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Kooikerhondje - A Beautiful and Rare Dog Breed

By Linda Cole

The Kooikerhondje is a rare dog breed that originated in Holland around the 1500's. Nicknamed Kooiker, they're also called Dutch Decoy Dog. The name is pronounced coy-ker-hund-che, although sometimes it's pronounced koy-ker-hund. According to historians, it's thought the Kooiker and the Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retriever share origins because of a similar working style. Both dogs were bred to hunt ducks in a rather unique way.

Generations of Dutch hunters devised a foolproof method of trapping ducks, and they used the Kooikerhondje as bait, so to speak. The men constructed a pipe of sorts beside a pond used by ducks. It consisted of netting spread out over a long archway with a trap at the end of a tunnel. The trap was called a “Kooi” and that's most likely where the Kooikerhondje name came from. The dog was trained to get the attention of the ducks and lure them down the tunnel far enough that by the time they lost interest in the dog, it was too late to get back out the opening because the hunters would stand in the entry way and block it. This forced the ducks to continue down the tunnel, into the trap.

This trapping method was and still is a very effective use of the Kooikerhondje's unique characteristics. Once the trap is set up and ready, hunters toss a stick into the pond. The dog jumps into the pond in a game of fetch and then plays with the stick; tossing it up in the air and trying to catch it. For some reason, this attracts ducks. When the hunters think the dog has the ducks attention, they instruct the dog to start to lure them into the trap. A long, bushy white tipped tail keeps the ducks curious enough to follow him. An entire flock of ducks can be trapped using just one dog. This method is still used today for conservation efforts to study, tag and inspect flocks for research and to monitor the health of duck populations.

This 20-40 pound sporting dog was on the verge of becoming extinct during WW II, but because of the efforts of Baroness Van Hartenbroek van Ammerstol, the breed was saved. With only 25 Kooikers to be found in Holland, the Baroness made a commitment in 1939 and began a dedicated breeding program. She is also credited with helping allied pilots in WWII escape from the Germans by using her dogs to lead soldiers through the woods to the safety of the Belgian border.

The Kooikerhondje has a life expectancy of 12-14 years. A white and chestnut red double coat protects the dog from the elements, with a short, thick undercoat and a water-proof, silky, medium-to-long wavy outer coat. Feathering is found on the chest, back of the legs and ears, and the tail is bushy and long. Kooikers have black hairs that feather down from their ears making it look like the dog is wearing earrings. The feathering is called ear-bells. The breed standard requires a white streak on the dog's head.

An intelligent, happy, good natured, alert and high energy medium sized dog, the Kooikerhondje makes a great family pet as long as there aren't small kids around. They don't like loud noises, will form a close bond with their family, are quiet, inquisitive and can be hard to train. This dog isn't as friendly with cats or other dogs unless they grow up with those pets in the home. It's a must to be this dog's leader and train him in obedience to keep him safe.

One problem with this breed is they are so curious and can become so fixated on something that they will ignore everything else, including their owner. The dog should not be off leash unless he's in a fenced area. Because they are a working dog, they need lots of exercise to help keep their mind stimulated and keep their body fit. This is not a dog for a couch potato or an owner who won't take the lead role. They are sensitive and won't respond to heavy handed training techniques or a harsh and loud tone of voice.

Health issues include Von Willebrand disease (a hereditary blood disorder that prevents clotting), cataracts, patella luxation (the kneecap jumps out of the groove on the femur – trick knee) and epilepsy.

The Kooikerhondje has not been recognized in the United States yet, and they are hard to find. However, they are slowly becoming more widely known. The Dutch Kennel Club officially recognized them in 1966. This spaniel-sized dog excels in agility, obedience, flyball, search and rescue, and as a service dog.

Photos by Patries71

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