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History of the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

History of the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

The Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, or Kooiker for short, is a lovely orange-red and white parti-colored spaniel with sable ear tips—called earrings—and occasional black tail rings where the color changes from orange-red to white. The breed has a long history, coupled with a unique method of capturing ducks for the table prior to the development of accurate fowling guns.

The Kooikerhondje’s very name indicates his task: Nederlandse just means “Dutch” in Dutch and was added to the breed name in 2010. In Dutch, “Kooi” is a trap.1 “Kooiker” is the man who runs the trap. “Hond” is dog and “Hondje” means little dog. So, the literal translation of the breed name is “The Dutch Duck Trapper’s Little Dog.”

They worked in the Eendenkooi—a Dutch invention. This is an elaborate man-made, hand-dug pond trapping system. “Eenden” is the Dutch word for ducks. Indeed, the English word “decoy” is derived from this trapping pond. A Duck Decoy, therefore, originally did not refer to a small-carved wooden replica of a waterfowl, as many would suppose, but rather a 3-5-acre pond with multiple catching arms or pipes coming off the pond.

The Duck Decoy trapping system has quite a lengthy history. It originated in the lowlands of the Netherlands but was exported to England early on. Duck Decoys existed at least back to the time of King John, and litigation regarding the ownership and use of the ponds is mentioned as early as 1280.2

Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, in his 1886 work, The Book of Duck Decoys, preserves a description of the working method of the Kooikerhondje called “Dogging”:

“The dog having jumped into view from the corner of the screen, runs round its front between it and the ditch of the pipe, and pops back over the next dog-jump behind the same screen. He repeats this manoeuvre, springing into view of the ducks again from the jump he just disappeared over, and so encompassing screen number two. The Decoyman, hidden himself, also moves from screen to screen towards the tail of the pipe, keeping pace with his dog, and taking a quick look now and then…he encourages [the dog] by gestures to be smart and cheerful in his movements, rewarding him from time to time with tidbits of cheese, meat or cake. The sprightlier the dog works, the better, so long as he is absolutely mute and obedient.”

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje history
“The Marriage of Tobias and Sara”, Jan Steen, 1667, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig
Nederlandse Kooikerhondje history
“The Marriage of Tobias and Sara”, Jan Steen, 1667, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig”

While these words describe an English Decoyman, they also apply equally to the Dutch “Kooi Baas.”

There was also an alternate working method employed in later years, described as “Feeding and Dogging,” in which tame ducks were also fed to entice wild ones to join them in following the dog.3

The breed was well known and established in the Netherlands by the 1500s. The Kooikerhondje is also linked to the founding of the Dutch monarchy. The founder of the House of Orange, Prince William the Silent (24 April 1533 – 10 July 1584) is said to have had a small orange-red and white dog named Kuntze, who was credited with saving his life on one occasion. The breed also appears in the paintings of numerous Dutch masters—Jan Steen being especially fond of the cheerful appearance of the striking little dog.

As fowling guns became more accurate, the need for the elaborate trapping system to put duck on the dinner table declined, and by the early 1900s the breed had as good as disappeared 4

Thanks, however, to the Baroness Van Hardenbroek Van Ammerstol, the breed was recovered before it disappeared entirely. As part of her silent resistance to the Occupation during the Second World War, she undertook the recovery of the breed. She sent peddlers out from her estate with a photograph of the dog and a snippet of cloth so as to help identify dogs of the correct orange-red color. In this way, she found Tommie, a bitch from Friesland in the far north of the country, who became the foundation of the breed. 5

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje history
Baroness and her pack, circa late 1950s, exact date unknown

The first breeding guidelines were written in 1961, and the breed was recognized by the Raad van Beheer, the Dutch Kennel Club,
in 1971.6

The first Kooikerhondje litter born to two FCI registered parents was in Palo Alto, California, in 1999 and the breed was off and running in the United States. Added to the Foundation Stock Service in 2004, admitted to the Miscellaneous Class in 2015 and to full recognition by the American Kennel Club—the first Dutch breed so honored—on Jan 1, 2018.


Dutch breeders and judges will tell you, first of all, that the Dutch are practical people, not fancy and not given to display. While the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje is striking in that it is a parti-colored orange-red dog with black eyes and pigment, it is still a working spaniel with moderation being its hallmark in all ways. For this reason, this breed should be seen and evaluated in a natural, untrimmed coat. To the eye of many an American fancier, they may look a bit unkempt with their tufts above the ears, long earrings, and un-scissored leg feathers. THIS IS HOW THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO LOOK! Please reward a dog for good structure, breed type, and movement, not merely for having a good groomer prepping it for the show ring. Structure and the easy-care coat do not need the fussing of chalk and scissoring to make them beautiful. The only allowed trimming is on the feet for tidiness.

