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Ron Willbie, Animal Photography
This is a large, shaggy scenthound who nearly disappeared after hunting otters became illegal in Britain, but fans have repurposed him as a companion. He’s entertaining to live with but can be difficult to keep clean. The Otterhound is laid-back, but that doesn’t mean he’s a couch potato. Expect to exercise him thoroughly every day.
The water-loving Otterhound has large webbed feet to facilitate his ability to swim. Combined with his rough coat, they give him a look all his own.
With his rough, tousled coat, the Otterhound might look a bit like a mutt at first glance, but he’s a very old breed who was originally used to hunt otters in Great Britain. When that activity was outlawed in 1978, the breed nearly disappeared, and today the Otterhound is extremely rare. He’s an interesting dog to live with, but not necessarily an easy keeper. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring an Otterhound.
When it comes to living with an Otterhound, the house-proud need not apply. He’s big, hairy, a messy eater and drinker, and loves to get wet and muddy. People who live with him should be patient and have an excellent sense of humor. If none of that bothers you, read on.
The Otterhound weighs 65 to 125 pounds. Keep valuables out of reach; he has a reputation as a klutz. He likes people and other pets and is good with older children, but he is probably too rambunctious for households with toddlers. Like most hounds, he has an independent nature and doesn’t mind if you’re not keeping him company 24/7. He’s a good watchdog but not a guard dog. Be prepared for a dog with a deep, baying voice. The Otterhound is a good communicator, “talking” to his people with mutters, grumbles, grunts, groans, and sighs.
The Otterhound is easygoing, but don’t let him fool you. He’s stubborn and likes to do things his own way. Training an Otterhound requires skill, cunning, and what some might call bribery. Positive reinforcement, particularly with food rewards, is the way to win an Otterhound’s heart and mind. So is the ability to “outstubborn” him. Begin training when he is young and still somewhat malleable, keep training sessions short and fun, and avoid harsh corrections.
Life with an Otterhound is an exercise in securitization. Otterhounds are highly food-oriented. Combined with their intelligence, that’s a recipe for a dog that excels at breaking into cabinets, drawers, pantries, trash cans, and even refrigerators. They are also known to escape from crates, over baby gates and yard gates, through screen doors and over or under fences. You’ll need a securely fenced yard, and that doesn’t mean an underground electronic fence. If the Otterhound wants to leave the yard, a shock may not stop him.
The Otterhound is calm by nature, but by no means lazy. He needs a long daily walk or (health permitting) run, on leash. If you want to try dog sports with him, he’s good at agility, obedience, rally and especially tracking.
This is an indoor/outdoor dog. While the Otterhound should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, he should be with his family when they are home.
Brush or comb the Otterhound’s coat weekly, but plan to clean his beard after every meal to prevent odor. The Otterhound’s coat can be two to six inches long, and some coats are oilier than others. An Otterhound who has a longer, oilier coat gets dirty more quickly than one with a shorter, less oily coat, so the need for bathing varies. Some Otterhounds need a bath monthly, while others can get by with a bath only once a year.
Why an Otterhound? In medieval England, river otters were a threat to fishermen, competing with them for fish. Otterhounds, which hunted in packs, were developed to keep the furry pests at bay and protect the fishing industry. The earliest known reference to an “otter dogge” in England dates to 1175. In the 14th century, huntsman William Twici described the dogs as “a rough sort of dog between a hound and a terrier.”
Hunting with Otterhounds became a sport as well as a budding form of economic protectionism. Bad King John enjoyed hunting with Otterhounds, and Queen Elizabeth I was the first “Lady Master of Otterhounds.”
While the background of those early Otterhounds is unknown, the modern dogs, which date to the 18th century, descend from Bloodhounds; various rough-coated French breeds, including the Griffon Nivernais and Griffon Vendeen; and the now-extinct Old Southern Hound. The French connection is clear: The Otterhound looks very like the rough-coated Griffon Vendeen. Cross-breeding was common in Otterhounds, and today’s dogs descend from a Bloodhound/Griffon Nivernais cross made in 1958.
Otter hunting was highly popular for many years, but Otterhounds lost their jobs when the otter population began to decline because of water pollution. Otter hunting was banned in England in 1978 and Scotland in 1980. Many of the packs were disbanded, switched to mink hunting, or were kept only for drag hunts, which involve following an artificial trail.
Otterhounds made their way across the pond at least as early as 1907, when they were exhibited at a dog show in Claremore, Okla. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1909, but it wasn’t until 1960 that the Otterhound Club of America was formed. The breed’s first national specialty was in 1981. The breed ranks 161st among the dogs registered by the AKC.
