Otterhound

The first reference to dogs used specifically for the purpose of hunting Otter comes from the 12th century where the breeds were referred to in texts of the time as “Otter Dogges”; although it is likely that using dogs for this purpose predates these first written references. It is also likely that the initial dogs used for this purpose bore little resemblance to the Otterhound of today; which isn’t believed to have reached its current form till sometime during the 18th century.

Breed Information

Breed Basics

Country of Origin: 
Size: 
X-Large 55-90 lb
XX-Large 90-120 lb+
LifeSpan: 
10 to 12 Years
Trainability: 
Difficult to Train
Energy Level: 
Medium Energy
Grooming: 
A Couple Times a Week
Protective Ability: 
Good Watchdog
Hypoallergenic Breed: 
No
Space Requirements: 
House with Yard
Compatibility With Other Pets: 
Generally Good With Other Dogs
May Be Okay With Other Pets If Raised Together
May Have Problems With Non-Canine Pets
Not Recommended For Homes With Small Animals
Litter Size: 
2-6 puppies, Average of 4
Names: 
Chien de loutre, Otter hound

Height/Weight

Males: 
95-115 lbs, 26-28 inches
Females: 
65-90 lbs, 24-26 inches

Kennel Clubs and Recognition

American Kennel Club: 
ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council): 
CKC(Canadian Kennel Club): 
FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale): 
KC (The Kennel Club): 
NZKC (New Zealand Kennel Club): 
UKC (United Kennel Club): 
History: 

 

Most try to date the Otterhound (as a breed) back to the time of King John (of Magna Carta fame), the King of England from 1199-1216 and who is reported to have hunted with a packs of these dogs. This logic, however, is flawed, as during this time groups or types of dogs were named, not for the uniform physical appearance they shared (breeds), but for the job they performed. Thus any dog that reliably proved itself capable of finding and tracking the otter’s drag scent (scent on land) and wash scent (scent through water) to it's lair, would have been classified as an Otterhound. Much in the same way that breeds like the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Curly Coated Retriever, Flat-Coated Retriever and a variety of Spaniels, Setters and Pointers were all at one time called a Retriever, simply because they could retrieve.

 

In all likelihood, the Otterhounds used by King John probably had very little to do with the Otterhound as it appears today, being that they were much more terrier than hound like during this time. This is evidenced in the writings of William Twici, the huntsman for King Edward II, who in the 14th century described the early Otterhound as a "rough sort of dog, between a hound and a terrier". It was also during this time that hunting otter in this fashion evolved into a gentleman’s sport fit for the nobility, much as fox hunting had. Prior to that it had simply been a job, carried out by non nobles in order to protect the fishponds holding food stock and the natural trout supply in rivers and lakes from the otter; an animal that was considered to be vermin.

 

King Edward II, England’s supreme monarch from 1307-1327 was the first noble to acquire the title “Master of Otterhounds”; a term befitted upon him for his hunting prowess and skill when using them to hunt their elusive quarry, the otter. In the ensuing centuries other nobles would follow suit with Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard II and III, Henry II, VI, VII and VIII and Charles II each holding the title of Master of Otterhounds at some point in history.  Queen Elizabeth I would become the first Lady Master of Otterhounds during her rule of the English aristocracy from 1588 to 1603.  The use of Otterhound packs is widely documented throughout the annals of history, although, exactly how the breed came to be is quite a bit more obscure. Most of what exists now in regards to the ancestral history of the Otterhound is a matter of theory and conjecture.

 

One theory and the one put forth by notable canine historian and author John Henry Walsh in his 1879 work, “The dogs of Great Britain, America, and other countries…”, is that the Otterhound descended directly from the now extinct Southern Hound. Once found in the Devonshire area of England, the Southern Hound was renowned for its scenting abilities but cursed for its lack of speed. For this reason it was considered best used for hunting game such as deer, which would eventually be exhausted by its tireless pursuit but, unlike a fox or rabbit, could not escape to the safety of a den or burrow. It is also a breed some believe was very near indigenous to England; having existed there well before any writings of its existence. As to the breeds wiry coat, Walsh notes that he is unsure whether it was through deliberate crossing with wire coated breeds or was simply a matter of careful selection during the breeding process; though he was inclined toward the latter. Of the Otterhound Walsh writes:

 

