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Frisian Water Dog

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021
The Frisian Water Dog is a medium sized purebred from the Netherlands bred to be a retriever and used as a gun dog. It is excellent at retrieval on both land and water and is also a great companion and family dog. It is also known as the Wetterhoun, Otterhoun or the Dutch Spaniel. It should be noted it is not the same as the Otterhound and that in fact it is not a Spaniel type dog! It was bred to hunt small animals and waterfowl. It is an active and loyal dog but it is strong willed so experience is best.
The Frisian Water Dog at a Glance
Name Frisian Water Dog
Other names Otterhoun, Dutch “Spaniel”, Wetterhoun
Nicknames FWD
Origin Netherlands
Average size Medium
Average weight 30 to 45 pounds
Average height 21 to 23 inches
Life span 10 to 12 years
Coat type Thick, coarse, curly
Hypoallergenic No
Color Black and white, liver and white, solid black, or solid liver
Popularity Not a registered member of the AKC
Intelligence High – very clever dog
Tolerance to heat Good to very good
Tolerance to cold Very good
Shedding Moderate – some hair will be around the home
Drooling Moderate to average
Obesity Average – Make sure its food is measured and it gets enough exercise
Grooming/brushing Low to average – brush once or twice a week
Barking Occasional – barks sometimes but not all the time
Exercise needs High – needs active owners
Trainability Moderate – experience helps
Friendliness Good to very good
Good first dog Moderate – best with experienced owners
Good family pet Very good with socialization
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Very good with socialization
Good with other pets Moderate – need socialization due to prey drive towards small non canine pets
Good with strangers Good but they are reserved and require socialization
Good apartment dog Low to moderate – need space and a yard or even something more
Handles alone time well Moderate – prefers not to be alone for long periods
Health issues Fairly healthy, some issues include Ear infections, hip dysplasia, and patellar luxation,
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $215 a year for miscellaneous items, license, toys and basic training
Average annual expenses $820 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $700
Rescue organizations None breed specific, check local shelters and rescues
Biting Statistics None reported

The Frisian Water Dog’s Beginnings

The Frisian Water Dog was bred in the Netherlands by the Dutch about 4 centuries ago. It is thought its ancestor is likely the Old Water Dog, a much older breed now extinct and that there were Gypsy dogs involved. It was developed in the province of Fryslan which is where the Frisian name comes from. It was bred to hunt otters by fishermen as otters would take the fish. Its other name is Wetterhoun which translates to water dog. In Dutch the plural of Wetterhoun is Wetterhounen.

When otters reached numbers fishermen were able to live with in the north of the Netherlands the dog was then also used to be a hunting dog of small animals like polecats and waterfowl and as a watchdog and farm guard dog. It was bred to be an effective and fearless hunter, to be able to flush and retrieve on both water and land. While it was admired and popular in northern Netherlands for many years it was not known elsewhere. Then with the arrival of second world war many dog breeds were negatively impacted by the Nazi occupation. The Frisian Water Dog’s numbers dropped so much it was facing extinction.

New Lease on Life

Thankfully breeders and fanciers were able to improve the dog’s numbers with a careful breeding program and it has been slowly gaining in popularity though it is rare even in the Netherlands and almost unknown outside of there. It is recognized by the FCI, the UKC and of course the Netherlands Kennel Club. There have also been some efforts to undo the health damage done by a lot of inbreeding by bringing in similar dogs like the Portuguese Water Dog, Standard Poodle and Barbet.

Frisian Water Dog

The Dog You See Today

The Frisian Water Dog is a medium sized dog weighing 30 to 45 pounds and standing 21 to 23 inches tall. It is a sturdy and thick dog, squared in shape with a wide chest that keeps the front legs wide apart. Its tail when it is alert curls tightly over its back in a ring shape. It has large feet that are rounded with pads that are very thick. Its coat is coarse, thick and curly apart from on the legs, head and ears where it is straighter and smoother. It is water repellant and as a result is often described as feeling greasy to touch. Common colors are black with white ticking, brown with white, solid black or brown and roan markings can also happen. The head is wider than it is long and its ears are set low and hang down close to the head, looking like mason trowels in shape. Its eyes are slanted which is why it looks so serious, and are brown to dark brown in color.

The Inner Frisian Water Dog


The FWD is not the best dog for new owners, it is best with experienced ones as it can be an independent minded dog and is also quite sensitive. It is a capable breed, popular for its intelligence and being reliable and hard working in the Netherlands where it is more common. That said while it has a mind of its own it is not especially stubborn or demanding. It is watchful making it a good watchdog, it will bark to alert you if something is wrong. It is also a brave dog and will act to defend its owners, to whom it is completely devoted and loyal to.

It is an affectionate dog, and with people it knows it is friendly and good natured, welcoming and form close bonds. With strangers is is reserved and wary but never aggressive. It has a playful side to it too and it is very active. It has a lot of perseverance, it will want to finish whatever task it has started before it will happily move on. It is not a frequent barker but does bark occasionally and it makes a great family dog and companion as well as being a good hunting and working dog.

