Of the Scottish Deerhound, Henry Charles Howard, (the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire) says in his 1897 work, 'The Encyclopaedia of Sport' that: “This extremely fine hound, so nearly allied to the greyhound, is often erroneously called the staghound. He is the Scottish deerhound pure and simple, sagacious, intelligent, and in his rough affection and somewhat rugged appearance anything but uncharacteristic of his country.” Deerhounds are a distinctly Scottish product that were traditionallly used by Scottish Highland chieftains for coursing (chasing, capturing, and killing) red deer. Running by either scent or sight, and able to traverse long distances over rugged, hilly terrain, the dogs chased down and caught their quarry in silence, barking to signal their masters only after they made their capture. These traits, along with their size and power, made them the breed best suited for this type of hunting.
On display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Roman pottery from the 1st century A.D., found in Argyll in western Scotland, shows deer hunts with large, rough coated hounds that resemble the Deerhound. Archeologist have unearthed stone carvings and pottery dating from the Pre-Roman era to the late Middle Ages depicting large deer hunting hounds in many locations in Scotland.
Sometimes referred to as a Scottish Greyhound, the early ancestral history of the Scottish Deerhound is largely a matter of speculation and conjecture. Some theorists believe it to be the same as the Irish Wolfhound or Irish Wolf Dog, albeit with a different name. The crux of this theory revolves around the fact that during ancient times dogs were named according to the work they did, and when their jobs changed, so did their names. Fans of this possibility believe that when Irish Settlers were beginning to establishing themselves in what would later be called Scotland during the 4th and 5th centuries AD, it is likely they brought the early Irish Wolf Dog with them. Found in Irish laws and literature dating to the early 5th century, these early dogs were called “cu”, which has since been translated to hound, Irish hound, war dog, and wolf dog. Over the course of the next millennium as human populations soared, wolf populations would decline to the point that they were considered extinct in Scotland by the end of 17th century; the last of which was reported to have been killed by Sir Ewan Cameron in 1680 in Killiecrankie (Perthshire). The decline and subsequent extinction of the Scottish wolf may have precipitated a change from wolf to deer hunter for the Irish Wolf Dog, and with the change in job, came a change in name to Deerhound.
Adding further confusion is that the Irish Wolfhound, is a mystery in its own right and by the late 19th century was thought to have either gone entirely extinct, remained pure but hidden or been reinvented through crosses with other breeds. The previously mentioned work by the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire states of the breed:
“A great deal has been written about the Irish wolfhound ; he has had admirers and traducers. The latter with a good deal of reason urge that the last of his race became extinct when the last Irish wolf was destroyed, the former say he still survives in all his purity. The modem Irish wolfhound is undoubtedly a cross between the Great Dane and the Scottish deerhound ; he is by no means uncommon now, and is useful in hunting big game, whilst he can also do his duty satisfactorily in the Scottish deer forests.”
Interestingly there is reference made to their use in Scottish deer forests, which may lend some credence to the name change theory. Those opposed tend to point out that that Irish Wolf Dogs were thought to be substantially taller and bigger than Scottish Deerhounds, Vero Shaw in his 1881 book, “The Illustrated Book of the Dog”, estimates the larger Irish dog was between 33 and 35 inches tall, compared to the Deerhound at 30 to 32 inches, today. The size difference, though present, is a small one and is certainly not enough to disprove a relationship between the two.
Regardless of which dogs played into the ancestral origins of the Scottish Deerhound by the 16th century the breed could be identified with certainty and was known from then on as the Scottish Deerhound. In Hector Boece's, 16th century work the “History of Scotland” he writes apocryphal story many believe to be the earliest mention of the Scottish Deerhound. The story tells the tale of how a group of Picts (indigenous late Iron Age and early mediaeval people who lived in what is now eastern and northern Scotland), went on a deer hunt with the King of Scots at Craithtint; each using their own dogs. During the hunt, the King’s Deerhounds proved to be vastly superior to the native dogs of the Picts. In an act of good faith, the king gave a few of his best males and females to the Picts so that they might breed their own Deerhounds. As a token of their appreciation the Picts, waited until the king was away and stole one of the king’s favorite hounds. The thieves were chased and overtaken and a skirmish took place in which a hundred Picts and sixty Scotsman of noble birth were killed. Survivors on each side, having lost sight of what the original skirmish was all about, brought back word of an unprovoked attack by the other. This in turn led to a battle in which two thousand Picts and three thousand Scotsmen killed. Borrowing again from the “Encyclopaedia of Sport”, Howard states that:
“The Scottish nobles have from that time to the present carefully preserved their strains of deerhounds, which were originally used for the purpose of aids in deer-stalking and in coursing deer.”
Part of the preservation process included ownership restrictions, and as the “Royal dog of Scotland” only those holding the rank of an earl were allowed to own them. These ownership restrictions, which continued well into the 1700s, and the dwindling number of large animals available to hunt served to drastically reduce the number of Deerhounds. The Highlands of Scotland became the last territory where deer remained numerous in a wild state and likewise became the last stronghold for the breed. Here again the Highland Chieftains assumed exclusive ownership to such an extent that it became rare to find a Deerhound south of the River Forth. The invention of a more modern rifle contributed to the endangerment of the breed also, eliminating the need for large dogs capable of running down and seizing upon their prey. Other smaller and more light-footed breeds, such as Greyhounds, Collies, and other mixes, largely replaced Deerhounds for stalking and coursing. The Deerhound population continued on its downward slide into the mid 1800s.
