10 THE CHESAPEAKE BAY RETRIEVER
THE CHESAPEAKE BAY RETRIEVER
The renowned Norfolk sportsman James Wentworth Day greatly admired the character of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, as these words from his The Dog in Sport of 1938, illustrate: “Their impression of power is quite remarkable. They give one the feeling of immense resources of energy, of great reservoirs of knowledge, of tolerance of disposition, obstinacy of purpose, and tenacity of principle. They are responsive, and they have a lot of quiet good sense.” They would certainly be my first choice as a wild-fowling companion. In his Dog Breaking of 1915, 'Wildfowler', a much respected gundog authority, spelled out the requirements for a successful wildfowling dog: “...the dog has to learn so many more things than other breeds of dogs. He must stay ready for flighting, remain still in a punt, he must never open under the strongest temptation, never jump up, never be excited, obey signs implicitly, hunt when told and keep to heel when ordered...be tender-mouthed, very keen-nosed, strong- constitutioned, plucky, swim for ever, and stand hard winters with equanimity. A dog who does all these things well clearly is a valuable dog.” Clearly! List the dogs you would prefer not to share a punt with!
Origins: Link with Norfolk
In his The Illustrated Book of the Dog of 1880, Vero Shaw felt obliged to mention the Norfolk Retriever and wrote that: "It is claimed for this breed...that it is peculiarly adapted for the pursuit of wild birds in the low-lying districts of Norfolk, and that few, if any other varieties of dog, could be found to endure the hard work equally well." In his Breaking and Training Dogs of 1910, 'Pathfinder' wrote of retrievers: "...I have known livers in Norfolk dignified with that prefix, just as it was usual at one time to speak of the English Springer when met there as the Norfolk Spaniel." In his The Sporting Dog, published in New York in 1904, the American writer, Joseph A Graham, stated that: "The Chesapeake is not so peculiar or distinct. In fact, he is of rather common appearance. Stout and strong, sedge or rusty brown in color, the coat dense and close, he is not a beauty."
So we have a rusty-coloured, broken-coated, retriever-sized dog in Norfolk, England and subsequently an identical dog near Norfolk, Virginia, at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The dog in England is not recognised as a breed, Vero Shaw hinting that it was too nondescript for that to happen. Joseph Graham describes the dog in America as 'of rather common appearance' but it becomes recognised as a breed nevertheless. In his The Dog of 1880, the respected 'Idstone' wrote "Liver and sandy Retrievers have a few partisans. They are the sort which 'always were kept', people tell you, 'in our family'...I know of no family priding itself on this coloured species just now, but I have heard that they are not uncommon in Norfolk." It may be far too late to have the Labrador renamed the Devon Retriever. But how worthwhile a venture it would be to find rusty-coloured, broken-coated retrievers 'not uncommon in Norfolk', however nondescript, once again recognized, and this time registered, as a Norfolk gundog breed. Abroad or at home, it is so encouraging to learn of the Penrose and Arnac Bay dogs doing well in the field, with Penrose Jack Tar a full champion in the UK and Sweden and Penrose Nomad and Arnac Bay Winota becoming the first full champions in both the UK and Eire.
I think back to the worries of Wentworth Day on the Chesapeake: "It will take many generations of stupid women in Bayswater and suede-footed young men in Kensington to ruin the character of this eminently sensible working dog. He has all the dignity, the native aristocracy, the quiet good sense and the instinctive judgement of the British working man...If you have two or three Chesapeakes in the kennel there will never be any disturbances in your shooting routine --none of that hoity-toity flightiness of the Gordon Setter, the kiss-me-quick slobberings of the spaniel or the mental whimperings of the Golden Retriever. Do not imagine for a moment that I dislike any of these three excellent breeds of sporting dog. But I mourn for individuals among them. The show-bench and the drawing-room have made fools of them...I doubt if you could ever do that with the Chesapeake. He will probably bite someone finally, just as a protest and then walk out of the house, a dog in search of a man for a master." This strongly-worded tribute to the Chesapeake Bay Retriever may not appeal to everyone but the sentiments apply to all the retriever breeds and should be heeded by all who love their particular breed and care about their spiritual happiness and well-being.