Common Behavior Issues, Considerations,
How to Get One!
by: Eileen Koval, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA
Kooikerhondjes are rapidly gaining popularity in the United States although they are still a relatively unknown breed. It is difficult not to be drawn in by their fluffy tails, light-footed movement and sweet expression. My husband and I have been Kooikerhondje owners since getting our first one in 2010. We now have three! We got our first one from an accidental litter, our 2nd one from an American breeder, and our 3rd one from an incredible breeder in France. We have learned a lot about the breed since acquiring our first Kooiker including the good and the bad about the breed, variations in behavior across the breed, and differences in the breeding programs and behavior of Kooikerhondjes here in the United States versus breeding programs in individual countries overseas. What you don't know CAN hurt you.
As a certified dog behavior consultant, I work every day with dogs who have severe behavior issues, ranging from fear and anxiety, compulsive disorders, and severe aggression. I have also worked with numerous Kooikers with all of these issues. While these behaviors can have environmental and social components, they frequently also have a strong genetic basis as we see them run in particular blood lines. This is especially true for Kooikerhondjes. Kooikerhondjes were originally bred to lure ducks into traps in the eendenkooi. However, people often forget that they were also selectively bred over countless generations to be an all-around farm dog whose job was also to be on watch and alert to poachers on the property. They were selected for alert, guarding type behavior with a natural suspicion of strange people and dogs. The behavior issues I tend to see in Kooikerhondjes are similar to those I see in guarding breeds. Most of us do not want a working dog, or at least not a watchdog or guard dog. We are looking for a nice companion dog who can be handled, who can go into public places where other people, dogs, and children are present, to attend group classes with other dogs and owners, and to have family and friends over to the home without incident. These are serious challenges for some Kooikers, particularly in the United States. Socialization is also essential, but this is where genetics can have an immensely strong role in the personality of your Kooikerhondje.
Many breeders in the United States identify as preservationist breeders and are looking to increase the numbers of Kooikerhondjes while maintaining genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is lost every year when there is a closed gene pool and not all dogs are bred for various reasons. They are also breeding to the AKC standard (adopted from the Dutch club) that focuses on appearance and proportions, so temperament may be a lower level consideration. There tend to be more males born than females in Kooiker litters, so females are almost always bred, even if they have a questionable temperament. That said, I have also seen some males bred who had poor temperament. The excuse that is often used is that they were not socialized enough, but that is a convenient excuse. If the parents are not a dog that someone else would want in their home then they likely are not going to produce puppies that prospective puppy owners would want in their home. When searching for my 2nd Kooiker, I was chastised by a supposedly reputable breeder for having spayed my female, saying that she should have been used for breeding. My eldest female is not papered, but I was told that they would have been able to get papers for her (I don't know how that works?!). The biggest question though is temperament. Our oldest female has pervasive noise sensitivities and noise phobias -- loud noises, thunderstorms, traffic, flowing water, whistles, sometimes things unidentifiable. Otherwise she is highly sociable and absolutely lovely in every way. Although we titled her in a couple different venues, it was difficult competing her in dog sports due to her issue with whistles and noises in general. We had to avoid indoor venues and covered horse arenas for both classes and competitions where noises are louder. She cannot handle different environments and the noises they present and will try to flee as if her life depended on it. Training helped it be somewhat more manageable to a degree, but she is still stressed in these situations and it is always there. Not everything is a training issue. Despite intense and sustained early socialization in a variety of environments these noise issues appeared around 6 months old. That is a severe fault and should not be passed on, but some breeders really believe that every female should be bred regardless of temperament and without even knowing anything about their lineage.
