Wetterhoun

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
 
Photo of adult Wetterhoun
23dingenvoormusea / Wikipedia.org

This breed’s name of ‘Wetterhoun’ is derived from the Dutch words for ‘water dog’. This rare breed is little known outside his native Netherlands, and even there, he isn’t common. But despite his rarity, the Wetterhoun does have a long history, stretching back some 400 years and he arguably deserves to be better known.

The Wetterhoun is a working breed, best described as part gun dog and part guard dog. He also has an excellent character, which means he makes a superb family dog for those who live on a smallholding and will give him the copious amounts of exercise required.

The ideal Wetterhoun owner is an out-door type and gives the Wetterhoun a job of work to do. This master also needs to be gifted with patience. Whilst ‘stubborn’ is too strong a word to use, the Wetterhoun is strong-willed and it can take time for the owner to make their wishes take precedence over what the dog wants to do.

About & History

The story of the Wetterhound starts a little over 400 years ago in the Netherlands. It seems their earliest ancestor was a breed known simply as the Old Water Dog. From the latter, Dutch breeders produced what then went on to became known as the Fresian Water Dog. It’s thought that the Wetterhoun was born out of a mixture of Old Water Dog and Fresian dog blood to produce the dog that we recognise today.

The original purpose of the Wetterhoun was to kill the otters stealing fish from the Dutch fishermen. But the breed did the job so well, pretty soon he was looking for another way to earn his keep.

Happily, this was no problem for the adaptable Wetterhoun. He was also talented at guarding, without being aggressive to those he knew well. This meant that he was great to protect farmsteads without posing a risk to the smallholder’s family. He could also be trained as a gun dog, adept at retrieving gamebirds from water – another feather in his capable cap.

The Wetterhoun also goes by the name of Otterhoun (given his origins) or Dutch Spaniel. This should not be confused with the Otterhound, however, which is a different breed entirely. Indeed, the Wetterhoun does have a look of a spaniel about him without actually being one.

The breed nearly died out completely during World War II. But happily, thanks to the efforts of determined breeders this distinctive looking dog was preserved for future generations. The breed was officially recognised in 2006 but the United Kennel Club.

Appearance

Wetterhoun Large Photo
Pleple2000 / Wikipedia.org

The Wetterhoun may not be a spaniel but he certainly has the look of one. To visualise a Wetterhoun simply think of a Springer Spaniel that’s had a bubble-perm and you’ll be able to pick this dog out of the line in a dog identity parade.

The Wetterhoun’s facial expression is described by some as ‘grim’. This seems a little unfair, and if perhaps down to his chunky skull, broad forehead, and smallish eyes. However, stare into those eyes and you’ll find a dog that’s anything but grim, but rather sparkling with intelligence and curiosity.

The Wetterhoun has a curled plume of a tail, which is carried close to the back. He also a spaniel’s (that word again!) drop ears, low set and hanging close to the head. One of the most distinctive features of the Wetterhoun is his coat. This is thick, with tight curls over his body and ears, with smoother fur over his head and paws. The coat has its own special natural waterproofing, which can make it feel greasy to the touch. That combination of tight curls and waterproofing help equip the Wetterhoun for the rigours of field work as a gundog.

The most common coat colours include: solid brown or black, white with black, brown, or roan patches with or without ticking marks.

Character & Temperament

The Wetterhoun is a working dog that loves people, but not just anybody. He loves his owner and close family. Indeed, he has a natural protectiveness that turns his gentle nature into aggression when he thinks the family is threatened.

Again, he is not a big barker but warning of danger is one of the things most likely to have him find his voice. He is watchful but thoughtful, not barking at anything and everything that moves, but holding fire until he sees something worth warning his owner about. As such, he makes an excellent guard dog, especially as he is fully prepared to sacrifice himself to protect his beloved family.

The Wetterhoun is never happier than when outside. Correction. He is at his happiest when outdoors with his owner. He loves to free range but will also keep his human companion in sight, checking regularly to make sure they are still there.

This breed also has an innerving ability to take on a task and stick with it until the job is done. If this is searching for a toy, he will keep looking for hours until he finds the object or is physically removed from the room. He loves to play and when engaged in a game with children, it is almost certainly the humans who tire first.

