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Should I get a Chesapeake Bay retriever?

A reader who has recently become keen on wildfowling is wondering whether this would be the perfect breed?

Wildfowler with Chesapeake Bay retriever

Q: I am new to wildfowling but I am totally hooked. I have never owned a dog before but hanker for a Chesapeake Bay retriever because I have read so much about them as excellent wildfowling dogs. Do you think this would be a suitable breed? (Read which would be the best wildfowling dog for me?)

A: It’s great to hear that you are enjoying your wildfowling; 
I am sure you will enjoy it even more when you have a dog alongside you. Labradors tend to be the most popular dog among wildfowlers and you shouldn’t completely disregard them, but if you have developed an interest in ‘Chessies’ you owe it to yourself to find out more and make 
a balanced decision.

Chesapeake Bay retriever

Cheapeake Bay retrievers can be challenging to train

Shooting Times contributor David Tomlinson says: “The last thing you want on a wild fowling trip is a dog that you are worried about. A good fowling dog has to be not only a powerful swimmer, but one that has strong survival instincts and an ability to look after itself. I have been wildfowling in Scotland, England and Wales, but I’ve never been a true wildfowler, possibly because I have never owned a suitable dog for the job.

“I am an admirer of the Chessie, but unless you are an experienced dog handler I wouldn’t recommend one.”

Camouflage colour

A natural camouflage colour is one of the great assets of the Chesapeake Bay retriever, a dog that on paper has the best qualifications to be a wildfowler’s companion. These powerful retrievers evolved on the shores of Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast of America. The Chesapeake Bay retriever was originally a so-called ducking dog, employed by 19th-century commercial gunners to retrieve their ducks.


Chesapeake Bay retrievers – a superb breed

As a wildfowler’s dog Chesapeake Bay retrievers have so much to offer.  — size and strength, staying power, they are great at swimming, have a thick and waterproof coat and a long history 
of doing exactly the job you need. But they can be more challenging to train compared with a Labrador. (Read do dogs need coats?)

Not for novices

It would be foolhardy to take on a breed that is too much for you as a novice owner and trainer, so give yourself time to fully investigate the Chessie. Get in touch with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club, which will be delighted to hear from a potential new supporter and will, I am sure, help you locate others involved with Chessies, who can give you expert advice. Ideally, you need to visit some breeders to see their dogs and if possible watch them working, too.

I have known two Chesapeake Bay retrievers owned by friends — both wonderful dogs, but each was said 
to be rather strong-willed in training, though they certainly mellowed as they matured.
If you do decide on a Chessie you will probably be told not to expect 
too much too soon from your new dog, so be patient. I am sure it will 
be worth it.


Chesapeakes are bred to retrieve game but will also sit in the boat

What to know about the breed

  • A breed of dog that will hunt in bad weather, often breaking the ice to make a retrieve
  • Bred to retrieve game but also sit in the boat
  • The breed is very protective of owners and property
  • Has a “waterproof” coat that can feel a bit oily
  • Colours include light to dark brown
  • Some dogs “smile” by baring their front teeth in a grin

This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.