“No hound which is now kept in Great Britain resembles the southern hound so much as this, the difference being only in the rough, wiry coat, which has been obtained by careful breeding, to enable them to resist the ill effects of the rough weather which the breed have to encounter, whether in the chase of the hare, for which they were originally employed in Wales, or for that of the otter, to which they are new almost exclusively restricted. If, therefore, the reader turns to the description of the southern hound, and adds to it a rough, wiry coat, with a profusion of rough whisker, he will at once understand the form and nature of the otterhound, alias the Welsh harrier. It is a disputed point whether this roughness is obtained by crossing, or whether it is attributable to careful selection only; but I am inclined to think that as the full melodious note of the hound is retained, there is no cross of the terrier or of the deerhound, which two breeds divide between them the credit of bestowing their coats upon the otterhound. Anyhow, it is a distinct breed in the present day; and, with the shape I have described, it unites all the characteristics of the old southern hound, in dwelling on the scent, in delicacy of nose, and in want of dash. Whether the power of swimming has been obtained by any cross with the water-spaniel, is also a disputed point ; but as I do not believe in any peculiar swimming power inherent in that breed, I am not inclined to attribute that of the otterhound to a cross with it, especially as the foxhound swims equally well.”

 

It should be noted that Walsh’s work fails to provide a detailed description of the Southern Hound and thus a frame of reference or a point from which to compare the two breeds; it’s having been written in 1879 probably has much to do with this. The Southern Hound is believed to have gone extinct sometime during the 19th century, having started to fall out of favor in the 18th; largely replaced by the faster Foxhound as favor fell towards shorter hunts. The omission is more than likely intentional as Walsh’s writing was dedicated to the existing breeds of the time; meaning the Southern Hound was already in his opinion considered extinct. Turning back the clock twenty seven years, looking to an earlier author, William Youatt and his book “The Dog” published in 1852, there is reference to the Southern Hound:

 

“There used to be in the south of Devon a pack or cry of the genuine old English or southern hounds. There is some reason to believe that this was the original stock of the island, or of this part of the island, and that this hound was used by the ancient Britons in the chase of the larger kinds of game with which the country formerly abounded. Its distinguishing characters are its size and general heavy appearance; its great length of body, deep chest, and ears remarkably large and pendulous. The tones of its voice were peculiarly deep. It answered the description of Shakspeare:


  ‘So flewed, so sanded; and their heads are hung

  With ears that sweep away the morning dew;

  Crook-knee'd, and dew-lapp'd, like Thessalian bulls;

  Slow in pursuit, but match'd in mouth like bells,

  Each under each.’


It was the slowness of the breed which occasioned its disuse. Several of them, however, remained not long ago at a village called Aveton Gifford, in Devonshire, in the neighbourhood of which some of the most opulent of the farmers used to keep two or three dogs each. When fox-hunting had assumed somewhat of its modern form, the chase was followed by a slow heavy hound, whose excellent olfactory organs enabled him to carry on the scent a considerable time after the fox-hound passed, and also over grassy fallows, and hard roads, and other places, where the modern high-bred fox-hound would not be able to recognise it. Hence the chase continued for double the duration which it does at present, and hence may be seen the reason why the old English hunter, so celebrated in former days and so great a favourite among sportsmen of the old school, was enabled to perform those feats which were exultingly bruited in his praise. The fact is, that the hounds and the horse were well matched. If the latter possessed not the speed of the Meltonian hunter, the hounds were equally slow and stanch.”

 

Youatt’s description of the Southern Hound as a dog of substantial size that possessed an excellent nose, superior tracking abilities and dogged determination for the hunt give credence to Walsh’s earlier opinions; as these are all attributes found in the Otterhound. It also (through his use of the past tense when referring to the breed) would lead one to believe that the breed was already extinct at this time as well. Having probably already interbred or diluted with other breeds to the point that it no longer existed in pure form.

 

Putting forth a different opinion in his 1897 work, “The Encyclopaedia of sport”, Henry Charles Howard (the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire), asserts that the Otterhound instead descended from the Bloodhound:

 

“The true otterhound is in our opinion one of the genuine ancient types of dog, viz., the rough or broken-haired hound, hunting by scent alone, the bloodhound being the prototype of the smooth variety. In the same way the Scotch deerhound and the English greyhound are the types, rough and smooth, of the gazehound.


“The otterhound is a very strong, short-legged dog, not, as a rule, over 22 inches high. Shaggy and rough in his coat, with very pendant ears, a high " peak " somewhat like that of a bloodhound, and a very musical deep voice- He should have straight legs, fine shoulders, without which there can be no activity, and especially he should have a strong back and powerful loins, which are essential to assist him in scrambling in and out of the water, up and down steep and slippery banks. In colour he is frequently black and tan, red, sandy, or black and white, with the usual hound markings. Some packs of hounds, especially in the north of England, have kept their strains pure for many generations, and possibly owing to inbreeding, size has been somewhat lost...


