(aka: Kooiker Hound, Kooiker, Kooiker Dog, Small Dutch Waterfowl Dog, Dutch Decoy Dog)
The Kooikerhondje is a medium-sized dog, similar in size and appearance to a spaniel. The Kooikerhondje's coat is somewhat thick, is of medium length, and is for the most part bi-colored with white and chestnut red being the most common color type. The Kooikerhondje's most distinctive physical features are the black tips of its long, feathered ears, known as the earrings. The longer the earrings, the more desirable the dog for breeding and showing purposes. In addition, the Kooikerhondje's legs are often moderately feathered, while its tail is ideally heavily feathered with white fur. Its muzzle is fairly thin, like a spaniel's, and ideally forms a perfect "scissor jaw" with the upper teeth only slightly overlapping the lower teeth. The Kooikerhondje's eyes are dark and tend to have an alert expression.
Kooikers have medium-length, thick coats. Kooikers have white, densely-feathered tails. The most distinctive marking on a Kooiker's coat are its black "earrings", black feathers of fur found at the tips and near the base of Kooiker ears. The longer the earrings, the better-bred the Kooiker.
If there's one word to describe the average Kooiker, it's "friendly"--provided that the Kooiker knows you well. Kooikers tend to be extremely reserved with people or animals that they don't have experience with, which can sometimes lead to problems with barking or other antisocial behaviors. Once the Kooiker has had the opportunity to make your acquaintance, however, the dog will enthusiastically greet you, be entirely willing to learn from you, and will soak up any attention that you're willing to give (with a few exceptions, as we'll see.) Unfortunately, Kooikers don't have nearly the same enthusiasm for getting to know other dogs or cats, and won't always take well to other animals that they haven't known from an early age.
There's a flip side to this general friendliness, of course: the problem of the Kooiker who isn't taught from birth to enjoy the company of humans. Kooikers in general, although enthusiastic, are also quite sensitive to the tone of people's voice and to being touched--qualities that make them good watchdogs, but that can sometimes be problematic when the Kooiker is primarily being used as a family pet. If a trainer is careful and willing to spend a great deal of time with the Kooiker in its youth, Kooikers' sensitivity to human beings will be lessened to some extent, at which point its enthusiasm for its friends and family makes it one of the more charming breeds in existence. But Kooikers, however well they're trained, will always have a few problems with some types. Children in particular can easily upset the Kooiker if they're too prone to shouting at or roughhousing with the dogs, and harsh trainers can actually undo important training work and make the Kooiker much less useful and friendly. So as the saying goes, "choose your friends wisely"--as well as your Kooiker's friends.
Once a Kooikerhondje knows his trainer and masters, he becomes loyal to the point of legend. Prince William of Orange owned a Kooikerhondje named Kuntze who, in addition to his many other valuable services, literally saved the Prince's life by deliberately waking him up during an assassination attempt. While of course not everyone expects this level of usefulness from their Kooiker companion, the dogs still show this same basic quality of loyalty to those who train them and will aggressively bark at anyone who's actively threatening you or your family--while remaining reserved yet fairly quiet to anyone who seems harmless, but who is as yet unknown to the dog.
For those who hate the sometimes tedious work of dog grooming, the Kooikerhondje will come as a welcome surprise: Kooikers require very little maintenance or grooming.
Their long coat does require a good brushing with a standard dog brush about once a week during most of the year, with more frequent brushings during the shedding season. This is mostly done just because of the Kooiker's longish hair, usually not to get out any excess dirt or other dog messes. As a result of their genetic heritage as duck decoys, Kooikers have a naturally waterproof coat which repels most of the dirt and much found on other breeds.
Another advantage to the Kooiker's waterproof coat is the lack of a need to bathe the Kooiker on a regular basis. In fact, bathing a Kooiker too often can actually be harmful--frequent baths destroy the Kooiker's waterproof coat, which means that the Kooiker's coat will no longer automatically repel dirt and grime--which means more work for you in the long run. Trust nature to take its course, then, and only bathe your Kooiker when it's obvious that he or she needs it--which even in active, outdoor dogs should be quite some time.
As far as other grooming issues go, you can largely leave the Kooiker to its own devices--the Kooiker will shed in the summer, eliminating the need for clipping or trimming, and its nails and teeth require little maintenance. Although it's said that prevention is often the best cure, the best way to keep a Kooiker clean, healthy, and presentable is simply to brush them regularly and leave them alone until you notice a problem for a vet or a groomer (or simply for an evening with a bathtub and a bottle of dog shampoo.)
Kooikers have existed in Holland at least as far back as the sixteenth century, judging from the breed's memorable appearance in many Dutch paintings of the period. Kooikers were bred as duck decoys, used for trapping live waterfowl by attracting them with their bushy tails, leading them along the banks of a canal, and finally drawing them into a catching pen where they could be sold at the market.
Unfortunately, the Kooiker became much less useful as duck decoys became increasingly unpopular, and by 1939 only about twenty-five Kooikers were thought to still be in existence. Due to the efforts of eccentric dog breeder Baroness von Hardenbroek, the Kooiker made a spectacular reappearance, and the breed was formally recognized by the Dutch Kennel Club in 1966. The Kooiker remains rare in North America, but efforts are being made to popularize the breed.
Kooikers are very intelligent dogs, but they come with two significant problems for trainers to overcome. One is their natural tendency toward exuberance. The other is their natural inclination to like some humans and other animals intensely, while disliking other animals and humans with equal intensity--which can lead to some very powerful behavioral problems.
The solution to these problems when training is to use your tone of voice effectively to discipline and reward your dog for his or her behavior. This doesn't mean that you should simply shout at the dog whenever it does something wrong, or that you should simply pet the dog whenever it does something well: Kooikers are naturally reticent about being touched by people they don't know very well, and their sensitivity to people's voices makes shouting at them too traumatic to be fully effective as a training mechanism. Instead, speak quietly but firmly to the Kooiker whenever he or she does something wrong. The Kooiker's natural sensitivity will add the necessary severity to your words, and the dog will, over time, avoid the behavior.
You can reward your Kooiker for good behavior through play and exercise, giving the dog a needed burst of energy. If your training program involves a good deal of exercise, you can delight the Kooiker and teach him or her at the same time--Kooikers thrive on both learning and activity, after all. One positive reward that you should generally avoid, however, is food. Kooikers have notoriously large appetites and can gain weight very easily if their diet isn't regulated properly. Although this makes training a Kooiker through treats useful in the short term, it can create some long-term problems with the dog's expectations and behavior over the long training period--if you're trying to keep the dog's weight down, you won't be able to give it fattening treats in response to good behavior, which breaks a crucial component of the training cycle. Rely instead on exercise and positive praise in a friendly tone of voice.
Because Kooikerhondje are extremely well-bred dogs, they are susceptible to certain hereditary conditions. These include: cataracts, epilepsy, Von Willebrands disease, degenerative muscular disorders (Hereditary Necrotic myelopathy in particular).