Why Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Stink



Retrievers seem to be the most iconic and popular dogs among the general population. Anyone can picture the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever, medium to large-sized, highly trainable dogs with strong builds, friendly demeanors, and excellent attitudes. There are a total of six Retriever breeds, including the less commonly known and more powerful Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Affectionately called the “Chessie” by lovers of the breed, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are the strongest, most headstrong, and most serious of the six Retriever breeds. They tend to be affectionate, loyal, and obedient companions, but can be aggressive and reserved around strange dogs and humans. Due to the nature of their coat, they can also develop a unique smell that most people find unpleasing. Here are some reasons for the unique smells of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, and how to address those concerns in the household.

The Root of the Behavior

Like other Retrievers, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a powerfully built dog that has a long heritage of game hunting and sport. Unlike most dogs, Chessies are a distinctly American breed thought to be the product of a Newfoundland dog and other Retrievers of the New England region. Legend has it that two dogs rescued off of the coast of New England became widely known for their remarkable prowess in duck hunting and water sports, most notably in the icy and rough waters of Chesapeake Bay. Part of the success of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever in water is due to their oily, dense coat, which gives them an advantage in water conditions that other dogs would not be able to operate well under.

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers love water, and are literally bred for it. Like ducks, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have slightly oily coats, which gives them a bit of natural resistance to water. Though some people express concern about a dog with an oily coat, this doesn’t mean that petting your dog will leave your hand oily. The oil is more of a protective shield along each individual hair, which can easily be managed with the occasional bath. The density of their coat enables them to endure zero-degree temperatures, as well as icy water conditions that most dogs would not survive long in. Combined with the oily nature of the coat, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are ripe for all manners of entrapped smells and scents.

Most Chessie owners do not mind or notice that their dog smells until they come in from the cold, or after a prolonged period of exercise. Over time, Chesapeake Bay Retriever smells can build up, especially if the bodies of water that the dogs have access to are dirty or mucky. Chessies don’t stink naturally, but they are much more prone to stinking than other dogs with non-oily, long hair coats. As one would expect, the more that your dog exercises and swims, and the less frequently that he is bathed, the more that he will smell. Luckily, grooming and keeping Chesapeake Bay Retrievers clean is a relatively simple task.

Encouraging the Behavior

Unless your dog is constantly swimming and playing outside, simply brushing his coat regularly and bathing every couple of months should be sufficient in managing and keeping odors down. You can always bathe your dog if the smell becomes too much to handle, and you should expect that your Chessie will smell slightly unique as a general rule. Try not to bathe your Chesapeake Bay Retriever too frequently, as this could disrupt the oils on your dog’s coat and cause him some discomfort. Some people even go so far as to advise that you bathe Chessies as little as possible. Once the oil layer of the coat is stripped away, it is possible that it will not come back entirely correctly.

Chessies are sensitive to their environments in the sense that they were bred with one specific climate in mind: the cold, icy waters of Chesapeake Bay. Simply put, they need to be around water, preferably in cooler climates. Without being able to exercise in water and swim, they are not living up to what they were born and bred to do. Chessies tend not to fare well in warmer climates if they don’t have consistent access to a major body of water, nor do they do particularly well in urban environments. Your Chessie will thrive in open spaces with a nice lake to swim in, and will be the most personable and content if living in these conditions.

Other Solutions and Considerations

The coats of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are double coats, meaning that they have a (relatively) less dense outer coat and a dense inner coat that work together to keep Chessies warm and dry. The oily texture of the coat is primarily on the outer coat, while the inner coat is best described as thick, almost wooly fur. This means that in addition to being smelly, they also shed a considerable amount according to the seasons. Brushing can both remove dead hairs and help distribute oils throughout the healthy hairs in a Chessie’s coat. Although there may be nothing that you can do about your dog’s natural smell, keeping your dog clean and well-groomed will always lead to the happiest, healthiest, and least smelly Chessie.


If you live in a cool region and have been looking for a reason to spend more time at the lake, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever might be the perfect dog for you. There are other behavioral and temperamental aspects of the Chessie that you might want to look into first, and of course, the smell to manage. That being said, a Chessie can make for a wonderful, lifelong friend, unique scent and all.