Information on General Care, Grooming, and Training for Kooikerhondjes
Information compiled by Eileen Koval, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA with special input from Kooikerhondje breeders Ann Knoop and Deborah Bean
The old Dutch saying is to never bathe a Kooiker unless he has rolled on a dead fish. While Kooikers do not get a "doggy" smell like some other breeds, many of us still like to keep a clean dog, particularly if showing in the conformation ring. Their coats are considered self-cleaning, unlike many other breeds, since dried mud/dirt can be combed out of the fur as if the Kooiker's roll in the mud never happened! Many owners and breeders bathe their Kooikers at least monthly. This helps to free loose undercoat, and remove pollen, dirt, and dander from the skin. This is also an opportunity to have your hands all over your dog to visually inspect for any growth or changes.
Recommended products: First and foremost, use a mild shampoo without any harsh detergent or bleaching agents. A detangling spray can help with combing out the coat after the bath. Owners may either need or wish to blow dry their dogs' coats to prevent them from being cold if the temperatures are cool, or if they have cold floors in the home. Others doing conformation may (or may not) prefer to air dry their Kooikers' coats while they are wrapped in a towel or other fabric so they coat lies flat. Some of us prefer the natural wavy coat of many Kooikers, while others go for the flat, smooth look. It is your choice.
The belly fur and front leg feathers of male Kooikers often get coated in urine. Wipe clean with a feminine or baby wipe at least once daily to prevent staining and to keep the hair from breaking due to the ammonia in the urine. Before going into the ring, you can use a self-rinse shampoo, such as Pro-Line Self-Rinse Plus on the spots of fur that get urine. Lather up and use a dry towel to remove all the residue of both the shampoo and urine.
Comb your Kooiker weekly to help spread the skin's oils through the coat. This helps keep the coat shiny and the skin healthy. Also very importantly, it gets the fur off your Kooiker and onto your brush, instead of all over your sofa and floors. A weekly brushing with a glove massage brush or metal bristle paddle brush will help detangle fur and distribute oils throughout the coat. Long tail fur and fringe fur are should be brushed out gently with a wide tooth comb to loosen any tangles before proceeding with a finer toothed comb. Detangling spray can make this task smoother, and less uncomfortable for your Kooiker.
Nail trimming does not have to be done by the owner, but it is a good activity that owners can do with their Kooiker. The frequency nails need trimmed depends on how often dogs are walked or doing other activity on surfaces that naturally grinds them down. For many Kooikers, this is about every 2-3 weeks. The hind nails tend to naturally grind down more than the front nails, so the front nails need trimming more often. Long nails can be painful to a dog and result in stretching the tarsal tendons, which results in flat splayed feet in middle age. If you can hear toenails clicking on a wood or tile floor, they are too long. Dew claws (on the front legs) should also be trimmed. These dew claws are used like a thumb and should not be removed.
It is helpful to prepare your puppy for nail trimmings and veterinary visits by touching their legs, paws, nails, and toes as young puppies. If they are fearful or resistant, feed a very high value treat (e.g. chunks of meat or cheese or peanut butter) while simultaneously touching their paws for just a second. Then, increase the length of time you touch their paws or nails as they get more comfortable. Eventually, touch the paws/nails and then give the treat as reward. Introduce the nail clipping sensation by tapping the clippers against the puppy's nail while giving a treat. You can also tap the tip of a spoon against the nail to simulate this feeling. If you plan on using a Dremel, introduce the sound of the Dremel tool as young as possible. Many Kooikers have noise sensitivities so this may bother your dog if not started young or if they are not desensitized. If they are not overly fearful of the noise, feed treats while you handle their paws and the Dremel is running in the background, but not being used on their nails. This will help them to associate the noise with both high value food and their paws being handled.
Anal glands do not need expressed unless there are recurring problems like impacted anal glands or anal sac disease. Changes in diet, such as more fiber or more raw bone, can sometimes firm up stool enough for dogs to be able to express them on their own. Still, some dogs are never able to express them on their own because of allergy issues or the positioning of the glands and need this done for them. Failing to express anal glands can lead to painful impaction, infection, and abscess. It is important that anal glands are expressed, whether done by the Kooiker himself or a caretaker.
Despite their spaniel type ears, Kooikers tend not to get many ear infections. Wipe out ears with a soft dry tissue or cloth if you notice any waxy build-up. Chlorinated pools can kill good bacteria and create conditions for yeast infections in the ears. Otherwise, Kooikers are not prone to ear problems so little is needed for their care.
