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Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Gun Dog Group

The goals and purposes of this breed standard include: to furnish guidelines for breeders who wish to maintain the quality of their breed and to improve it; to advance this breed to a state of similarity throughout the world; and to act as a guide for judges.

Breeders and judges have the responsibility to avoid any conditions or exaggerations that are detrimental to the health, welfare, essence and soundness of this breed, and must take the responsibility to see that these are not perpetuated.

Any departure from the following should be considered a fault, and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work.


The history of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever began when two puppies were saved from the wreck of an English ship off the coast of Maryland in 1807. These two dogs, believed to be Newfoundland types, were raised and worked as water retrievers. They and their descendants were crossed with other retrieving breeds, and even local Coonhounds, to develop a powerful water dog that excelled in the retrieval of ducks from the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay. By the end of the 19th Century, these dogs were known as Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. The breed soon became popular with Midwestern duck hunters as well. Today the Chesapeake has a small but devoted following as a duck hunter and family companion.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was recognized by United Kennel Club in 1927.

General Appearance

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a medium-sized, well-balanced dog with a distinctive outline made up of a graceful series of curves; small, drop ears; and a natural tail hanging down or carried with a slight upward curve. The length of body is only slightly longer than the height at the withers, and the front legs are about equal in length to the depth of body. The Chesapeake’s coat, oily, dense and wavy, with a thick undercoat, and colored to match the dog’s working environment, is an essential element of breed type. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever should be evaluated as a working gun dog, and exaggerations or faults should be penalized in proportion to how much they interfere with the dog’s ability to work.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has a unique outline, characterized by hindquarters that are as high or slightly higher than the withers. Another essential characteristic is the oily, dense, wavy coat that enables the “Chessie” to hunt in the most adverse weather conditions. The breed comes in wide shade of brown colors that enable the Chesapeake to blend into the background of the duck ponds of eastern Maryland and the Midwest.

Chesapeakes are independent thinkers and can sometimes be stubborn, but they are willing workers, with the courage to break through ice and swim in freezing water to locate and retrieve ducks. This breed has a steady, generally friendly disposition with family members but is inclined to ignore people other than the owner.


The head is proportionate to the size of the dog, and is without exaggeration of any sort. When viewed from the side, the skull and muzzle are about the same length and joined by a well-defined, but not abrupt, stop. When viewed from above, the head forms a blunt wedge.


The skull is broad and slightly arched laterally and longitudinally. The skull is clean without prominence of orbital arches or occipital bones. Cheeks are clean.


The muzzle tapers slightly from stop to nose and is sufficiently long and powerful to permit the dog to carry waterfowl of all sizes. The bridge of the muzzle is straight. Lips are thin and tight with pigment to match the nose.


The Chesapeake Bay Retriever has a complete set of evenly spaced, white teeth. A scissors bite is strongly preferred but a level bite is acceptable.

Disqualification: Overshot or undershot bite.


Nose is fully pigmented and liver in color.


The eyes are set into the skull, but not too deep, and wide apart. They are medium sized and slightly oval in shape, giving an intelligent expression. Eye color is yellow or amber, with no preference given to dogs whose eye color matches the shade of their coat. Eyelids are close-fitting, and eye rims match the nose pigment.


Ears are small and drop, and set on high. Ear leather is of medium thickness and hangs loosely.


The neck is of medium length, blending smoothly into well laid back shoulders, giving a sturdy, muscular appearance. The neck is free of throatiness.


Shoulders are smoothly muscled. The shoulder blades are long and well laid back. The upper arm appears to be equal in length to the shoulder blade and joins it at an apparent right angle. The elbows are close to the body. The forelegs are straight, strong, with sturdy oval-shaped bone and strong, slightly sloping pasterns of medium length.