“In many particulars this is one of the most interesting of the varieties of the hounds, and appears to be one which we can pretty well call our own. He is a rough, or hard-coated hound, whose hair should be close, piley underneath, and thoroughly weather and water resisting, for the work of the otter hound is of the hardest and most exacting character. Then the constitution must be thoroughly sound and strong. Some modern otter hounds show a distinct cross with the bloodhound, and it is not uncommon to find in the same litter of puppies one that will be blue, gray, and tan in colour, hard and wiry in coat, and fit to win on the bench ; whilst another of the litter may be almost smooth-coated, and a half-bred bloodhound in appearance.”

 

Howards writing, at the very least, proves that by this time the Otterhound had developed into a very similar representation of the breed as it is known today. It also provides evidence that Walsh’s theory of careful selection, not crossing may have created the Otterhound; stating that both smooth and wire-haired varieties within the same litter were not an uncommon occurrence; albeit the two authors disagree as to the true progenitor.

 

The last theory put forth by canine experts asserts that the Otterhound derived from a now extinct rough-coated French hound; the Griffon Vendeen, which may have been brought to England with the Normans during the Middle Ages. Notable dog fancier, champion breeder, and celebrated author and editor of a wide range of popular 19th century dog publications, Theo Marples pointed out the strong physical resemblance between the Otterhound and the old French Vendeen Hound; each closely resembling the other in both coat and conformation. It could be that all theories are correct to an extent, as most of the breeds thought to have played a part in its early creation were developed well before written records were ever kept. It is also widely believed that a large portion of the hound breeds originated in France; the Bloodhound being but one example (theorized to have come from the dogs of St. Hubert in the Ardennes region of France) of the breeds ancient predecessors that may have originated in France and once in England came to be crossed with or used to create native breeds, which were in turn used to create the Otterhound.

 

Moving away from the unknown history of the breed, historians agree that the Otterhound played an integral role in the development of the Airdale Terrier; contributing greatly to the final product as it is today.  Otterhounds, though excellent for scenting and tracking over both land and water were entirely too large to pursue an animal into its burrow; additionally they lacked the tenacity to face off against their prey. This dictated the need for a smaller, more aggressive dog like the Terrier that could be sent in once the animals was located to finish the job. These would be run together; it would be up to the hounds to scent the prey and pursue it to a point where the terriers could “go to ground” (enter the preys lair) and either make the kill or harass and freeze the prey in one location while barking out its location so that it could be dug out. Howard provides a good description of the process in the aforementioned “The Encyclopaedia of sport”:

 

“Besides a good pack of hounds, two or three terriers, and good ones too, are absolutely necessary to accompany the pack. These are not very easily procured. They must be short on the leg and small, for an otter in a natural holt — not a drain — will often get into a very small hole. And he is a most formidable beast to tackle, for, although at first he bolts readily, he is not always so easy to move after he has had a glimpse of the hounds and put back again into his stronghold. A good dog otter will weigh 24 lbs. (some have much exceeded that weight), and no terrier that is over 14 lbs. will be of much service, owing to his bulk. Thus in meeting an otter of this kind he is at a great disadvantage as to weight, while as to muscular strength there is no comparison between them, the otter being for its inches one of the most powerful animals living.


"Gameness, then, is most essential, yet not the gameness of the bulldog, but the courage of the true terrier that will lay at his otter, and keep his tongue going well while he harasses and drives him, without fear, yet without uselessly rushing into close quarters. With plenty of tongue, his whereabouts can be ascertained, and with the help of the spade assistance is soon at hand; while those listening can tell by the sound of his tongue the moment the otter moves, and though he makes his exit invisibly and under the water, where the terrier cannot follow him, there is no doubt about what happens when a good dog is at work, and the welcome cry of " Look out below " will soon be confirmed by a " Tally-ho " at the lower shallow.”

 

During the 18th century Otter hunting would evolve into a sport, though never an exceedingly popular one. Overhunting of other large game, led to the institution of hunting restrictions designed to preserve the forests and protect large game such as Deer. The effect of these laws was that it made Otter hunting more popular as it became the only available sport between the months of June to September. A description of the game laws from the 1910 edition of the “Encyclopaedia Britannica”:

 

“In the nature of things the right to take wild animals is valuable as to deer and the animals usually described as game, and not as to those which are merely noxious as vermin, or simply valueless, as small birds. Upon the rules of the common law there has been grafted much legislation …. for the preservation of deer and game….In England the game laws proper consisted of the Night poaching Acts of 1828 and 1844, the Game Act of 1831, the Poaching Prevention Act 1862, and the Ground Game Acts of 1880 and 1906.


