John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Otterhound is a sweet, fearless, and a happy-go-lucky breed. They were first bred for otter hunting but after the otters came to near extinction, the demand for the breed dropped and today they are considered to be near extinction themselves. If you have your thought set on an Otterhound, prepare to wait for a while even if you were successful in finding a good and reliable breeder.

They are playful large-sized dogs who love their families and enjoy being a part of the pack’s daily activities. The active family or individual will find them delightful and great partners for swimming, hiking, biking and jogging. They also excel in many doggy activities such as obedience and agility, as well as tracking.

They don’t do well living in a city as they are a high energy breed and require plenty of room to run around and play. The breed is a great companion for the younger members of the family and enjoys the company of other dogs and cats. A great sense of humor is also required when sharing a life with an Otterhound.

Breed characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group:Hound Dogs
Height:24-27 inches tall at the shoulder.
Weight:80-115 lb.
Life Span:10 to 13 years
Main Highlights
  • The breed is believed to have been around for more than 500 years.
  • The Otterhounds are fairly rare today with fewer than 10 litters being born every year.
  • They are phenomenal swimmers due to their webbed feet, and were used for hunting in the water as well as on land.
  • The breed is not suitable for city living as they are a vocal breed and have the distinct bark of the hound that neighbors may find irritating.
  • They are a high energy breed and require plenty of exercise, their ideal home would be in the country where they can safely roam around.
  • The Otterhounds get along great with children, other dogs and cats as long as they have been raised together or properly socialized.
  • They are very friendly and don’t make a great guard dog.
  • They love food and are prone to obesity, as well as counter surfing, fridge and garbage raiding.
  • The first documented pack of Otterhounds was in 1212 and was kept by King John.
  • They are not known for their cleanliness and tend to drag debris through the house as well as catch food and water in their beards and track it across the house.
  • Not often used for hunting anymore but excel in show rings and obedience and agility as well as tracking.
  • As active as they are outdoors, they are fairly inactive and laid back indoors.
Breed History

Not much is known about the ancestry of this old breed. It is believed that they originated in France by crossing the French Griffons, Bloodhounds and Harriers. As the name suggests they were developed for otter hunting as the otters were depleting the fish population in the English rivers. They quickly rose to fame among the rich and noble of the time for their work ethic, stamina and acute sense of smell. The first documented pack was kept by King John in 1212.

Back in the day otter hunting was very popular among the nobles and they were known to be kept by royals such as Henry II, Henry VI, Henry VII, Edward II, Richard III, Charles II and Elizabeth I. After otter hunts became illegal due to the endangerment of the species, the population of Otterhounds also drastically declined. They were first introduced in the United States in 1900 and were officially recognized by the AKC shortly after in 1909.

Today, they are very rarely used for hunting and are considered to be the rarest of the AKC breeds and rank 185th most popular breeds. Less than 10 litters a year are being born in the United States and Canada, and there are about 1000 Otterhounds in the world. Great efforts are being made by breeders to restore the numbers of the Otterhound breed. They are also on the list of Vulnerable Native Breeds.


The Otterhounds are a large breed and measure 24-27 inches tall at the shoulder, weighing 80-115 lb with the females being usually slightly smaller.

Personality and Character

The breed is very friendly and loves to be around humans, but they are not needy. They make a poor choice for a guard dog as they are more likely to make friends with the trespassers rather than scare them off, although their size and shaggy appearance might be enough to intimidate some. They are great with children, dogs, cats and make a great addition to the active family. They need plenty of exercise, otherwise they become bored, destructive and more vocal than usual.

Their ideal home would have a large fenced yard where they can safely roam around and play. They are not suited for apartment dwelling due to their energy levels and the typical hound bay that might disturb the neighbours, although they are fairly inactive indoors. They are a fun loving breed and their handler should have a good sense of humor as they are considered the class clowns of the hounds.

Health and Potential Problems

The Otterhounds are generally a healthy and sturdy breed, although as any other breed, some of them are predisposed to a few health issues. Most reputable shelters and breeders make sure the puppy or the dog gets a clean bill of health prior to the purchase or adoption. Most reputable breeders also test their dogs prior to breeding and then test the litter for any hereditary or genetic conditions.

Beware of backyard breeders as many of them don’t have the sufficient knowledge or understanding of the breed and may leave their bloodlines vulnerable to health and temperament issues. Never buy a puppy from a puppy mill as those organizations are more concerned with financial gain rather than the physical and mental well-being of the dogs in their care. Proper research into the breeder’s history and prior litters is highly recommended.

With proper diet, sufficient exercise and regular vet visit, your loyal companion will remain by your side for many years to come.

Here are the conditions you should consider with an Ottherhound:

  • Hip Dysplasia: this is a common hereditary condition among dogs. The disease affects the hip socket and the way the femur fits into it. The condition may cause pain, lameness and arthritis in advanced age, and is usually alleviated with pain medication. In severe cases there can also be a surgical intervention.
  • Bloat: A common condition among large breeds, can be fatal without immediate vet intervention. The condition occurs when air or gas are trapped in the stomach, causing the stomach to twist on itself. Without an ability to expel the gas, the blood flow to the heart is impeded and the dog goes into shock. Symptoms may include lethargy, restlessness and retching without the ability to throw up. The condition is caused when the dog eats or drinks too fast or exercised right after a meal.
  • Epilepsy: this condition manifests through violent seizures and it is found in both humans and dogs. Even though there is no known cure, a dog can live happily with medication.
  • Elbow Dysplasia: A common hereditary condition among dogs, occurs due to the different growth rates of the bones making up the elbow. The condition may cause lameness, pain and arthritis in old age. It is usually managed with pain medications and can be corrected with surgery in severe cases.
  • Canine Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia: A condition that occurs due to an immune system disorder. It seems to be more common in females than males and may cause bleeding under the skin.
Care Features

As with the majority of breeds, early socialization is key to a well-rounded and emotionally balanced adult dog. The introduction to new people, children, dogs, cats, other animals, different environments and scenarios should start as soon as possible. Enrolling the Otterhound into puppy kindergarten is one of your best options as he or she will get to be trained by professionals. It also helps create a deep bond between the handler and the dog.