I recently had a conversation with one breeder who said that she was fine with breeding reactive or aggressive females because likely not all the puppies would be aggressive. She said that if some of such a litter turned out with acceptable temperaments, wouldn't that be progress? I was blown away. How would someone feel paying $3000+ dollars (plus thousands on training and veterinary behaviorist's fees) to live with an aggressive dog for the next 12-15 years? Unfortunately, I know too well how this goes because that is what happened with my 2nd Kooikerhondje. We have done much behavioral work with him so he has made huge improvements, but our days revolve around his extensive health and behavior issues. When we brought him home at 4 months of age, he was growling, lunging, and attempting to bite random people walking by, children and unfamiliar dogs. I know of one of his siblings who was euthanized for aggression (I heard anecdotally that others also were), and there have been countless other reports of aggression from the four litters that his parents produced together. At least three breeders whom I am aware of are breeding his siblings despite all the aggression and health issues that run in the blood lines. It is sad to say that only a small fraction of Kooiker breeders in the United States are breeding for sociable companion dogs.
What behavior issues do I see most in the breed? Owner-directed aggression, food aggression with people/dogs/other animals in the home, stranger aggression both in public and at home, dog aggression (can range from mild leash reactive to aggression toward any/all dogs), owner guarding from other dogs/spouse/family members/other people, location guarding, sleep aggression (upon being awakened), fear of or intolerance of body handling, territorial behavior, redirected aggression onto the owner or other family dogs (usually seen with territorial behavior), compulsive behaviors, noise sensitivities and phobias. These are all behaviors that stem from anxiety and from selection of a dog who was originally bred to do a particular job that required watchful, independent behavior.
I chose to obtain my newest Kooikerhondje from a well-known breeder in France because the French version of AKC (Société Centrale Canine) requires independent sociability tests for all male and female purebred dogs when they are adults before they are allowed to be confirmed in the breed. That means that they cannot have puppies that are papered unless they have a sociable temperament, which is what most people want in a dog anyway. Sociability has equal weight to the other defining characteristics of the breed in their system. It may surprise people that it is not much more in cost to import a dog, including the travel costs to fly overseas to pick up your puppy. Our male Kooiker from Franch is now over 2 years old and has not disappointed one bit! He is so much like my first Kooikerhondje. He is dashing, fast, fun, an incredible agility partner, and so incredibly sweet. We have seen very mild Kooiker-ish behaviors with both of them, but just typical sensitivities of the breed, with the exception of our oldest female Kooiker's noise sensitivities and phobias.
On the other hand, our Kooiker from the American breeder has health and behavior issues that consume our days. I will probably never be able to compete with him in agility or other dog sports, group classes are very difficult for him, and even having people over to the home has to be carefully orchestrated. This is after 3 years of behavior modification (I am one of less than 300 certified dog behavior consultants worldwide with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants) and the help of a veterinary behaviorist (there are less than 100 worldwide). Getting access to these resources is not easy or cheap for the average owner. Plus, the whole experience can be gut-wrenching. We love all three of them, but think carefully about what risk you are willing to accept when you find your next puppy.
Ask the breeder which male and female dogs she has removed from her breeding program over the past five years (and how many) due to fear, anxiety, or aggression issues. If they have not removed any then there is a problem. No one breeds only perfect dogs.
Ask if the parents attend group training classes in close proximity with other dogs and strangers.
Ask if the sire/dam show any of the behavior issues above. If they say "no" then they are likely not being entirely honest.
Ask if any offspring from those individual parents or the grandparents have had health or behavior issues
Meet the sire and dam, if possible, both in public places as well as in the breeder's home. Their behavior is a good predictor of the puppy you yourself would take home. If you cannot meet them, ask for videos of the dogs in a group class or in public. Take note of whether the dog in question is on a loose leash when in public with a flat collar or harness. I have seen plenty of highly reactive dogs appear non-reactive when on very tight control with a show lead, choke/slip lead, or prong collar.
I hope that this has been helpful so you can better navigate the world of Kooikerhondjes, although the things I mentioned above are things that anyone should ask a breeder before getting a puppy. If you have questions about Kooikerhondjes or would like help deciding which breed or puppy is best for you and your goals, please book a Virtual Consultation and I can assist you. A companion for the next 15 years is a huge decision and worth the time, investment, and careful consideration.
Bones (11), Beowulf (3), Gilgamesh (2)