The Otterhound is friendly and rowdy, a big shaggy lug of a dog. He likes people and other pets and is good with older children, but he is probably too rambunctious for households with toddlers. Like most hounds, he has an independent nature and doesn’t mind if you’re not keeping him company 24/7. He’s a good watchdog but not a guard dog. If attacked, however, he will fight back with all he has.
Be prepared for a dog with a deep, baying voice, one that is melodious to hound lovers but will annoy the neighbors if it isn’t kept under control. The Otterhound is a good communicator, “talking” to his people with mutters, grumbles, grunts, groans, and sighs.
Life with an Otterhound is an exercise in securitization. Otterhounds love food and excel at breaking into cabinets, drawers, pantries, trash cans, and even refrigerators. They are also known to escape from crates, over baby gates and yard gates, through screen doors, and over or under fences. You’ll need a securely fenced yard, and that doesn’t mean an underground electric fence. If the Otterhound wants to leave the yard and go hunting, a shock may not stop him.
The Otterhound is calm by nature, but by no means lazy. He needs a long daily walk or (health permitting)run, on leash. If you want to try dog sports with him, he’s good at agility, obedience, rally and especially tracking. It's always a good idea to check with your vet before starting any new excercises with your dog.
The Otterhound is easygoing, but don’t let him fool you. He’s stubborn and likes to do things his own way. Training an Otterhound requires skill, cunning and what some might call bribery. Positive reinforcement, particularly with food rewards, is the way to win an Otterhound’s heart and mind. So is the ability to “outstubborn” him. Begin training when he is young and still somewhat malleable, keep training sessions short and fun, and avoid harsh corrections.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 8 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Never wait until he is six months old to begin training, or you will have a bigger, more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him to puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, so you can start building a strong working relationship, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.These experiences as a young dog will help him grow into a sensible, calm adult dog.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.Whatever you want from an Otterhound, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Steer clear of any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Otterhounds have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy and gastric torsion, as well as a potentially fatal bleeding disorder caused by abnormal platelet (thrombocyte) function.
Not all of these conditions can be tested for, and some don’t appear until later in life. At a minimum, ask the breeder to show evidence that both of the puppy’s parents have hip scores of excellent, good, or fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.
The Otterhound Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For an Otterhound to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA certification for hips, an OFA evaluation from an approved laboratory for Glanzmann’s thrombasthenia, and provide a blood sample to the OFA/CHIC DNA repository. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC’s website to see if a breeder’s dogs have these certifications.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs vet checked is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
The Otterhound has a rough double coat that sheds water and has a crisp texture. It’s easy to care for with weekly brushing. The coat can be two to six inches long, and some coats are oilier than others. An Otterhound who has a longer, oilier coat gets dirty more quickly than one with a shorter, less oily coat, so the need for bathing varies. Some Otterhounds need a bath monthly, while others can get by with a bath only once a year. However frequently you bathe him, plan to clean the Otterhound’s beard after every meal to prevent odor. You will also spend a lot of time cleaning his feet, which have a tendency to attract mud and debris.
With some Otterhounds, you may need to strip the coat once or twice a year to maintain its crisp texture. Stripping is the process of pulling out dead hair by hand. Ask your dog’s breeder if it is necessary and how to do it. Clipping the coat will make it soft, which is okay as long as you don’t show your dog and don’t mind the loss of the traditional texture. The Otterhound Club of America offers good grooming tips on its website.
Anytime the Otterhound gets wet, whether from a bath, a swim, or a face wash, be sure you dry him completely to avoid a mildew-like effect, especially under the chin or any other place he has skin folds. In addition, if the Otterhound doesn’t get dry right down to the skin, he can develop painful, itchy, tender spots.
The rest is basic care. Trim his nails every week or two and keep his ears clean and dry. Good dental hygiene is also important. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the best dog for you and will, without question, have done all of the certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. The best kind of breeder is more interested in placing pups in the right homes rather than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who tell you only good things about the breed or who promote the dogs as being “good with kids” without any context as to what that means.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with, and come back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Otterhound and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Otterhound Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the OCA’s code of ethical conduct, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Otterhound puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment and come from parents with health clearances, as well as conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Otterhound might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an Otterhound in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (house-training status, for example) or very general (all the Otterhounds available on Petfinder across the country). Animal Shelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also, some local newspapers have a “pets looking for homes” section you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Otterhound. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Otterhounds love all Otterhounds. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Otterhound Club of America's rescue network can help you find a dog that will be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Otterhound rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very up front about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring an Otterhound home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he house-trained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Otterhound, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Whether he's a puppy or an adult, take your Otterhound to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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