With his rough, tousled coat, the Otterhound might look a bit like a mutt at first glance, but he’s a very old breed who was originally used to hunt otters in Great Britain. When that activity was outlawed in 1978, the breed nearly disappeared, and today the Otterhound is extremely rare. He’s an interesting dog to live with, but not necessarily an easy keep. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring an Otterhound.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

When it comes to living with an Otterhound, the houseproud need not apply. He's big, hairy, a messy eater and drinker, and loves to get wet and muddy. People who live with him should be patient and have an excellent sense of humor. If none of that bothers you, read on. The Otterhound weighs 65 to 125 pounds. Keep valuables out of reach; he has a reputation as a klutz. He likes people and other pets and is good with older children, but he is probably too rambunctious for households with toddlers. Like most hounds, he has an independent nature and doesn't mind if you're not keeping him company 24/7. He's a good watchdog but not a guard dog. Be prepared for a dog with a deep, baying voice.

The Otterhound is a good communicator, "talking" to his people with mutters, grumbles, grunts, groans and sighs. The Otterhound is easygoing, but don't let him fool you. He's stubborn and likes to do things his own way. Training an Otterhound requires skill, cunning and what some might call bribery. Positive reinforcement, particularly with food rewards, is the way to win an Otterhound's heart and mind. So is the ability to "outstubborn" him. Begin training when he is young and still somewhat malleable, keep training sessions short and fun, and avoid harsh corrections. Life with an Otterhound is an exercise in securitization.

Otterhounds are highly food-oriented. Combined with their intelligence, that's a recipe for a dog that excels at breaking into cabinets, drawers, pantries, trash cans and even refrigerators. They are also known to escape from crates, over baby gates and yard gates, through screen doors and over or under fences. You'll need a securely fenced yard, and that doesn't mean an underground electronic fence. If the Otterhound wants to leave the yard, a shock isn't going to stop him. The Otterhound is calm by nature, but by no means lazy. He needs a long daily walk or run, on leash. If you want to try dog sports with him, he's good at agility, obedience, rally and especially tracking. This is an indoor/outdoor dog. While the Otterhound should certainly have access to a securely fenced yard, he should be with his family when they are home.

Brush or comb the Otterhound's coat weekly, but plan to clean his beard after every meal to prevent odor. The Otterhound's coat can be two to six inches long, and some coats are oilier than others. An Otterhound who has a longer, oilier coat gets dirty more quickly than one with a shorter, less oily coat, so the need for bathing varies. Some Otterhounds need a bath monthly, while others can get by with a bath only once a year. Any time the Otterhound gets wet, whether from a bath, a swim or just having his face washed, be sure you dry him completely to avoid a mildew-like effect, especially under the chin or any other place he has skin folds. In addition, if the Otterhound doesn't get dry right down to the skin, he can develop painful, itchy, tender spots on the skin. Trim his nails at least monthly, and keep his ears clean and dry to prevent infections. Good dental hygiene is also important.

Health Issues Common to Otterhound

All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don't walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.

Otterhounds have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren't cautious about whom you buy from. They include hip and elbow dysplasia, epilepsy and gastric torsion. Not all of these conditions can be tested for and some don't appear until later in life. At a minimum ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy's parents have hip scores of Excellent, Good or Fair from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. The Otterhound Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For an Otterhound to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA certification for hips, an OFA evaluation from an approved laboratory for Glanzmann's thrombasthenia and provide a blood sample to the OFA/CHIC DNA repository. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC's website to see if a breeder's dogs have these certifications. Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Hip Dysplasia Medium $500-$6,000
Elbow Dysplasia Medium $1,500-$4,000
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat) Medium $1,500-$7,500

5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Otterhound Puppy

Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. A breeder referral service service can be found on the website of the Otterhound Club of America.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health problems in Otterhounds aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since an Otterhound can live to be 10 to 13 years old, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Otterhound to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, and in particular to watch out for the early signs of diabetes and skin problems, including ear infections.

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Otterhounds

Pet insurance for Otterhounds costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Otterhounds are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Otterhounds are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Otterhound is while he's still healthy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.