This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
THERE is no finer type of the canine race in this country than the otter hound. His hardy, characteristic expression, shaggy coat, and rough wear and tear appearance, have always reminded me of that ancient British warrior so often depicted in our boyish story books, but who, perhaps, with his coat of skins, his shield, and hirsute face, was the invention of the artist rather than the actual inhabitant of our island.
It has been said that the otter hound is a cross between the Welsh harrier, the southern hound, and the terrier. Perhaps he may be so, but more likely not, for a good well-grown specimen has more coat than any ordinary terrier or the rough Welsh hound, and he is bigger than either. My own opinion is that he has been crossed with the bloodhound at some not very remote date. The black and tan colour often appears in some strains, and his voice in many cases resembles the full, luscious tones of the bloodhound more than the keener ring of the foxhound. Prior to the outbreak of the Franco-German war, Count de Canteleu sent a number of French griffons to Scotland, where it is said that they were dispersed throughout the country. However, I have not been able to trace their blood in any of our modern hounds. Still, these French hounds would no doubt have been very useful for that purpose. Some twenty-five years or so ago, Mr. J. C. Carrick, of Carlisle, was desirous of getting a fresh cross into his pack, and, with that intention, obtained a hound - a southern hound it was called - from the Western States of America. No pedigree could be obtained, but it was a particularly handsome animal, and more like the picture of the southern hound in Youatt's book on the dog than anything I ever saw. Mr. Carrick was afraid of the fresh blood, so the Virginian importation did good duty on the show bench in the variety classes instead of impurifying a pedigree which was quite as free from taint as that of any other variety of the dog.
I forget who recommended a cross between a bulldog, an Irish water spaniel, and a mastiff, as the most likely way to produce otter hounds. Certainly an ingenious idea, and worthy of the writer, who thus easily got out of a difficulty which more practical and learned men than he had failed to solve. We have the otter hound, let that suffice, and let his valued strain be perpetuated, and the popular masters of our packs long continue to give the best of all sport to those somewhat impecunious individuals who are not provided with the means to keep a hunter or two to gallop after foxhounds. Forty or fifty years ago otter hunting appeared to be on the wane. Perhaps the rising generation of sportsmen of that era became discontented with the nets and spears that were commonly used to facilitate the kill. These cruel appliances are now abolished, and the only place fit to contain them is the lumber room or the museum of some country town. Hounds are so bred that they can, with a minimum amount of assistance, kill their otter unaided, and specially excel in their work during the early part of the hunt, if they are but let alone.
Throw off on the river's brink, and hounds will soon hit the line of an otter, if one has been about any time within three or four hours before, or maybe they will speak to scent even older than that. The olfactory organs possessed by the otter hound have, to me, always seemed something extraordinary. The cold, damp stones by the water's edge, or a bunch or clump of grass adjoining, are not the places where scent would lie well. Still, there is the fact : a hound will swim off to a rock in mid-stream, put his nose to the ground, sniff about a little, and, if the otter has been at that spot even for only half a minute, that hound will throw up his head and, in a solo so sweet to the ears of a hunter, let all know that he is on the line.
And it was "Ragman" who never told a lie - can I call him a canine George Washington, without disparagement to America's great president? I have seen foxhounds well entered to the otter, but the rough hounds were always first to own a stale drag. The latter are so much more staid and steady when past their puppyhood; know their work so well, appear to enjoy it too, and take to hunting their favoured game at quite an early age.
It is stated of the Rev. John Russell, the great Devonshire sportsman, that, desirous of having a pack of hounds to hunt the otter, he endeavoured to make one. He said he followed the rivers for two seasons, during which he walked upwards of three thousand miles, and never found an otter, although he says "he must have passed scores, and he might as well have searched for a moose deer." No doubt the popular clergyman's foxhounds had been entered to fox. Now, with even a lot of otter hound puppies quite unentered, he would not have had such long and fruitless journeys; they would soon have hunted something, and if now and then they had run riot on a water rat, a moor hen, or a rabbit, they would have struck the scent of an otter before very long - i.e., if such game were plentiful in the district.
My early experience of otter hunting was much sooner consummated than that of the Devonshire sportsman. We had an otter hound puppy, quite unentered, an old bitch, dam to the puppy, and a few terriers. The second time out we struck a strong scent by the edge of a lovely stream in our north country. Old Rally, who, later on, very often failed to speak, even on a strong scent, now gave tongue freely; her young son put his nose to the ground, threw up his head, and yelled every now and then, and quite as often fell head over heels into the water; the terriers yelped and barked, and evidently thought they were in for a big rat battue.
The young hound settled down and swam across the pool. Higher, Rally marked under a tree root. An angler hard by prodded his landing-net handle down into the ground; all of us jumped upon the surface, and quietly there dived out a huge otter! And he made his way down stream. Then we had him in a long pool, about twenty yards wide, nowhere more than five feet deep, no strong hovers on either side the bank; but below us was dangerous ground. So a shallow was guarded by two of us, with our breeches rolled up and long sticks in our hands.