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Home SAFETY TIPS & ADVICE Dog Breed Corner: Otterhound – Mad Paws

Dog Breed Corner: Otterhound – Mad Paws

by Bella Woof

Quick Facts:

  • Height – 60-69cm

  • Weight – 30-50kg

  • Lifespan – 10-15 years

  • Country of origin – U.K.

  • Breed type – Hound group, scent hound

  • Best breed for: 

    • First time Dog Owners
    • Families with children
    • Active families

Englishmen and women living in the Middle Ages may not have been able to eat tomatoes or chocolate (those would come after Europeans set sail to the New World), but you know what they did have? Rivers full of delicious trout, shad and salmon. And while the ruling class didn’t want the freshwater fish anywhere near their lavish feasts, the vast majority of people saw them as an affordable, nutritious source of protein. 

Of course, peasants weren’t the only ones who benefitted from a pescetarian diet. Local predators, including bears and river otters, also enjoyed a fishy meal. As you can probably guess, turf wars ensued, spurring the townsfolk to start breeding a dog who could sniff out the fish-loving wild animals.

Exactly when this all took place is up for debate. But there are records of otter-hunting dogs dating back to Henry II’s reign in the late 12th century. And, when the St. Hubert Hound—predecessor to the Bloodhound—made its way north from Belgium just a short while later, well, that’s when the breed really hit their sniffing stride.

With the athleticism and strength of ancient hunting dogs and the newfound tracking skills of the Belgian hounds, Otterhounds were ready to take on their water-dwelling prey. And, they were so good at otter hunting that the ruling class started to use them for sport during the off season for deer.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s that otter hunting would be banned for good. By then, hunting, habitat loss and water contamination had sadly put river otters on the brink of extinction in the UK. Thankfully, the efforts of conservationists have reversed the trend, with populations increasing over the last few decades.

As for the Otterhounds, saying goodbye to their hunting days has opened them up for new ventures, like the role of family pet or stunning show dog. That said, they are one of the more rare breeds to come from the UK, with only a few hundred registered dogs still in existence around the world.

Otterhound Personality Traits

The fact that Otterhounds aren’t more popular in their homeland or worldwide certainly is not a testament to their temperament. As any Otterhound Owner will tell you, they’re smart, social doggos, apt for family settings and first time Dog Owners. 

For one thing, a well-exercised Otterhound is a gentle giant. While friendly and playful enough to be considered clownish, they are patient and careful around children and other dogs. It’s a joy to watch these gracefully galloping doggos bounce around with furry friends of all shapes and sizes, and you don’t need to worry about them using their large size to dominate other doggos at the dog park.

That said, Otterhounds are hunting dogs, which means that many still have a pretty high prey drive. They need to be well-socialised from puppyhood so that they don’t see very small dogs as prey. And special care should be taken around cats, bunnies, and other small animals.

When it comes to guarding duties, the Otterhound is probably not the best candidate. While they do have a sense of smell to know exactly who or what is in their territory, they’re not very interested in protecting the homestead. That’s not to say, though, that their size and booming bark won’t ward off intruders. Not many would be brave enough to come face to face with the loud and large Otterhound.

Your houseguests, on the other hand, need not be driven away by this shaggy pupper. Otterhounds are happy to introduce themselves politely before giving your visitors space to settle in. These aren’t generally velcro dogs, preferring to retreat to a comfortable snoozing spot than being in your or your houseguests’ personal bubbles.

Finally, we have to talk about the elephant in the room: an Otterhound’s tracking drive. Like most scent hounds, Otterhounds have an instinct to follow their nose, whether or not you’ve given them the go-ahead. For this reason, you might hear them labelled as stubborn. But while it can be a challenge to work with that powerful sniffer, you also have to marvel at their amazing capabilities!

Trainability & Training Tips

Before you run for the hills thinking that the Otterhound is untrainable, remember that this dog is intelligent and people-pleasing. Under the right circumstances, they can be highly trainable dogs! Here are a few ways to help them along:

  • Start training as soon as possible. Did we mention that this is a big dog? As such, it’s a good idea to get their basic training done while they’re still small enough to handle. In a blink of an eye, they’ll be full-grown and you’ll be glad that they’ve learned the obedience fundamentals!
  • Work on leash training. Again, because of their size, early leash training is a top priority. Scent hounds like the Otterhound will be spending a lot of time on leash outside, and proper leash etiquette will be necessary if you’ll be calling in a dedicated Dog Walker.
  • Train in a distraction-free area. Even a well-trained scent hound will struggle to stay focused in an area with lots of sights, smells, and sounds. So, it’s not reasonable to expect that an untrained pupper will learn in a busy environment. Set them up for success by training in an area without distractions.
    • Stock up on all sorts of treats. For a food-motivated doggo like a scent hound, treats are sure to keep your dog engaged in the training session. But don’t get the impression that you have to stick with one kind of treat. In fact, having a range of different flavoured and textured treats is going to make training sessions even more enjoyable for your dog. 
  • Don’t shy away from their scent tracking drive. When working with a scent hound, it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly working against their nose. But, the reality is, leaning into their tracking ability can be a huge advantage for training! Get these doggos signed up for formal tracking classes or pick up a few tracking tips to try at home so that you can satisfy this dog’s drive to sniff. When training your dog to do what they were born to do, you’ll build a deep bond that will make general training easier. 
  • Know when to call it quits. We won’t pretend that training a scent hound is always an easy experience. There will be times that they are simply not interested in engaging. Instead of powering through training sessions that have gotten out of hand, simply take a break and try again when they’re more receptive. To be sure, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fully train an Otterhound. It just means that you may have to squeeze in more frequent, short training sessions throughout the day.

otterhound Exercise Needs & Living Conditions

Otterhounds are typically more energetic and bouncy than their meandering cousin, the Bloodhound. They need at least an hour of engaging exercise per day, and even then, they may have some playfulness left over.

