Many of the dogs in the hound group have at least two different modes of hunting, often including both sight and scent. The Otterhound is a true one mode type of hound and they rely completely on scenting for their tracking and hunting skills. This is not surprising as the breed, which is actually a European type of hound, is descended from the Bloodhound breed. Breeders and researchers believe that the Otterhound was developed as durable, all weather type of hound that was generated by breeding Bloodhounds, Harriers, Griffons and larger sized terriers. From each breed the Otterhound received different traits and skills, resulting in an outstanding water dog that was also a hunter that could be counted on to actually track their natural prey through the wet environment and surroundings.
The Otterhound was specifically designed to hunt the wily otter that was consuming fish from natural waterways throughout France and other parts of Europe. These dogs were cold nosed, meaning they could scent otters in and around the water even hours after the otter had left the trail. This allowed fishermen to set the dogs on the trail of nocturnal otters during the day, tracking them back to their daytime locations, allowing them to be trapped or hunted. The result was such a drop in the number of otters in Europe as they became an endangered species and hunting and tracking was prohibited. The result was a decrease in the demand for these dogs and they almost became extinct.
The Otterhound was identified as a breed that was becoming rare or even extinct, and breed lovers rallied to build up the numbers around the world. The result is a now healthy population number that is still constantly growing. While they are not a very frequently seen dog in the United States, they are becoming more popular as a pet. In addition they have been used in hunting mink, raccoons and bear, increasing the hunting support for the continued development of the breed.
For those that are unfamiliar with the relatively uncommon Otterhound they may be surprised at how versatile a family dog this breed can be. They are very well adjusted to living as a family pet and seem to truly love and enjoy being around children. They are playful and clownish but not silly or difficult to train and manage. The Otterhound seems to know when to play and goof around and when they need to attend and focus. Although they are very intelligent the Otterhound can sometimes appear to be willful and stubborn but they really just like to think about what is happening around them. With obedience work these dogs are outstanding in different types of events and competitions including agility and competitive field trials that include scent discrimination. Many breeders don't recommend them for first time dog owners since they are somewhat dominant and difficult to initially train, however with positive, firm and consistent training they can be very obedient dogs.
The Otterhound, in some ways, resembles a very shaggy Airedale Terrier. They have a relative oily shaggy and broken looking coat that is both weather resistant and thick. Most Otterhounds have relatively easy to care for coats provided they are groomed with a stiff bristle brush or pin brush at least once every four days to a week. Without this routine grooming the coat will become matted and tangled. As with any breed with a wiry coat the Otterhound should not be clipped as this can actually damage the natural condition of the coat for months.
The coat of the Otterhound may be almost any color including black with tan, grizzle colors and even tri-colors. The tri and two colored Otterhounds have a white coat background with irregular patches of various colors, typically a tan to dark brown and a black. The coat color determines the eye color with the darkest colors having very dark brown eyes and the lighter colors having a more hazel color to the eyes.
The Otterhound does have a slightly doggy odor due to the higher oils in the coat. They should not be bathed frequently as this will strip the oils from the coat and lead to increased risk of tangling and matting. In addition skin irritations can occur with frequent bathing. Since this breed does have fairly significant beard it is often important to clean or wash the hair around the mouth to keep the dog looking in top shape. Some Otterhounds may drool slightly and most will snore somewhat when sleeping but this is not generally a significant issue for owners.
A natural swimmer, the Otterhound is a real water dog and they do have the webbed feet that make them excellent in the water. The Otterhound will get into the water whenever possible, but their coat repels water and dries rapidly. They are also great outdoor and indoor dogs and can live in kennels although they do prefer to be around people as much as possible. The Otterhound is good in all climates and can tolerate colder conditions better than very hot and humid conditions.
Although a hunting dog the Otterhound seems to be very easy to integrate into the family. They can get along with cats and other dogs although they are not recommended with rodent types of pets including ferrets and rabbits. Although not typically raised as a pack dog the Otterhound is not generally dog-aggressive, but as with all breeds they do need early and routine socialization. This also helps with territoriality which is not a typical characteristic of the Otterhound breed but does occur in unsocialized and untrained dogs of all breeds.
Finding an Otterhound may be a challenge, however the limited number of breeders and kennels also helps to manage the breeding lines and create very healthy and genetically sound litters. As with most of the large sized breeds there are some genetic issues with hip dysplasia and to a less extent minor dysplasia. Bloat is also a concern with the breed as with all of the hounds. Routinely feeding several small meals a day and avoiding exercise after meals and feeding only high quality, low filler types of foods is also very important.