A properly proportioned Chesapeake Bay Retriever is only slightly longer (measured from prosternum to point of buttocks) than tall (measured from the withers to the ground), and the length of the front leg (measured from point of elbow to the ground) should approximately equal one-half of the dog’s height. The topline of the Chesapeake is unique to this particular retriever. From the slightly elevated withers, the topline drops slightly then curves up over a strong back and moderately short, slightly arched and muscular loin, then curves downward over a gently sloping croup. The hindquarters are as high or slightly higher than the withers. The ribs extend well back and are well rounded, then curving down and inward to form a deep body. The brisket extends to the elbow and the flanks are well tucked up. Viewed from the front, the chest between the forelegs is well filled, deep, and wide.


The hindquarters are broad and muscular, with as much power as the forequarters. Both the upper and lower thighs are long, resulting in a slight elevation of the hindquarters equal to or slightly above the withers. The angulation of the hindquarters is in balance with the angulation of the forequarters. The stifles are well-bent. When the dog is standing, the strong, medium-length rear pasterns are perpendicular to the ground and, viewed from the rear, parallel to one another.


Good feet are essential for a working retriever. The Chesapeake has webbed, hare feet of good size with well-arched toes and thick, elastic pads. Front dewclaws may be removed. Rear dewclaws must be removed.

Serious Fault: Rear dewclaws.


The tail is a natural extension of the topline. It is thicker at the base, and tapers to the tip. A tail of the correct length extends to the hock. When the dog is relaxed, the tail hangs down naturally. When the dog is moving or alert, the tail is carried level with the back or only slightly above level, with a merry action. The tail should never curl over the back or be carried between the legs.


The correct, water-repellant Chesapeake coat is essential to its function as a retriever. The outer coat is harsh, thick, and short, never over 1½ inches long. The undercoat is soft and dense. The entire coat is oily, which prevents water from penetrating to the dog’s skin while he is working. The hair on the face and legs is short and straight. The hair on the shoulders, neck, back, and loin may be somewhat wavy, but never curly. A very slight feathering on the tail and back of hindquarters is acceptable provided the hair is no longer than 1¾ inch.

Disqualifications: Curly coat; feathering on tail or legs longer than 1¾ inch.


Without preference, all shades of brown, ranging from light cocoa to dark chocolate; all shades of sedge, ranging from reddish-yellow to red to chestnut; and all shades of dead grass, ranging from faded tan to a dull straw color.

Self-colored dogs are preferred, but dogs with the following are acceptable: masking on skull; slight light and dark striping effect through the body and on the legs; saddle markings; agouti coloring; or tan points. When judging Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, a good quality dog with minor color variations should be given preference over a lesser quality, self-colored dog.

Disqualifications: Black color; white on any part of the body except breast, belly, toes or back of feet.

Height and Weight

Standard height for males is 23-26 inches; and for females, 21-24 inches. Over- or undersized dogs should be severely penalized.

A correctly built Chesapeake Bay Retriever male in working condition should weigh between 65 and 80 pounds, and a female should weigh between 55 and 70 pounds.


When trotting, the gait is effortless, smooth, powerful and well coordinated, showing good but not exaggerated reach in front and drive behind. When moving, the dog’s head moves forward so that the head, back, and tail are nearly even. Viewed from any position, legs turn neither in nor out, nor do feet cross or interfere with each other. As speed increases, feet tend to converge toward centerline of balance. It is recommended that dogs be shown on a loose lead and moved at a moderate speed to reflect true gait.

Because of the extra length of rear legs and slightly longer hocks, some Chesapeakes may crab just slightly when moving. Other than this, poor movement should be penalized to the degree to which it reduces the Chesapeake’s ability to perform the tasks it was bred to do.


(A dog with a Disqualification must not be considered for placement in a conformation event, and must be reported to UKC.)
Unilateral or bilateral cryptorchid.
Viciousness or extreme shyness.
Overshot or undershot bite.
Curly coat.
Feathering on tail or legs longer than 1¾ inch.
Black color.
White on any part of the body except breast, belly, toes or back of feet.

UKC Breed Standards: Chesapeake Bay Retriever

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Official UKC Breed Standard

Revised May 1, 2017

©Copyright 1991, United Kennel Club