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The Chesapeake Bay retriever's coat is like no others. It features unique colors and traits that are not typically seen in other breeds. 

These coat features helped these powerful dogs excel at their work, allowing them to effectively carry out the tasks they were bred for. 

So let's discover the Chesapeake Bay Retriever's coat and what makes it so special.

The Purpose of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

The  Chesapeake Bay Retriever was selectively bred for hunting waterfowl, pull fishing nets and sometimes even rescue fishermen along the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, located in the Mid-Atlantic region.

The State of Maryland is considered to be the original birthplace of this breed. These dogs became so popular that Maryland was the first state to elect a breed of dog as a state symbol. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, also elected the Chesapeake Bay Retriever as their mascot. 

These powerful dogs, which were developed in the 19th century, were expected to endure cold winds, jump in the icy waters of the bay and swim for hours against the tide. They also had to sometimes break the ice with their chest as they moved through the water. 

Not surprisingly, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers were known for being the toughest retriever breeds on earth. It can be said that, for a good part, this breed's efficiency and endurance couldn't be possible without the aid of this breed's coat. 

The Advantage of A Double Coat 

As many other dog breeds originating from cold places, Chesapeake Bay retrievers have a double coat. 

The top coat is short, thick and rather harsh, while the undercoat is finer, dense, and woolly. This woolly layer should be very dense and must cover well the skin. If skin is seen plainly visible when parting the coat, this would be considered mostly objectionable. 

Put together, the top and under coat work in synergy, with the top coat providing insulation, while the woolly undercoat prevents cold water from reaching the skin.

Upon being touched, the coat should feel springy and resilient under the fingers, but should be neither soft nor smooth.

A Chesapeake's coat is meant to resist absorbing water

A Chesapeake's coat is meant to resist absorbing water

The Power of the Protective Oil 

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have a coat with a distinct oily texture. This oily texture is what helps this breed's coat be waterproof. This trait allows these dogs to be in cold icy waters without getting cold.

 Did you know? A Chesapeake's coat is meant to resist absorbing water in the same fashion as duck's feathers. This means that, unlike other dogs, when this dog shakes, the coat after being in the water, they shouldn't release as much water as their coats should be merely moist.

The Science Behind Waves and Curls 

You may notice how the coats in many water dogs are often wavy or curly.

 "Curly hair is thought to be better at keeping mammals warmer than just straight hair alone. In fact, straight hairs interwoven with curls creates the last line of defense against heat loss," explains Benjamin Plackett in an article for Life Science. 

The breed standard for the Chesapeake Bay Retriever calls for a coat with a tendency to wave on shoulders, neck, back and loin area only. A coat though that is curly or has a tendency to curl all over the body, is means for disqualification. 

It's very likely that the Curly-Coated Retriever, along with other water breeds like the Irish water spaniel, have contributed to genetic makeup of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, promoting this breed's impenetrable waterproof jacket.

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The belief is that coiled hair helps prevent the water from reaching the skin allowing these dogs work in the wetness for longer.

 Coat Colors to Blend In

In most purebred dogs, coat colors matter mostly for aesthetics, but in this breed, the proper hue has more to do with function than beauty.

According to the American Chesapeake Club there are three standard coat colors expected in the Chesapeake Bay Retriever dog breed: brown, sedge and dead grass. 

Brown can range from a light cocoa color to a deep bittersweet chocolate color. 

Sedge resembles wet sedge grass and ranges from a reddish yellow through red to chestnut shades. Dogs with this vibrant coat color appear as if the sun is glistening off their coat constantly. This coat color tends to become lighter in spring through exposure to weather. 

Dead grass encompasses all shades of dead grass, ranging from a faded tan to a dull straw color. It's a duller version of the sedge coat color. 

What do these coat colors have in common? They share the fact that they are meant to allow these dogs to blend in with the background of the environment they worked in. 

Such camouflaging made these dogs more efficient hunters as game birds hardly noticed them. A too dark coat  like black or too light coat like white would create too much contrast. 

Chesapeak bay retrievers with dark chocolate coats blended in well with the mud banks of the Chesapeake bay.

Chesapeak bay retrievers with dark chocolate coats blended in well with the mud banks of the Chesapeake bay.

A Slight Musky Smell

Do Chesapeake Bay Retrievers stink? The Chesapeake Bay retriever's coat may have a slight musky smell most of the time, but it can become somewhat objectionable when the dog's wet coat dries indoors.

These odors can build up in the coat when these dogs are taken to murky waters. However, if there is more than just a slight musky smell, it would be important having the dog see the vet to rule out skin infections. 

Relatively Maintenance Free

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever's coat can be said to be relatively maintenance-free.

 All that's really needed is weekly brushing with a rubber brush or a hound glove for the purpose of keeping it clean and free from dead hairs and debris. This brushing will also help evenly distribute the natural oils throughout the coat. 

Twice-a-week brushings may be only needed when this breed sheds its woolly undercoat twice a year. 

When it comes to the frequency of bath, less is better than more, especially in this breed. Frequent bathing risks stripping the coat from its natural oils which is what maintains the natural properties of this coat in repelling dirt and water.

Just remember prior to brush the coat prior to the bath, as mats and debris are more challenging to remove once the coat is wet.


  • The Chesapeake Bay Retriever - A Complete Anthology of the Dog -2015
  • AKC-Official Standard for the Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever by Nona Kilgore Bauer


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