In order to keep them physically healthy and mentally happy, consider exercise routines including:

  • Swimming. Otterhounds are one of the few hounds that are as comfortable in water as out of it! So, giving them the chance to swim around is a great form of exercise. Keep in mind that a dip in a lake, river or ocean will require a grooming session to prevent tangles.
  • Dock diving. If you want your pup to swim with a purpose, dock diving is a brilliant form of exercise. Give your Otterhound a running start and see how far they’ll jump in after a ball or floating toy. 
  • Scent tracking. As we mentioned, scent tracking is a fantastic idea for training, and it’s also a good way to give your doggo some exercise. Otterhounds are what are called “cold nosed tracking dogs,” meaning that they can pick up a scent trail on land or along water even after the trail has gone cold. So, get some all-terrain boots, because this doggo will walk for hours! 
  • Walking. Beyond focused tracking sessions, walking is a great form of exercise for an Otterhound and will provide them with a low-impact form of movement to complement their more high-energy activities. With proper leash training, they make excellent walking companions, so be sure to schedule in a daily walk or call in a dedicated Dog Walker.
  • Agility. As large and bouncy as they are, Otterhounds won’t be the quickest dogs through an agility course. But, they’ll have fun no matter what their final standing is! Agility training will get your dog jumping, crawling and running, while exercising their obedience skills, too. 
  • Freeplay with other dogs. Because Otterhounds can be unpredictable off-leash, finding a nearby dog park is a must for this breed. They will have so much fun bounding around with their fellow doggos that you’ll be sure to have a tired out pup at the end of the play session.

Like all dogs with a working background, exercising an Otterhound is essential for a well-behaved pup. Without appropriate outlets for their energy, they can develop digging, chewing, and howling habits, which are especially difficult to deal with given the Otterhound’s size!

When it comes to living conditions, having an enclosed outdoor area is a definite advantage. When they’re getting a little rambunctious, it’s nice to be able to take them to the backyard where they can sniff around to their heart’s content. 

Apartment-living isn’t recommended for a dog this large—and loud—but you can make it work if your home is spacious and you’re able to give them plenty of outdoor time throughout the day. Leaving your pup in the care of a friendly Pet Sitter is another good option.   

Keep in mind that these dogs were originally bred to live in fairly damp, cold settings, so they have a heavy coat to keep them warm. That’s not to say that they won’t adapt to warmer climates, but you’ll want to keep a close eye on them for signs of overheating.

otterhound exercise needsOtterhound Grooming

The shaggy beard and ears of an Otterhound are sure to make you fall in love instantly. But what does it take to keep that coat looking great?

To start, you’ll want to fully brush out their fur at least weekly or every few days to prevent tangling or matting. That hairy coat also tends to pick up debris and ticks, so give them a quick brushing after being in long grasses or thick vegetation. 

When it comes to washing, you’ll want to find a schedule that works for their specific hair type. Most Otterhounds have a rough, water repellent coat that doesn’t require washing more than once every few months. Others, though, take after their hound cousins with an oily coat that will need more frequent washing.

Otterhound Health

Considering their size, Otterhounds can live to a surprisingly ripe old age! Owners can improve their health by signing them up for a reliable pet insurance plan and keep an eye out for the following issues:

  • Glanzmann’s Thrombasthenia, a type of rare bleeding disorder that was first discovered in Otterhounds

With a dog this large, it’s important to keep their bones strong with a nutritious, balanced diet. All-natural raw food is a brilliant option for a dog who needs the extra protein and vitamins to keep up with their active lifestyle.

Fun Fact

As far as nicknames go, we can’t think of a better one than that of Mr. Otterhound, the man responsible for popularising the breed in the United States in the 1930s. Hugh Mouat, a veterinarian and Otterhound enthusiast is credited with founding a successful breeding program and showing award-winning dogs all over the country.

Considering that the Otterhound breed is on the decline, it seems like we could use a modern-day Mr. or Ms. Otterhound to carry on the tradition!

Final thoughts on the Otterhound dog breed

The more you learn about this special dog, you might wonder why they’re not more popular! Otterhounds are well-mannered, happy-go-lucky, and clownishly fun. They’re one of the more trainable hounds out there and they get along with children and other dogs. Plus, they live longer than the average giant breed. What’s not to love?

Still, every Otterhound dog you meet serves as an admirable ambassador to the breed. It’s impossible for their vet, dedicated Pet Sitter, groomer, and everyone else not to fall in love with the one-of-a-kind Otterhound!



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