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Nicole Cosgrove

The Otterhound is a large to giant purebred scenthound from England bred some time in the 13th or 14th centuries It was designed for one purpose. To hunt the slippery river otter and could be described as a dog that is somewhere between a terrier and a hound. It is a rare breed today with just 600 dogs or so worldwide. For that reason the Kennel Club has it identified as a Vulnerable Native Breed. It was built to be a working dog and is known to have a great deal of stamina but also makes a great family companion too.

The Otterhound at A Glance
Name Otterhound
Other names Otter Dog
Nicknames None
Origin United Kingdom
Average size Large to giant
Average weight 70 to 120 pounds
Average height 24 to 27 inches
Life span 10 to 13 years
Coat type Harsh, short, water-repellent, long, dense
Hypoallergenic No
Color Grey, red, white, black and tan, blue
Popularity Not that popular – ranked 166th by the AKC
Intelligence Quite intelligent – above average
Tolerance to heat Good – can handle warm to hot weather but nothing too hot and nothing extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – can live in cold climates just not extremes
Shedding Average will be some hair around the home to clean up
Drooling Low – not prone to lots of slobber or drool
Obesity Average – can gain weight but not especially prone, just measure food and make sure it gets enough physical activity
Grooming/brushing Moderate – brush at least twice a week
Barking Moderate – does not bark frequently but when it does bark it is very loud
Exercise needs Very active – will need lots of physical activity to stay happy and healthy
Trainability Fairly difficult – experience will be needed
Friendliness Excellent with socialization
Good first dog Good but best with people who are experienced
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Good to very good – may chase small animals
Good with strangers Very good with socialization – some can be wary initially
Good apartment dog Low – too large and needs access to a yard
Handles alone time well Excellent – is happy being left alone
Health issues Fairly healthy breed but a few issues can include bloat, hip dysplasia, CIT and ear infections
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $665 a year for grooming, miscellaneous items, license, basic training and toys
Average annual expenses $1420 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,000
Rescue organizations Several including the Otterhound Club of America
Biting Statistics None reported

The Otterhound’s Beginnings</h2 >

The Otterhound was bred specifically for the sole purpose to hunt Otters. While this was not a main stream sport, it was done for a couple of reasons. First of all to stop otters from preying on fish to preserve them as food for people, and then because during the months from April to September there was no other hunting quarry and hunting was a past time especially enjoyed by royalty and the nobility. As the otter is a fierce animal weighing around 20 pounds or more dogs that were developed to hunt it needed to be large, be able to track on land and in water, be rough and tumble, handle the cold and the wet and have endurance.

What exactly went into the Otterhound’s development is not known. At the beginning it was more like a terrier than a hound and some believe in the mix may be the Welsh Harrier and the Southern Hound, other suggestions are the Old Water Spaniel, the English Bulldog, the English Foxhound, the Griffon Nivernais, the French Vendeen Hound and the Bloodhound. King John in the 13th century was said to have had a pack of them that he hunted with and the first monarch to become Master of Otterhounds was Edward II. </p >

By the late 1800s the Otterhound then was almost exactly the same as the one we have today. Somewhere between twenty to thirty packs of hounds were being used on a regular basis and the river otters numbers dropped dramatically. Just before World War I its popularity reached its peak. In fact the hunting at this time was so successful that later in the late 1970s otter numbers were very low and were named a protected species in Britain. This meant the role of the Otterhound was put into question and numbers dropped. Many hunting packs were destroyed leaving in the end only a total of a hundred dogs and two hunting packs left. The Otterhound Club of Great Britain was formed in an attempt by fans of the breed to prevent it from becoming extinct. </p >

New Lease on Life</h2 >

It was in the 1900s that the Otterhound came to the US. Six appeared in a dog show in Oklahoma in 1907 and the AKC accepted its registration in 1909. it was not until 1937 though that any kind of serious breeding was done with them there. In 1960 the Otterhound Club of America was started and it received full recognition from the AKC in 1991. It is not a hugely popular breed there though, it is ranked 166th by the AKC. But there was enough attention in the US, in Britain and elsewhere to make sure that while the breed remains rare it is no longer endangered. It is estimated that there are about 600 dogs world wide, and it is Britain’s most endangered native breed. </p >

The Dog You See Today</h2 >

The Otterhound is a large to giant breed weighing 70 to 120 pounds and standing 24 o 27 inches tall. It has a somewhat rectangular and strong body with a powerful neck with a large dewlap and a tail that is set high, is long and tapers to the tip. It has webbed feet to make it a great swimmer and its dew claws on the front legs are removed in some places. Its coat is oily so that it is water-repellant and is double, with a short wooly under coat and a rough and dense outer coat that is between two to four inches long. The outer coat should not be soft or wooly. It as a shaggy looking dog and common colors include black, tan and grizzle. </p >

