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Subject: rec.pets.dogs: Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Breed-FAQ
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:21:53 GMT
Posting-frequency: 30 days
Last-modified: 22 Dec 1998
There are many FAQ's available for this group. For a complete
listing of these, get the "Complete List of RPD FAQs". This article
is posted bimonthly in rec.pets.dogs, and is available via anonymous ftp
to rtfm.mit.edu under pub/usenet/news.answers/dogs-faq/faq-list, via
the Web at http://www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/lists/faq-list.html, or
via email by sending your message to email@example.com with
in the body of the message.
This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below.
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
alteration provided that this copyright notice is not removed.
It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
than the URL listed above without the permission of the Author(s).
This article may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in other
documents without he Author(s)'s permission and is provided "as is"
without express or implied warranty.
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
* Cindy Tittle Moore, firstname.lastname@example.org) July 1995.
+ Further comments on color added Jan 1996.
+ Clarifications on color & notes in health section added Aug
This version is Copyright 1995, 1996 by Cindy Tittle Moore. It may not
reside at web pages anywhere other than at my site. Please feel free
to include a link to it if you wish, however. You are free to download
a hardcopy for your personal use; please contact me for permission for
Table of Contents
* The Chesapeake Today
* Characteristics and Temperament
+ Pet and Companion
+ Choosing a Puppy
* Special Medical Problems
+ Joint Problems
+ Eye Problems
+ Email List
+ Web Sites
+ Breed Rescue Organizations
To understand the rise and development of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever
it is essential to understand something about the region from which it
comes. The Chesapeake Bay is on the East Coast of the United States,
running north up toward Baltimore. This is a land of harsh winters,
icy water, and huge numbers of migratory birds. James Michener
describes the duck hunting in this region in his novel, _Chesapeake_.
There were literally so many birds that they could be shot out of the
sky en masse, resulting in 10 to 20 ducks for their dogs to then go
out and retrieve at a time. The guns used were more properly
boat-mounted cannons. These hunters needed dogs that were capable of
going out and retrieving all of these ducks, in particular going after
cripples first and then back to pick up the dead ones.
There are many stories and legends about the origin of the Chesapeake
Bay Retriever. The favored story involves the 1807 shipwreck of an
English ship bound for Poole, England. The crew and two puppies
survived the wreck: a brown male named Sailor and a black bitch dubbed
Canton in honor of the rescuing ship. These two puppies were St.
John's water dogs, no doubt bound for Lord Malmesbury's estates, which
at this time was developing the prototype for the Labrador Retriever
breed. These puppies found homes in the Chesapeake Bay area, on the
opposite shores, and were trained and used for duck retrieving. The
dogs that descended from these two ultimately became collectively
known as Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.
Whether or not Canton and Sailor contributed as much to the breed as
they are credited with, or even whether they were bred to one another
at all, it's clear that the Chesapeake, or Chessie as it is often
called, developed in this area from avid hunters who cared about two
things: a fanatical retriever, and a brown coat to blend in with its
surroundings. Thus, many dogs would have been used for breeding stock
as long as they were good hunters and retrievers and had brown coats.
Other St. John's dogs from Newfoundland and retrieving dogs, including
the Labrador upon its return to the Americas, were no doubt used in
the quest for the ultimate duck retriever.
While it's temptingly romantic to paint a picture of a breed coming
about by natural selection in this rugged climate, in all likelihood,
Chesapeakes were bred quite carefully by the families along the Bay
for the qualities they desired. There is anecdotal evidence of
breeding records and pedigrees tracing back to at least the beginning
of the 19th century. In particular, the Carroll Island Gun Club was
devoted to Chesapeakes in the latter half of the eighteenth century
and reportedly kept breeding records going back for decades. The
club's members bred Chesapeakes and hunted over them; sportsmen came
from all over the country to witness their prowess. Unfortunately, in
a contribution to the puzzle of this breed's origins, the club's
records were lost in a fire near the turn of the century. Some of the
other breeds believed to have played a part in the Chesapeake's
development include coonhounds, Curly Coated Retrievers, Irish Water
Spaniels, and setters.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was the first individual retriever breed
recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878. The first recorded
Champion in this breed is CH Barnum (born 1892); the first Field
Champion is FC Skipper Bob (mid 30's), with the first dual Champion,
Dual CH Sodaks Gypsy Prince (1937) following shortly after. The
American Chesapeake Club became the official national breed club in
1918. In contrast, the rest of the retrievers were lumped together
until the late 1920's when the AKC finally separated them into the
ones we know today.