Next, be mindful of the first words of the Breed Standard: “The Nederlandse Kooikerhondje is a harmoniously built orange-red parti-colored small sporting dog.” All parts should fit together in a complete package. No one feature should overwhelm any other.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje history

Proportion is the next point to look for in the breed. The breed is slightly off-square, measured from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock. The elbow should be at the midpoint between the withers and ground.

Bone is strong but not coarse. Bitches should look like bitches. Dogs should look like dogs. No one should have to look underneath to tell the difference.

Size is strict—this is a “hond-JE” —a small dog. Please feel free to call for a wicket. Exhibitors know the importance of keeping the breed at the correct size lest a tendency towards “bigger, heavier, and hairier” overtake the breed. The breed is always examined on the table in the United States, to better evaluate size, to help calm the sensitive, alert dogs, and for the ease of our judges.

The eyes can melt the hardest of hearts! Oval, dark, shining with intelligence, they are a striking feature of the breed. They should be neither round nor protruding but softly set in the middle of the face, with nice distance between. One picture is worth a thousand words on this point.

Dark eyes and pigment makes for a striking face in this breed. Few other red-patched dogs have this depth of color. It is all because, in reality, this is a sable dog, as the presence of black feathering on the ears and an occasional black tail ring where the color changes from orange-red to white attests. Sometimes, black hair can be intermingled within the red patches as well. Small amounts are permitted; too much is a fault.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje history

The Standard calls for the chest, belly, and the majority of the legs and tail to be white. Color should predominate in patches on the torso only. Patches are more important than is the amount of coverage, according to the Dutch breed experts. Solid red backs—called mantles—are acceptable but are less desirable. Eye and head patches must fully cover the eyes and ears, with the color ideally ending at the corners of the mouth, with coloring on the cheeks.

Our Breed Standard describes color of the dog precisely and then closes with this statement: “Color should be a consideration only when all else between two dogs is equal.” In other words, markings are gravy—not meat and potatoes. Please know, markings are of less importance than the structure beneath.

Ears are moderately large, carried without a fold, and may have black feathers, called “earrings.” The earrings are highly desirable but not mandatory! They can be profuse or sparse, long or the same length as the rest of the ear. Young dogs especially will just be growing theirs. No dog should be penalized for lack of earrings.

Ears are set on a line from nose through the eye, but never above the top of the head. Tufts of hair that stick up above the ear may confuse, but these are another characteristic of the breed and should never be trimmed away, as are the whiskers adorning the muzzle.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje history

Coat is an area that is a pride of the Kooikerhondje. This soft but weather-resistant coat with its functional undercoat has no tendency towards matting or snarling, thanks to the texture. This texture is apparent even in young dogs. Be mindful that a soft, open, cotton coat is not correct.

Another distinction is the difference between the dogs and bitches in the amount of coat. Most bitches carry far less coat than the boys. Males tend to have full, dense ruffs, longer tail and leg feathering, and more hair in general. The girls are prone to blowing coat completely after a season and frequently appear in their “bikini” look—with skin showing through! This is normal and should not be faulted, for doing so could set up the breed for an increasing profusion of coat. The easy-care nature of the breed is to be preserved above all else.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje history

There are two breed specific “checks” we ask judges to perform. The first relates to the ears—the ear leather itself should easily cover the eye on the same side of the head. This gives the correct ear size and prevents small or overly large ears from creeping in.

The second relates to an important working feature of the breed—the tail. The tail vertebrae should reach at least to the hock joint. Short tails are less visible to the ducks following the dog in the traps and are considered a severe fault—one sufficiently serious as to preclude placement according to our Dutch mentors.

Lastly, in keeping with the sprightly working in the Duck Decoy, the movement of the Kooikerhondje should be light, effortless, and flowing. Think of a bubbling brook as it wends its way across a meadow. So too should the Kooikerhondje move about the ring—with ease and joy in every step.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje history


1 Payne-Gallwey, Ralph, The Book of Duck Decoys (1886) p. 3

2 Ibid, p 25-26

3 Ibid, p 27-28

4 Offereins-Snoek, Janny and Diana Striegel-Oskam, Amazing Dutch Dog Breeds, (2018) p. 143

5 Ibid, p. 144

6 Ibid, p. 147


Hancock, David, Gundogs, Their Past, Their Performan and Their Prospects (Crowood Press 2013)

Heaton, Andrew, Duck Decoys (Shire Publications 2001)

Offereins-Snoek, Janny and Diana Striegel-Oskam, Amazing Dutch Dog Breeds (Raad Van Beheer 2018)

Payne-Gallwey, Ralph, The Book of Duck Decoys (1886)

Whitaker, J. British Duck Decoys of Today, 1918 (Burlington Publishing Company 1918)