the loin. The size range of the breed (males 23" to 26 "; females 21" to 24") reflect the various working conditions that the breed may be hunted in- smaller sizes for boats or swamp stands; larger sizes for big water. While males should weigh 65 to 80 lbs. & females 55 to 70 lbs., the dog can often be heavier due his muscle and to have the right amount of substance for his size.
He should never be mistaken for a Labrador in head-this is NOT a blocky head breed. While his top skull is broad between the ears, there is a taper to below the eyes where the muzzle begins. Stop is not pronounced. The shape of the muzzle is pointed but not sharp and with length to carry large game birds easily. Ears are small and set high-triangular in shape is ideal. Lips thin and tight-no flews for feathers to lodge in. His eye is yellow or amber and medium large with a clear, steady gaze. The preferred bite is scissors but level is acceptable.
Chesapeakes come in a color palette of browns, sedge (red) and deadgrass (blonde). There is also a dilute color called ash (gray). From the start, the breed was found in all the colors and patterns that are present today. NO color is preferred over the other. Some dogs show patterns of masks on muzzle and/or skull; a saddle over back; brindle stripes and even tan points. A self-colored dog is preferred-meaning one color with or without shading of the same color. Patterned dogs are acceptable not the preference.
As a companion, the Chesapeake is a highly intelligent and independent thinking dog. He is very aware of his surroundings and his loyal loving nature with his "family" find him a good watch dog. Correct protective temperament is intimidation with barking and an imposing stance with a demeanor that says business. He is very affectionate with his owners and considers himself an equal member of his family. At home he is a quiet sensible dog that loves to follow you from room to room. Outdoors he is an active dog who loves to swim, hike, hunt and retrieve or do anything his owner likes to do. However being so natured, it is imperative that owners set boundaries of acceptable behavior from puppyhood. Obedience and socialization are extremely important. Training must be consistent- you must mean what you say. They are very clever even as puppies. Without direction, they can quickly get out of hand and begin training you! This dog thinks.
For competition training of any type, it is not productive to try to force them to do things if they do not understand what you want. You need to teach the dog what you want first. The breed being highly intelligent learns quickly. It also bores easily with too much repetition. You will find they start putting more and more twists into their performances. Once they understand what you want, they do not need drilling and drilling on it. You need to be an innovative trainer too-balancing work with fun. They are physically tough dogs but can be mentally sensitive. A verbal correction given sternly often suffices. This is particularly so when they are doing something they know they should not but are trying a new twist to see if you mean what you say. In this case, they accept correction and move forward. However, if you correct them for something they do not understand, you will find yourself with a dog who is confused, sulking or unwilling to do anything more. You will need to go back and start each training step again to find out where YOU missed the dog not understanding.
They are also physically tough dogs with a tolerance for pain that often pulls them through situations where other breeds would give up. To a Chesapeake, water is just another type of land. They will go out of their way to walk in puddles and streams. To see one running the waves in the ocean is to see this breed in his element-many cannot believe their eyes when they first see so much water. When you have a close bond with one, they can nearly do everything and anything if their owner wants them too.
They are meant to be mentally tougher dogs than the other retriever breeds and to prefer their owners too. In appearance, they are not supposed to be a lanky racy looking without substance and bone. Medium leg length with deep chests and tuck up in the loin area make for the correct appearance. It is important to remember that in order to work they need to build with correct structure-well laid shoulders and strong properly angled rears. It is easy to select for coat but coat alone does not make a Chesapeake. A beautiful coat on a dog with a poor front, weak long body, straight in the rear is worthless for his job. It is important to breed for the total package both in looks, temperament and abilities.
To end, this is not a dog for everyone. If you are someone who is not committed to a close relationship with their dog; who is not willing to take time to work with the dog; and does not understand that boundaries must be set, you will be unhappy with a Chesapeake. Ah but if you are suited, the love and loyalty will make this the only breed for the rest of your life.
This is an illustrated guide to the Chesapeake Bay Retriever from the ACC. Reading through this will explain the standard exactly.
Official Standard For The Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Equally proficient on land and in the water, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was developed along the Chesapeake Bay to hunt waterfowl under the most adverse weather and water conditions, often having to break ice during the course of many strenuous multiple retrieves. Frequently the Chesapeake must face wind, tide and long cold swims in its work. The breed's characteristics are specifically suited to enable the Chesapeake to function with ease, efficiency and endurance. In head, the Chesapeake's skull is broad and round with a medium stop. The jaws should be of sufficient length and strength to carry large game birds with an easy, tender hold. The double coat consists of a short, harsh, wavy outer coat and a dense, fine, wooly undercoat containing an abundance of natural oil and is ideally suited for the icy rugged conditions of weather the Chesapeake often works in. In body, the Chesapeake is a strong, well balanced, powerfully built animal of moderate size and medium length in body and leg, deep and wide in chest, the shoulders built with full liberty of movement, and with no tendency to weakness in any feature, particularly the rear. The power though, should not be at the expense of agility and stamina. Size and substance should not be excessive as this is a working retriever of an active nature.
Distinctive features include eyes that are very clear, of yellowish or amber hue, hindquarters as high or a trifle higher than the shoulders, and a double coat which tends to wave on shoulders, neck, back and loins only.
