Breeds Dog Breed Comparison: Chessies vs. Labs Kyle Wintersteen June 18th, 2013 | More From Kyle Wintersteen Share0 Tweet Email There comes a day in every boy’s life when he begins to question the infallibility of his old man’s wisdom. Mine arrived at age 12. In Dad’s book, the only question regarding the world’s greatest duck dog was whether it was a black or yellow Lab. He had no patience for other breeds, and certainly not for one of those big, stubborn Chesapeake Bay retrievers. So I was a curious when Dad’s friend Eric arrived at the blind with an imposing specimen of a Chessie named George. Why’d Eric buy a Chessie? I surmised he just wasn’t as bright as my Dad. Then a small group of mallards decoyed with ferocity. Eric folded one drake stone dead, but my father sailed another out onto a Susquehanna ice sheet. George leapt from the boat and instinctively passed the easy mark, then headed toward my father’s. Ice shattered across the dog’s barrel chest until the resistance was too great to continue on. Perhaps a reasonable animal would’ve turned back, but that duck-crazed dog dug his nails into the ice, heaved himself onto the surface and grabbed the duck. It was an incredible sight, and despite my father’s best efforts, I was convinced there’s a time and a place when nothing beats a strong, loyal Chessie. I’ve come to love both breeds, and I believe both offer certain advantages, depending on the situation at hand. In my opinion, these are the pros and cons of owning Labs and Chessies. History Advantage: Chesapeake Bay Retriever The Chessie’s legendary origins are reason enough to cherish the breed. According to research by the American Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club, two Newfoundland dogs named Sailor and Canton were rescued from a sinking English fishing vessel off the coast of Maryland in 1807. They were never bred together, but both dogs laid the foundation for today’s version of the Chesapeake Bay retriever. The breed evolved as waterfowlers and market gunners bred the toughest, most natural retrievers. The Chessie, therefore, is an all-American retriever that owes its very existence to a unique period in waterfowling history. Natural Retrieving Instinct Advantage: Chesapeake Bay Retriever Perhaps because market gunners had no time for intensive training, the Chessie had to be a naturally gifted retriever. “They just sort of run on auto-pilot,” explains my Chessie-obsessed friend Eric. “As long as you lay on the praise, it just takes a few dummy tosses for a lot of Chessies to learn to fetch.” So if force-fetch training isn’t your cup of tea, or you simply lack the time required, a Chessie may be what you’re after. Hand Signals and Blind Retrieves Advantage: Labrador The Chessie will mark and retrieve a downed bird as far as he can see it. And with underrated intelligence, he will remember the falls of additional birds and fetch them with vigor as well. However, he is generally not adept at taking hand signals to blind falls or, perhaps worse still, falls he thinks he’s seen. To be clear, this is not a result of stubbornness. Despite the myth of the stubborn Chessie, behind that harsh coat tends to be a big softy. One of the reasons he’s less skilled in accepting hand signals is his intolerance of the training pressure required to perfect them. “Many people confuse softness for stubbornness when it comes to Chessies,” pro trainer Tom Dokken, of Oak Ridge Kennels, once told me at a training seminar. “And what’s the first thing people want to do when a dog is being stubborn? Administer correction. That only compounds the problem.” As a result, you can expect to exercise extra patience and attentiveness with Chessies. Labs, on the other hand, practically relish the advanced training. They accept a great degree of pressure without discernible impact on their enthusiasm for retrieving. This quality contributes to the Lab’s dominance on the American field trial circuit, and it has resulted in the recovery of many mallards that would’ve never been found. Cold-Weather Tolerance Advantage: Chesapeake In my book, the Chessie shines best when the sun does not. Even the mighty Labrador retriever tends to shiver in truly extreme conditions, but it’s as if the Chesapeake is completely impervious to cold. His wiry outer coat seems as oily as a duck’s, and his wool-like under coat locks out water like GoreTex. I’ve seen him fend off ice floes in the Susquehanna, return to the boat with a prime January mallard, and shoot me a glance as if to say, “What? No big deal.” For the Maine sea duck hunter, Columbia River diver hunter or anyone hunting the Chessie’s namesake bay in the late season, the stronger, more weather-proofed Chessie is an excellent choice. Upland Skills Advantage: Labrador Retriever Whenever the subject of the best pheasant breed arises, you can bet the Lab will be mentioned. The fact that he’s even in that discussion—especially when other breeds were developed more exclusively for this role—is a testament to the Lab’s upland abilities. His nose for running pheasants is remarkable, and some hunters prefer the pace with which he tracks over certain harder-charging breeds. Of course, once it’s time to retrieve a downed bird, his skill is seldom rivaled. There are many fine upland Chessies, but