The head is similarly shaped to a Bloodhound, large and narrow with a squared muzzle, powerful jaws and a liver or black large nose that has wide nostrils. Its eyes are set deep and can range in color depending on its coat color, something between black and hazel. Its ears are long, hang down and are set low and should be able to touch the nose’s tip if pulled forwards. It has facial hair that gives it bushy eyebrows and a shaggy beard. </p >

The Inner Otterhound</h2 >

Temperament</h3 >

This is a hard working and dedicated breed with a lot to offer beyond its hunting capabilities. It is very alert and makes a good watchdog as it will bark to let you know of any intruder breaking in. It is not though thought of as an overly protective breed so whether it acts to defend you and the home will come down to individual dogs. It can be good for new owners but is best with experienced ones as it is independent natured and does not like being told anything. It barks occasionally but it is loud and it also does bay so it will need training to control that. </p >

The Otterhound is a curious dog, friendly too and affectionate with its owners. It loves to be active and of course loves to swim. It is easy going when well exercised and tends to be friendly towards strangers too though some can be wary at first and then warm up. It can be boisterous, clownish and loves to play and is not a neat or tidy dog in any shape or form. If you like things very clean at all times this is not the dog for you, it will splash its water bowl everywhere, roll in puddles then run into the house, track in debris and so on. </p >

This dog has a lot of personality, a zest for life and is devoted to friends and family. It does tend to snore though and is best homed with people who are outdoor types who live in a rural setting. While it will be loving to you and will meet you happily at the door when you come home it will not get in the way following you from room to room. </p >

Living with an Otterhound</h2 >

What will training look like? </h3 >

Otterhounds need experienced owners when it comes to training, as it they are fairly hard to train due to their independent nature. They can be very stubborn and can go as far as outright just refusing to co-operate, and given its size that it is hard to get past! Thankfully it loves its food so treats are a good motivator. Also a good idea is to keep the sessions short and fun avoid letting them get too long, repetitive and boring. This process will need consistency, patience, a sense of humor and the ability to be firm and stick to the rules. Do not let your dog decide when the training is done, you do. Never even give in a little to it, or it will take advantage and never see you as the real pack leader. Housebreaking can be a challenge too so make a regular schedule and stick to it, and use crate training to help. It can take four to six months before it is house trained. </p >

Along with basic obedience training to be started as soon as you get your puppy home, you also very much need to start early socialization. Bring it to different places, starting small and building up, bring different people and children to it, get it used to different sounds, situations, other dogs and animals. It will grow into a confident and happy dog able to handle most things it comes across. </p >

How active is the Otterhound? </h3 >

The Otterhound is a fairly active dog and given its size too it is not best suited for apartment living. It needs a home with room inside and one that comes with at least a large yard, or even some land. While the dog can handle cold weather just fine it is not as good in the heat so extra care should be taken when it gets warm. Take it out for a couple of good walks each day and give it a chance to play outside too in a yard. It should also be taken a few times a week somewhere it can run safely off leash and somewhere it can play some doggy games with you. A dog park is such a place with the added benefit of socialization opportunities too. </p >

It also loves to swim so would be at its happiest if it was close enough to a river, lake or with owners who have a pool. It can swim in even the coldest waters thanks to its coat and can swim for hours without needing rest. It can also join you for a jog, hike or a bike ride too. Do not let it off leash though as it will follow its nose and chase after scents or other moving things. It is really important the Otterhound gets enough activity and mental stimulation or it gets destructive and hyperactive and can do a lot of damage to your home. </p >

Caring for the Otterhound</h2 >

Grooming needs</h3 >

There is a moderate amount of effort needed in terms of grooming and maintenance for this dog. Otterhounds shed a moderate amount so will need to be brushed at least once or twice a week and there will be some hair around the home that needs cleaning. If it is not brushed regularly the coat does become matted. Avoid clipping the coat as it can take two years to regrow back. Because of its facial hair and the fact that it is a messy eater and drinker it will need its face cleaned and dried a couple of times a day to prevent it tangling and smelling bad. If you are showing the dog it should not be trimmed either. However if your Otterhound is a companion you can choose to clip or trim, just remember it changes the coat and a shorter coat will actually shed more. Only bathe it when it really needs one to avoid drying out it skin, and only ever use a gentle dog shampoo when it is bath time. </p >

