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The History of the Labrador and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers: HDC Episode #9

The History of the Labrador and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers: HDC Episode #9

Painting of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Tracing the stories of two retriever breeds with the same origin but vastly different paths to the modern day

Continuing on our path through the origin stories of the retriever breeds, this episode focuses on two of the most well-known hunting retrievers: the Labrador Retriever and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Both of these breeds trace their roots back to the St. John’s Water Dog of Newfoundland, but the similarities end there.

Wealthy, noble Englishmen were importing St. John’s Water Dogs from North America and breeding them to suit their style of estate hunting. Two men in particular, the Earl of Malmesbury and the Duke of Buccleuch, were especially instrumental in the foundation of what is now known as the Labrador Retriever. These hardy, strong, athletic dogs displayed exceptional skills in the water and were also well-suited for pheasant shoots on land.

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Across the Atlantic Ocean, two St. John’s puppies were on a ship bound for Poole, England, at the request of another English nobleman. Unfortunately, the ship foundered and the crew had to be rescued off the east coast of the United States. The rescuer purchased the two pups and kept them along the eastern seaboard. Based on the descriptions of the dogs and of their hard-hunting progeny, these are assumed to be the two foundation dogs of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed.

So while the Labrador was developed in England on wealthy estates for gentlemen’s shooting, the Chessie found its roots in the rough-and-tumble world of American duck hunters and market hunters. While the Labrador was expected to be polite and quiet, the Chessie was valued for its boldness and protective instinct.

Sketch of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever with a duck

The Labrador eventually rocketed to the top of the retriever world through its success in field trial competitions. Understanding the key differences between American and British retriever field trials opens up a new understanding of the difference between American and British Labs.

Tune in to hear more about the development of the Labrador and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and how they came to be the world-class athletes that they are today. As always, we thank you for listening and hope you’ll continue to share the great feedback about this series. We can be reached at with your ideas, comments, and questions.

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Hunting Dog Confidential is presented by Eukanuba Premium Performance Dog Food

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