The Otterhound, also called the Otter Dog, was first described in England during the time of Edward II (1307-1327), as being a rough sort of dog, somewhere between a hound and a terrier. Developed as a scenthound for the sole purpose of pursuing the elusive river otter, this is a big, boisterous but even-tempered breed with a well-established work ethic. Otterhounds are terrific swimmers, aided greatly by their large webbed feet, and they hunt equally well on land. The Otterhound's most distinctive characteristic is its unusual shaggy coat, which has two very distinct layers and protects it from even the most frigid of water and weather. The American Kennel Club accepted the Otterhound for registration in 1909, as a member of the Hound Group. Today, there are fewer than 1,000 Otterhounds world wide.
The mature male Otterhound stands approximately 27 inches at the withers and weighs about 110 to 120 pounds. Adult bitches stand approximately 24 inches and weigh about 70 to 90 pounds. The breed's hard, crisp, close coat is slightly oily and water-repellant. There is a dense, rough, broken outer coat of 2 to 4 inches in length, covering a short wooly undercoat. A soft or wooly outer coat is a very serious breed fault. Otterhounds should not be stripped, scissored or trimmed for the show ring. The breed can be any color or combination of colors, without preference. Regular brushing is important to prevent the Otterhound's coat from becoming matted. His long ears must be kept clean and dry to prevent infection, particularly given his attraction to water.
While otter hunting was never a particularly popular British sport, it apparently existed there to some extent from very early times – first to prevent otters from preying on fish, and later because otters were the only available hunting quarry from April to September. Specialized dogs were necessary to track and land the otters, which could fight fiercely and weigh upwards of 20 pounds. The Otterhound's ancestry is the subject of some debate. The confusion is understandable, because in its infancy as a breed the Otterhound was much more terrier-like than hound-like, made up of almost any rough-and-tumble dogs that would hurl themselves without thought into freezing water to chase otters.
The Otterhound dates back to the 13th century, when King John (of Magna Carta fame) reportedly hunted with a pack of these dogs. In the 14th century, Edward II became the first Master of Otterhounds in England, with Elizabeth I becoming the first Lady Master of Otterhounds. Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard II and III, Henry II, VI, VII and VIII and Charles II each held the title of Master of Otterhounds at some point in history. According to all authorities on the subject, the best-trained pack of Otterhounds ever hunted belonged to Squire Lomax of Clitheroe in the 1860s. Legend has it that the Squire's hounds were so highly trained that he could control the entire pack with a casual wave of his hand.
Otterhounds first appeared in the United States around the start of the 20th century. Six Otterhounds made the breed's American benched-show debut in Oklahoma in 1907. The American Kennel Club accepted Otterhounds for registration into its Hound Group in 1909. The first AKC registered otterhounds - Hartland Moss Trooper and Harland Statesman – were both owned by H. S. Wardner of New York. Mr. Wardner was one of two exhibitors of Otterhounds at the Oklahoma show and was one of the first Otterhound breeders in this country. Veterinarian Dr. Hugh Mouat began the first serious breeding program in the United States in 1937. A bitch and dog, Bessie's Countess and Bessie's Courageous, both from Dr. Mouat's first litter, became the breed's first American Kennel Club Champions in 1941. The Otterhound Club of America was founded in 1960 and held the breed's first National Specialty in 1981.
This breed never achieved the wild and wide popularity of many other terriers in the United States. Nonetheless, their sage character and tousled appearance have earned them many fanciers far and wide. Modern Otterhounds are rarely used for hunting. However, their keen sense of smell and cheerful determination have made them extremely competitive in tracking trials, and their athleticism and intelligence have earned them advanced titles in agility, obedience, utility and other performance disciplines.
The average life span of the Otterhound is 10 to 13 years. Breed health concerns may include bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), elbow and hip dysplasia, multifocal retinal dysplasia, epilepsy, sebaceous cysts, panosteitis (shifting lameness), allergies, arthritis and Glanzmann's thrombasthenia, a serious and potentially fatal bleeding disorder.