luck with them in the uplands tends to be mixed at best. The Chessie was bred for duck hunting, which means finding pheasants is simply not in his DNA. Lastly, some argue the Chessie’s warm coat is prone to overheating during long upland jaunts. I haven’t hunted behind a Chessie long enough to make a ruling in this case, but it seems to have merit. Professional Training Advantage: Labrador Retriever The Chessie is an extremely loyal animal. Legend has it that during the market era he would fetch ducks by day and guard the boat by night. To this day he has a reputation for caring only about what his master thinks, and in his opinion a dog should have but one master. Why does this matter? Well, in the era of sending dogs off to professionals for pre-season tune-ups, the Chessie is at a disadvantage. Labs take well to this kind of arrangement, but it makes less sense for the average Chessie. In a situation like this, the Chessie will likely think, “Who is this guy and why does he think he can tell me what to do?” With a Chessie, the do-it-yourself trainer tends to fare better than those who hope to farm out a portion of the work. House Friendliness Advantage: Labrador Retriever If not for their calm, pleasant demeanor in the home, Labs would not be consistently ranked as America’s most popular dog breed by the American Kennel Club. He is a great family pet, which is also important to hunters now that “Dad’s hunting dog” is increasingly more likely to be found at the foot of the bed rather than out back in the kennel. While Chessies tend to be highly protective and loyal to one man, Labs typically greet anyone who walks through the door with a warm welcome. As a final consideration, note that Chessies do have a distinct odor to their oily coats. It reminds me of a duck blind, but for that reason my spouse prefers the scent of a Lab. Which breed is the overall superior choice? That question bears no answer—it seems the only commonalities Labs and Chessies share is a set of four legs and a drive for retrieving ducks. Both offer advantages to particular types of hunters. The key in selecting the right dog is, then, to know yourself. GALLERY: Gun Dog's Breed Profiles1 of 14<h2>Airedale</h2>In the view of some, the Airedale is a fur and varmint hunter, not a bird hunter. Many, however, stubbornly insist the dogs are in fact wonderful bird dogs, which poses a fair question: how do two such positions, as opposite as they are, exist? <p> When you study the history of the breed, you'll see Airedales were great all-around hunters at one time. Check out the complete breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2010/09/23/gundog_breeds_gd_airedale_1107/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>Airedale</h2>In the view of some, the Airedale is a fur and varmint hunter, not a bird hunter. Many, however, stubbornly insist the dogs are in fact wonderful bird dogs, which poses a fair question: how do two such positions, as opposite as they are, exist? <p> When you study the history of the breed, you'll see Airedales were great all-around hunters at one time. Check out the complete breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2010/09/23/gundog_breeds_gd_airedale_1107/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>American Cocker Spaniel </h2>Since 1964, when the last American cocker field trial was held, they had no public venue in which to show their field talents and earn respected field titles. Happily, since 1988, hunting tests have provided them such a venue, which they have used effectively to prove the breed’s critics wrong. We smell a comeback. Check out the full breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/06/19/breed-profile-the-american-cocker-spaniel/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>.<h2>American Water Spaniel</h2>Developed by 19th-century market hunters in the Upper Midwest, the American water spaniel has always been a dual-purpose dog, equally talented for waterfowl and upland gamebird hunting. From the beginning and continuing to this day, AWS owners have been determined to maintain the breed’s dual résumé. <p> Check out the full breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/07/10/breed-profile-the-american-water-spaniel/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>.<h2>Braque Francais </h2>In the days before France became known as the cradle of artists and the center of the fashion world, it was a superb upland hunting destination. The hills of the French countryside were planted with a variety of agricultural crops and the forests and mountains were teeming with wildlife. Into this environment came the prestigious Braque Francais. For more on this great breed, check out the full profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2013/02/11/breed-profile-the-braque-francais/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>Chesapeake Bay Retriever</h2>For many people, there is no breed of dog that is as devoted to its humans as the Chesapeake Bay retriever. This deep-seated affection for their owner can be downright smothering. It may not be as popular as the Lab, but the Chesapeake Bay retriever has a long, rich history as a field performer. Read more at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2010/09/23/gundog_breeds_chesp_0605/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>Curly