Crate training is another highly efficient training tool. It proves helpful with house training and minimizes the house training time in almost half. It is a great tool in alleviating separation anxiety and protecting the owner’s belonging from chewing and general destruction. It also serves as a special spot for the dog to retreat to when tired or needing space.

The Otterhounds need mental and physical stimulation to remain the happy go lucky breed they are. They enjoy any activity that gets their paws moving, brains thinking and noses sniffing. They were famous for their work ethic and can work in harsh conditions and rough terrains. They have webbed paws and feel right at home swimming. They also enjoy biking, hiking and going on jogs. Although any strenuous activity should be avoided during the puppy’s bone growth and development stage as it may cause more damage than good. Brisk walks and swimming sessions should be sufficient at that point.

It is highly recommended to enroll them in tracking, obedience and agility events. These activities are a great opportunity to observe the Otterhounds in their natural element and helps deepen the bond between them and the handler.

A fenced yard is also a must when sharing a home with an Otterhound; they have been known to jump fences so it must be a secure as well as a tall fence. They are known to wander off after an interesting smell so when they are not in a secure area, they should be leashed at all times. They should also be provided with proper identification such as a collar with the owner’s up to date address, name and phone number. A microchip is another method of identification worth considering.

The breed requires plenty of patience when training as they have the tendency to revert to their playful behavior when they don’t feel like executing a command. A handler who has a natural air of authority can set rules and boundaries from puppyhood and reinforce them using treats and praises. You must remain calm, consistent and firm with the Otterhound to achieve any success in training. A sense of humor and stubbornness are also a must when dealing with the Otterhound.

Training sessions should also be kept short and entertaining, the breed needs to be convinced that they want to do what you asked them instead of being told. Therefore, the handler must establish themselves as the leader of the pack as soon as possible. Although they require firmness, they don’t respond well to harsh training or treatment of any kind as underneath that shaggy exterior, they have a soft and kind personality.

Feeding Schedule

The breed benefits from 3-4.5 cups of high-quality dog food each day. Keep in mind that puppies generally consume more food than adult dogs to accommodate their rapid growth and development. Choosing a high grade, free of unnecessary additives such as grain and corn, as well as rich in meat protein food will go a long way in providing your companion with healthy skin and coat as well as mental and physical vitality and longevity.

The Otterhounds love their food and will stop at nothing to get at snacks you’re hiding in the fridge, cupboards or the garbage can. It is highly recommended to divide their daily food consumption into 2-3 meals instead of leaving it available all the time as they are prone to obesity.

The breed is also prone to bloat like many other deep chested breeds. The condition occurs when the dog eats or drinks too fast or is exercised vigorously right after a meal, trapping air or gas in the stomach and causing it to twist in on itself. It can become life threatening without immediate vet intervention. Many pet stores sell special dishes that are specifically designed to help prevent bloat by slowing the consumption of food and water.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Otterhounds have a double weather resistant coat that needs weekly brushing to avoid mats and tangles. The outer coat is thick and rough, the undercoat is oily and woolly. Common colours are tan and black grizzle.

Their ears also need regular maintenance due to the shape which makes it easier for moisture and debris to get trapped in the ear canal, causing reoccurring ear infections.

The breed is not known for their tidiness and tends to track mud and debris into the house and their beards tend to trap food and water and need to be regularly cleaned.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The breed loves the younger members of the family. They are very affectionate and loving and have the energy levels to keep up with children. They might be better suited for a home with older children only because of their size and sometimes forgetting how large they are. They can put up with a lot but their patience shouldn’t be tested.

Children should be taught boundaries and respect towards their four-legged best friends. An alarming number of dogs are being surrendered to the shelter, abandoned or put down simply due to failure on the adults’ part to educate their children on proper dog handling etiquette. Any ear or tail pulling as well as general teasing should be immediately discouraged. Play time between children and animals should be supervised by an adult at all times.

Otterhounds enjoy the company of other dogs and get along with cats as long as they have been raised together or properly socialized. Their breeding might have them chase smaller animals and the interaction between them and other pets should be supervised until and if they accept them as part of the pack. Although there are similar breed traits, each dog should be treated as an individual. Their character and behavior strongly depend on their breeding, environment, socialization, training and handler.

If you managed to find an Otterhound puppy or dog, consider yourself lucky. They are one of a kind in more ways than one. Today they are considered a rare breed and it is fairly hard to find a breeder. They make a great addition to the active family who can involve them in sports and physical activity. They are affectionate and loving towards their families but not needy, so don’t expect to be followed around the house. They are friendly with the younger members of the family and the other furry members of your pack.

They will make you laugh and sometimes cry, especially if you spend your day cleaning the house and they track a trail of mud across your clean floor. The breed is happy, spirited, fun loving and affectionate. They truly are a fantastic companion to anyone who can keep up with them.


About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.