Otterhounds are big, shaggy dogs who love to run and swim, but don't like being told what to do. They are friendly and easy going, happy to greet newcomers with a wag of a their tail. Otterhounds are independent animals, however, who don't like being told what to do or when to do it. Their easy-going nature makes this trait easy to overlook, as it's not likely you'll ask him to do too many things he doesn't want to, other than say, come in from playing outside. Otterhound are best served by experienced dog owners who love the outdoors.
Otterhounds need a great deal of vigorous activity to maintain health, happiness and an even temperament. Swimming is their favorite thing to do, so those who have pools or live alongside rivers, lakes, and streams can expect to find your Otterhound in the water often. On land, Otterhounds need to run. They make excellent jogging buddies and can keep up on bike rides, as well.
Otterhounds are not city dogs. They need room to run every day and while they will appreciate walks and jogs, they prefer playing fetch or romping with kids over being hooked on a leash and led around town.
Otterhounds are difficult to train, and are not for novice dog owners. They have minds of their own, and can be downright stubborn, refusing to participate in training activities. Food motivation works best, and it is helpful to keep sessions short, but no matter how your patience is tested, do not let your Otterhound dictate when sessions are over. Consistency is the key to training an Otterhound. It may be tempting to let your guard down and bend the rules from time to time, but you must never give your Otterhound and inch, or he will take a mile.
Housebreaking an Otterhound can be a challenge, as well. Their stubborn nature will kick in, and it can take six months to a year to have them fully housebroken. Crate training is often a must with this breed.
No matter how well trained your Otterhound, you should never trust him off leash. They have a strong desire to chase small animals and will take off like a shot and are not likely to listen to your calls to return home if they are chasing a rabbit or squirrel.
Otterhounds should never be trusted with non-canine pets, even if raised alongside these other animals. Their instinct to chase is too strong, and once adolescence kicks in, your Otterhound will turn on your cat, seemingly overnight. Rodents are in even more peril, as cats can at least run.
This breed loves to bark, and their bark can be a nuisance as it is loud and bellowing. Your Otterhound should not be kept tied up outdoors, for the sake of your neighbors.
Neat freaks beware: Otterhounds are messy. They treat their water bowl as if it's a small pond, splashing and spraying water everywhere. They will jump and roll in mud puddles, and won't hesitate to run right past you into the house when sopping wet.
The Otterhound is a large, rough-coated hound with an imposing head showing great strength and dignity, and the strong body and long striding action fit for a long day's work. It has an extremely sensitive nose, and is inquisitive and perseverant in investigating scents. The Otterhound hunts its quarry on land and water and requires a combination of characteristics unique among hounds--most notably a rough, double coat; and substantial webbed feet. Otterhounds should not be penalized for being shown in working condition (lean, well muscled, with a naturally stripped coat). Any departure from the following points should be considered a fault; its seriousness should be regarded in exact proportion to its degree.
Size, Proportion, Substance
Males are approximately 27 inches at the withers, and weigh approximately 115 lbs. Bitches are approximately 24 inches at the withers, and weigh approximately 80 lbs. This is not an absolute, but rather a guideline. The Otterhound is slightly rectangular in body; the length from point of shoulder to buttocks is slightly greater than the height at the withers. The Otterhound has good substance with strongly boned legs and broad muscles, without being coarse. Balance, soundness and type are of greater importance than size.