Coated Retriever </h2>With textured curls and a sleek frame, the curly-coated retriever often triggers double-takes from onlookers. At a distance, the curly-coated retriever is often mistakenly identified as a Labrador because the curly shares the Lab’s conformation and passion for finding, flushing and fetching gamebirds. But surprisingly, the curly was not descended from the Lab. Check out the full breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/07/10/breed-profile-the-curly-coated-retriever/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>English Springer Spaniel </h2>But the reality is that springer spaniels aren’t the best choice for some kinds of hunting. Sure, they’ll hunt wide-open country for Huns and sharptails—I’ve done plenty of it—but it’s not their forte. Sure, they’ll break through ice to retrieve a mallard, but that’s asking a lot of a thin-coated dog that might weigh 45 pounds dripping wet. <p> Leave the open country birds and serious waterfowling for the dogs that are bred for that kind of stuff, the pointing and retrieving breeds. Spaniels really shine for small-water ducking and thick-cover upland birds—bobwhite quail, woodcock, ruffed grouse…and, oh yes, pheasants. Check out the full breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/11/08/breed-profile-the-english-springer-spaniel/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>Flat Coated Retriever</h2>Once upon a time, when English gamekeepers reigned supreme on the estates of the nobility, they needed a dog that could find and retrieve birds that might have been missed after a driven shoot. But their mortal enemies, poachers, also needed a dog to find and retrieve birds…only in their case, in the middle of the night. In both instances, for the law-abiding and lawbreaker alike, the flat-coated retriever was often the dog of choice. Check out the full breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/09/10/breed-profile-the-flat-coated-retriever/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>French Brittany</h2>The French Brittany may not be the biggest dog on the block, but it is nonetheless a great, versatile dog. Whether you're hunting pheasants, quail or even waterfowl, the French Brittany packs a mighty wallop for a typically small dog. Check out the full breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/08/14/breed-profile-the-french-brittany/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>German Shorthaired Pointer</h2>German shorthaired pointers have been particularly popular in the U.S. with gamebird hunters looking for a do-it-all versatile gun dog. There are approximately 10,000 German shorthairs annually registered with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. Likewise, shorthairs are the dominant breed in NAVHDA and have produced top scores in Natural Ability, Utility, and Versatile Champion testing for the past several decades. Read the full breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/10/09/breed-profile-german-shorthaired-pointer/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>Irish Water Spaniel </h2>Imported to the U.S. in the 1870s, the Irish water spaniel quickly became a favorite of waterfowl hunters in this country until, like many of the early retriever breeds, it was caught in the undertow of a tidal wave of Labradors that possessed the same skills, but, unlike the IWS, required almost no grooming. Check out the full breed profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2013/05/13/breed-profile-the-irish-water-spaniel/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>Labrador Retriever </h2>Labrador Retrievers have an unparalleled reputation as America's most popular dog breed—and for good reason. Versatile in most any condition, Labs make great dogs around the house and dependable hunters afield. Read more about Labs at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/04/10/all-in-a-days-work-hard-hunting-lab-photos/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>Llewellin Setter </h2>Llewellin setters are amiable partners that want to find birds for their human hunters rather than just for themselves. This team-player factor is one of the main features of Llewellins. For more about this great breed, check out the full profile at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/04/10/team-player-the-llewellin-setter/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. <h2>Weimaraner </h2>The Weimaraner, from the beginning of its breed history more than 100 years ago, has been known as the “Gray Ghost”—a good nickname for a gun dog with a silvery coat and somewhat spooky-looking yellow-amber eyes. Originally developed in Germany at the court of Weimar (hence its name), the Weimaraner was successfully bred to be a versatile hunter of upland gamebirds, waterfowl, predators, and big game. Read more at <a href="http://www.gundogmag.com/2012/04/17/breed-profile-the-weimaraner/" target="_blank">Gun Dog</a>. Share0 Tweet Email Load Comments ( ) Don’t forget to sign up! Get the Top Stories from Gun Dog Magazine Delivered to Your Inbox Every Week Even More breeds Show More Get the Gun Dog Newsletter FREE! 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