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‘I Must Have This Dog’

Owners of the Rare Kooikerhondje Breed Explain Their Love for This Native Dutch Dog

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Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 12:30 am | Updated: 1:46 pm, Wed Jun 11, 2014.

Maybe it’s the “earrings” or it could be the feathered tail, but the kooikerhondje attracts a lot of attention.

If you stumbled over reading that name and have no idea what it is, that’s understandable. This small Spaniel-type dog breed — pronounced COY-ker-hund-che — from The Netherlands is a rarity in America.

Many people here have never seen the dog, much less heard of the breed, which nearly died out in the 1930s until Baroness van Hardenbroek van Ammerstol started a breeding program around the time of World War II to bring it back.

The breed was developed around the 16th century and is featured in paintings by Rembrandt and Jan Steen. A kooikerhondje also is credited with saving the life of The Netherlands’ Prince William II of Orange in an assassination attempt by waking him in the night.

Today there are only around 260 kooikerhondje dogs in the United States (they are more prominent in Europe), including one living in Labadie with Marilyn and Brian LeDoux.

The couple adopted Greta Twee (pronounced tway, which is Dutch for two) about a year ago after having lived with larger dogs — a sheltie, Border collie and a collie — for many years.

Marilyn LeDoux had been introduced to the breed seven or eight years earlier at an orchid show, of all places. A man staying at the hotel in Kentucky where the show was held had one, and Marilyn was instantly “smitten” by the dog’s appearance.

After their Border collie died and LeDoux began looking around for a new dog, she remembered the kooikerhondje — although she couldn’t remember the proper name and would have had no idea how to spell it anyway.

She did remember the owner had described the dog as a Dutch spaniel, and a quick Internet search led her straight to the kooikerhondje and, eventually, Greta.

“She’s a sweetie,” LeDoux said, smiling. “I’m just totally smitten by this breed. If I get any more dogs in the future, I’m going to get this breed again.”

That seems to be a typical response.

Several of the 50 or so kooikerhondje owners who attended the annual Kooikerhondje Club USA meeting and show at the Purina Event Center in Gray Summit over the weekend shared LeDoux’s feelings, including Karen Watling, who flew here from Seattle to meet and pick up her kooikerhondje puppy, Meisje, which means Little Girl in Dutch.

Watling, who has competed in agility with Australian shepherds for the last 12 years, said it was love at first sight when she saw the breed at the Seattle Kennel Club Show.

“I was looking to kind of down size, and fell in love with these guys,” she said. “I asked about puppies, was given an application, thinking I was going to be two years out, but they liked my resume . . .”

Watling said part of what moved her up the waiting list was her location — there aren’t many kooikerhondjes on the West Coast — but also the fact that she plans to train her pup for agility, which will give the breed more publicity and recognition in America.

The application process to adopt a kooikerhondje is rigorous, admits Jac Knoop, breeder from Illinois who is president of Kooikerhondje Club USA, as well as a Dutch native.

“These dogs are so special, I don’t want a single one to live in a trailer home,” Knoop remarked, noting prospective parents have to send in photos of their home environment and complete a two-page application.

Karen Dean who, with her husband, Nathan Waxman, has two kooikerhondje living in their apartment in New York City, said the breeder she adopted her dogs through was nervous initially about selling to her because she didn’t have a yard.

“We had to tell her where the nearest park was,” said Dean, with a chuckle.

Striking Appearance, Cheerful Temperament

People seem initially to be drawn to the kooikerhondje’s appearance, which includes longer black strands that dangle on the ears like earrings and a feathered look to the tail and back legs.

“So when they walk along the canal, they would wave their tail and the ducks would see that and follow along,” explained Knoop, noting the kooikerhondje was bred to work as a decoy luring ducks into traps.

The kooikerhondje’s coloring is red (which looks more brown when they are younger) and white, with the eyes surrounded by red fur and a white blaze on the forehead.

Watling said what she loves about the kooikerhondje are its size (25 to 40 pounds), cheerful temperament and high intelligence.

The kooikerhondje’s intelligence is a big part of what sets the breed apart from others, said Knoop.

“They’re actually like a human being,” he remarked.

Knoop described the kooikerhondje as “a big dog in a small dog’s body.

“They’re not one of the yappers. They have a real bark,” he added.

