The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

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The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby gunman » Fri Aug 12, 2005 1:22 am

Some good reading, long but very good, especially if your interested in the breed......



The Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Psychologists, behavioral scientists and writers of romance novels all agree a love affair that lasts 45 years is extremely rare. Before long, road blocks such as job demands, seduction by another, physical maladies, recession or war tend to extinguish the passion before such a lengthy span of time has elapsed.

Nor, as is often true, has this been a case of unrequited love. Even when stories I've written have stirred such flaming anger and hatred that concerns for my safety were raised, at day's end there was somewhere to go where I would be bathed in love--home to my Chesapeakes. For I will assert that there is no breed of dog that is as devoted to its humans as the Chesapeake Bay retriever.

This deep-seated affection for their owner can be downright smothering. Indeed, for more than 45 years, unless I take the precaution of moving very quickly and closing the door with equal speed, I have been unable to make a "head call" unaccompanied. When I do succeed, the four Chessies that currently occupy my house sit outside the door whining and whimpering like they lost their last friend, their bodies pressed so tightly against the door that when I try to exit, it requires immense strength to move the roughly 300 pounds of dog barricade.
One of the few benefits of growing old is that you get to tilt your chair back, assume a thoughtful expression and pontificate on a variety of subjects. Most times, folks are at least polite enough to pretend to listen. So, based on slightly more than 45 years of successfully breeding, raising, training, hunting, testing, showing and trialing the Chesapeake, I'm going to pontificate on what is right and what is wrong with the breed.

Despite my unabashed affection for these strong-willed and independent animals, right up front you need to know that this is not a breed for everyone. Chesapeakes have definite minds of their own and possess a considerable amount of ability to think for themselves. They are not, and never will be, "Robodogs." It is embarrassing to admit the number of times I have marked the fall of a duck or goose that I was certain fell dead, insisted that the dog swim to that area only to have my Chesapeakes swim 50 yards to the left or right of where I absolutely knew the bird was…and come out of the reeds with a quite lively bird.

While this ability for independent thought is a trait highly prized by people who actually hunt with their dogs, it frequently gets the dogs in big trouble when it is time for hunt tests and field trials. It also bothers people who have a need to be in control. If your world is not complete unless you have unquestioned obedience from your dog or if your life will be empty unless you own the national field champion, do yourself a favor, get a Labrador.

While the breed has done well in hunt tests and has also had some success in field trials--the Chesapeake is the only retriever breed that still consistently produces dual champions, dogs that have both a conformation championship and a field championship--they are at a disadvantage in these "dog games"…although in the early years of field trials, and to a lesser degree, hunt tests, when the tests actually concerned themselves with innate abilities, the Chesapeake was a force to be reckoned with.

What this means is, if owning a field champion is your primary goal in life, you are better off with a Labrador. Why? First and foremost, we have the matter of sheer numbers. For several years the Labrador retriever has ranked first among all breeds registered with the American Kennel Club. Nearly 145,000 Labs were registered with the AKC in 2003. There were about 3,700 Chesapeakes registered with the AKC that same year. It stands to reason that with the number of dogs Labrador breeders produce, the odds of finding the kind of superstar needed for successful competition in field trials is greatly increased.

It is also very important to keep in mind that the rule-making bodies for both field trials and hunt tests are dominated by Labrador fanciers and they create rules that showcase the strengths of the Labrador breed. This is unlikely to change any time soon. It is no secret that where retriever field events are concerned, the Labrador Retriever Club of America "owns" the American Kennel Club. The reason is simple: 145,000 dogs times the $15 registration fee means more than $2 million annually in the AKC's bank account.

In the world of field trials and hunt tests, Chesapeakes tend to give you a solid, steady performance but they are not flashy. That is not good enough in the highly competitive world of field trials where style counts more than substance. Sadly, the same can be said for increasing numbers of hunt tests.

Chesapeakes will also not tolerate abuse from an over-zealous trainer. They can and will think for themselves. If they are asked to do something that is absurd, they are quick to let you know. Unfortunately, as field trials, and increasingly hunt tests, have evolved into events that evaluate skills that are of little importance in a hunting dog, these positive aspects of the breed for a hunter have become liabilities.

There are some other cautions that need to be observed by prospective Chesapeake owners. You have to carefully "pick your battles" with the breed. The most successful Chesapeake trainers are the ones who concentrate on a few things that really matter to them. On these issues, you cannot afford to cut a Chessie any slack because they are very intelligent and always looking for a better way to do something.

