Britain’s rarest breed dog is facing extinction, after just 24 puppies were registered with the Kennel Club last year. Otterhounds were originally bred, as their name suggests, to hunt otters, but they have been dying out since the practice was banned in 1978. Britain’s Otterhound Club is now appealing for prospective dog owners to choose an Otterhound and protect the breed’s future. They are rarer than giant pandas or white rhino, with fewer than 1,000 worldwide and 300 in Britain.
French bulldogs, pugs and Labradors are usually at the top of the lists of the most popular dogs. These are good breeds but people do not consider these wonderful dogs. It is sad as they were considered useful dogs for many, but they’re also excellent pets.
King John of England used the animals to hunt otters in the 12th Century, with Elizabeth I becoming the first Lady Master of Otterhounds. They’re known as the Amiable Hound, or the Clown of Hounds, for their gentle and playful nature. The breed that we recognise today dates back to the 18th Century, and their popularity peaked in the middle of the 19th Century.
Otterhounds were seen as a working class dog. They were said to help rid the village ponds of otters feeding on fish. Dog owners would take Otterhounds to hunt otters, and lots of family and friends would go along too. It became an event, people would take picnics and make a day of it.
The breed was blamed, though, for a shortage in otter numbers, and laws banning otter hunts were passed in Scotland in 1979 – although the dogs were unlikely to have been to blame. They were popular dogs among the hunting community, because otters were considered vermin. The decline of otter populations was blamed on Otterhounds and hunting of them was banned — but it turned out to be nitrates and poisons used on the land which was seeping into rivers. Otterhounds got the blame and they became greatly reduced after that.