Kooikerhondjes do have a lot of energy. Brian LeDoux describes Greta as “a live wire.”

“Yes, she’s very active,” admits Marilyn LeDoux, “but she’s very affectionate, and she’s smart.”

Kooikerhondjes do need a lot of exercise, said Knoop, but given that, they will be content to curl up next to their owner and watch TV at night.

Dean’s two kooikerhondjes, Rosie, 8, and Dunkie, 3, don’t put a lot of demands on her, she said. Rosie, at her age, no longer needs a lot of exercise, but Dunkie needs only about a one-mile walk around the neighborhood each day.

He does go to “doggie daycare” two or three times a week, but that is more to give Rosie a break from her younger, more playful brother. There, he thrives, said Dean, and the staff describe him as the social director of the group.

“When new dogs come in, he runs up and greets them, makes sure they play. He’s Mr. Sociable.

“They are smart, fun dogs,” said Dean about why she loves them. “They’re not wimpy dogs. They have some real attitude, but they have a sense of humor.”

Dean describes kooikerhondjes as “very companionable dogs.”

“If you look on Facebook, there’s a whole network of kooikerhondje groups — European and U.S. — and you realize the extent to which people really bond with their ‘kooikers,’ ” she said. “They are dogs that really merge into however you live. There are European kooikers who go swimming and boating and skiing, even.

“Living in a city, like we do, they don’t need a lot of raw, muscle burning exercise, just a lot of stimulation,” said Dean.

Self-Cleaning Coats

They are excellent swimmers, Knoop added. They love to be in the water.

“We have to really watch it because we have a jacuzzi outside, and if we don’t watch it, there’s four dogs in there,” he said.

One of the best features of the kooikerhondje, said Dean, is that the coat is basically self-cleaning.

“It’s really true. You just brush them out and they keep the coat clean,” she said, noting the Dutch breed standards says the only excuse for bathing a Kooikerhondje is if the dog has rolled in a dead fish.

“We had an experience a few years ago at a Meet the Breeds in Connecticut. It was an outdoor event with tents, and it started to rain,” recalled Dean. “For all the other breeds, they were running around with towels and brushes and hair dryers. The ‘kooikers’ went out, romped in the mud, had fun, came in, and we just toweled them off, brushed them off, and they were perfect.”

One drawback of the breed could be its potential sensitivity to noise and touch, although neither Dean nor the LeDouxs have seen those traits in their dogs.

In Process of AKC Recognition

Dean said she first learned of the kooikerhondje breed through a website, but today many people, if they know of the breed, have seen it on the Animal Planet TV series, “Dogs 101,” which can be found online.

“I think the typical thing that happens is people see these dogs, either on ‘Dogs 101’ or on the Internet, and suddenly go, ‘I must have this dog,’ ” said Dean.

Knoop agreed, noting he and his wife Ann have placed 50 kooikerhondjes with people who had never seen or interacted with the breed before picking up their new dog.

“They research them a lot online,” he said. “Everybody has researched them. Most of them know exactly what they’re talking about.”

There are about 10 kooikerhondje breeders in America, but only maybe three are active, said Knoop.

He and his wife started breeding the dog after having lived in America for 20 years and not being able to find the breed here.

“We wanted this dog, because we knew it was from home, but we couldn’t find it here, so we went back to Holland and brought dogs in,” said Knoop.

The breed currently is not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), but it is in the process and Knoop expects it will be only about a year until it is recognized.

The AKC recognition is important only in that it will give the American-bred kooikerhondjes FCI-approved pedigree, which will allow them to be exported back to Europe, Knoop explained.

FCI stands for Fédération Cynologique Internationale which means the World Canine Federation. It is an international Kennel Club based in Thuin, Belgium.

“The U.S. breeders can’t sell their dogs back to Europe unless we’re recognized by the AKC, and in turn the FCI,” said Dean.

“It’s very important because worldwide the genetic base of the breed is so small that absolutely you have to mix it up as much as you can.”

For more information on the kooikerhondje, visit www.kooikerhondjeusa.org. Or look for LeDoux and Greta out in your community.

“When people see her, they ask what kind of dog she is, and when I say a kooikerhondje, they say ‘What?’ ”

And LeDoux happily shares all she knows.

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