Living with a Frisian Water Dog

What will training look like?

Training the Frisian Water Dog is going to be moderate in difficulty as it is sensitive and it can be independent and strong willed. If you have experience though and are prepared to be gentle but firm, positive but still a confident and consistent pack leader then it may be easier for you. It likes having a job to do but its strong mindedness comes partly from wanting to finish one task before moving on. Start training and socialization early. Socialization will involve letting it get used to different people, places, situations, sounds, animals and such and teaching it appropriate responses.

How active is the Frisian Water Dog?

This is an active dog and it needs owners that are active too. It will need two long walks a day, physical play time with you and would be happy to join you for a hike, jog, swim and so on. Expect to spend at least an hour a day giving it physical exercise and also make sure you give it enough mental stimulation too. Also give it time off leash somewhere safe where it can run free. It is not an apartment breed as it needs space and a yard at least to play in, if not some land. It is not especially suited to city life, it is best in a rural setting or perhaps semi-rural.

Caring for the Frisian Water Dog

Grooming needs

You will need to groom and maintain this dog on a regular basis but it is not high maintenance. Give it a brush and comb once or twice a week and be prepared for light to average shedding. As its coat has a natural oiliness because of being waterproof it does not need bathing often at all. On the occasion when it gets itself especially dirty and needs one only use a dog shampoo to wash it with so you do not damage those natural oils.

Give its ears a clean once a week but do not insert anything down the ear, that could cause a painful injury. Use a damp cloth or dog ear cleanser with cotton balls to wipe that easy to reach parts. Two to three times a week it should have its teeth brushed using a dog toothpaste and toothbrush. Its nails will need to be clipped as and when they get too long using a dog nail clipper or scissors. Take care not to cut too far down the nail where the nerves and blood vessels are. Should you cut there it will hurt the dog and cause bleeding.

Feeding Time

The FWD eats between 2 to 3½ cups of a good to excellent quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals. The amount can vary from one water do to another because of factors like health, metabolism, size, level of activity and age. It should also have access to water at all times that is kept as fresh as possible.

How is the Frisian Water Dog with children and other animals?

The Frisian Water Dog can be good with children if they are raised with them, and with good socialization. They can play together, it is affectionate towards them and tolerant to a point. It is sensitive and that intolerance of harsh treatment extends to children too. They need to be taught how to gently touch it and younger children should be supervised. Basically it needs your protection from children who are too rough and too grabby! It is not aggressive towards other dogs but if another canine starts on it, it will respond and defend itself. It is not the best dog to have in a home with other small pets as it tends to view them as prey to be hunted.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

It has a life span of 10 to 12 years and is thought to be fairly healthy though its small genetic diversity at one point did lead to some health problems. Things to look out for include SCID, joint dysplasia, patellar luxation, eye problems and ear infections.

Biting Statistics

The FWD is not an aggressive dog and is unlikely to be involved in any incident especially one where people are being attacked and being left with injuries of bodily harm or worse. Over the last 35 years in North America reports that look at such incidents do not mention this dog. There is no breed that can be always trusted all the time, things can happen with any breed and any size. But to help lessen the chances make sure your dog is well socialized and trained, that it gets the exercise and attention it needs and that it is mentally stimulated and healthy.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Frisian Water Dog puppy can cost about $700 from a trustworthy breeder, or more from a top breeder. It is hard to find though outside of its home land of the Netherlands so should you still follow through on this breed and use a Dutch breeder there will be additional transportation costs. Do not use puppy mills, pet stores or back yard breeders. Should you be willing to step away from a purebred and possibly have a more mature dog there are a lot of rescues in shelters desperate for homes. Adoption fees tend to range from $50 to $400.

Once a dog has been found that is ready to come home there are some items to get for it. A crate, carrier, bowls, leash and collar and such will cost about $200. Then it should be taken to a vet for some health checks and procedures. It needs micro chipping, shots, a physical exam, blood tests, deworming and spaying or neutering. That will be another cost of about $270.

Then there are yearly costs to look after your dog. Its basic health care and insurance will cost around $460 for check ups, shots and tick and flea prevention. A good or better dry dog food and dog treats will be about $145 a year. Then miscellaneous costs such as basic training, license, miscellaneous items and toys will cost another $215 a year. This gives an annual starting figure cost of $820.


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The Frisian Water Dog loves to be busy and active. It does best in homes with active people who keep it as a hunting dog as well as a companion. It does best too in rural settings with owners who are experienced and know how to deal with an independent and very sensitive dog. It can be great with children and in fact you are more likely to have to step in to protect it from them than the other way around. It will bond very closely to you and it will need lots of attention but it is also affectionate back and will be completely dedicated to you.

Featured Image Credit: Marjoleine Roosendaal, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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