Then on the other issues, you have to be prepared to compromise because you simply are not going to win every battle with a Chesapeake. Where a lot of folks, particularly professional trainers, go astray with the breed is that they fail to understand that Chesapeakes do not fit well in a regimented training program. This is one breed in which it is essential to adapt your techniques to the individual dog because if the Chesapeake has any moxie at all, he won't adapt to your pre-planned program.

They are particularly resistant when you try to apply an intensive, high pressure, one-size-fits-all program that requires a dog to ignore its natural instincts and suppress its natural intelligence. These training techniques simply do not work with Chesapeakes.

This does not mean that Chesapeakes won't accept punishment. As long as it is applied judiciously and with restraint when they know they have it coming, they can handle corrections. But do not punish them without justification. They have memories that would shame an elephant, a virtue when you want them to remember where several birds are located but big trouble if you want them to forgive and forget. It is a guarantee that if you punish them without justification, they will eventually get even. This usually occurs when you have the most money or bragging rights on the line. They will smile at you and then proceed to give you the canine version of a "Bronx cheer."

So how have Chesapeakes changed in the 45 years they have occupied my home and heart? Thankfully, not much. The breed has had the good fortune of never becoming popular, which has proven to be a virtual death knell for a number of sporting breeds--cocker spaniels come immediately to mind. Although in many sporting breeds the split between "show" and "field" types is so enormous that they do not look like the same breed, this is not the case with Chesapeakes.

There are many conformation champions in the breed with advanced hunt test titles because Chesapeake breeders have stubbornly preserved the best physical and mental characteristics of this unique breed. In practical terms, this means you can buy a Chesapeake pup with a string of conformation champions in its pedigree and expect it to do a decent job in the field. It is not uncommon for a Chesapeake to go directly from the marsh to the show or obedience ring and be successful in both.

There have been some positive changes in the breed. Responsible breeders have made a conscientious effort to eliminate the bad-tempered dogs from the gene pool and they have, for the most part, been quite successful. There are still some Chesapeakes that honestly would have to be described as surly beasts that would love to bite you. But as someone who judged retriever hunt tests for 15 years, I can also tell you that there are Labradors and goldens who would also have to plead guilty to those charges.

Indeed, the closest I ever came to being bitten as a judge was by an evil-tempered Labrador that hated the world. The only time I had to step between two dogs to stop a fight, a golden was the aggressor. As with every breed, much depends upon how a Chesapeake is raised. If you heap enough abuse on a dog, you can make the most gentle-mannered dog mean.

However, it is important to not lose sight of the fact that the market hunters on Chesapeake Bay originally developed the breed. Not only were the dogs expected to make 150 to 200 retrieves a day from the rough, icy waters of the Bay, but they were expected to guard the hunter's boat and equipment at night. The old-time watermen ruthlessly culled dogs that did not meet those strict standards. As a consequence, most Chesapeakes still retain some of that guard-dog mentality.

The breed also has gradually grown more amenable to training than it was 45 years ago. You could absolutely pound the snot out of my early Chesapeakes and they would shrug it off like nothing happened. This is no longer true. If you are heavy-handed with most modern Chesapeakes, they will tell you, "Fetch your own damn ducks"…and you have never experienced stubborn defiance until you have had a Chesapeake dig in its heels with you. The Chesapeake's personality simply will not let them surrender to physical abuse. But physical abuse will cause them to abandon their innate loyalty and desire to please you.

Despite their enormous physical strength and outward hardiness, most Chesapeakes today are pretty soft dogs when it comes to training. A wise old trainer I knew who had considerable success with the breed summed up Chesapeake training very succinctly. He said, "Chesapeakes aren't so tough. You just have to persuade them that what you want them to do is their idea and you can't push them around because they will push back."

The breed remains the premier waterfowl hunter's dog. No other retriever breed can handle the cold, the rough going or the vagaries of wounded waterfowl quite as well as a Chesapeake. They possess a superb coat for their work that ranges in color from the deepest chocolate to a magnificent red-gold, called "sedge" in the breed standard, to light straw, but all the acceptable colors provide camouflage in their working environment.

They have outstanding marking ability and have a phenomenal ability to remember marks. They enter the coldest water with a kind of joy that is a sight to behold. I have seen Chesapeakes shrug off weather and water conditions that would send other retriever breeds running for the protection of a heated pickup cab. They are absolutely without peer when it comes to instinctively knowing where to find crippled waterfowl.