The Chesapeake Today
The Chesapeake is fortunate at this point in that it has not split
between show and field as has happened with the more popular retriever
breeds. To some extent this is probably due to its being one of the
rarer Retriever breeds, with Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers
far surpassing the Chesapeake in litters registered annually with the
AKC. In 1994, there were two Dual Champions. There have been a total
of eleven Dual Champions in the breed, and three more that had a breed
Championship and an Amateur Field Trial Championship.
The American Chesapeake Club today maintains the breed Standard,
organizes annual National Specialty Shows and Field Trials. The club
has a code of ethics for its members, and supplies information upon
request about the breed and those in the breed.
Characteristics and Temperament
Pet and Companion
The Chesapeake is a talented and driven dog. He can be stubborn and
strong-willed and is not the best dog for most novice owners. He is
excellent with children, though he will not tolerate abuse and will
get up and leave in such a situation. In any case, any interaction
between young children and dogs of any breed should be supervised by
The Chesapeake is an intensely loyal dog with a strong protective
streak. This is coupled with an excellent temperament; the consequence
of which is that while the Chesapeake makes an excellent watch dog, he
is a poor attack dog as he will not injure others. His loyalty also
means that it is difficult for anyone else to train the dog except for
his family. As a rule, Chesapeakes are friendly rather than
affectionate with strangers. Poor results are obtained by "sending the
dog away" for training and is not advised. This is a breed that makes
a wonderful family pet and does badly when kenneled away from the
Because he is a retrieving breed, he is likely to chew quite a lot
throughout puppyhood and adolescence. Because he will grow to be
relatively large and have a protective streak, it is imperative to
socialize him as a puppy with plenty of strangers and have him be used
to obedience work.
Chesapeakes are first and foremost superb hunting dogs and well known
for their love of water. They are credited with excellent noses and
perserverance in finding fallen game, in particular going after
crippled birds first then the dead ones. For example, there are
authenticated stories of Chesapeakes retrieving as many as 100 ducks
in a single day! With good training, your Chesapeake should easily be
an excellent hunter.
Chesapeakes are shown in field trials and do very well, However, they
are consistently outnumbered by Labradors at these shows (who
outnumber all the other breeds eligible for these trials).
Nevertheless, the breed continues to have Dual Champions, a tribute to
the continued working ability of the breed as a whole.
In contrast, Cheaspeakes are never very numerous at the show ring.
They are easily shown however; requiring little grooming. It is
sometimes difficult, however, to find a judge that truly understands
the breed's type.
Chesapeakes do well in obedience, especially under experienced
trainers. Since they have a mind of their own, however, it may be a
task to convince them to do things your way rather than theirs!
Choosing a Puppy
Look for puppies with the following points:
* Sound temperament -- no shyness, fear, or aggression.
* Good health -- active and inquisitive, glossy coat, pink gums and
* Ideally should be retrieving items with eagerness at an early age
* Unperturbed by loud noises.
* Eager to approach strangers.
* Parents that are certified free of hip and elbow dysplasia and
examined annually for hereditary eye diseases.
Look carefully at the parents to give you an indication of what the
puppies should grow up to be like. If you don't like the dam or the
sire, you should probably pass on the puppies. There are more general
tips given in the FAQ on "Getting A Dog" for finding reputable
breeders and asking the right questions. This article is posted
monthly to rec.pets.dogs.info. General help for dealing with puppies
can be found in the "New Puppy" FAQ, also posted monthly to
A Chesapeake puppy's coat color can become either darker or lighter
with maturity. Puppy and adult colors can both range from a very light
"deadgrass" color to a rich, dark chocolate shade. It is common to see
a wide range of colors within the same litter.
Frequently Asked Questions
_Aren't Chesapeakes a kind of Labrador?_
NO, although the breeds are related. Unfortunately, since Labradors
are much better known, the comparison is inevitable, and too often
the Chesapeake is simply described in terms of how it differs from
the Labrador, or worse, as "another kind of Labrador."
