Nederlandse Kooikerhondje (Kooiker): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Portrait of Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Bigandt_Photography / iStock / Getty Images

The Nederlandse Kooikerhondje is a petite spaniel with Dutch roots and a distinctive white and orange (or red) coat. The compact size and friendly nature of these sporting dogs have made them a reliable companion for duck hunters for centuries, but today they’re masters of canine competitions and loveable family dogs.

Don’t let the long name put you off from getting to know this unique dog breed—many people refer to these dogs as Kooikers for short. The Kooiker makes for a low-maintenance and alert family companion, but they can have a sensitive nature and be wary of strangers. One of the Kooiker’s most notable features are the long black hairs adorning their ears. Often referred to as "earrings," this feathering is a desirable trait in Kooikers. 

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting

Height: 15 to 17 inches tall

Weight: 20 to 35 pounds

Coat: Medium length straight coat with feathered ears, legs, and tail

Coat Color: White with patches of color ranging from orange to deep red.

Life Span: 12 to 15 years

Temperament: Alert, intelligent, energetic, loyal, active, bright

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: Netherlands

Characteristics of the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Perhaps one of the lesser-known members of the sporting group, Kooikers are personality-packed, faithful, good-natured, and confident, making them excellent companions for a young and active family. They're up for an adventure any day of the week and love to be put to work with a "job" that keeps them mentally and physically stimulated. While they're often wary of strangers at the start, they make fast friends and will likely do well in homes with other pets.

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

One look at the Kooiker and it’s clear that this sporting dog is of spaniel origin. To understand how Kooikers came to be, it's important to first look at the history of Dutch waterfowl hunting. In the Netherlands, where the Kooiker hails from, it was common practice to create man-made duck decoy ponds, referred to as "eendenkooi," to lure in waterfowl.

Hunters, known as kooikers, would use this pond network to make bird populations more accessible and trap entire flocks. The Kooikerhondje seamlessly fit into the hunt by remaining a patient and alert hunting companion, capable of luring waterfowl in with its plumed tail and playful antics. The name Kooikerhondje was an obvious choice in Dutch, literally meaning the "kooiker’s dog."

While it's easy to understand how Kooikers became a part of Dutch life, it’s more unclear as to when this breed first appeared on the scene. Dogs bearing a direct resemblance to the modern Kooiker are clearly seen in paintings from Dutch artists like Rembrandt, Jan Steen, and Vermeer from the 17th century. Clearly, these dogs have been in existence since at least this early era, with some estimating they date back to the Middle Ages.

Painting of kitchen scene by David Teniers The Younger
David Teniers the Younger / Wikipedia Commons / License CC0 1.0

Organized breed development didn’t begin until Kooikers were nearly extinct in the late 1930s. A decline in traditional hunting methods—plus the extreme socioeconomic pressures of World War II—caused the numbers of this Dutch dog to dwindle. The survival of the breed is credited to Baronesse von Hardenbroek van Ammerstol, who launched a search for Kooikers in 1939. She found one Kooiker-type dog, named Tommy, in the northern part of the Netherlands and, through careful breeding with similar dogs, the Baronesse was able to launch a successful Kooikerhondje kennel, named Walhalla, that remained in operation until 1976.

In 1971, the Dutch Raad van Beheer (similar to the AKC) granted recognition to the Kooikerhondje breed. The breed prospered from the dedicated efforts of breeders and the spotlight of showing and competition. However, the first Kooikerhondje litter wasn’t born in the United States until 1999, making the breed a relative newcomer to the States. In 2004, the AKC accepted the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje into its Foundation Stock Service. Then, in 2018, the breed received full AKC recognition.

It’s commonly accepted that the Kooikerhondje was a pivotal part of the breed development of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Physical features, such as the plumed tail, and behavioral traits like tolling, point to the Kooikerhondje’s influence on this Canadian sporting dog.

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje Care

A true sporting dog, the Kooikerhondje has a pleasant and easy-going temperament in the home and a determined, driven attitude in the field. These dogs are known for being tireless workers that remain vigilant and in sync with their handlers. In the home, this attentive spirit makes them loyal family dogs—though their sensitive nature means they might be easily affected by harsh mannerisms and rough handling.


