Though references to "otter dogges"
in England date back to the 12th
century, the breed does not appear to
have reached its current form until
some time late in the 18th century .
Otterhounds were used in packs to hunt
river otter, initially as a way to
keep otters from destroying a needed
food source, and only later as a
sport. King John of Magna Carta fame
hunted otter with large shaggy dogs,
described at that time as a "rough
sort of a dog, between a hound and a
terrier". Queen Elizabeth I was the
first "Lady Master of Otterhounds".
The modern Otterhound is documented
to have Bloodhound and
several of the rough-coated French
hound breeds in his background,
as well as the now extinct Southern
Hound. Otterhounds and terriers were
bred to create the Airedale Terrier.
Otter hunting reached its peak of
popularity in the years preceding
World War I. At that time there were
more than 500 hounds in 24 packs which
hunted otter, though most of those
dogs were not purebred Otterhounds.
Indeed, the hunt packs continued to
cross-breed their hounds well into the
20th century to improve hunting
abilities. One of the results is that
all current purebred Otterhounds
pedigrees go back to a
Bloodhound/Griffon Nivernais cross
done in 1958. A drastic drop in otter
population, due to water pollution,
caused otter hunting to be banned in
England in 1978 and in Scotland 2
years later. The purebred Otterhounds
in the remaining packs were dispersed
to private owners, with some going to
the mink hunting packs.
The first Otterhounds were apparently
brought to the US early in the 20th
century, with six Otterhounds exhibited
at an AKC show in 1907. Veterinarian Dr.
Hugh Mouat began the first serious
breeding program in the US in 1937. A
bitch and dog, Bessie's Countess and
Bessie's Courageous from Dr. Mouat's
first litter became the breed's first
AKC champions in 1941. The Otterhound
Club of America was founded in 1960 and
held the breed's first National
Specialty in 1981.
There are fewer than 1000 Otterhounds
world wide, with the largest numbers
in the UK and US, and smaller
populations in the Netherlands,
Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland,
Canada, and New Zealand. Currently
it's estimated that there are about
350 Otterhounds in the US and Canada.