Physical differences: In Chesapeakes, the ears are set higher, and
the legs tend to be longer. The eyes are shaped differently and set
a little more forward in the head. They are not as stocky as
Labradors, especially show Labs, and they have a different topline
since their rear may be high. The coat of a Labrador is not woolly,
and if there is a wave to it, is not nearly the same as a
Chesapeake's. Moreover, Chesapeakes only come in various shades of
brown (from a wheaten "deadgrass" color, to reddish brown, to a
deep rich chocolate), whereas Labradors can be yellow, black, or
chocolate. The easiest way to distinguish a chocolate Labrador from
a dark Chesapeake is by the lighter pigment of the Chesapeake's
nose and eyes and the woolliness and curliness of its coat. Eye
color doesn't always give you a clue as many chocolate Labradors
have yellow eyes rather than the correct hazel or brown. Certainly
poorly bred specimens of either breed may make it nearly impossible
to decide which breed they are.
Temperament differences: The Chesapeake is a loyal breed, bonding
closely to its family and not taking direction from strangers very
well although they may be unfailingly polite or friendly to
strangers. The Labrador is often indiscriminately affectionate and
many will work for nearly anyone. The Chesapeake has a protective
streak which most Labradors lack or possess to a significantly
lesser degree. Extensive kenneling and isolation seems to affect
Chesapeakes more strongly than Labradors. Both breeds can be
equally stubborn, however, and they do share many other common
retriever traits: high intelligence, trainability, a high activity
level, and a love of water.
_What are the different colors of the Chesapeake?_
_Deadgrass_ -- is without any red tone in either the light, regular
or dark variations. Deadgrass can vary from almost yellow to tan.
_Sedge_ -- almost a "strawberry blonde" coloration. Definite
reddish undertones on a relatively light colored coat.
_Browns_ -- darker and may have red undertones (light brown, brown
and dark brown).
Liver -- ???. This color was a disqualification for a long time,
but has been dropped in the latest version of the standard. It's
not clear how this color differs from shades of Brown.
_So are Chespeakes always a solid color?_
White markings can show up but unless limited to spots on the
chest, belly or feet, they are disqualifications. Any black
markings are disqualifications. The Chesapeake can have hound
markings though this is not preferred.
However, if you examine a solid colored Chesapeake, you will likely
find a subtle range of colors on it, down to variations on a single
hair shaft. This is perfectly normal.
_Which color came first? Which is better?_
While the exact color of a Chesapeake is inconsequential, the range
of colors and their historical devevelopment is nevertheless of
In researching old AKC Stud Book pages, the predominant registered
color of the Chessie in the late 1800's was sedge. However, there
is some evidence that because sedge was a prized color at the time,
dogs were being registered as sedge simply to help move puppies.
Also, as many Chesapeakes change colors from puppyhood to
adulthood, it is unclear how many puppies might have been sedge
when young and a different color when adult. Nevertheless, this
practice started such an uproar at the time that "sedge" was very
nearly dropped as a color description. This is probably also when
the worn out argument of which color is "better" originated.
According the stud books, which, again, are open to interpretation,
a trend toward the brown color started at the turn of the century.
Brown in those days was called by several different names including
sable, bay, mink, brown, dark brown, red brown, and light brown.
There were also several dogs registered as liver in color. From
1889 to 1904, one deadgrass and a handful of tans were registered
(and one as "sedge grass"). This suggests that Chesapeakes have
always come in a wide range of colors. Because of the
dominant/recessive nature of the colors, there will be a greater
number of browns than other colors. There is no evidence that
deadgrass developed later or elsewhere.
(Thanks to Thomas McClanahan for supplying the information about
the stud book records and to Meghan Connor for discussing their
interpretation, both on the Chessie-L list.)
_So how important is color?_
Not very. So long as the Chesapeake has no disqualifying marks, the
color of its coat is unimportant. Of course, individuals have their
private preferences, but this ideally does not carry over in to the
show ring, and certainly does not affect the dog's hunting ability.
