History of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Statues of Sailor and Canton, Maryland’s First Chesapeake Bay Retrievers

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is known and loved across Maryland as our official state dog. But where did this water-loving dog come from? As legend goes, an English shipwreck in 1807 in the Chesapeake Bay left two surviving Newfoundland dogs: Sailor and Canton. Quickly, the two became cherished and adored by residents across the Chesapeake Bay region for their abilities and talents.

Sailor, a red male, and Canton, a sleek-black female, could withstand the bay’s freezing temperatures throughout the year thanks to their thick, waterproof coats, built to insulate and repel the cold. Additionally, their webbed feet and strong bodies allowed them to catch 100 to 300 ducks a day. Hunters attempting to take advantage of the ducks that migrated right through the Chesapeake immediately noticed the dogs’ value and began breeding them with a variety of spaniels, setters, and hounds. What resulted was the Chesapeake Duck Dog, now called the Bay Retriever. Sailor and Canton have remained a part of Maryland’s history, and rumor has it their statues bring luck and good fortune to the Chesapeake company they sit before.

In 1878, the “Chessie” was formally recognized by the American Kennel Club, proudly represented by Sunday, the first labeled Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Known for their yellow amber eyes and brownish coloring, the Chessie is much more than just a hunting hound. Their keen ability to smell makes them ideal search and rescue and drug-sniffing dogs, and their good-nature has landed them service positions in hospitals and nursing homes.

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