The head is large, fairly narrow, and well covered with hair. The head should measure 11 to 12 inches from tip of nose to occiput in a hound 26" at the withers, with the muzzle and skull approximately equal in length. This proportion should be maintained in larger and smaller hounds. The expression is open and amiable. The eyes are deeply set. The haw shows only slightly. The eyes are dark, but eye color and eye rim pigment will complement the color of the hound. Dogs with black pigmented noses and eye rims should have darker eyes, while those with liver or slate pigment may have hazel eyes. The ears, an essential feature of this breed, are long, pendulous, and folded (the leading edge folds or rolls to give a draped appearance). They are set low, at or below eye level, and hang close to the head, with the leather reaching at least to the tip of the nose. They are well covered with hair. The skull (cranium) is long, fairly narrow under the hair, and only slightly domed. The stop is not pronounced. The muzzle is square, with no hint of snipiness; the jaws are powerful with deep flews. From the side, the planes of the muzzle and skull should be parallel. The nose is large, dark, and completely pigmented, with wide nostrils. The jaws are powerful and capable of a crushing grip. A scissors bite is preferred.
Neck, Topline, Body
The neck is powerful and blends smoothly into well laid back, clean shoulders, and should be of sufficient length to allow the dog to follow a trail. It has an abundance of hair; a slight dewlap is permissible. The topline is level from the withers to the base of tail. The chest is deep reaching at least to the elbows on a mature hound. Forechest is evident, there is sufficient width to impart strength and endurance. There should be no indication of narrowness or weakness. The well sprung, oval rib cage extends well towards the rear of the body. The loin is short, broad and strong. The tail is set high, and is long reaching at least to the hock. The tail is thicker at the base, tapers to a point, and is feathered (covered and fringed with hair). It is carried saber fashion (not forward over the back) when the dog is moving or alert, but may droop when the dog is at rest.
Shoulders are clean, powerful, and well sloped with moderate angulation at shoulders and elbows. Legs are strongly boned and straight, with strong, slightly sprung pasterns. Dewclaws on the forelegs may be removed. Feet--Both front and rear feet are large, broad, compact when standing, but capable of spreading. They have thick, deep pads, with arched toes; they are web-footed (membranes connecting the toes allow the foot to spread).
Thighs and second thighs are large, broad, and well muscled. Legs have moderately bent stifles with well-defined hocks. Hocks are well let down, turning neither in nor out. Legs on a standing hound are parallel when viewed from the rear. Angulation front and rear must be balanced and adequate to give forward reach and rear drive. Dewclaws, if any, on the hind legs are generally removed. Feet are as previously described.
The coat is an essential feature of the Otterhound. Coat texture and quality are more important than the length. The outer coat is dense, rough, coarse and crisp, of broken appearance. Softer hair on the head and lower legs is natural. The outer coat is two to four inches long on the back and shorter on the extremities. A water-resistant undercoat of short wooly, slightly oily hair is essential, but in the summer months may be hard to find except on the thighs and shoulders. The ears are well covered with hair, and the tail is feathered (covered and fringed with hair). A naturally stripped coat lacking length and fringes is correct for an Otterhound that is being worked. A proper hunting coat will show a hard outer coat and wooly undercoat. The Otterhound is shown in a natural coat, with no sculpturing or shaping of the coat. Faults--A soft outer coat is a very serious fault as is a wooly textured outer coat. Lack of undercoat is a serious fault. An outer coat much longer than six inches becomes heavy when wet and is a fault. Any evidence of stripping or scissoring of coat to shape or stylize should be strongly penalized as a fault.
Any color or combination of colors is acceptable. There should be no discrimination on the basis of color. The nose should be dark and fully pigmented, black, liver, or slate, depending on the color of the hound. Eye rim pigment should match the nose.
The Otterhound moves freely with forward reach and rear drive. The gait is smooth, effortless, and capable of being maintained for many miles. Characteristic of the Otterhound gait is a very loose, shambling walk, which springs immediately into a loose and very long striding, sound, active trot with natural extension of the head. The gallop is smooth and exceptionally long striding. Otterhounds single track at slow speeds. Otterhounds do not lift their feet high off the ground and may shuffle when they walk or move at a slow trot. The Otterhound should be shown on a loose lead.
The Otterhound is amiable, boisterous and even-tempered.