As the number of Deerhounds reached a critically low state a handful of gentlemen’s kennels began working to preserve the breed. Two brothers, Archibald and Duncan McNeill, started a breeding program in 1825. Mr. Stewart Menzies of Chesthill and three or four other gentlemen farmers did the same. The oldest known strains of Deerhounds are those of the Menzies of Chesthill, whose dogs trace back to 1790 or 1800. The next oldest are Mr. Morrison’s which go back to 1830. John McNeill of Colonsay’s are known from about 1832. “Bran”, a Deerhound of Mr. Morrison’s, was given to McNeill, who gave him to Prince Albert. Many of the modern dogs are descended from Bran. Marquis of Breadelbane owned fifty or sixty dogs at Black Mount Forest Lodge.
Reverend Grenville Hodson, a recognized judge of Scottish Deerhounds, was one of the long-time breeders of Deerhounds in the mid to late 1800s. The most successful Deerhound exhibitor in the 1860s was Mr. Chaworth Musters of Kirk Langton, with his two Deerhounds, father and son. The father won five championship prizes. Mr. Hickman of Birmingham’s Deerhound ‘Morni’, won eight first or championship prizes during that time. In the late 1800s, Mr. Morse’s Deerhound, ‘Spey’, was considered one of the finest specimens of the time. Today’s Scottish Deerhounds closely reflect the type, size, and character of the Deerhounds of the 1700s and 1800s, thanks to the efforts of these men and their families.
In a side note, Spey’s breeder was George Cupples who wrote a comprehensive book Scotch Deer-Hounds and Their Masters, published in 1874, which even today is on the Scottish Deerhound Club of America’s (SDCA) recommended reading list. In the 1860s, Cupples and John McNeill of Colonsay corresponded with Charles Darwin, providing him with information about the breed for his work. Both men are referenced in the 1882 printing of Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selections in Relation to Sex.
Even though the population of the breed had increased, the Deerhound did not return to its former status or popularity as readily. The Earl of Suffolk, wrote that the dog was not popular at shows. He attributes this turn to the “vagaries of fashion.” He writes that at Aldridge’s, London, in 1865, the Duke of Bucchleuch’s Deerhounds sold at auction for not much more than “mongrel terriers” would fetch. Describing the Deerhound’s character as good-tempered, sensible, faithful, and noble, Suffolk asserts his belief that the breed would survive because of its beauty, companionship, and character. John Walsh wrote in Dogs of the British Islands (1878) that the breed was “now more ornamental than useful.” But their large size and shape made them a favorite of country gentlemen and their wives. He says Scottish Deerhounds have the “elegant frame of the Greyhound” but their rough and shaggy coat “softens the hard outline”. Sir Walter Scott helped promote renewed appreciation for the breed; he wrote about the Deerhounds Ban and Buskar in his immensely popular novel Waverly, published in 1814. Scott described the breed as “the most perfect creatures of heaven”. Queen Victoria, an owner and proponent of Scottish Deerhounds surely helped the cause, as well.
Scottish Deerhounds were brought to North America in the late 1800s. A dog named ‘Bonnie Robin’ became the first Scottish Deerhound to be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) when it recognized the breed in 1886. That same year brought about the foundation of The Deerhound Club of the U.K. In 1892, the first breed standard was written. A U.S. based club wouldn’t come about until the late 1970’s or early 1980’s; when ‘The Scottish Deerhound Club of America’, would be founded; recognized by the AKC as the parent club for the breed, they publish “The Claymore”, their official newsletter, twice a year.
The World Wars resulted in another challenging time for Scottish Deerhounds. After World War I, many of the largest estates in England and Scotland were broken up, causing a decline in the population of Deerhounds. World War II brought food shortages making it difficult for many owners and breeders to feed the large dogs. Sadly, some Deerhounds were killed and eaten. But once again, a small but committed group who fancied the breed stepped forward to keep the Scottish Deerhound from fading out of existence.
The AKC held the first National Lure Coursing Championship in 1994. A Scottish Deerhound named Chartwell Silver Run of Vale Vue won. The owners are Ellen Bonacarti and Norma Sellars of New Jersey. Although Scottish Deerhounds were first shown at Westminster in 1877, it wouldn’t be until February, 2011, that a Scottish Deerhound would win Best of Show. Hickory, whose official name is Grand Champion Foxcliffe, made history when she took the prize at the 135th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Hickory lives on a fifty-acre farm in Flint Hill, Virginia. She is owned by Sally Sweatt of Minneapolis, Minnesota; her breeders are Cecilia and Robert Dove. Following her victory, Hickory was a guest on the Today show, Martha Stewart, and Fox News.