“Deer are not included within the definition of game in any of the English game laws. Deer-stealing was very seriously punished by the old law, and under an act of George I. known as the Walt ham Black Act, passed because of the depredations of disguised deer-stealers in Epping Forest, it was under certain circumstances made a capital offence.


“At present offences with reference to deer are included in the Larceny Act 1861. It is a felony to hunt or kill deer in enclosures in forests, chases or purlieus, or in enclosed land where deer is usually kept, or after a previous conviction to hunt or kill deer in the open parts of a forest, and certain minor provisions are made as to arrest by foresters, forfeiture of venison unlawfully possessed and for unlawfully setting traps for deer. “

 

Otter hunting and likewise, the Otterhound would reach their peak during the end of the 19th century when it was estimated that as many as eighteen to twenty packs regularly hunted throughout the season.  All notable authorities on the practice and the breed agree that the best Otterhounds to have ever hunted were the property of Squire Lomax of Clitheroe. The squire, though interested in the results of the hunt, was a stickler to the finer points of the chase and concerned himself more with the manner in which his pack worked. It has been said that Lomax’s pack was so well trained that he could control the entire pack with a casual wave of his hand. His pack, believed to have reached its peak of perfection around 1868, is said to have then succumbed to “dumb madness” (rabies) sometime in the 1870’s. Rawdon Briggs Lee, commented on both the fame and demise of Squire Lomax’s pack in his 1897 work, “A history and description of the modern dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting division”:

 

“Notwithstanding this experience of my own, almost all old hunters say that many years careful work are required to perfect a pack of otter hounds. Squire Lomax, of Clitheroe, over a quarter of a century ago, had the misfortune to lose his entire pack through an attack of dumb madness. Now his were perhaps the most accomplished lot of otter hounds any man ever possessed. Each hound was perfect in itself, and the pack might have found and killed an otter without the slightest assistance from their esteemed master, who had taken years to bring them to their state of perfection. "You will soon get another pack together, Mr. Lomax," said a friend. "No," was the reply, "my old hounds took me the best part of a lifetime to obtain, and should I recommence again, I should be an old man and past hunting, before I got another lot to my liking." Mr. Lomax for years hunted the Ribble, Lune, and other rivers in the north.”

 

The 20th century brought with it the official debut of the Otterhound in America, with early American show records dating their introduction to 1907 when six Otterhounds were shown in Claremont, Oklahoma. The breed was officially accepted by the American Kennel Club (AKC) two years later in 1909; the Otterhound was placed in the Hound Group where it has remained.  Although the breed had achieved acceptance, it would never really be popular in the United States as it had no specific working role to fulfill.  Otter hunting, the job for which the breed was designed never really caught on and likewise this hurt the overall popularity of the breed. Over the course of the next few decades’s registration numbers in the United States would remain very low, with the first American based Otterhound breeding program not starting until 1937.

 

That year Dr. Hugh R. Mouat, a graduate of Cornell Veterinary School, would establish his Cranesville, New York based ‘Adriucha Kennel’ (Adriucha, being the Mohawk Indian word for "valiant warrior"). He initially learned about the breed in 1934 when a pair of breeders brought some Otterhounds into his veterinarian office. In 1941, two dogs out of his initial litter; Bessie’s Countess and Bessie’s Courageous became the first Otterhound Champions. 

 

Dr. Mouat acquired much of his foundation stock from the United Kingdom and would continue this practice throughout much his kennels life. Selective in his choice of stock he mainly acquired dogs from the Dumfriesshire and Kendal and District Kennels. The kennel of Dr. Mouat or Mr. Otterhound as he would come to affectionately be known produced some of the most famous early American Otterhounds, including Ch. Adriucha's Zola's Prixa UD . Zola would later be placed in the Otterhound Club of America (OHCA) Hall of Fame as a Utility Dog. It was through his efforts that interest in the breed increased and he began placing his dogs with breeders all over the country in order to further propagate the breed. Despite his best efforts, the number of Otterhounds would remain small due to a prevalent blood disease, canine thrombocytopathy; which severely limited litter size. Dr. Mouat and the other breeders have almost successfully removed the problem from the Otterhound of today.

 

Dog World Magazine presented Dr. Mouat the Award of Honor for his hard work to preserve the Otterhound on December 13th, 1950.  He wrote How to Raise and Train an Otterhound which was published in 1963 and is one of the few books published about the Otterhound. It remains one of the best choices for breed information. On August 13th, 1960, thirteen Otterhound owners gathered at Mouat’s home in Amsterdam, New York. Together they founded the Otterhound Club of America (OHCA). The club was founded to "encourage and promote the breeding of Otterhounds, determined as nearly as possible for perfection." The other goals included creating an AKC approved standard, holding shows under the rules of the AKC, and the general protection and development of the breed.

 

The OHCA submitted its constitution and bylaws to the AKC in December 1961, but the AKC deemed them objectionable due to the lack of individuality. At that time, there were only forty-five AKC registered Otterhounds and fifty-seven members of the OHCA. Two dogs were imported from the United Kingdom that year in an attempt to add genetic diversity to the breed.

 

In 1968, ten Otterhound owners on the West Coast founded the Western Otterhound Fanciers (WOHF). The club aimed to increase knowledge and presence of the breed and began publishing a monthly newsletter called the “WOHF Whistle”.  WOHF and OHCA collaborated to produce a revised standard for the Otterhound that the AKC would accept. Completed in 1971, the standard was submitted, approved and subsequently published in the November, 1971 issue of the AKC Gazette, along with the first Illustrated Standard. The first annual Otterhound Fun Match was also held this year at Dr. Mouats home. A Fun Match is a smaller dog show, usually held for new handlers. This event has been held annually since and has become a favorite gathering for OHCA members. WOLF would remain a successful regional club until 1973, when it was dissolved by vote in order to give the full support of its members to OHCA. The OHCA created a new constitution and by-laws, which were accepted by the AKC on August 22nd, 1974.

 

Heading back overseas; Otter hunting, although still practiced on a small scale had largely fallen out of favor with the public. The decline in its appeal had begun at the turn of the last century when observers began noting that otter numbers were falling, but by and large the otter was considered to be reasonably common until the late 1950's. At which point 'The Home office Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals' reported in 1951 that: "We recommend that a thorough investigation should be conducted, under the Nature Conservancy or some other body". Their report however, made clear that the real point at issue was not whether or not the Otter was endangered, but whether or not it should still be considered vermin (and thus hunted).  This report would, however, fall on deaf ears. With real action for the preservation of the species not coming for another twelve years when the 'Mammal Society of the British Isles' published an interim report on the status of the otter in Britain. The authors of the report stated that, "There appears no doubt that, over the southern part of Great Britain, there has been a very considerable decrease in the otter populations and that only in very few localized areas are there any indications of a stable population".

 

It was becoming clear that all was not well and although public pressure was mounting for increased protection, the government would remain firmly seated on its hands. The next report conducted in 1972 estimated there were on average a total of 36 Otters in Suffolk and 17 pairs in Norfolk; considerably below the level required for species sustainability. In 1975, the government made a proactive push to protect a wide range of rapidly disappearing species through the establishment of the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Plants Act. The Otter, however, although submitted for acceptance, was not included; it was objected to by the field sports lobby, fearing that protection for the otter would result in the demise of all field sports, including fox hunting. It would take another two years of lobbying by activists before the Otter was finally added to Schedule I of the act and afforded protection in 1977; effectively stopping Otter hunting in England and Wales. Scotland would follow suit in 1980 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

 

The Otterhound, its skills now largely obsolete found itself out of a job. Many owners unwilling to continue to care for a dog without purpose either destroyed or dissolved their packs. Breeders, seeing no profit in rearing them, likewise stopped breeding. The tables had turned, its former prey was now protected and the Otterhound was heading down the path of extinction.  Such was the decimation of the Otterhound that in just over a year only two Otterhound packs, totaling about 100 dogs, remained in all of England – one in Kendal and the other in Dumfries.  The Masters of these two remaining, purebred, Otterhound packs, not wanting to see their breed vanish, joined forces and began meeting with other breeders and the Kennel Club to the rescue the breed.

 

They convinced the Kennel Club (UK) to allow registrations of Otterhounds, founded the British Otterhound Club in 1978, and exhibited the first of them at Crufts that same year. The club also registered and distributed all remaining purebred hounds of breeding age amongst individuals and private breeders desperate to save the breed; much unlike the traditional packs of the past. Their efforts paid off and the Otterhound soon found a new occupation in the show ring, where their unique appearance and endearing personality made them an instant hit. Had it not been for the decision of the Kennel Club (UK) to allow registration of the breed and likewise the decision of the British Otterhound Club to break up the packs and distribute the dogs among private breeders, the breed would have most likely been lost.

 

Some of these revival dogs were then been imported into the United States and registered with the AKC and OHCA for use in breeding programs there. The latter of which held its first national specialty show in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981. ‘Champion Follyhound First in Line’ earned the title Best of Breed at this event and Ch. Follyhound Fair Warning went Best of Opposite. The OHCA has also held a regional specialty in Louisville, Kentucky, every year since 1994. In 1987, the name of the breed was changed from Otter Hound to Otterhound.  There has been continual debate over phrasing and minor wording changes were made several times. The most recent was approved in 1995.

 

The OHCA also rescues Otterhounds. This is not a big task due to the small number of Otterhounds in the United States. The OHCA does voice frustrations over being contacted for the rescue of large, shaggy strays that are not really Otterhounds. However, several true Otterhounds have been rescued. Two health surveys were distributed to Otterhound owners across the United States in 1996 and 2003. These surveys reported that most Otterhounds are in rather good health and have no major problems until old age. The OHCA encourages DNA testing for all Otterhounds in order to reduce health issues in the limited breeding stock.  The OHCA now consists of about one hundred members in the United States and some international members living in Canada and Europe, especially the United Kingdom.

 

With fewer than 1000 specimens remaining worldwide, the modern Otterhound is still a relative unknown in the dog world. AKC registration statistics for 2010 place the Otterhound very near the bottom of the list in popularity; sitting in 161st position out of 167 breeds or 6th from last in total number of dogs registered that year. The United Kingdom and United States maintain the highest concentration of Otterhounds, with smaller populations in Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands. As of 2010 it was estimated that  there are about 350 Otterhounds in the US and Canada; that same year the United Kingdom recorded 57 registrations (up six from 51 births in 2006).

 

The consistently low number of registrations has led to the Otterhound being considered the most endangered dog breed in Britain. They have also been placed on the list of Vulnerable Native Breeds by the UK Kennel Club, and as much as possible is being done to save the breed. The British Otterhound Club is currently trying to find a modern purpose for this ancient breed, noting that they “have an excellent nose for tracking work and, hopefully, they may be used eventually for tracing drugs. One has been an extremely successful Dog for the Disabled.” The breed does appear to still do well in the show ring with a puppy named Flo recently winning ‘Best Puppy in Show’ at the South Wales Kennel Association Championship Dog Show in 2010.

 

Appearance: 

 

The Otterhound is a large dog, not in the actual size and weight but is very thick boned and large bodied. The males weight between 95 to 115 pounds and stand 26 to 28 inches at the shoulder. Females weigh from 65 to 90 pounds and stand 24 to 26 inches. The ears are low set, which makes the ears look longer than they really are and are covered completely in long fur. The head, usually around 11 to 12 inches long is quite large and domed compared to the size of the dog. The muzzle is square, the beard is long and the eyes are deeply set. The nose is fully black, liver or slate. The webbed feet are broad and with thick, deep pads and arched toes.

 

The coat is the most prominent sign of the Otterhound. The outer coat is very dense, rough, coarse and crisp of broken appearance usually with softer hair on the head and lower legs. The outer part is two to four inches on the back and shorter everywhere else. A water resistant undercoat is present during winter and spring, but during the summer it is shed for something cooler. The long high set tail is feathered.

 

All color combinations are accepted by the AKC for Otterhounds, but the most common are black and tan, tan with a black saddle, black and tan grizzle, liver and tan, liver and tan grizzle, tri-colored (white, tan and black splotches) and wheaten.

 

Temperament: 

 

The Otterhound is extremely rare. There are generally four to seven litters born a year in the United States. This means finding one is nearly impossible. Contacting the OHCA, filling out forms and waiting are all steps needed in order to adopt one.

 

Most people when they think of a “Hound” dog think of a large hound dog that’s amiable, boisterous and even-tempered. This describes the Otterhound perfectly. They are big, friendly, affectionate dogs with a mind of their own. The Otterhound has the heart of a joyful child and a unique sense of humor.

 

Generally, they are good with dogs and cats if they are introduced correctly or raised with them. Many Otterhound owners are surprised when their cat and dog get along just fine. Otterhounds are bred to protect the pack, even if that means protecting the cat.  About half of the Otterhounds live fine with cats. The other half lives peacefully until the dog’s adolescence kicks in. Then the Otterhound turns on the cat almost overnight.  These dogs need extra training to keep the peace.

 

Some owners have found their Otterhound lives fine with parrots, horses and pigs. Small rodents cannot and should not be left with these dogs. Otterhounds are in the hunting group and chasing after a small animal is instinct.

 

The Otterhound needs heavy socialization starting as young as possible and continued all through his lifespan. They need to be handled and trained with a firm and caring but pleasant dominant person. The dog will take over leadership if not kept under control.

 

They also enjoy the company of kids, but young Otterhounds are big and tend to be klutzy so they may not work out with young kids or the frail elderly. A female Otterhound can be a great companion with an active senior if trained properly.

 

Otterhounds love to run and swim.  Nothing makes them happier! The Otterhound is best suited to a dog experienced, outdoor loving family, one that can take him for daily walks and a nice hike through the forest on weekends. They are bred to run and swim long distances. A leash or very secure fence is a must at all times. This dog was bred to hunt small animals, and hunt he will. He is always on the hunt for new scents and once he has latched on to a scent, his perseverance, determination and stamina mean he will track the scent to the very end.

 

The Otterhound has high energy levels. He needs daily exercise or he will vent his frustration with destructiveness. Keep some toy time wasters at home when you leave for keeping his boredom contained. At a young age, they love jumping, especially when greeting someone. This may be cute at seven weeks, but at seven months it is not appreciated. Eliminate this behavior as soon as it starts.

 

They are friendly and bark once to announce strangers and then love them like long lost pals. Otterhounds are affectionate, but independent. They love their pack, but do not constantly demand attention. They will be happy to see you arrive home but will return to bed to finish napping.

 

Otterhounds are difficult to train because they have minds of their own and can be downright stubborn by refusing to participate in training sessions. Food motivation works best with these dogs and it is helpful to keep sessions short.  Clicker training or the Cesar Millan method works well. Otterhounds are known for being “soft”. This means he will be slow to obey, but good-natured about it.

 

They do not like being told what to do. Their easy-going nature makes this trait easy to overlook, as it does not happen often. Experienced owners with an “iron fist in a velvet glove” training technique work best with these dogs.  This translates to tough, but not harsh love.  Consistency and patience is the key to training. It may be enticing to bend the rules sometimes, but if you give him an inch, he will take a mile.

 

Housebreaking Otterhounds can be a challenge. Their stubborn nature and slow maturity rate means it can take six months to a year to have them fully housebroken. Crate training is a must with this breed.

 

Otterhounds are messy. They treat their water bowl as if it is a small pond, splashing and spraying water everywhere. They love to stick as much face in the water as possible and this applies to all sources of water. They will jump and roll in mud puddles and will not hesitate to run into the house dripping wet. Leaves, mud, snow, fecal matter, and other debris cling to his coat and will end up everywhere in the house.
This breed loves to bark and their bark can be a nuisance because it is a very loud, deep, distinctive bay that travels for amazingly long distances. This dog is a perfect watchdog, because he will alert you. But he might be too friendly to be a guard dog.

 

The Otterhound’s shuffle is unique. They have very big webbed feet that flatten out as they walk. Their stride is long and they conserve energy by not lifting their feet very high. This gait is actually noted in the breed standard.

 

Otterhound owners should join their local tracking club and get their hounds involved in this activity. This dog was meant to run and hunt, and having some way to vent the natural instincts helps control behavior issues. Contact your local tracking club for more information.

 

Grooming Requirements: 

 

Even though Otterhounds have quite a lot of fur, most do not shed a great deal. Anticipate brushing the coat on a weekly basis to keep the coat from matting in particular on the head, legs and especially the belly. Spending time grooming also gives you a chance to find anything unusual, spend some bonding time together, and keep the loose fur from ending up on the furniture.

 

Start the weekly grooming process at an early age. If you wait until he is older, it will give the undercoat time to become matted. The dog may not like the new experience and it will make grooming difficult. Some Otterhounds are born with a softer coat. This means brushing your dog thoroughly two or three times a week to keep it from matting.

 

Even with weekly grooming, sometimes an Otterhound coat must be trimmed. If an Otterhound lives on a farm or if the dog has allergies or a skin problem the coat might be cut to prevent matting.  After a trimming, the coat will take about two years to completely grow back. Weekly bathing is not necessary unless you plan on showing your Otterhound.

 

Otterhounds and mud go hand in hand. The feet, beard, and ears are made for bringing mud inside. Trimming the hair on the feet and between the pads can help, but be prepared to mop more with an Otterhound in the family. Otterhounds usually lack the traditional doggy odor, but if the beard is not kept clean, it can develop an odor especially in a humid environment like Florida.

