Are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers Smart?

If you’re considering getting a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, you may wonder how intelligent they are. You want a dog that will learn commands quickly. Maybe you are looking for a breed that will be easy to train, and you figure being smart will help. So are Chesapeake Bay Retrievers smart dogs?

Chesapeakes are smart dogs, ranking 27th among dog breeds for their ability to learn and respond to commands. They also show high instinctive intelligence, especially for retrieving, and great adaptive intelligence, allowing them to problem solve and learn social skills with ease.

With their intelligence being high by any measure, their stubborn and willful natures, and their requirements for a lot of exercise to work off excess energy and provide mental stimulation, Chessies can end up being a handful. Understanding their unique natures and how they intersect with their smarts is essential to training your CBR correctly.

Chesapeakes Are Smart But Can Be Tough To Train

Chesapeakes are highly intelligent dogs, which makes them quick to learn new commands, but they have a stubborn streak and can even wish to be dominant, which means that they will constantly test you in your role as their leader.

You need to start training early, as young puppies are far more receptive than older dogs (as with any breed). Eliminate bad behaviors before they become bad habits. Early training should focus on basic obedience, polite introductions, and deference to your leadership.

You, and everyone in your household, should consistently show your Chessie that you are in charge. They will test your leadership and your will to enforce discipline and commands. If you allow them to get away with something “just once,” you will spend days or weeks retraining them.

Chesapeakes are high-energy dogs, meaning they need more training, They are smart, and clever dogs are like intelligent kids – they’ve always got to be busy with something. Should you not give them something constructive to do, they are liable to become rowdy and destructive, barking their heads off, chewing your shoes, chasing the cat, and digging (possibly through the trash).

In addition to their tendency to get into trouble when bored, which is a surefire sign of intelligence, another sign of how clever Chessies are is their talents as escape artists. They can figure out how to unlatch their kennels from the inside. You may find this frustrating, but you can’t deny their smarts.

Chesapeakes Rank 27th For Working Intelligence

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist best known for his book, The Intelligence of Dogs, asked over 200 professional dog obedience judges to give assessments of more than 110 breeds of dogs. Based on what they said, he ranked the dogs for working and obedience intelligence (the type of intelligence that involves learning from humans).

The quicker dogs of a particular breed learned a verbal command, and the more often they obeyed it, the higher he ranked that breed for working and obedience intelligence.

By this measure, the most intelligent dogs are Border Collies. Chesapeakes rank 27th and were classified by Coren as above average in intelligence, meaning that they understand a new command after 15 to 25 repetitions and obey the first command 70 percent of the time.

However, working intelligence is only one way of assessing a dog’s intelligence. The stubbornness and willfulness of CBRs may be why they take longer to train than more willing dogs, instead of being a sign that they aren’t as smart as other breeds.

But, according to the AKC (American Kennel Club), Chesapeakes are agreeable, which means they are generally amenable to training – an opinion in line with Coren’s findings.

The Other Dimensions Of Canine Intelligence

We focus on working and obedience intelligence to assess how intelligent dogs are for two simple reasons. Firstly, it’s the only facet of intelligence we can measure. Secondly, it’s of particular interest to us humans because it measures how readily the dog responds to training.

Nevertheless, there are at least two other dimensions to canine intelligence: instinctive intelligence and adaptive intelligence. Instinctive intelligence is a dog’s ability to execute the tasks the breed was selected for (in the case of CBRs, they tend to have high intelligence when retrieving objects and carrying them gently).

Adaptive intelligence refers to dogs’ ability to problem solve independently. It underlies their ability to figure out puzzles and learn social skills such as recognizing frequent visitors and understanding facial expressions.

We cannot measure instinctive and adaptive intelligence, and we can only say that a particular dog tends to be particularly smart when it comes to problem-solving, for example. Nevertheless, Chessies tend to have high adaptive intelligence, readily figuring out puzzles and showing great social sensitivity and intuition.

All three facets of intelligence work together to shape your dog’s ability to perform. High adaptive intelligence and working and obedience intelligence make it easier to mold your dog’s instinctive intelligence into useful skills.

High intelligence in all three facets allows your Chessie to integrate multiple commands into a single operation, as is found in obedience or agility coursework or while performing a difficult challenge while being a guide dog. Chessies can excel in all three of these disciplines, as well as hunting, flyball, search-and-rescue, drug-sniffing, and being therapy dogs, due to their high intelligence.

If you wish to see how much adaptive intelligence your CBR has (something that varies from dog to dog), we recommend using Dr. Coren’s six-part IQ test for dogs, as explained here. Remember to keep things fun, and preferably don’t do all the problems in one day to avoid frustrating your dog.


Chesapeakes are highly intelligent dogs, ranking 27th among dog breeds for working and obedience intelligence and showing great instinctive and adaptive intelligence. This intelligence, coupled with their loving natures, means they are agreeable to train.

However, their stubbornness and willfulness mean that you must be firm, consistent, and kind when training them. We’re sure you’ll find your Chessie a smart dog and enjoy your time together.

Leave a Comment