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Waterfowl have been an important food source for humans for centuries, and catching and keeping live waterfowl was a tricky endeavor that the Dutch mastered from as early as 1318. This is when the first instance of an eendenkooi, or duck cage, was ever mentioned. Luring and catching ducks requires calmness, silence, and the partnership of a trapper or "kooiker" and his little decoy dog, a "kooiker's hondje" or "kooikerhondje".
Below is a video example of how the Kooikerhondje works in an eendenkooi. An eendenkooi was an elaborate structure with wooden panels and netting that narrowed down into curved canals where the ducks would be trapped. The trapper would send his dog to weave in and out of the panels, piquing the curiosity of the ducks, who would be lured further and further into the canals, following the little orange dog's nimble gait and waving white tail to its demise. The original dogs that were used for this purpose were of spaniel-like type and were described as medium-sized, alert, loyal, and blond of color. Because they worked next to the water and never in it, the love of water is not ingrained into their nature as it is with other sporting breeds.
After a long day of work, they went back to their master's home and continued their work there as vermin-catcher and companion. After duck trapping became obsolete through the decades, their usage as a versatile farm dog became their focus. By the 1930's, the breed was almost extinct. Baroness van Hardenbroek van Ammerstol, a patriotic dog breeder and member of the Dutch nobility, decided to take it upon herself to help resurrect the dying breed. She asked a traveling salesman to scope out small orange and white dogs that fit a specific description and gave him a piece of fur to match the correct color. Eventually during the Second World War, the salesman found a year and a half old bitch named "Tommie" who belonged to a poor farmer and his family. They would not sell their beloved dog but allowed the Baroness to borrow her.
Tommie became the foundation for the Kooikerhondje breed, and produced 4 beautiful bitches -three of which were named after three Dutch princesses who were in exile abroad. The Baroness considered calling the resurrected breed "Prince Dogs" (their previous name) or "William the Silent Dogs", but settled on "Kooikerhondje" after their original purpose. Amidst German occupation, the breed's revival became a symbol of hope and defiance against fascism.
The Baroness spent the next decades working diligently to improve the breed's type and conformation, using paintings by Dutch masters (like Jan Steen, as seen above) as inspiration. To improve diversity, breeds like the cocker spaniel and keeshond were bred in. Some historians believe they played a part in developing the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
In 1958, around 75 dogs were shown to the Dutch canine society to begin official breed recognition, which was finalized on December 20, 1971. The breed was recognized internationally by the FCI in 1990, and by the AKC in 2018. Today, there are approximately 10,000 Kooikers worldwide.
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