You can find quality dogs in any of the permitted colors for the
_Alright, if color is not important, then what is?_
The coat quality! It's important that the coat be harsh and crisp,
with plenty of undercoat. A correct coat will be only mildly damp
after the dog shakes when coming out of the water. If it retains
water so that the dog is soaked, it is not correct. Nor should the
coat curl (defined in the Standard as the hair curling around far
enough to touch itself again).
Color appears to play some part in the coat quality, as a variety
of colors in the coat often signify variations in texture necessary
for a quality coat. This is not to say, however, that a particular
color is somehow better than the rest.
_Is the eye color supposed to match the coat?_
Not according to the Standard. Individual breeders may have
personal preferences, of course, but a long as the Chesapeake's
eyes are yellow to amber in color, it does not matter whether the
coat is deadgrass or dark brown or any other color in between.
_Is the topline supposed to have the rear be higher?_
Again, according to the standard: "Topline should show the
hindquarters to be as high as or a trifle higher than the
shoulders." Many breeders prefer "a trifle higher," citing improved
working ability as a result. The Chesapeake is one of only a few
AKC recognized breeds that allow high rears.
_Are Chesapeakes stubborn and hard to train?_
They have often been accused of such, but this directly contradicts
the personal experience of many Chesapeake owners. Most often you
will hear this accusation from professional hunting or field trial
trainers, most of whom are more accustomed to working with the
Labrador. As previously noted the Chesapeake is more responsive to
his family than to a stranger and this is doubtless a large factor
responsible for the trainers' perceptions. If you will be sending
out your Chesapeake for hunting training, be sure to look for a
trainer that has trained Chesapeakes and is willing to work with
their differences rather than train them in the same way all their
other dogs are trained, or try to force them into the Labrador
The other thing to keep in mind is that Chesapeakes are intelligent
and sometimes bored with pointless (to them) repetition. Thus their
talent for doing some things their own way! Anyone training
Chesapeakes must work with this tendency or ultimately be
_How much do they shed? Do they require a lot of grooming?_
No! The coat is nearly maintenance free and can in fact be damaged
by over grooming. Many people do not know what the proper coat
texture is for a Cheasapeake; it should be springy and resilent to
the touch, not soft or smooth. Brushing your Chesapeake weekly with
a rubber brush is all he needs. The regular brushing will help
distribute oils evenly throughout the coat and help shed any dead
hair. In particular, you should not use a rake or a slicker on the
coat, which can break down all the wave and kink in your
Chesapeake's coat. A properly maintained Chesapeake coat will be
only slightly moist after it shakes itself off when it comes out of
the water. Since the Chesapeake is a double coated breed, it does
shed, more than you might expect for a relatively short haired dog,
but less than a long haired dog.
_How much exercise do they need?_
Like all the retriever breeds, the Chesapeake is an active dog and
will become destructive if bored or underexercised. Note that any
regular and/or heavy exercise should wait until your Chesapeake is
at least a year old. While puppies should have plenty of
opportunities for exercise, the exercise should be self selected
(eg, allowing the puppy to run around in a field rather than
dragging it along to go jogging with you).
_Are they good swimmers?_
Most Chesapeakes love the water! However, you should use good sense
when introducing a puppy to the water. Throwing it in could cause
the puppy to become afraid of the water. Instead, select a calm
body of water, with plenty of shallow area for him to romp in. If
you have another dog that loves to swim, this is the best way to
entice a puppy into the water. Keep an eye on very young puppies in
the water to be sure they don't get into trouble.
Adult Chesapeakes are excellent swimmers. You will see their
toplines just below the water and their tails acting as a kind of
rudder. They will swim with powerful strokes and pull their head
and shoulders out of the water to locate objects in the water.
_Just how well do they tolerate really cold water?_
An adult Chesapeake in good condition and aclimatized to the winter
will do just fine in icy water. Do be sensible and observe
precautions if you are near iced-over rivers or lakes that may
break through. Make sure your dog dries off completely and quickly
once he finishes swimming: with the correct coat, a quick shake is
sufficient, if your dog has gotten wet down to the skin, a towel
may help. Working Chesapeakes are often expected to work all day in
icy water conditions.