Other needs will include taking care of its ears, its nails and its teeth. AS it has long ears and it loves water special care needs to be taken to prevent infection. Make sure after they get wet that they are dried well, check for infection signs once a week looking for things like a build up of wax, irritation, redness or discharge. You should also give them a clean once a week but never by inserting anything into the ear canal as that can hurt it and cause damage. Just use an ear cleanser or damp cloth to wipe the parts you can reach. Its teeth need to be cleaned two to three times a week using a vet recommended dog toothpaste and brush. Its nails need to be clipped if they get too long. You can do it yourself or have the vet or professional groomer do it. If you are doing it make sure you do not cut too low into where there are blood vessels and nerves. It would not just hurt the dog it would cause bleeding and make future nail clipping difficult. </p >

Feeding Time</h3 >

Otterhounds should eat between 3 to 5 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day split into at least two meals to avoid issues with bloat. How much exactly can vary from one Otterhound to another as it depends on their metabolism, rate of activity, size, health and age. </p >

How is the Otterhound with children and other animals? </h2 >

The Otterhound with socialization is good with children, it loves to play with and be energetic together and it is affectionate too. However with its size accidents can happen with younger children as it can accidentally knock them over, and it does like rough play sometimes. Because of that boisterousness it needs to be supervised with young children and is probably best with children who are over the age of 8 to 10. Make sure you teach children how to play nicely and how to touch without hurting. </p >

Around other pets with socialization and if raised with them some can be friendly to them and accepting of ones in the home. However some are not as good and supervision or separation would be needed. It has strong chase instincts and other small pets, cats included are seen often as prey. Those instincts are strong when out walking too so always keep it on a leash. Most get along well with other dogs with good socialization. </p >

What Might Go Wrong? </h2 >

Health Concerns</h3 >

The expected life span of this breed is between 10 and 13 years. It is mostly a healthy breed but there are some issues that can come up to be aware of. These include bloat, hip and elbow dysplasia, eye problems, epilepsy, panosteitis, allergies, Glanzmann’s thrombasthenia, arthritis and ear infections. </p >

Biting Statistics </h3 >

In an examination of reports revealing dog attacks against people, that did bodily harm over the last 35 years in North America, there is no mention of the Otterhound. The Otterhound is not a common dog though so that makes the chances of it being involved in any kind of incident a lot lower. This is not an aggressive breed towards people though so it is in the lower per cent of dogs likely to hurt anyone. With good socialization and training, care and enough physical and mental activity it is even less likely. However all dog owners should accept that any dog, no matter type or size has the potential to have a bad day. All have some kind of possibility to over react to something or to be teased into it. </p >

Your Pup’s Price Tag</h2 >

Otterhound puppies are likely to cost around $1000 from a pet quality decent breeder, but more from a top breeder of show quality dogs. It is a rare breed, less than 40 are registered with the AKC each year so be prepared to be placed on a waiting list. It might be tempting to skip this to find something quicker and easier from a back yard breeder, pet store or some other puppy mill sourced option but be patient. There are good reasons to use reputable breeders and not fund puppy mills. The health of your dog is likely to be better as its breeding and you can ask about its parents background and ask for proof. Disreputable and ignorant breeders cannot provide any of that, they mistreat their animals or are neglectful and do not check for things like hereditary illnesses. While you are unlikely too find a Otterhound at a rescue or shelter it is another option to keep in mind. For around $50 to $400 you can get a family dog that will be just as rewarding as any purebred in terms of companionship and love. </p >

Initial costs will need to be covered along with the cost of the puppy. It should be taken to a vet for a check up, have blood tests done, be dewormed and vaccinated, and be micro chipped and spayed or neutered. These will cost around $290. There are also things it will need at home like a crate, collar and leash, bowls and bedding for example. These will cost around $180. </p >

Ongoing costs will also be a factor in your decision to get a pet. The Otterhound is larger so the costs are more in terms of things like food, because it needs more! Feeding it a good quality dry dog food and dog treats will cost about $270 a year. Basic health care like flea and tick prevention, shots, check ups and pet insurance will cost about $485 a year. Then other general costs like grooming, basic training, license, toys and miscellaneous items will be another estimated $665 a year. This gives an estimated annual cost of $1420. </p >


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The Otterhound is a large dog, with a shaggy appearance and boisterous nature. It needs room, it will make a mess in your home and it needs plenty of physical and mental activity to keep it calm indoors. Owners need to be active themselves, not overly neat freaks, ready to wipe a dog’s beard after it eats each day and ready for the slow process of training and housebreaking because of its independent nature. Sense of humor and patience are a must with the Otterhound but it will reward you with some laughs, a lot of love and dedication. </p >

Featured Image Credit: Lourdes Photography, Shutterstock

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.