In 1964, Maryland became the first state to designate an Official State Dog, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
One the few breeds actually developed in the United States, its early history is more legend than fact. There’s a tale told of two young Newfoundland-type dogs, survivors of an English vessel shipwrecked off the coast of Maryland in the early 1800s, which were supposedly bred to local coonhounds. Their offspring were said to be the progenitors of the present-day Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary, a semi-enclosed coastal body of water with a free connection to the open sea, in North America. In additional to numerous fish and other wildlife, the Bay supports large winter populations of migratory waterfowl.
This handsome retriever is a working dog, bred to recover waterfowl for hunters. The American Kennel Club registered its first Chesapeake Bay Retriever in 1878. By then, a definite type had evolved with characteristics suited to the often rigorous duck hunting conditions around Chesapeake Bay. ‘Chessies’ are intelligent with powerful bodies weighing between 55 and 89 pounds, with strong jaws and eyes of a clear yellow or amber. Their double coats, with a coarse, wavy outer coat and a fine woolly undercoat containing lots of natural oils, protect them from icy waters. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers may be brown, sedge, or deadgrass, colors which blend with their hunting environment.
Famed for their versatility, endurance, and loyal devotion, they excel in field and obedience trials. As service dogs, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are found working with drug enforcement agencies, and visiting hospitals and nursing homes. They have been trained for search and rescue work, explosive detection and even as avalanche or sled dogs.
“Chessies” are very sturdy, independent dogs, able to work hours in freezing wetland conditions, even breaking through ice to retrieve prey. While they resemble the friendly Labrador Retriever, they are much more stand-offish with strangers, and deeply bond with their handler or family.