For a truly happy and healthy Kooiker, make sure your dog gets a healthy dose of daily exercise. Though they’re generally adaptable and enjoy a leisurely stroll, they do need vigorous activity and mental stimulation. Aside from walking, running, and hiking, Kooikers often excel at dock diving, flyball, and agility.


This breed’s feathered coat and plumed tail might make you think that these dogs are high-maintenance when it comes to grooming—however, enthusiasts of the breed point out that the opposite is generally true. Their medium-length fine hair resists snarling, which was a practical consideration in the dog’s early days as a hunting companion that had to negotiate brush and bramble. Their coat is also water-resistant and doesn’t become dirty quickly. Give your dog a weekly brushing and an occasional bath and his beautiful silky coat will stay in tip-top shape.

Like most dogs, it's important to maintain other aspects of your Kooiker's appearance. You should clean their ears regularly, keeping an eye out for any unusual redness or secretions. Their nails should be trimmed at least once a month—if you don't feel confident cutting their nails on your own, you can take your dog to a groomer instead. You should also help your dog maintain good oral hygiene by brushing its teeth at least a couple of times per week.


Like many other spaniel-type dog breeds, the Kooiker benefits from having clear pack leadership. If a leadership void exists, the Kooiker will easily rise to the occasion and can turn dominant and strong-willed. Frequent and ongoing training will reinforce your dog’s pack position and help him or her to feel secure in the household.

While not watchdogs per se, the Kooiker can be wary of strangers. To overcome this shyness, it’s advisable to introduce your dog to new faces and situations early and often, including frequent guests at home and trips to the dog park. This will help your dog to become well-adjusted and adaptable.

Kooikerhondje puppy playing with broom
Westend61 / Getty Images 
Adult Kooiker standing in field
Kenni Hjort Photography / iStock / Getty Images
Kooiker in agility contest
S5iztok / iStock / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

The Nederlandse Kooikerhondje is a reasonably hearty breed, with a longer lifespan than many other medium-sized canines. However, the limited gene pool at the start of the 20th century likely contributed to some of the breed’s tendencies toward certain health problems. Various health issues your Kooiker may contend with include:

Diet and Nutrition

Feed your Kooiker a balanced, high-quality diet with their long-term health and happiness in mind as a priority. Generally speaking, Kooikers will do well with two proportioned meals per day. Like all dogs, Kooikers love a treat but these should be kept in check. If you are unsure what or how much to feed your pet, ask your vet for advice.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Despite the breed’s relatively recent arrival to the United States, a significant network of Kooiker enthusiasts exists. Among the Kooiker community are reputable breeders that are committed to the health and legacy of the breed. While it may be possible to find a Kooiker in a shelter or with a rescue league, few rescues exist dedicated solely to this rare breed.

Here are several resources to start your search for a Kooiker puppy:

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje Overview

  • Not overly excitable; easy-going

  • Low-maintenance coat

  • Petite size for an active breed

  • Limited breeders in the US

  • Strong prey drive

  • Shy around strangers without proper socialization

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

The Kooiker is a unique dog breed that is known for its adaptability. If you’re ready to introduce this Dutch dog into your life, you have a lot of adventure ahead. Do more research by getting in touch with the Kooikerhondje official breed club. Many breeders and Kooiker owners are also happy to share firsthand knowledge of the breed.

If you're interested in similar breeds, check out:

  • Are Nederlandse Kooikerhondje aggressive?

    While Kooikers are not thought of as an aggressive breed, they can be especially wary of strangers upon first meeting them and may in turn bark, growl, or cower.

  • Are Nederlandse Kooikerhondje good apartment dogs?

    Kooikers can do well in apartments, provided they have enough daily exercise. They are not overly large, which makes them well-suited to apartment life. However, they do need a decent amount of activity, so if you call a small space home, make sure you take plenty of walks and trips to the dog park.

  • Are Nederlandse Kooikerhondje rare?

    Yes—Kooikers are a relatively recent addition to the United States, which can make it difficult to find a reputable breeder or rescue that supplies them.