Special Medical Problems
Chesapeakes are susceptible to hip dysplasia as well as other joint
problems. All breeding stock should be x-rayed and certified clear of
hip dysplasia by the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals).
Elbow problems, including Ununited Anconeal Process, and Degenerative
Joint Disease (all called "OCD," or generally "Elbow Dysplasia") may
be upcoming problems in the breed: both the closely related breeds
Labradors and Flat Coats are finding increased incidences of these
problems when they look for them. Ideally, breeding stock should begin
clearing both elbows AND hips with OFA.
Von Willebrand's Disease
A form of von Willebrand's Disease, a blood clotting disorder.
They are also susceptible to an eye disease called PRA (Progressive
Retinal Atrophy). This insidious disease of the eyes eventually causes
blindness. It is believed to be inherited by a simple recessive mode.
This means that for a dog to be affected, both parents must be either
carriers or affected themselves. The problem is that this disease has
a late onset where the dogs do not show symptoms until they are over
four years of age, in which case they may have already been bred.
Carriers show no symptoms. All breeding stock should be examined
annually and have their eyes cleared through CERF (Canine Eye
Registration Foundation). At present, this is believed to be more of a
problem in other retriever breeds than the Chesapeake.
Currently there is a blood test to identify affected and carrier dogs
in Irish Setters. Hopefully there will soon be a test that will work
on other breeds.
As dogs that develop blindness later in life may have tested normal in
previous ophthalmological examinations, it's important to find a
breeder that not only tests all breeding stock annually, but also
continues to test dogs that were used for breeding in their old age.
Other eye problems include Entropian and occasional cataracts.
Bliss, Anthony, ed. _The Chesapeake Bay Retreiver_. Published by The
American Chesapeake Club 1933/36. Rare and out of print, an excellent
source of information.
Cherry, Eloise H. _The Complete Chesapeake Bay Retriever_. Howell
Horn, Janet and Dr. Daniel Horn. _The New Complete Chesapeake Bay
Retriever_. Howell Book House, 1994.
Spencer, James B. _Hunting Retrievers: Hindsights, Foresights and
Insights_, Alpine Publications.
_Chesapeake Bay Retriever Champions_, 1952-1987. Camino Book Co. PO
BOX 729, Kings Beach, CA 96143-0729. Tel: 702-831-5553
Byron, Gilbert. _Chesapeake Duke_, ill. by Jack Lewis published in
1975 by Tidewater Publishers, Cambridge, MD 21613. Out of print.
(fiction) Tidewater Publishers are now in Centrevill, MD, but don't
appear to carry either this or _Grover_.
Tom MacClanahan (email@example.com) and Teri Grodner
(firstname.lastname@example.org) maintain an email list for owners of Chesapeake
Bay Retrievers. To subscribe, send email to
LISTSERV@APPLE.EASE.LSOFT.COM with no/any subject line and in the body
of the message, put SUBSCRIBE CHESSIE-L yourfirstname yourlastname.
Another list is run by George Makatura (email@example.com);
subscription is via email to CHESSIE-L-REQUEST@LISTS.BEST.COM with no
subject line and subsingle as the only word in your message. You will
get further instructions on how to complete the subscription process.
The original Chessie-L mailing list at io.com was discontinued shortly
before Christmas 1996; archives for this list are still available.
* American Chesapeake Club Homepage, at http://www.amchessieclub.org
* Working Retriever Central, at http://working-retriever.com/
* Chesapeake Bay Retriever Website, at
Breed Rescue Organizations
You should contact the national breed club for information on local
regional clubs where you can get to meet and know breeders in your
area. The FAQ "Getting a Dog" details many tips on finding a reputable
breeder. This FAQ is posted regularly to rec.pets.dogs.info.
American Chesapeake Club
PO Box 18443, Chicago IL 60618-0443
_Send $1 and SASE for Club, Breed, Puppy, and Stud Service
Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club of Canada
Jane Goodfellow 788 Reynolds St., North Bay, Ontario, P1B 5C4.
_Please send SASE when inquiring_
Evergreen Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club
Marge Bakken (SEC), 826 South 136th, Seattle, WA 98168; (206)
243 - 0611
Chesapeake Bay Retriever FAQ
Cindy Tittle Moore, firstname.lastname@example.org