Without any formal training they will dive after cripples, diving until they ultimately wear the bird down to the point where they can catch it. They seem to take the loss of a crippled bird as a personal insult. They are big enough and strong enough to go to the mat with a wing-tipped Canada goose but gentle enough to return fledgling songbirds intact and uninjured.

Chesapeake breeders have avoided, for the most part, the temptation to produce the kind of hot-wired temperaments that win field trials but are nearly impossible to live with in a duck blind. Most Chesapeakes are great companions in the blind or the boat, alert and raring to go when there are birds in the air but calm and pleasant during the inevitable lulls. It is unlikely, however, that you will ever be successful in convincing them that at least half your lunch and all the meatloaf sandwiches do not belong to them.

While primarily waterfowl dogs, Chesapeakes also excel at hunting upland birds. It is certainly not as much fun to hunt quail and pheasants over a Chesapeake as it is to hunt those birds over a pointing dog but in the last 10 years, my hunting partners and I have killed many more pheasants and at least as many quail over the Chessies as we have over the pointing dogs.

Chesapeakes are wonderful dogs but only for people who are willing to accept them as they are. Just as you would be unlikely to create anything positive by changing a note of Mozart's or a brush stroke on the Mona Lisa or a word of Hamlet, you do not improve Chesapeakes by trying to change them into something they are not. For those folks who love and appreciate them for what they are, no changes are needed.............
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Postby Junebug (Matt Miller) » Fri Aug 12, 2005 7:26 am

Brilliant !!!!
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Postby 98ramtough » Fri Aug 12, 2005 8:31 am

Great read. I hope the breed NEVER becomes popular like a lab. You just can't explain how a chessie acts to a guy that doesn't have or hasn't had one.

"Without any formal training they will dive after cripples, diving until they ultimately wear the bird down to the point where they can catch it. They seem to take the loss of a crippled bird as a personal insult. They are big enough and strong enough to go to the mat with a wing-tipped Canada goose but gentle enough to return fledgling songbirds intact and uninjured."

I wish I could call my dog off a cripple without the ecolar! I get scared when he gets out of sight in the river!
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Postby gunman » Fri Aug 12, 2005 9:07 am

but gentle enough to return fledgling songbirds intact and uninjured."
Funny thing happened the other day, I was leaving for work and Lilly comes running up and I could tell she had something in her mouth, but I couldn't see it, so she runs up and sits down and just looks at me, so i tell her to drop it, sure enough its a baby bird, completely unharmed! so I did what anyone else would do....we used it as a live fetching pigeon!




.............................JUST KIDDN!! :toofunny:
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Postby shrpshtr » Fri Aug 12, 2005 1:47 pm

98, why don't you want chessies to become more popular?
Talk 'em into givin' up!

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Postby 98ramtough » Fri Aug 12, 2005 1:56 pm

Shrp-

When dogs get popular, they get worse, it gets harder to find great hunters because people get them for show. Like the Weim, Cocker Spaniel etc..
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Postby shrpshtr » Fri Aug 12, 2005 1:59 pm

sure if you deal with backyard breeders but that is a choice each potential owner makes. you have that now with chessies though. i don't understand what you mean, "they get worse..."

i personally think there are plenty of labs out there that are just as capable as any "duck" dog out there. the same can be said about chessies, GRs, etc.
Talk 'em into givin' up!

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Postby 98ramtough » Fri Aug 12, 2005 2:03 pm

Just stick with your lab :thumbsup:


When rarer breeds start to get popular, people start to breed them primarily for $$, this really hurts the breed. If you disagree, that is fine, everyone knows we think different. :salude:
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Postby shrpshtr » Fri Aug 12, 2005 2:33 pm

whatever man. i was just trying to gain a little insight to your perspective. like you said, i "should just stick to my lab!" but then again, i am not that shortsighted.

just cause we don't think alike on some things doesn't make us different with everything. sorry you feel that way though.... :thumbsdown:
Talk 'em into givin' up!

