A Merry Party (1) Jan Steen c. 1660

A Merry Party (1) Jan Steen c. 1660

The kooikerhondje is an old breed that originated in The Netherlands (Holland).

The kooikerhondje can be seen in paintings from the 16th and 17th century, but didn’t become an official, recognized race until June 18, 1966.

They were originally bred to lure ducks into traps. Unfortunately, by the end of World War II, when dwindling duck stocks left the kooikerhondje out of a job, the breed almost became extinct.

In all, only 25 kooikerhondjes were left in existence.

Baroness Van Hardenbroek (2) © 2003 Vereniging "Het Nederlandse Kooikerhondje"

Baroness Van Hardenbroek (2) © 2003 Vereniging "Het Nederlandse Kooikerhondje"

In 1939 Baroness Van Hardenbroek van Ammerstol decided to resurrect the little kooikerhondje.

The Baroness lived alone in a very big mansion and was dedicated to her dogs. She was quite an eccentric woman and had her dogs join her for dinner. Each dog sat at her table in it’s own chair.

During WW2 the baroness helped many allied pilots to flee the Germans and used her dogs to guide the men through the woods to the Belgian border. The Baroness was also involved in the rescue of several other Dutch breeds (the Keeshond and the Drentse Patrijshond).

In order to rebuild the kooikerhondje, the Baroness prepared a detailed description of the ideal dog and asked traveling salesmen to look for a dog that fit those criteria.

Tommie (3) © 2003 Vereniging "Het Nederlandse Kooikerhondje"

Tommie (3) © 2003 Vereniging "Het Nederlandse Kooikerhondje"

At long last, her efforts were rewarded when word came back of a bitch named Tommie on a farm in the northern province called Friesland.

The Baroness went to Friesland and was delighted to discover that Tommie did indeed fit the description. Fortunately the farmer, who would not sell Tommie, agreed to lend his dog to the Baroness for breeding.

Tommie was taken to the Baroness’s home in Geldrop and the Baroness began her search for a fitting dog to mate her to. Eventually she found a suitable dog named Bobbie and he sired Tommie’s first litter. The only surviving pup from that litter was a male and the Baroness named him Bernhard van Walhalla (van Walhalla was the kennel’s name).

In 1943 Tommie had her second litter from a new dog, named Bennie. This litter consisted of four bitches, which were named after Tommie and after the little princesses of the Netherlands: Trix, Irene, Margrietje and Tommie 2. (This was quite audacious of the Baroness, since in 1943 the Netherlands were occupied by Nazi-Germany and any reference to the royal family was absolutely forbidden.) The Baroness, as before, searched for suitable males to breed to these bitches and found them mostly on farms and with private families. Tommie was returned to the farm in Friesland when she became too old to have another litter. There she lived out her life until sadly, a harvester accidentally killed her.

Baroness Van Hardenbroek (4) © 2003 Vereniging "Het Nederlandse Kooikerhondje"

Baroness Van Hardenbroek (4) © 2003 Vereniging "Het Nederlandse Kooikerhondje"

Eventually, other people became interested in breeding the kooikerhondje. Using several sources–Tommie’s offspring, mongrels who fit the description, and two dogs belonging to a decoyman named Bosma–they created their perfect dog.

In 1966 the raad van Beheer (the Dutch institute that decides whether a breed can become officially recognized or not) decided that a provisional register could be installed.

The dogs that passed the judging could be admitted to the register.

Nico, great grandson of Margrietje, was the first kooikerhondje to be admitted to the provisional register and can be found in almost every modern kooikerhondje’s pedigree.

By December 20, 1971, when the kooikerhondje received its final recognition, a sufficient gene pool had been established. From that moment on no unregistered dogs were allowed to participate in the breeding program.

[ Source: Diane Lumsden of the Kooikerhondje Club of Canada ]

A Decoyman at the Trap with His Dogs (5) © 2003 Susanne Räber

A Decoyman at the Trap with His Dogs (5) © 2003 Susanne Räber

The Working Dog

The kooikerhondje’s long history as a decoy dog is apparent in its name. A “kooi” is an elaborate duck trap built with screens and netting around a pond or canal. A “kooiker” is the duck hunter. A “kooikerhondje,” then, is the faithful companion to the duck hunter, without whom the hunter’s work would be in vain.

Kooikers are tolling dogs; that is, they lure ducks into a trap instead of chasing, herding, or retrieving.

They work in silent cooperation with their human guide and with trained decoy ducks to lure an entire flock of ducks down a curved, net-covered waterway into the trap at the end.

Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, in The Book of Duck Decoys (London, 1886) describes with amusement the attraction a tolling dog had for ducks and how the tolling dog seduces the birds to their end:

Entrance to a Decoy Pipe with Dog at Work (6) Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey 1886

Entrance to a Decoy Pipe with Dog at Work (6) Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey 1886

“A dog is brought into play to attract the fowl far enough up the pipe to enable the Decoyman to cut off their retreat back again to the pond. Here I will digress a little, and say it is pretty well known how curious birds, and especially wildfowl are. They are likewise great braggarts. So are sheep and other animals . . . . Anything that appears strange or unusual in their eyes is a great attraction to a bird or animal, and in this consists their curiosity. I have seen tame Decoy ducks almost peck a fox curled up asleep, or seemingly so, on the bank of a Decoy.


Decoy Pipe (7) Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey 1886

“So with the wild ducks, if they see a dog hopping about near them, now close by, now lost to view, their curiosity and excitement cannot hold them. They must follow to know more about it, and so they do too, necks craned and eyes brightly inquisitive. Their courage and curiosity last just as long as the dog retreats before them, as they think he does. They know nothing, of course, about the Decoyman hidden from their view behind the screens, who is really beckoning the dog up the side of the pipe and from the ducks. Should the dog turn about and face them with a whine, or even look over his shoulder, off they all splash in a flutter, till he once more retires before them, when they folow him as before, and are thus gradually enticed on to their fate.

“The natural instinct against a fox is very strong in all birds, but especially so in regard to ducks; for is he not always ready to pounce upon them unawares when enjoying a siesta, or even when sitting on their eggs? Should a fox sneak along the banks of a Decoy, every duck is on the alert at once. They rush after him. I have seen them. They take good care, however, to keep at a safe distance; and as with a dog, would he turn towards them, they tumble over one another in anxious flight. I consider the ducks believe a dog to be in some sort a fox, or nearly related. A fox-coloured dog, with a good brush, is always a successful Decoy dog, if he otherwise does his work well. Ducks therefore follow dogs and foxes from curiosity, from hatred, as well as from braggadocio, and also because when he retires from them they imagine that for once in a way they are driving off a cruel oppressor–a natural enemy . . .

“I have said a good deal about why the ducks follow the dog, I will now explain how they are induced to do so, and describe the part the dog takes in the pantomime of decoying the ducks. His master, the Decoyman, whom he knows well and obeys implicitly, whether the order be given by a whisper or by a move of the hand, signals him to the mouth of the pipe and bids him by a sign lie down behind a screen. The Decoyman next cautiously [observes], through the peep-holes in the screens, the ducks swimming about the pond; . . . He has, of course, selected a pipe that suits the wind, and about the mouth of which, and on the banks near, the birds are gathered.

Decoy Pipe with Dog at Work - Today (8) © 2003 Vereniging "Het Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Decoy Pipe with Dog at Work - Today (8) © 2003 Vereniging "Het Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

“After noting the position of the fowl, he, by a sign, directs his dog to bound over one of the dog-jumps near the mouth of the pipe. He takes care that the dog has no birds above him up the pipe, but that they are always on the pond side of him, so as to follow, not to meet him. In the latter case they would not Decoy. 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 maneuver, springing into view of the ducks again from the jump he just disappeared over, and so encompassing screen number two. This alternative jumping into sight, followed by a short, frisking run and then the vanishing again on the part of the dog, is continued from screen to screen till the ducks have followed the enticer well under the net and too far for their safety.

“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 through the peep-hole in each screen in order to see how the ducks are progressing up the pipe after the dog. . . . The latter he encourages by gestures to be smart and cheerful in his movements, rewarding him from time to time with titbits of cheese, meat, or cake. . . .

Working kooiker (9)

Working kooiker (9)

“The sprightlier the dog works, the better, so long as he is absolutely mute and obedient. I need scarce note that the dog, starting at or near the mouth of the pipe, continues his erratic course invariably towards its tail end, taking each screen and its jump in succession.”

Photo Credits

( 1 ) . . . . . . Web Gallery of Art

( 2, 3, 4, 8 ) . . Kooikerhondje Club of the Netherlands

( 5, 9 ) . . . . . Susanne Räber, van Youngmuskyteira Kooikerhondje

( 6, 7 ) . . . . . John Norris – The Book of Duck Decoys by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey

Slideshow of a Visit to an Endenkooi

When I went to The Netherlands to pick up Yorick, I had the opportunity to visit an endenkooi (duck pond and trap) and to have the hunting process explained to me by a working duck hunter and preservationist. Koois are no longer used to trap and sell ducks, but several ponds are kept as wetlands preserves with hunting demonstrations and information. The endenkooi we saw had been in operation for 500 years, as dated by the willow trees used in its construction. The traditional method of duck hunting with decoy ducks and kooikerhondjes is an amazingly elaborate process. Please read the captions in the slide show to gain a small appreciation for this incredible tradition!

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