With a long shaggy coat that comes in many color combinations, otterhounds are sometimes mistaken for mixed-breed dogs, but they're simply members of a rare breed of ancient, scent-hunting hounds. Today, there are only about 800 otterhounds worldwide, making them rarer than the giant panda.
The otterhound is probably most famous for playing Sandy in the 1982 movie-musical Annie. Sandy was played by six-year-old otterhound Bingo, who is said to have been fed steak and prime rib every night.
Characteristics of an Otterhound
Otterhounds are big, shaggy dogs with prominent personalities to match. Bred to hunt otters in medieval England, the otterhound has a few characteristics that make it stand out from other hound dogs, including a rough, water-resistant double coat and webbed feet.
Otterhounds are large dogs, averaging 24 to 27 inches in height and 80 to 115 pounds in weight.
Otterhounds have clownish personalities and are very social, getting along well with humans and other pets. The otterhound temperament is typically amiable; in fact, otterhounds think strangers are just friends they haven't met yet, so don't count on your otterhound as a guard dog.
Despite often weighing over 100 pounds, otterhounds think they're lap dogs and will cuddle at any opportunity. Otterhounds are good with children if they're socialized with them as a puppy, but, as with any large dog, they need close supervision around small children to prevent accidental injuries.
Common otterhound characteristics include being:
Caring for an Otterhound
Otterhounds are "wash and wear" dogs that don't require haircuts, but their double coat and tendency to get things stuck in their beard can make grooming a challenge for a novice dog owner.
Otterhounds should be brushed at least once weekly with a slicker brush and a medium comb. Your otterhound's beard may need extra grooming, as otterhounds tend to drag their beard on the ground and get food stuck in it.
You should never shave an otterhound. Their double coat keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer and helps protect them from sunburn and bug bites. Shaving a double-coated dog puts them at a higher risk for overheating, heat stroke, and skin cancer.
Otterhounds can be bathed as often as needed using a shampoo formulated for dogs.
Otterhounds need regular nail trims. Using a grinder or nail clipper, you should trim your otterhound's nails every 10 to 14 days. Be careful not to trim the nail down too far, as this is painful and will cause bleeding. It's also best to keep a product like styptic powder on hand to stop bleeding from accidentally trimming the nails back too far.
An otterhound's long ears prevent air circulation, so you should clean your dog's ears weekly with a liquid ear cleaner formulated for dogs.
Brush your otterhound's teeth every day with a toothpaste formulated for dogs. Check your otterhound's teeth for tartar buildup regularly — heavy tartar should be removed by your veterinarian.
You should regularly check your otterhound's coat and skin for ticks, paying close attention to their ears, head, and feet. You can help prevent ticks and fleas by giving your dog a regular tick and flea preventative. Tick and flea preventative products come in various formulations: chewables, sprays, topical treatments, powders, and flea prevention collars, and are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. Your veterinarian can help you choose the right flea and tick prevention for your otterhound.
Otterhounds need lots of mental and physical stimulation. A well-fenced yard can help, but some otterhounds aren't motivated to exercise independently and will need your active engagement.
These energetic hounds enjoy and excel at various canine sports and activities, including obedience, tracking, coursing, search and rescue, and therapy work.
As large, boisterous dogs, otterhounds need to know basic obedience commands for safety. Otterhounds are highly motivated by food and praise and respond well to positive reinforcement training methods.
Otterhound Medical Care
Like all dogs, otterhounds need to visit the veterinarian every 3 to 4 weeks as puppies and annually after one year of age. All otterhounds need core vaccines, and some will need non-core vaccines.
Core vaccines include:
- Canine parvovirus
- Canine hepatitis
Non-core vaccines include:
- Bordetella bronchiseptica/Kennel cough
- Borrelia burgdorferi/Lyme disease
- Leptospira bacteria
Non-core vaccines are given if your dog has a higher exposure risk. Your vet will help you decide if your otterhound needs any non-core vaccines.
Like all dog breeds, otterhounds are vulnerable to heartworms, a potentially fatal parasitic infection spread through mosquito bites. You can help prevent heartworms by giving your hound a monthly heartworm prevention medication administered year-round. Your veterinarian can help you choose the prescription that is right for your otterhound.
Otterhound Health Issues
The average otterhound lifespan is 10 to 13 years. Otterhounds are generally healthy dogs for a large breed. Some conditions to be aware of, though, include:
Otterhounds can be prone to hip dysplasia, a hereditary condition which occurs when the ball and socket of the hip joint don't fit together correctly. Misalignment of the hip joint causes pain, deterioration, and (over time) loss of joint function. Symptoms include:
- Lethargy or decreased activity
- Loss of thigh muscles
- A swaying or hopping gait
- Lameness in the hind legs
Let your veterinarian know if your otterhound shows signs of hip dysplasia.
Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat)
Large breeds like otterhounds are vulnerable to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). This life-threatening condition occurs when the stomach rotates inside a dog's body after bloating, cutting off circulation and sending the dog into shock. GDV is a medical emergency — even mild cases are fatal if not treated quickly.
GDV symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Retching without vomiting
- Signs of distress, such as excessive panting, lip-licking, or restlessness.
Symptoms can be mild and mistaken for indigestion. If you suspect your hound might have bloat, seek medical attention immediately.
Male dogs are more likely to experience bloat than females, and dogs with a relative that's had bloat are at a higher risk.
A preventative surgery called a gastropexy is sometimes performed for high-risk dogs. In this procedure, the stomach is tacked to the abdominal wall to prevent twisting. Talk to your veterinarian to determine if a gastropexy is a good choice for your otterhound.
Dogs fed once a day are twice as likely to experience bloat as dogs fed smaller portions two or more times a day. Dog foods containing soybean meal or that list oils or fats in the first four ingredients quadruple the risk of bloat, so consider avoiding these foods.
Are otterhounds good with children?
Yes, otterhounds are good with children as long as they've been well-socialized. However, otterhounds are big dogs that don't always know their strength, so they should be supervised closely around small children and the elderly.
Are otterhounds hypoallergenic?
No. Otterhounds shed and aren't a good choice for families with moderate to severe dog allergies.
Do otterhounds bark?
Yes. Otterhounds have a deep bay and enjoy "singing." Some owners say that their otterhounds also make "Chewbacca-like" noises.
Otterhounds were bred to help control the otter population in medieval England, where otters routinely preyed on fish intended for human consumption.
British monarchs kept packs of otterhounds for almost 400 years. While otter hunting was never as popular with British royalty as fox hunting, it was practiced as a sport during the spring and summer months while hunters waited for fox hunting season to begin in the fall.
Otter hunting eventually had to be banned in England, as otterhound packs were such effective hunters that otterhounds almost hunted river otters to extinction.