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Postby 98ramtough » Fri Aug 12, 2005 2:42 pm

Sharp-

I was just messin with ya. Labs are great dogs and great hunters. I don't think there is any dog that is the greatest hunter. It is what dog fits best with each hunter. Some like Goldens, some like Labs, some like Chessies, some like GSP, some like GWHs. It makes me sad to see so many labs die in the shelters every year. Chessies are not as popular as Labs so the wrong breeders don't get involved as often. You are 100% right, it is up to the purchaser to be responsible. Too bad that for every 100 guys that have a lab probably only a few actually hunt. I bet that number is much much higher with Chessies.
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Postby MattM1 » Fri Aug 12, 2005 2:50 pm

:thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Very well said GunMan!!!
But don't say all that too much, Chessies are the best kept secret and need to stay that way. I'm on my first Chessie (but have hunted with many over 13 years) , this will be our first duck season and he has been such a pleasure to train and just to have as a companion, I wouldn't want anything else.

Thanks for the great read.
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Postby shrpshtr » Fri Aug 12, 2005 3:25 pm

it must be that time of month for me, 98. that last response sounded a little more harsh than i intended. i agree about the # of labs hunting. it is a shame. i also can see where you would think the quality of the bloodlines have been "diluted" in labs because there are so many out there. that can be true. that goes back to the owner searching properly. i still think you would want to spread the word about chessies in the proper circles though. (i just imagine DHC and other forums of similar content would be appropriate places to encourage responsible chessie ownership).

sorry if i came off like a prick before... :thumbsdown:
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Postby pitboss » Fri Aug 12, 2005 8:00 pm

"popular" like many things is realitive....

i agree with shrpshtr thinking :thumbsup:


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Postby Fowlercon » Fri Aug 12, 2005 8:16 pm

My own experience with Chessies has been limited to the bitch I've been hunting with for the last 3 years, who is absolutely wonderful by the way, to my just now 10 month old chessie, Deuce. Deuce, like many other breeds of dogs has had days of training so bad that I've wanted to kill him right there on the spot. Luckily good sense has prevailed and he is fine. I've owned 2 labs in my life and so far find the two very similar in behavior and characteristics. Although Deuce is the first dog I have attempted to formally train on my own it seems as the two previously mentioned labs went a might bit smoother. My second born has been worlds easier than my first but that is neither here nor there. During the decision making process of the million dollar question; "What breed should I get?", I had been throughly cautioned by EVERYONE regarding the traits and mostly negative characteristics of the Chesapeake. Frankly, I took this as personal challange. So what did I do? Research. And lots of it. I spent literally months reading and asking questions only to hear the same answers. "Your a first time trainer?" "The Chessie is not for you.""You have children?""The Chessie is not for you." So on and so forth. Everything I ever heard about the Chessie, negative or possitive, did nothing but appeal to me. So I went and bought from a breeder that had the oldest blood lines I could find. If you get a good look at my boy's feet and chest you will see the white, supossidly something that had been breed out long ago. In fact I have never seen another Chessie with white on them. "Oh no, he's going to be aggressive.""Oh no, he's going to be honery." Let me tell you fellas, that is a bunch of malarky. Deuce, like the labs I had when I was a kid, has been an absolute joy. I have never see intensity in a living things eyes like that of his when he is staring down a mark. Like I said, it hasn't all been peaches and cream. When I found out at twenty-one years old that my then girlfriend was pregnant with my son I thought that my life was finished. But I wouldnt trade him in either. Now I have a seven year old son that wrestles with that "honery" 80 pound gorrilla. Other than the first month of his life, Deuce has not shown one hint of aggression to man nor beast. So, does it take a "special" kind of guy to train a chessie? I don't think so. I don't find anything particular special about myself that would ensure success any greater than another guy. To me, dog training is exactally like child rearing. If you are consistanly fair and consistantly loving, your spouse, your children and your dog will worship the ground you walk on.
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Postby gunman » Sat Aug 13, 2005 4:02 am

Very well put! I can't agree with you more, both my male and now my female Chessie's have been GREAT, and Lilly is smart as a whip! wouldn't chnge a thing! =Chris
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Postby firebird » Sat Aug 13, 2005 3:23 pm

