History of the Otterhound
European otters – which achieve a weight of up to 11 kg – live in caves on river banks, where the entrance is below the surface of the water. Otters can swim long distances under water, emerging only occasionally for air. The scent trail they leave behind on land is known as “drag” while their traces in water are referred to as “wash”. Like the Bloodhound, the Otterhound has a particularly sensitive nose and (properly bred and seriously trained) is capable of scenting out and following trails for up to two weeks. When pursuing a “wash”, the hounds sometimes swim for up to 5 hours, an activity that requires the utmost in scenting work and endurance. The oily, thick undercoat and “webbed” feet make the dogs into Olympic standard swimmers.
A number of British monarchs held the title of “Master of Otter Hounds”: John, Richard III, Charles II, Edward II and IV, Henry II, VI, VII and VIII, and even Elizabeth I. In the heyday of otter hunting in the second half of the 19th century, throughout the whole of England, 18-20 packs were deployed during the season. Famous hounds, such as the Hawkstone pack of the honourable Geoffrey Hill, killed more than 700 otters over a period of 20 years. Squire Lomax of Clitheroe was very finical as far as hunting formalities were concerned. For him, the way the dogs worked was more important than the result. By the end of the 1860s, his famous pack was so well trained that it is said the entire pack obeyed him at a slight movement of the hand. Many of the main packs of that time sent individual dogs to the larger shows. The Carlisle and Kendal working packs were known for their show winners.
Like earlier hounds that hunted the wolf, the Otterhound was so successful in its work that it almost put its own existence in question. The number of otters was reduced to such an extent that fewer and fewer packs could reasonably be supported. In addition, many hunting clubs crossed the shaggy Otterhound with Foxhounds to gain more speed. By 1900 there were only a few pure-bred Otterhounds in England. Prior to that, however, a number of good animals had been exported to the United States. Today the breed has become rare on both sides of the Atlantic. It still exists thanks to a few enthusiasts who present the dogs at shows. Otters are now a protected species in England. Otter hunting with dogs was never performed in the United States. Yet its innate capabilities and endurance on a cold trail would surely make the Otterhound successful in the hunt for any type of game.
Its rough, shaggy coat and body size make the Otterhound distinctive among the hounds in America. When drinking, the Otterhound sometimes immerses its entire head in the water. This is usually the moment when it feels the pressing need to show all its love to its master, duly placing its thoroughly soaked beard on his lap. These dogs have the natural independence of hounds, but at the same time a great affection for their master. They are loving, high-spirited dogs, comparable with children who enjoy playing with them. Their typical characteristic traits as hounds, their loud voice and strong-willed nature, accompanied by the corresponding body, require the experience of an astute dog trainer.