Otterhounds are a big burst of sunshine from the second you see their shaggy coat bound into the room. When you hear their name, you may be expecting a dog that looks like an otter. But these playful pooches actually got their namesake not from their looks, but from their keen sense of smell—their powerful sniffers allowed them to follow the scent of an otter for miles in medieval England.
Even if they're no longer searching for otters, these hounds still have all the makings of a breed that's suited for underwater pursuits: A dense, waterproof coat; webbed feet; and a love for swimming.
But don't expect to run into an otterhound at your local dog park—this is one of the rarest dog breeds. According to The Otterhound Club of America (OCA), there are only about 800 of these pups worldwide. But if you're lucky enough to come across one, you'll find your new favorite companion: Otterhounds are incredibly friendly, good-humored, and make friends wherever they go.
The first thing you'll notice about the otterhound is his shaggy coat. It's often black and tan but can come in many different colors including wheaten, red grizzle, liver and tan, and black. And while that fur may look a bit coarse, this is for a great reason—it can wick away water so your otterhound can happily bound into puddles or pools with abandon. They even have webbed feet, so they'll definitely best you when it comes to swimming laps.
Otterhounds are large dogs with builds fitting their big personalities. Male otterhounds can be up to 115 pounds, and females typically weigh around 80 pounds. Their broad shoulders and chests are perfect for swimming, and they stand 24–27 inches tall.
His long ears frame his sweet face, and his deeply set dark eyes are always looking up at you. To keep your otterhound as handsome as possible, give him a brush at least once a week, paying special attention to his beard and any hair around his feet. You don't want any grooming issues getting in the way of playtime!
You'll find one go-to word for describing an otterhound temperament: joyful. These pups are known for their funny antics and good nature, and they are happy to greet anyone (and everyone) on the street.
These pups make great family companions and their outgoing demeanor makes them a dream playmate for children. However, because they are so playful and are fairly large dogs, always supervise young children when playing with an otterhound—you don't want any small kiddos to get accidentally knocked over! It's also important to teach all kids to be gentle with their new doggy BFF.
Stacy Choczynski Johnson, DVM, veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance, recommends that families introduce their otterhounds to children when the puppy is less than six months old.
"This helps them acclimate to gentle play with the children early in life," she says. "In general, it's really important to teach kids about canine body language cues and respectful handling. This way, everyone can grow up happy and functioning well together."
And their goodwill doesn't just apply to humans: Otterhounds can also get along well with other dogs and animals, especially if they're introduced early and raised alongside them.
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Otterhounds just want to hang out with you, whether it's tossing a ball around the yard or curling up next to you while you read a book. But don't be bummed if they want to do their own thing once in a while, too. Otterhounds are a pretty independent breed, but they still love to be included and shouldn't be left alone for long stretches. It's only a matter of time before they come back to the couch and beg you to share your movie night popcorn.
Speaking of snacks, an otterhound's famous nose is perfect for sniffing out his next meal. Couple that with his tenacity and intelligence, and he can easily get into everything from his treat bag to your own dinner. Be sure to keep his treats and dog food sealed and locked away until it's mealtime, and don't leave any people food on the counter unattended.
While otterhounds will love hanging inside with you, they will show a whole new level of playfulness outside. Because of their size, they'll do best in a house with a fenced-in yard. These spirited pups love engaging forms of play such as fetch and even agility exercises, so having access to a yard will allow you to engage their minds as well as give them plenty of time to sniff around outside.
Apartment living might not be best for otterhounds, not only because of their playfulness and larger-than-life size, but because of their louder-than-life barking. This breed is quite vocal and any family they join will have to be ready for their chatty personalities. Don't be surprised if your otterhound carries on entire conversations with you as he bays, barks, grunts, sighs, and groans. He will even "sing" with you!
Keep a brush handy if you have an otterhound in your home: His shaggy coat will need to be brushed once a week with a soft slicker brush to keep him in great condition. Check for any matting with a comb and give his famous beard a look, too, as he often dunks his entire nose into his water and food bowls (relatable!). Because of this, it's a good idea to give his face a quick wipe-down and brush every so often.
"Moist food, peanut butter, and other morsels can also easily adhere to the coat, so owners should be aware of that," Choczynski Johnson says. She also points out that a dark brown staining may also develop on an otterhound's jar fur, which is "commonly due to natural salivary pigments called porphyrins. If you see an odor, erosion, or pustule around the mouth, owners should talk to their vet."
When training your otterhound, he'll thrive with positive reinforcement. Keep a steady supply of treats on hand to get your pooch to learn quickly, and an even more effective method is heaping praise for a job well done. Otterhounds are very sensitive dogs, so head pats and "good boys!" will go a long way when teaching them obedience and new tricks.
Otterhounds are a fairly healthy breed with a life expectancy of 10–13 years. But like all dogs, their human parents will want to be on the lookout for specific issues pertaining to the breed.
Choczynski Johnson also says otterhounds may inherit a platelet defect called Glanzmann's thrombasthenia.
"Platelets are responsible for clotting the blood," she explains. "Otterhounds develop coagulation issues from a mutation in the gene that codes for a platelet surface receptor called glycoprotein IIb. There is an option for otterhound breeders to have DNA testing performed on their dogs at Auburn University to determine if they are carriers of this genetic defect."
And because of his counter-surfing capabilities, you'll need to keep a close eye on your otterhound's weight so he doesn't become obese.
Though rare today, otterhounds have a long history dating back to medieval British monarchs, according to the OCA, where they were used to hunt otters. The breed's water-wicking coat, talented nose, webbed feet, and endless enthusiasm for swimming made them perfect hunting dogs. They could track otters for long distances, even underwater.
Hunting otters was not only a sport but an important task. Otters often ate up the all-important fish population—and it was up to the otterhound to keep that food supply protected. When otter hunting was outlawed, the otterhound and his nose were out of a job. Today, he's more often found jumping around in rain puddles or competing on the agility course than hunting in the field.
- Otterhounds first came to the U.S. in 1903. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed six years later in 1909.
- Because otterhounds are so rare, they can be mistaken for a Labradoodle or another poodle mix. But you can spot an otterhound by his distinguishing long ears, Choczynski Johnson says.