The Otterhound can best be described as a big, shaggy, affectionate clown. They are friendly, laid-back and have a great sense of humor. Ranked 182nd out of 193 breeds by the American Kennel Club, the Otterhound is among the rarest breeds in the world (rarer than even the giant panda), with about 1,000 worldwide and fewer than 10 litters born each year in the U.S.A. and Canada.
As the name suggests, Otterhounds were bred in medieval England for hunting otters. However, after otter hunting was outlawed, the breed nearly died out. They have since been repurposed as silly, fun-loving family companions. Descending from the Bloodhound, their high-powered sense of smell, large size, strength, and stamina made them the perfect companion for English otter hunters.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OTTERHOUND
Here is some additional information to help you get to know your Otterhound’s appearance and temperament.
The Otterhound is a large breed, with males reaching 27 inches in height and up to 115 lbs. Females generally come in at around 24 inches and up to 80 lbs. Their rough coat and webbed feet explain a lot about their swimming ability. According to the AKC breed standard, their large head shows “great strength and dignity.”
Otterhounds have a long, lean body, perfect for work. Their long legs make for an easy, effortless gait. Their lean strength and stamina allow them to run for miles. They have an extraordinary sense of smell, and once they lock onto a scent they will feel compelled to investigate. All of these traits were bred to enable them to take on 20-lb, sharp-toothed and clawed otters with ease.
The Otterhound coat is one of its defining traits. It is dense, coarse, and rough – although the head and legs are often softer. The outer coat is often two to four inches long, while the softer, waterproof undercoat is much shorter. Their coats can be a variety of colors – from black to tan to white, sometimes even blue and cream.
The size and quality of the Otterhound’s coat, in addition to their klutzy demeanor, webbed feet, love of bounding around in the mud, and propensity for shoving their face into their water dishes make them a hard breed to keep clean. Expect to brush them a couple of times a week, and keep a focused eye on their “beards,” which will also require periodic cleaning.
Otterhounds are big and silly, and they love showing affection to every member of the family. They love other dogs and people and are great with older children; however, their big, lumbering gait and rambunctious playstyle make them a bit rough around toddlers or other small pets. Even though they are very loving, they are also quite independent and don’t mind being left alone for extended periods of time. They will likely come and happily greet you when you go home, then return to their bed to continue napping. This makes for a poor candidate for a watchdog or guard dog.
They are very communicative, but their deep, loud bay will quickly become grating if not kept in check. As with any other breed, early socialization with other humans and dogs is very important. Due to their large size and incredible nose, they are prone to getting into things – even when they’re hard to reach. Keep all food secure and make sure to set boundaries early on.
The Otterhound is a good-natured, relaxed dog, but they can also be rambunctious. Daily exercise is a necessity. Thanks to their independent streak, they are less prone to things like separation anxiety when left on their own. Their life expectancy, on average, is about 10 to 12 years, so you can expect to have your companion for a long time.
CARING FOR AN OTTERHOUND
Despite their relaxed, independent nature, Otterhounds still require attention and care in order to keep them happy and healthy. Here is some additional information regarding their nutritional, exercise, training, and health needs to help you better understand how to care for them.
The Otterhound should be fed a high-quality dry dog food; the exact amounts and type will vary depending on your dog’s age, weight, and activity level. Consult with your veterinarian for more information. The Otterhound may seem lazy, but it’s no couch potato – they will still require a large amount of food to help fuel their energy. As with all dogs, be careful to not overfeed, or risk making your dog overweight.
The Otterhound also has a unique method for drinking water, shoving his nose all the way into the bowl and drinking from the bottom; this leads to a very soaked “beard,” which your dog will lovingly drip all over your home. Be sure to keep a deep, filled water dish available to your Otterhound, and it’s not a bad idea to keep some rags nearby as well.
Otterhounds do require a significant amount of exercise. Daily walks and runs are a necessity. Your dog will also greatly appreciate the occasional swim. A large, fenced yard will be most welcome to your Otterhound, although if left to their own devices they might just hang out in a particularly shady spot under a tree. This is why guided exercise is best – long walks also help them exercise their nose, which is a proven stress-reliever for dogs. A few miles is like a lazy walk to an Otterhound, so be prepared to exercise them thoroughly. Be careful with over-exercising your Otterhound puppy, though; they can be prone to bone and hip problems. Swimming is the best form of exercise for young Otterhounds.
The independent nature of the Otterhound makes for a rather difficult dog to train. They are very food-motivated, but they require immense patience and understanding, as they can be stubborn and often won’t be interested in doing what you ask them to do. However, training and obedience classes are still very beneficial to any dog, including an Otterhound. They need mental as well as physical stimulation, and they also love praise nearly as much as treats, so be sure to give them positive affirmations as well as tasty snacks when they do well.
Starting young is important with any breed. Try to get your Otterhound into puppy classes early on, and be sure to socialize properly. Nose work and agility training can also be fun training for you and your Otterhound.
Even with being such a large breed, Otterhounds tend to be pretty healthy. Check with your breeder for things like hip dysplasia and epilepsy. Like all other large dogs, Otterhounds can be prone to bloat, so educate yourselves on the signs of bloat and what you should do if you believe your dog might be suffering from it. Also be sure to read up on Canine Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia (CIT), an immune system disorder, as it does run in some Otterhound lines (although it is more common in females than males).
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