In an article about Hickory’s 2011 win titled “Scottish Deerhounds Kept a Secret in the Dog World”. Hickory’s handler at the show, Angela Lloyd, characterizes Deerhounds as “a well-kept gem in the dog world”. She acknowledges many don’t know they exist, but says that once you spend time with the breed, you don’t want to be without them.
The Scottish Deerhound remains a relatively unknown breed in the United States with AKC registration statistics for 2010, placing it near the bottom of the list, in 141st position out of 167 recognized breeds. For those that are in the United States, they can most often be found participating in hunting, sighting, tracking, racing, agility, and lure coursing competitions.
The Scottish Deerhound looks similar to the Greyhound, only larger and taller with a rough, wiry coat. Male Scottish Deerhounds weigh 85 to 100 pounds and are 30 to 32 inches tall. The females weigh 75 to 95 pounds and measure 28 inches or more in height.
The most desired colors for Deerhounds are dark blue-gray or else yellow and sandy red or red fawn, with black muzzles and ears. Their coats can be various shades of gray or brindle and black. White markings on the chest, feet, and tail are acceptable. The Deerhound’s coat is wiry and rough, but not wooly, and three to four inches long on the torso, neck, and legs. The hair is softer on the dog’s head, chest, and belly. Hair on the inside of the legs is slightly fringed.
Deerhounds have long, flat heads that are broadest at the ears, narrows slightly toward the eyes, and tapers more at the muzzle, which is pointed. The ears are set high; they fold back when the dog is at rest and are raised above the head when excited. Ears should be small, black or dark-colored, and smooth and glossy, with no long or fringed hair. Eye color is dark brown to hazel with black rims. Their slightly aquiline noses are black, except in some blue fawns whose noses are blue. Teeth and lips are level. The neck should be long with a mane. Shoulder blades are back with little width between.
The Scottish Deerhound’s chest is deep, not broad, and the loin arches and droops toward the tail. The dog’s back is curved rather than straight. Their legs should be broad and flat, forelegs straight, and feet compact. The dog’s hips are wide, with strong, low-slung hindquarters. Deerhounds have long tails that hang down, about one and a half inches from the ground. The tails may be either straight or curved when the dog is not moving and curved when in motion. The hair on the tail is thick and wiry, longer on the underside.
Scottish Deerhounds are calm, quiet, and dignified. They rarely bark. Smart, loyal, and affectionate, they make great companions. Deerhounds love to be with their owners or families as much as possible. This breed is great with children and in fact, gentle with all people. The downside, however, is that they don’t make good watch or guard dogs because of their innate friendliness.
They typically get along well with dogs of similar size; however, they may try to hurt smaller dogs, that to them resemble small prey animals, unless trained not to from an early age. They don’t do well with other small animals, which includes family pets. Bred to chase moving objects, the Deerhound needs to be kept on a leash and under control when out in public.
The Scottish Deerhound is bright and strong-willed, requiring firm, consistent training from a strong leader. Since the desire to please is not necessarily a strong motivator for Deerhounds, they do best with rewards in training. Finding a reward that motivates them isn’t always easy, however, as that can change from one training exercise to the next.
These large dogs do need a lot of space to exercise in, such as a good-sized, enclosed yard. They will not thrive in a kennel because of both the physical limitations and the social isolation. Deerhounds need plenty of daily exercise, as much as two or more hours a day. Because they were bred to “go the distance”--and because of their size and strength-- they make excellent running companions.
Scottish Deerhounds are considered easy to groom. Their wiry coats do require some stripping and trimming to maintain, but other than that, they need the standard weekly brushing. Their shedding rate is average. Deerhounds should be bathed as needed and have their toenails clipped and teeth brushed and checked routinely.
According to an SDCA survey the average life expectancy for a Scottish Deerhound is 8 years for males and 9 years for females or 8.4 years on average for all members of the breed.
Gastric Torsion and Bloat, Cardiomyopathy, and Osteosarcoma are the top health concerns for Scottish Deerhounds. They are prone to Gastric Torsion and Bloat of either the stomach or spleen, which, when it occurs, requires emergency surgery and can be fatal. Cardiomyopathy, heart disease that can cause sudden death or gradual heart failure, generally develops in mature dogs. It is the leading cause of death for male Deerhounds, who are two times more likely to die from it than females. The breed has a genetic risk for Osteosarcoma (bone cancer). This cancer is the leading cause of death for female Deerhounds, who are three times more likely to die from this disease than their male counterparts.
The SDCA encourages screening for Factor VII, Portosystemic Shunt, and Cystinuria, three other serious genetic health problems for Deerhounds. Factor VII deficiency causes excessive bleeding, which can be fatal. Portosystemic Shunt affects the blood vessels in the liver. It harms the dog’s growth and can cause seizures and death. Cystinuria causes bladder stones and urinary tract obstruction, which can be life threatening, particularly for male Deerhounds.
The SDCA conducted a health survey of Scottish Deerhounds in 2000 and the results are available on the club’s website. In 2006 the SDCA began working with the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), a canine health database. The SDCA is participating in the CHIC’s Health Registry and DNA Repository programs. As of September 2011, they are conducting a new health survey to gather more information for CHIC, breeders, and owners.
Other health concerns of the breed are: