History of Otterhounds
The Otterhound or Otter hound originates in England although its heritage can be dated back to antiquity. It is one of the most ancient of the English breeds. It was developed about the time of King John (1199-1216).
The first written mention of the breed was in 1212 when King John kept a pack for hunting. King John was not the only British royalty to be associated with the Otterhound. Richard III, Charles II, Edward II and IV, Henry II, VI, VII, and VIII and Elizabeth I often used the breed, even carrying the title of “Master of Otterhounds“.
The ancestry of the Otterhound has always been in question with many theories. While most agree on Bloodhound, the other breeds vary and include Terriers, Griffons, Harriers, Vendeen hounds and the Southern hound.
Regardless of its origin the otterhound was used in packs for the control of otters since the otter competed with the fisherman for the supply of fish. Otterhounds are well adapted to the task with their webbed feet, long thick double coats and keen noses. It is said that an Otterhound’s sense of smell is so acute it can smell in the morning an otter that passed through the water the night before.
An Otterhound’s coat is weatherproof and they are able to defy cold water and will dive into bitterly cold rivers to seek their prey and its den. The Otterhound is a great swimmer with the ability to swim for hours without stopping.
In the late 1800’s there were sometimes eighteen to twenty packs hunted on a regular basis through the season. In the 20th century, as the otter population diminished, so did the Otterhound’s popularity. In 1978 when the otter became a protected species the Otterhound’s existence was threatened. The concerted effort by several dedicated breeders saved the breed and brought the Otterhound to the show ring.
Otterhounds first came to the United States in 1900. While they have never grown to great popularity here, they have retained many steadfast friends. The breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1910.
Today there are fewer than 1000 Otterhounds world wide.
The Otterhound is a large rough-coated dog with a shaggy face and bushy eyebrows. The males are approximately 27 inches and weigh about 115 pounds while bitches are approximately 24 inches and weigh about 80 pounds. However they can vary greatly in both size and weigh.
The head is large with the skull and muzzle about the same length. The eyes are deeply set and complement the color of the hound. The ears are long and pendulous. They are set low and hang close to the head with the ear leather reaching to the nose. The nose is large and completely pigmented, with wide nostrils. The jaws are powerful.
The neck is powerful and blends smoothly into the back. The top line is level and the chest is deep. The tail is set high and carried in a saber fashion. The feet are large and webbed.
The coat consists of two layers. The outer coat is dense, rough, coarse and crisp with softer hair on the head and lower legs. It may be two to four inches in length. The under coat is short wooly and slightly oily. It may be hard to find in summer months. And about Otterhounds in the ring, they need to be shown in a natural coat, with no sculpturing or shaping.
Any color or combination of colors is acceptable. The nose should be black, liver or slate depending on the color of the hound. Eye rim should match the nose. The eye color of those with black noses should be dark while those with liver or slate noses may have hazel eyes.
The Otterhound moves freely with a loose long reaching gait. They don’t lift their feet high off the ground and may shuffle at slow gaits.
Otterhound Grooming and Exercise
Though some Otterhounds have a fair amount of coat they do not shed a great deal. Expect to brush an Otterhound on a weekly basis to keep the coat from matting. Most Otterhounds aren’t slobbery dogs, but they’ve got beards, long ears and BIG hairy feet that get into their water bowls, food dishes, and any available mud, and then spread it around. Otterhounds don’t seem to develop the strong “doggy” odor that some dogs do, so frequent baths should not be necessary, but you will probably need to clean ears on a regular basis.
The Otterhound needs a lot of daily exercise in a safe area or on leash, as they tend to forget everything when an interesting scent is discovered. Exercise can be running, walking or swimming. They should have a well fenced yard and can sleep outside in cool climates provided there is shelter.
About Otterhounds Temperament
An important note about Otterhounds is that they are a bold and exuberant dog. Friendly, cheerful, loving and devoted, he makes a good companion. This breed is quite good with children, but may be clumsy with small children and therefore is not recommended for infants. They are a friend to all other dogs, family pets, children and people in general, however it will chase non-canine animals (it can get along with cats in the family). They are affectionate, intelligent, and independent with a mind of their own.
Because the Otterhound was never traditionally kept as a pet, it is not among the most responsive of breeds. Training the Otterhound takes patience, because it tends to be quite willful. The best results are achieved with a soft but consistent hand. Use the classic “Iron fist in a velvet glove” approach when training this dog.
The great thing about Otterhounds are that they are a low-key dog that can function as a quiet companion. They like to roam and sniff and have a tendency to snore. Otterhounds have a harmonious, boisterous and powerful voice that carries for long distances. They like to bay but they don’t bark excessively.
About Otterhounds Health
The Otterhound can live 10 to 13 years. They are slow to mature both physically and mentally. While there are some health problems in the breed they are generally healthy. Some current concerns are Hip Dysplasia, Glanzman’s thrombasthenia (bleeding disorder) and epilepsy. As with all dogs with pendulous ears care must be taken to prevent ear problems. Like the rest of America, Otterhounds tend to gain weight if food and exercise are not regulated.