The Affectionate, Playful and Rare Otterhound

By Linda Cole

Growing up, I always had my nose stuck in a book, which was usually about the adventure of a dog, cat or some other animal. One book was about a dog described as having wirehairs sticking out around his muzzle, which gave him a grizzly sort of look. It was an old library book, written sometime in the 1940s or earlier, and about the only thing I remember is the breed of the dog. He was an Otterhound, a unique dog originally bred to hunt only one critter.

The exact origin of the breed isn’t known. Britain is where the Otterhound was developed, but it’s believed the breed began in France because of similarities the breed shares with the French Griffon Nivernais in coat type, appearance and conformation. Although a large dog weighing 65 to 125 pounds and standing 24 to 28 inches at the shoulder, the Otterhound has a rough, unkempt-looking double coat with a somewhat oily undercoat and water-repellent outer coat. His feet are large and webbed which helps him do the job he was originally bred to do: hunt river otters.

The earliest writing that mentions the “Otter Dogge” was in England in 1175. William Twici, a 14th century huntsman, described the breed as “a rough sort of dog between a hound and a terrier.” During the early years in England, fisherman had to compete for trout and other fish with river otters that were considered to be vermin. Hunters used terriers to flush otters from dens dug into banks along ponds, lakes and rivers. Once the otter was on the run, packs of Otterhounds followed the animal on land or into the water.

The dog’s coat protected him from icy waters and inclement weather. The hound’s sense of smell is so sensitive, he can go to the water’s edge in the morning and pick up the scent of an otter that swam through the water the night before. These dogs are exceptional hunters, working on land and in water. The Otterhound has an impressive reputation for finding and staying on 12 hour old trails. The Otterhound has also been used to hunt mink, bear and raccoon.

The first organized sport in England was otter hunting, primarily done by nobility. Due to over hunting, changes in habitats, widespread use of chemicals in farming and water pollution, the otter population began a steady decline in the 1970s. Fortunately, otter hunting was banned in 1978 and otters became a protected species, but this action threatened the existence of Otterhounds when their services were no longer needed. The dog quickly became an endangered and rare breed, where it remains today. There’s only about 1,000 Otterhounds worldwide. The United States and Canada have approximately 350 dogs between the two countries, and the rest are spread out in seven other countries, including England.

The Otterhound was recognized by the AKC in 1909, and placed in the Hound group, but this scent-hound has never found a good following, despite the breeds top notch work ethic, affectionate personality and total devotion to his family. This is a happy, intelligent, independent, determined dog that excels at tracking, agility, obedience, search and rescue, and as service dogs. However,  this friendly breed would not be a good choice as a guard dog.

Otterhounds are very fond of food and have been known to escape their enclosure, not to run away but to find the kitchen where they rummage through cabinets or the fridge to find a snack. Training and socialization is a must for this stubborn and opinionated breed. It’s important to be consistent and patient when training. He will not respond to harsh training methods. Keep sessions short and fun, and have plenty of his favorite CANIDAE dog treats to help him learn how you expect him to behave.

Referred to at times as the “class clown,” this is a sweet, loving dog for the entire family. However, because of his large size, strength and overly enthusiastic nature, the dog could accidentally knock down small children and older people. This energetic dog needs lots of vigorous exercise, more than just a daily walk around the neighborhood or a game of fetch in the backyard. He’s a perfect running partner for joggers, and loves a good swim.

A diet specifically formulated for big dogs, like the CANIDAE Large Breed Puppy and Adult formulas, is strongly recommended. A bored and under exercised Otterhound can be very destructive, but with an experienced owner, the dog’s lively personality can fit most lifestyles. As with any dog, be sure to do your homework on the breed before deciding to add an Otterhound to your family.

Top photo by Llima Orosa
Bottom photo by Adam W.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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