About Chesapeakes


The history of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is one of the most fascinating and fortunate in dogdom. In 1807, an American ship rescued the crew and cargo from a shipwrecked English brig off the coast of Maryland . Among the rescued were two presumably Newfoundland pups that were given to the rescuers. These pups (one black and one red) later proved to be skilled water retrievers, and as their reputations grew, many local retrievers of uncertain background came to be bred to them. It is also thought that Irish water spaniel, Newfoundland , bloodhound and other local hound crosses added to the development of the breed. Gradually a distinct local breed emerged, a dog that would repeatedly swim through the rough icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay and unerringly retrieve duck after duck. Even today, the Chessie is renowned for its remarkable ability to mark and remember where a bird has fallen. Its reputation spread well beyond the Chesapeake Bay area. By 1885, the breed was thoroughly established and recognized by the AKC. Being one of the oldest AKC recognized breeds, as well as one of the few breeds that can boast of being made in the United States of America , the Chessie’s popularity has been a well kept secret.

The Chesapeake Bay retriever is hardy enough to not only withstand, but also relish, repeated plunges into icy water. It loves to swim and retrieve. Despite an active life when outdoors, inside it tends to be calm. The Chessie tends to be independent, although it is eager to learn. It is reserved with strangers and can be protective; it also can be aggressive toward strange dogs if challenged. This is the hardiest, most strong-willed and protective of the retriever breeds.

The Chessie is a large active dog that needs a daily chance to exercise. It enjoys a good walk or swim. It can live outside in temperate conditions, but more than anything it prefers to spend time with its family. The oily, wavy coat is generally easily maintained. It seldom needs washing; in fact, bathing destroys the coatÂ’s oils and thus, its water resistance.

Form and Function
The Chesapeake Bay retriever was developed to hunt waterfowl under adverse conditions, facing strong tides in rough water, high winds and sometimes even having to break through ice. It is an extraordinary swimmer, with a strong, yet tender, bite enabling it to carry birds. It has powerful limbs and webbed feet. The Chessie is slightly longer than tall, with its hindquarters as high, or higher, than its forequarters. Its coat is rendered virtually waterproof by virtue of its oily, harsh outer coat and dense wooly undercoat. The color matches its working surroundings: any shade of brown, sedge or dead grass. 

  • GENERAL APPEARANCE- 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.
  • HEAD- 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.
  • FOREQUARTERS- 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 well rounded and close.
  • HINDQUARTERS- 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- Coat should be thick and short, nowhere over 1 1/2″ long, with a dense fine wooly undercoat. 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.
  • COLOR- 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, self colored Chesapeake’s being preferred. 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 preferred. 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.
  • GAIT- 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.
  • TEMPERAMENT- 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.
    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.


  • Three basic colors are generally seen in the breed: Brown which includes all shades from a light cocoa (a silvered brown) to a deep bittersweet chocolate color; sedge which varies from a reddish yellow through a bright red to chestnut shades; deadgrass which takes in all shades of deadgrass, varying from a faded tan to a dull straw color. Historic records show that some of the deadgrass shades can be very light, almost white in appearance, while darker deadgrass colors can include diluted shades of brown called ash, that appear as either gray or taupe. The almost white and ash/taupe/gray shades are not commonly seen, but are acceptable. Eye color for these diluted shades, as with all coat colors, must be of yellowish or amber color. The difference between a sedge and a deadgrass is that the deadgrass shades contain no significant amount of red, while the sedge shades do have red. Coat and texture also play a factor in the perception of color.
  • The self color pattern is preferred by the standard (One color with or without lighter and darker shadings of the same color). You will see dogs with varying degrees of other markings such as: masking on top skull, striping effect of light & dark through the body and on legs, distinct & indistinct saddle markings, agouti coloring and tan points. All are acceptable, they are just not preferred. They should not be disqualified. Considering that color counts for only 4 pts. in the Chesapeake standard, dogs with such markings should not be arbitrarily excluded from consideration. The other qualities of the dog that are more important to function, such as coat, angulation, head, balance and size, should be given the most consideration when judging. A good quality dog with minor pattern variations is preferable to a mediocre self colored specimen. It is true that these coloration patterns, at times, can be very pronounced. There have been judges who have disqualified dogs because of these patterns under the “specimens lacking breed characteristics” disqualification. Please note that characteristics is plural and color alone is not sufficient to warrant the use of this disqualification.
  • There are only two color disqualifications in the breed: black colored and white on any part of the body except breast, belly, toes or back of feet. The white disqualification seems to cause the most confusion. White which extends above the point of the sternum, whether connected or unconnected to white below, is a disqualifying location. White can also appear farther up on the neck and is often difficult to see. It is suggested that you lift up the head and exam this area for white. Premature graying does occur in this breed and should not be cause for disqualification. White is also allowed on the toes and on the back of the feet. The anatomical definition of foot is to be used when interpreting the Chesapeake standard. This means that the foot includes the carpal/tarsus, metacarpal/metatarsal and phalange areas. Legal white can also occur on the preputial region, or area of the sheath of the penis. The preputial region is a sub region of the pubic portion of the abdomen, in common terms belly. White in this location is not a disqualification either. An excellent text on comparative anatomy is Canine Anatomy, A Systemic Study, Donald R. Adams, Iowa State University Press 1986.
  • There also has been some confusion about eye color. The eye color of the Chesapeake is either a yellowish or amber color. There is no preference for either color over the other. Eye color does not necessarily have to match coat color e.g. a brown dog may have yellow eyes. While individual breeders may have a personal preference for eye and coat color to match, the standard DOES NOT require this. Brown dogs with light eyes or deadgrass/sedge dogs with dark eyes should not be faulted.
  • The standard also states a preference for solid colored, meaning no white. This does not mean that a poorer conformed and coated specimen without white should be selected over a better quality animal with white. Again, consideration should be weighted to those qualities that are more important to function.


Dyane M. Baldwin 1993 ACC Standard Committee



American Chesapeake Club

Coat Colors

Westminster Breed Profile (Norman is the breed profile picture)

AKC Chesapeake Bay Retriever

UKC Breed Standards