 

Walking the Otterhound daily on cool concrete helps keep the toenails short, but trimming them weekly is best. Cleaning the teeth should also be part of your regular grooming routine. Keep a rawhide bone or rope toy around for this purpose.

 

Check inside your Otterhound’s ears on a regular basis and clean them regularly. Because of the low hanging ears, the Otterhound is prone to ear infections. Look for a red tint, a cheesy smell or any kind of discharge. Other signs include shaking the head or scratching the ears. Chronic infections may be a sign of allergies. Some dogs have narrow ear canals, which means the airflow is poor. Many people have tried cutting the hair inside the ears, but this only irritates the ear worse unless the hair is really thick. Check the ears every week to catch the infection before it progresses.

 

Health Issues: 

 

Health surveys sent out by the OHCA in 1996 and in 2003 show the average lifespan of Otterhounds is ten years.

 

Blood-clotting diseases were a serious problem in Otterhounds in the past. The diseases lead to low birth rates and claimed many Otterhounds. Today it is still a minor concern. The diseases are thrombocytopathia, factor II deficiency, and von Willebrand's disease. Von Willbrand’s disease is an inherited defect and involves the gene that controls the body protein that normally controls the attachment of platelets to each other and to injured vessel walls. Dogs with this disease have a longer bleeding time and sometimes have excessive bleeding after minor injury or surgical procedures.

 

The most common orthopedic disease is hip dysplasia, which is widespread in Otterhounds. The Orthopedic Foundation of America evaluated the hip X-rays of 245 Otterhounds and found 51% had dysplasia. This means Otterhounds have the fourth worst rate of all breeds. The true rate is even higher because the joints with serious dysplasia were not included in the survey.  Other concerns are elbow dysplasia and osteochondritis. Make sure to see the test results from both parents for elbow and hip dysplasia and epilepsy before adopting.

 

Of course, with all big-chested breeds, Otterhounds have a high chance of bloat. Bloat, or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, is a serious problem. It is the second most common cause of death for large dogs, just under death by cancer.

 

Bloating starts in the stomach when an excess amount of air, food or liquid is swallowed and the stomach gets blocked. As the stomach swells, it may rotate anywhere from 90° to 360°, twisting between its fixed attachments at the esophagus and at the duodenum. This traps everything in the stomach, which stops blood flow in the abdomen. This causes low blood pressure, shock, and damage to the sensitive internal organs.  Bloat can arise with or without the twisting.

 

Sadly, the effect can quickly kill a dog. The treatment for bloat is immediate veterinary care, and untwisting or clearing the blockage inside the stomach. If not treated, death can occur in hours or mere minutes. Known factors to increase the risk of bloat include using a raised bowl, how fast your dog eats and its’ age. Having bloat once means the chance of getting bloat again is increased dramatically. Some large dog owners even buy a “bloat kit”, and learn how to complete the procedure at home in case they cannot reach their local vet in time. Symptoms include attempting to vomit unsuccessfully multiple times, changed behavior, restlessness and anxiety, hunched appearance, pale or off color gums, foamy mucous around the mouth, refusing to lie or sit down while only standing spread legged, increased panting and shallow breathing.

 

The best way to prevent bloat is avoiding stress, not exercising and not allowing him to roll over onto his back for at least an hour after eating, feed smaller meals two or three times a day, avoiding water an hour before and after eating, avoiding rapid drinking, an exclusive dry food diet and choosing a special dog food designed to prevent bloat.

 

Another concern in Otterhounds is Sebaceous cysts. Millions of pores and hair follicles in the skin are surrounded by microscopic sized oil glands. These glands manufacture the oil, called sebum, which keeps the coat shiny. The oil also is a protective and moisturizing layer for the hair and skin.

 

Sebaceous cysts occur when a normal pore or hair follicle becomes clogged, usually from dirt, infection, or if the sebum that becomes too thick to exit the pore.

 

As long as the cysts are small, closed and intact they cause no harm to the animal. Sebaceous cysts become problematic when they burst and become open to the outside. Surgical removal is required when the cyst will not heal with antibiotics. They may also break under the skin and spill into the nearby tissue. The result is a concentrated inflammation causing a red, itchy area the pet is likely to lick, scratch and rub. There is no known way to prevent Sebaceous cysts. Regular grooming will make it easier to find any closed or open cysts.

 

The Otterhound is prone to:

 

    
 

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