However, this single-mindedness can come across as stubbornness under some circumstances. For example, if the Wetterhoun picked up an interesting scent and is determined to follow it to source, he then becomes deaf to the commands of his owner. This trait requires an exceptionally patient owner in order to put the time in to obedience train the dog.

Trainability

Photo of Wetterhoun puppy
mjk23 / Wikipedia.org

We’ve already touched on the determination or ‘focus’ of the Wetterhoun, but this isn’t a trait borne out of wilfulness. It’s more a matter of wanting to see a task through to the end. Where a Wetterhoun needs special consideration when training, is that he’s also a sensitive soul.

The Wetterhoun responds poorly to harsh treatment or punishment, which means reward-based training is essential. Using a system that rewards positive actions and reinforces good behaviour, the Wetterhoun will do their best to please.

What the trainer needs to understand is that there will be times when they just have to be patient and wait for their dog to return of their own accord. No matter how long they wait, it is not appropriate to punish the dog for taking their time. Instead, it’s important to remember that the dog has at last come back, and reward that (belated) good deed.

Another aspect of training a Wetterhoun is knowing he loves to have a purpose in life. Ideally he wants to work as a gundog, but when this isn’t possible then training him to do a physical activity, such as agility or canicross, helps to booster his feelings of self-worth.

Health

In common with many working breeds the Wetterhoun is hardy by nature. He is mercifully under-represented when it comes to developing serious health problems, especially those of a hereditary nature. Those health conditions most likely to appear in the breed include:

Hip Dysplasia

The hip is a ball and socket joint. The perfect hip joint has a smooth action with the ball rolling almost frictionless inside the cup of the socket.

With hip dysplasia, either the ball or the socket (sometimes both) are misshapen. Instead of a smooth movement the bones clunk and grate against each other. This causes the inflammation and pain, which we see as lameness. In the longer term, the hip tries to remodel itself but this results in early onset arthritis.

In an ideal world, all breeding stock would be screened ahead of mating. By selecting only parent dogs that have good hip conformation, this helps reduce the incidence of hip dysplasia within the breed.

Not to do so means affected dogs need to take pain-killing medication, with the most severe cases requiring a total hip replacement to lead a good quality, pain-free life.

Patella Luxation

The layman’s term for patella luxation is ‘wobbly kneecaps’. This refers to a quirk in the anatomy of the knees, such that the kneecap can move freely to one side. This causes a physical locking up of the knee, such that the dog skips a step on that back leg.

Mild cases respond well to judicious use of pain-relieving medication. But more serious cases require reconstructive surgery to correct the problem and reduce the likelihood of premature arthritis developing.

Ear Infections

Those drop ears reduce the air circulating in the ear canal. In a warm, moist environment bacteria or even yeasts can flourish, making the Wetterhoun prone to ear infections.

Check the ears daily for signs of a discharge or a bad smell. If the problem persists despite cleaning the ears, then a trip to the vet is advisable.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Wetterhoun is a working dog with a working heritage, therefore he needs to be active. Not only does he need an abundance of exercise, but he needs time off-leash to run, sniff, and explore.

Don’t forget that one of the Wetterhoun’s other names is the Otterhoun. He loves spending time in water and appreciates the opportunity to go swimming. On top of that, he needs to run for a minimum of an hour a day – the more the better as far as this four-legger is concerned.

Grooming

The Wetterhoun’s coat may feel greasy to us, but this is his natural waterproofing. Avoid washing or bathing the Wetterhoun unless absolutely essential, as this will strip out the natural oils and throw his skin out of balance.

However, this doesn’t mean being totally hands-off with regards to coat care. After every walk he should be checked over from nose to tail, and debris, such as burrs or grass awns, needs to be removed from the coat. In addition, lift those heavy ear flaps and make sure there are no twigs or seeds worming their way into the ear canal.

Famous Wetterhouns

A great place to track down this gundog is on Pinterest or Instagram.

Cross-Breeds

This unique breed with a lovely temperament nearly died out during the Second World War. The Wetterhoun is still considered a rare breed. The efforts of breeders are focussed on protecting and expanding the numbers of Wetterhouns rather than out-crossing to create new hybrids.

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