With a friendly expression and a flashy coat of orange and white, the Nederlandse kooikerhondje is an eye-catching breed. There's more to these sprightly little dogs than meets the eye, though. Bred for a specific purpose, they have a fascinating history and a dramatic survival story. They also make excellent pets for the right owners.
This breed's daunting name makes sense when you break it down. "Nederlandse" means from the Netherlands. The Dutch trapped ducks using water traps, called "kooi." The men who operated the traps were called kooikers, and their dogs became known as kooikers' dogs or kooikerhondjes.
Today, the breed name is often shortened to "koikers." Pronunciation isn't as hard as it seems. Call them "koy-kers" or go for the whole name: “Coy-ker-hond-tsje".
Characteristics of Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes
With its flowing lines, plumed tail, and head held high, a kooikerhondje is impressive despite its modest size. With a weight ranging from 20 to 30 pounds, a kooiker is about the same size as a cocker spaniel but a little taller. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) breed standard, its ideal height is 15 inches at the withers for females and 16 inches for males.
The kooiker's coat is also striking, with patches of brilliant orange-red on pure white. Body hair is medium-length and either wavy or straight. Legs and tails are feathered. The face has a white blaze that widens to include most of the muzzle. Feathery black hairs, called earrings, tip the ears of some dogs. Although they are not an essential part of the breed standard, these earrings are regarded by some as "highly desirable".
Many of the characteristics of the kooikerhondje serve a specific function. Early hunters were constantly looking for better ways to kill game birds. In the Netherlands, hunters probably observed foxes creating a commotion in the water to draw in curious ducks. When the ducks got close enough, the fox made a kill.
The hunters reasoned they could do the same if they had a small dog that looked like a fox, but that was just part of the plan. They first created decoy ponds with four screened-in arms that led to four trap boxes. Then, they trained their fox-like dogs to lure the ducks down one of the arms of the decoy pond and into the trap. They did this by walking alongside the water, waving their white plumed tails to attract the inquisitive ducks.
The hunters had more allies in the form of semi-tame ducks that lived on the pond. These ducks acted like live decoys to draw the wild ducks to the water, but they were smart enough not to end up in a trap. It was quite a collaboration between man, dog, and duck that ended with them all being fed. Only the wild ducks ended up being dinner.
The hunters bred their kooikers to have a certain temperament. They had to be intelligent, hard-working, and not too noisy. They had to be responsive to their masters but able to work alone. Their second job was to keep rats and other pests away from the ponds, so they had to be fierce vermin hunters.
Today, fans of the breed describe them as being alert, energetic, and confident. They are warm and easy-going around family but can be aloof with strangers.
The Nederlandse kooikerhondje's life span is typically from 12 to 15 years.
Caring for Your Kooiker
Kooikers are easy-care dogs when it comes to their coats. They just need frequent brushing, especially during shedding season.
Other grooming tasks include:
- Occasional baths with a mild pet shampoo
- Regular ear checks looking for wax buildup, debris, or infection
- Daily toothbrushing
- Regular trimming of the toenails, which are tough and fast-growing
A kooiker's main need is exercise. Even if you have a large yard, these dogs need to be taken out for extra exercise, mental stimulation, and a chance to use their senses. Active owners may take their dogs with them when they walk, hike, swim, paddleboard, or kayak, but be sure to keep your dog safe in the water.
Kooikers also excel in canine sports. Popular choices include:
- AKC rally
- Barn hunt
Kooikerhundjes have large appetites and can easily become overweight. Be careful not to overfeed them. Your veterinarian can answer questions about your dog's weight or nutrition. When you train your dog, don't rely on food treats. If your dog develops a weight problem, they will be stuck in an unhealthy pattern that can be hard to break. Reward your dog with praise and attention instead.
Your dog should get a wellness exam at least once a year. Puppies and older dogs need to see a veterinarian more often. Follow your vet's advice about preventing problems with fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites year-round.
You should vaccinate your dog against certain diseases. Your vet can schedule immunizations. All dogs should receive core vaccines. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends:
- canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis)
Your vet may recommend non-core vaccines, too, depending upon your location and your dog's activities.
Kooiker Health Problems to Watch For
Nederlandse kooikerhondjes usually lead long, healthy lives. Because the breed had to be built back from a limited gene pool, though, it is at risk for some hereditary conditions. Genetic testing and good breeding practices should reduce the incidence of these conditions.
Kooikers remain at risk for these genetic conditions:
- Polymyositis (PMN). This autoimmune disease causes muscle weakness and can lead to death. PMN affects about 1% of the kooikerhondje population. Research is ongoing.
- Hereditary Necrotising Myelopathy (ENM). This nerve disorder causes paralysis and will cause death before the dog reaches the age of 2. Genetic testing is available to screen for ENM.
- Epilepsy. A dog must have recurring seizures to receive this diagnosis. There are two types. Primary epilepsy is hereditary. Secondary epilepsy is not.
- Von Willebrand Disease (VWD). This clotting disorder causes blood loss, which can be life-threatening. There is a DNA test for VWD.
- Patella luxation. In cases of this disorder, the kneecap moves out of its proper position. This can cause pain and lameness.
- Eye problems. Good breeding practices have kept hereditary eye conditions from being common. Some koikers may develop cataracts. Also, some dogs have an extra set of eyelashes, a condition called distichiasis. If necessary, it can often be surgically corrected.
Special Considerations for Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes
Nederlandse kooikerhondjes can be good pets, but they require some effort. Their positive characteristics include:
- They are affectionate family members.
- They are mostly good with children.
- They are highly trainable.
- They are playful.
- They are friendly but still make moderately good watchdogs.
- They are adaptable to different living situations.
- They shed and drool, but not excessively.
Some with experience with kooikers say that they aren't the right fit for everyone. They especially say they might not be good for first-time dog owners.
The kooiker has some drawbacks.
History of Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes
Dogs similar to the kooikerhondje appear in paintings by the Dutch Masters going back to the 1600s. Rembrandt, Steen, and Vermeer immortalized the little spaniel-like dogs that worked the decoy ponds. In the 1700s and 1800s, kooikers appeared in family portraits. By the 1900s, however, modern hunting methods had replaced the decoy method, and the breed declined. It might have been lost forever, were it not for the efforts of Baroness van Hardenbroek van Ammerstol.
The Baroness was a dog lover and a Dutch patriot. During World War II, she helped Allied pilots escape the Germans, sometimes lending her dogs to guide them. She also became interested in preserving the traditional Dutch breeds, including the kooikerhondje. She enlisted traveling peddlers in her efforts, giving them a picture of the breed and a sample of fur.
The Baroness's cleverness and persistence paid off. She learned of a farmer with a female dog named Tommie that fit the description. The farmer wouldn't sell Tommie, but he let the Baroness use her for breeding. As soon as the Baroness found a suitable mate, the rebuilding of the kooikerhondje began.
In the following years, the Baroness bred 52 litters. A Dutch breed club was started in 1967. The Dutch kennel club recognized the breed in 1971.
Koikerhundjes are still rare in the United States, numbering in the hundreds. The AKC recognized the breed, though, in 2018. In 2021, it ranked 156th in popularity out of 197 breeds, but many people predict that these clever and good-looking little dogs will soon climb the charts.