Last Spring I lost my 13 year old Chessie named Riggs. He died on a night I was at the Fire Dept. and my wife called so choked up she couldn't even explain the situation for me. That old monster helped me claim every legal gamebird in Utah and 4 other states and and nearly every species of waterfowl, including a rare scoter that wound up belly up on the Great Salt Lake. He retrieved everything from rails and mearns quail to swans and cranes with equal style and care. He retrieved ducks from ice choked rivers after another hunters lab had quit trying and found MANY other hunters birds after they quit looking. He was fond of carrying around a big rock in his mouth and tearing cattails up while I placed decoys, similar to a grizzly chasing a squirrel. He would dive for birds and swim circles forever while chasing cripples none of which I taught him. He would crawl next to me while making stalks prompting my buddies to believe he was just as crazy as me. His face was scarred from a fight with a Nebraska coon and he would hatefully hunt coons anywhere we went after that. He never tired of retriving anything my little 4 year old would throw for him and did not allow strangers in the yard when my daughter was there playing. We picked out a new pup this last June, another male chessie, named Hogan, his mother was playing with a rock when I went to check out the liter... Thanks for the posts, very well done.
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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby Griffdom » Sat Oct 05, 2013 9:01 pm

A great read posted by OP'er and some good testimonials by Chessie owners. Thought I'd share my find. Also, I'd love to read more testimonials from Chessie owners. I'm not looking to get a Chessie. I am kind of intrigued by the breed though.
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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby gock5 » Sun Oct 06, 2013 8:45 am

i've had a chessie female for the past 6 years. she's a family dog first, plays with the kids, great with very young ones, etc. Sleeps with the family. She's also my hunting companion. Note that I trained her myself; didn't do a great job since I'd never done that before, but she's never failed to retrieve a duck or pheasant. Loves being out on the water and in the field. I also like the fact that when a stranger does come up to the door, she will let them know she's there, protecting out family.

she's been great for our family and for me.
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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby go get the bird » Mon Oct 07, 2013 10:51 am

Griffdom wrote: I am kind of intrigued by the breed though.

They are certainly intriguing.

I have limited experience with the CBR. The only one I've owned is still in training. However, there are a few things I can say with absolute certainty.

If you want a dog that is guaranteed to be photogenic, don't get a chessie. They will take a the perfect picture and ruin it with closed eyes or a turn of the head.
ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381164185.914274.jpg

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If you want a "no nonsense" dog, you should also shy away from the CBR. The chessie loves to play games, especially "guess what's in my mouth.
ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381164362.629584.jpg

ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381164384.263658.jpg



If you want a clean-eating dog that will leave your floor water and slobber free, the Chesapeake bay retriever is not for you.
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Last edited by go get the bird on Mon Oct 07, 2013 11:05 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby go get the bird » Mon Oct 07, 2013 10:56 am

If you want a breed that understands personal boundaries, don't get a 'peake.
ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381164755.096670.jpg

ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381164763.912656.jpg


If you want you dog to just sit down and shut up, and keep its nose out of trouble, the CBR is definately not for you.
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ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381164994.430380.jpg
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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby go get the bird » Mon Oct 07, 2013 11:01 am

However, if you want a fiercely loyal companion and a best friend that will work its ass off for you, through the worst situations, the CBR is right up your alley.
ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381165125.197513.jpg

ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381165138.679495.jpg

ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381165168.279351.jpg


Even though my girl has a mind of her own, I wouldn't trade her for a million dollars. I couldn't give up my best friend.
ImageUploadedByTapatalk1381165248.230663.jpg

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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby gock5 » Mon Oct 07, 2013 2:15 pm

I agree 100% with what "go get the bird" just stated.
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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby Rick Hall » Mon Oct 07, 2013 2:19 pm

Sweet photo essay for sure.
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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby Rise and Shine Retrievers » Tue Oct 08, 2013 8:40 am

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Property Laws

If I like it, it’s mine
If it’s in my mouth, it’s mine
If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine
If I can take it from you, it’s mine
If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours
If I saw it first, it’s mine
If it’s edible, it’s mine
If you have something and you put it down, it’s mine
If I chew something up, all of the pieces are mine
If I get tired of it, it’s yours
If I want it back, it’s mine

I'm on my 3rd Chessie and expecting to get another this winter.
Preserve game, use a well trained retriever.
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Re: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Postby SDMF » Tue Oct 08, 2013 9:32 am

GunMan, you are absolutely dead nutz right ! Best post I've read in a long time! i've had chessies for 20yrs and if I couldnt have another I dont think I'd have a dog.. Fell in love with the breed as a kid, My 2nd cousin had one that was amazing duck dog. unflappable. you are so right about the free thinking ways of the CBR. their drive and the total dedication they show to there owners. each dog has there own character. Never owned a Lab, and sorry guys but I dont think I ever will. The Chessie WILL ALWAYS be the breed for ME !
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