susquehanna stories: unveiling the history of the chesapeake bay retriever
05-26-214 mins read
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an incredible dog with an equally impressive history in waterfowling. Located in the Northeast portion of the country, the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna Flats are home to plenty of waterfowl and plenty of harsh weather.
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The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an incredible dog with an equally impressive history in North American waterfowling. Located in the Atlantic Flyway in Northeast portion of the US, the Chesapeake Bay is certainly one of the most storied locations to pursue waterfowl, due perhaps in part to it’s notoriously harsh weather and trying conditions. The majority of the Bay is quite shallow, leading water temperature to drop to freezing temps and ice easily and during winter. As a result, the hunters there need to be gritty and determined in their pursuit, unwavering through stiff, northern winds and icy waters… and the same rings true for their hunting dogs. The burly and determined Chessie is the ideal dog for hunting in these conditions, and if you’ve ever had the opportunity to hunt over one, you know why.

Fact: Chessies can vary in size, so use our Kennel Fit Finder to determine the safest size dog kennel for your dog.


  • Height
    • Males: 23”-26”
    • Females: 21”-24”
  • Weight
    • Males: 65-85lbs
    • Females: 55-70lbs
  • Coat
    • A Chessie’s double coat is quite unique and should be short and thick. Their wool-like undercoat is dense and oily, while their outer coat consists of short, wavy hair. This combination helps them dry rapidly and stay ready for more retrieves when hunting in harsh, cold waters.
  • Life span
    • The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has a solid life span for a large dog, averaging 10-13 years.
  • Color
    • Brown, Dark Brown, Dark Deadgrass, Deadgrass, Light Brown, Light Deadgrass, Sedge, and Tan. Some Chessies have small white markings, but they are minimal.

Hunting History

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed can be traced back to the early 19th century, when Captain John Mercer of West River, Maryland, rescued two Newfoundland puppies from a shipwreck off the coast. The two pups, named Sailor and Canton, became the foundation of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed as they were bred with local retrievers. The result: a versatile and resilient retriever that could adapt to the bay’s challenging terrain.

As the breed developed, their webbed feet, oily double coat, and powerful swimming abilities allowed them to navigate the harsh conditions of the Chesapeake Bay with ease. They quickly became a go-to choice for waterfowl hunters in the region as they were able to withstand cold waters, icy conditions, and adverse weather while still remaining efficient and reliable retrievers.

In 1877, the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a distinct breed. Their loyalty and versatility led them to quickly spread in popularity beyond the Susquehanna region. While their working roles have evolved over the years, you can find Chesapeake Bay Retrievers waterfowl retrieving, performing search and rescue tasks, and often competing in agility competitions. The breed’s journey from the shores of Susquehanna to international recognition is a testament to its versatility and resilience.

The Chessie Personality

A Chesapeake’s personality is lauded by many. They’re loveable family dogs who do not hide their emotions. Chessies can certaibly be great with children, but most recommend adult supervision as they do not tolerate bothersome behaviour overly well. They’re generally an outgoing breed, but may need a little time to warm up to new friends, so keep that in mind when guests come over. Most noted, however, is the loyalty this breed generally demonstrates for their families.

Chessies are quite intelligent dogs and excel with obedience if given the proper time and patience. Molly Boland of Free Spirit Gun Dogs is a talented dog trainer and is passionate about the breed. She believes that Chesapeakes are one of the most intelligent, and also sensitive breeds. This can make training more difficult because of the increased time and patience required to walk them through the process and ensure their understanding without losing trust, but she finds it worth the challenge. Molly says she will never live without a Chessie by her side.

The Health of a Chessie

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers tend to be very healthy dogs who live long lives for the size of their breed. As with many of the Retriever breeds, they require proper mental and physical exercise, as well as a nutritional diet. Chessies are susceptible to common joint issues such as hip dysplasia, so it’s best to have regular trips to the vet to monitor their overall health.

Training Tips for Chesapeake Bay Retrievers

Molly Boland has a lot of experience training Chesapeakes, especially when it comes to building powerhouse gun dogs. Her step by step process for developing a gun dog and helping to bring out their natural instincts doesn’t waiver overly much from breed to breed, but she does suggest slowing things down with Chessies. “They don’t have much patience for mistakes. If you show them correctly, that’s how they’ll do it for the rest of their lives but if you make mistakes and try to reteach, they’ll start to question your level of education; they’ll either turn on you or just shut down.”

In general, It’s important to keep training light and fun for all dogs, but especially a Chessie. Many dogs learn best through repetition but this can create boredom for our coarse-coated hunting buddies, so be consistent and creative with your training scenarios so they are engaged.

“You must be courteous when it comes to training a Chessie.” — Molly Boland


Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are an extremely athletic and talented breed of hunting dogs with a history that dates back to the beginning days of the American waterfowler. With proper love and care, they can impress you while playing with your children in the backyard and while chasing a downed bird through chilly waters. The Chessie is certainly one of America’s greatest gun dogs.

Read more: The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

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