Raw marrow bones or elk antlers can go a long way in keeping plaque from forming on teeth. Only give these to your Kooiker under close supervision. It can also be immensely beneficial to your Kooiker's teeth and gums to brush daily with a toothpaste made for dogs. Make sure that your Kooiker loves the flavor of the toothpaste. They come in all kinds of flavors, including vanilla mint, peanut butter, and poultry. Either a toothbrush made for dogs or a small child's toothbrush works well. Begin introducing teeth brushing by allowing the dog to put the toothpaste covered toothbrush in his mouth. Do not brush. Just allow him to enjoy the toothpaste while getting used to having a foreign object in his mouth. As the days/weeks go by and he acclimates, begin moving the bristles on his molars. Only do what he will allow while slowly challenging his comfort level. The goal is to keep teeth brushing fun! You want his cooperation in this task. As time goes on, try reaching other parts of his mouth where you may need to lift his lips or place a hand on the side of his head/face.
Kooikers should be trained using positive reinforcement. They are very sensitive to the sound of the human voice and should not be subjected to yelling or other noises as forms of punishment. When training your Kooiker, the goal should be to create a partner who wants to work WITH you. Rewards may vary depending on what motivates your dog -- specific types of food, store bought treats, vegetables, meats, cheeses, playtime, ear scratches, throwing a ball or other toy, tug time, etc. Begin training your Kooiker in basic obedience and boundaries as soon as you get your puppy! This helps you to bond with your puppy. Once you puppy knows what you expect from him, he then can have the satisfaction of performing the right behaviors and meeting those expectations.
Before twelve weeks (three months) of age:
Expose your puppy to as many positive interactions with people, dogs, and noises as possible. Never force your puppy over to another person or dog if he is nervous or hiding. This will only create more fear. Encourage him to sniff or check out what frightens him. Say, "Good Look!" and give him a treat every time he looks at the thing that scares him. Eventually, he will associate the scary thing with treats and will be less fearful to explore it. Keep all interactions positive. Do not put him in situations with other dogs or people where he may not be set up for success, such as an unfriendly or overly friendly dog, a person who leans over top of him, fast moving or noisy children, or someone who is too hands-on with him.
If you intend to take your Kooiker hunting, he will need to be desensitized to the sound of the gunfire. This should ideally be done before three months of age, after which the socialization window closes for dogs. There is more fearfulness that arises after this period. Given that many Kooikers have noise sensitivities, this can be a very difficult task or impossible task after three months of age.
Kooikers are smaller dogs but are still a sporting breed. They adapt rather well to various living situations, but still need vigorous exercise every day. This is important to their physical and mental health. An hour walk is usually sufficient for most adult Kooikers. Lack of sufficient exercise is frequently the cause of problem behaviors in puppies, like chewing, barking, and other destructive behaviors. Many Kooikers enjoy sports where they get both physical and mental exercise, like tracking, agility, flyball, Fast CAT, and freestyle dance. Mental exercise is as important to a Kooiker as physical exercise. Teaching him new tasks or tricks, or training in an activity like agility can help satisfy this need.
Food and Weight:
It is no secret that many Kooikers are prone to weight gain. Some Kooikers love food and can appear hungry when they are in fact not because they have already eaten a sufficient amount. These "hungry" dogs want food because they love to taste things! Owners need to keep a strict feeding schedule with their Kooikers to ensure they maintain a healthy bodyweight. If you have questions about what specific food to feed your Kooiker, you should talk with your veterinarian. Appropriate diets vary depending on activity levels, medical background, and food allergies/intolerances. For example, a dog doing flyball several days per week will have higher caloric and protein requirements than a senior dog that goes on a mile walk every day. Similarly, puppies have different nutritional requirements from mature adult dogs. So, be sure to direct any questions to the right person: your veterinarian.
Introducing Strangers and Other Dogs:
Kooiker puppies should be introduced to other calm and friendly strange humans and dogs at a young age so they learn proper social interaction, and so they do not develop unhealthy fears. Many Kooikers are prone to anxiety toward strangers and unfamiliar dogs, with can come out as fear aggressive behavior if they are not properly conditioned to that which is unfamilar. The most important part of these interactions is that the puppy is ALWAYS in the driver's seat. Do not force or goad a fearful puppy (such as one hiding behind your legs or under a chair) to meet a person or dog. Instead, make the stimulus less threatening (have the person sit on the floor with their back to the puppy, or move the dog further away), so you have a chance to praise and reward your puppy for looking at, sniffing, or otherwise checking out the unfamiliar thing. Puppies that are forced into interaction often become more fearful. Tthey could also be pushed into an aggressive response since they do not feel they have a way out otherwise. The puppy should always be able to say "no". Reward puppies with praise and food for investigating unfamiliar people and dogs, but also have the stranger give high value food rewards to the puppy. If the puppy is nervous, do not force the puppy to endure petting from the stranger unless the puppy rubs up against the person, thus initiating the interaction. The puppy's desire for petting from strangers will come as he/she becomes more comfortable with lots of positive interactions with multiple people.