The Chesapeake is valued for its bright and happy disposition, intelligence, quiet good sense, and affectionate protective nature. Extreme shyness or extreme aggressive tendencies are not desirable in the breed as a gun dog or companion.
Disqualifications: Specimens that are lacking in breed characteristics should be disqualified.
SIZE, PROPORTION, SUBSTANCE
Height Males should measure 23 to 26 inches; females should measure 21 to 24 inches. Oversized or undersized animals are to be severely penalized. Proportion Height from the top of the shoulder blades to the ground should be slightly less than the body length from the breastbone to the point of buttocks. Depth of body should extend at least to the elbow. Shoulder to elbow and elbow to ground should be equal. Weight Males should weigh 65 to 80 pounds; females should weigh 55 to 70 pounds.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever should have an intelligent expression. Eyes are to be medium large, very clear, of yellowish or amber color and wide apart. Ears are to be small, set l well up on the head, hanging loosely, and of medium leather. Skull is broad and round with a medium stop. Nose is medium short. Muzzle is approximately the same length as the skull, tapered, pointed but not sharp. Lips are thin, not pendulous. Bite Scissors is preferred, but a level bite is acceptable.
Disqualifications: Either undershot or overshot bites are to be disqualified.
NECK, TOPLINE, BODY
Neck should be of medium length with a strong muscular appearance, tapering to the shoulders. Topline should show the hindquarters to be as high as or a trifle higher than the shoulders. Back should be short, well coupled and powerful. Chest should be strong, deep and wide. Rib cage barrel round and deep. Body is of medium length, neither cobby nor roached, but rather approaching hollowness from underneath as the flanks should be well tucked up. Tail of medium length; medium heavy at base. The tail should be straight or slightly curved and should not curl over back or side kink.
There should be no tendency to weakness in the forequarters. Shoulders should be sloping with full liberty of action, plenty of power and without any restrictions of movement. Legs should be medium in length and straight, showing good bone and muscle. Pasterns slightly bent and of medium length. The front legs should appear straight when viewed from front or rear. Dewclaws on the forelegs may be removed. Well webbed hare feet should be of good size with toes wellrounded and close.
Good hindquarters are essential. They should show fully as much power as the forequarters. There should be no tendency to weakness in the hindquarters. Hindquarters should be especially powerful to supply the driving power for swimming. Legs should be medium length and straight, showing good bone and muscle. Stifles should be well angulated. The distance from hock to ground should be of medium length. The hind legs should look straight when viewed from the front or rear. Dewclaws, if any, must be removed from the rear legs.Disqualifications: Dewclaws on the hind legs are a disqualification.
Coat should be thick and short, nowhere over 1 1/2" long, with a dense fine wooly ondercoat. Hair on the face and legs should be very short and straight with a tendency to wave on the shoulders, neck, back and loins only. Moderate feathering on the rear of the hindquarters and tail is permissible.
The texture of the Chesapeake's coat is very important, as the Chesapeake is used for hunting under all sorts of adverse weather conditions, often working in ice and snow. The oil in the harsh outer coat and wooly undercoat is of extreme value in preventing the cold water from reaching the Chesapeake's skin and aids in quick drying. A Chesapeake's coat should resist the water in the same way that a duck's feathers do. When the Chesapeake leaves the water and shakes, the coat should not hold water at all, being merely moist.
Disqualifications: A coat that is curly or has a tendency to curl all over the body must be disqualified. Feathering on the tail or legs over 1 3/4" long must be disqualified.
The color of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever must be nearly that of its working surroundings as possible. Any color of brown, sedge, or deadgrass is acceptable, selfcolored Chesapeakes being preferrred. One color is not to be preferred over another. A white spot on the breast, belly, toes or back of feet (immediately above the large pad) is permissible, but the smaller the spot the better, solid colored preferrred. The color of the coat and its texture must be given every consideration when judging on the bench or in the ring. Honorable scars are not to be penalized.
Disqualifications: Black colored; white on any part of the body except breast, belly, toes or back of feet must be disqualified.
The gait should be smooth, free and effortless, giving the impression of great power and strength. When viewed from the side, there should be good reach with no restrictions of movement in front and plenty of drive in the rear, with flexion of stifle and hock joints. Coming at you, there should be no signs of elbows being out. When the Chesapeake is moving away from you, there should be no sign of cowhockness from the rear. As speed increases, the feet tend to converge toward a center line of gravity.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever should show a bright and happy disposition with an intelligent expression. Courage, willingness to work, alertness, nose, intelligence, love of water, general quality and, most of all, disposition should be given primary consideration in the selection and breeding of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
1. Specimens lacking in breed characteristics.
2. Teeth overshot or undershot.
3. Dewclaws on hind legs.
4. Coat curly or with a tendency to curl all over the body.
5. Feathering on the tail or legs over 1 3/4" long.
6. Black colored.
7. White on any part of the body except breast,belly, toes or back of feet.
The question of coat and general type of balance takes precedence over any scoring table which could be drawn up. The Chesapeake should be well proportioned, an animal with a good coat and well balanced in other points being preferable to one excelling in some but weak in others.