If ever a dog was a symbol of aristocracy, it’s the Scottish Deerhound. Associated with the finest homes of 19th century Britain, the Deerhound was coveted for his prestige at the estate, aptitude on the hunt, and laid-back good nature in the home. They may look like royal hounds, but deep down, they are humble and tend to act more like good ol’ boys.
- The Scottish Deerhound is often confused with the Irish Wolfhound. The Wolfhound is much heavier bodied, however. The Deerhound has more of a Greyhound-like build with an arched backline and more narrow build and head.
- The Deerhound is an ancient breed, a member of the even more ancient family of sighthounds. Sighthounds are dogs of the Greyhound family, built for speed and the ability to run down swift-fleeing game like hare and gazelle. The Egyptians, and later the Romans, hunted with sighthounds. Large, rough-coated hounds hunting deer are depicted on first-century pottery found in the British Isles. These dogs were bigger with coats more suited for the damp cold climates than their Egyptian and Roman ancestors.
- The dogs were bred to chase down the red deer, partly for food but very often if not mostly for sport. One or two Deerhounds would be released, and they would attempt to bring down the deer. They did not hunt by trailing; if the deer got out of sight, the hunt was over.
- During the Middle Ages, Deerhounds could not be owned by anyone ranked lower than an earl.
- As the stag population declined in England, Deerhounds also declined there but gained a stronghold in Scotland, where they were valued by Highland chieftains.
- Deerhounds became rare when the clan system collapsed in the 1700s and with the advent of breech-loading rifles in the 1800s. In the mid-1800s, a successful effort was made to save the breed.
- When the Irish Wolfhound neared extinction, the Scottish Deerhound was used to help re-create that breed.
- The Scottish Deerhound is one of the tallest breeds of dog.
- The AKC recognized the breed in 1886. It was initially a member of the Sporting group, and when that group was split in 1930 into the Gundogs and Sporting Hounds, the Deerhound went into what we now know as the Hound group.
- The Scottish Deerhound is the 151st most popular AKC breed, down from 142nd five years ago. Yes, the dog is very rare.
- The Scottish Deerhound has competed in the Westminster dog show since 1877. It is one of only five Hound breeds to ever win Best in Show there. The Deerhound that won the top prize was a female named Hickory, in 2010.
- Deerhounds are on the label of Highland Chief Scotch Whiskey.
- Sir Edwin Landseer often depicted Deerhounds in his paintings.
- Sir Walter Scott owned Deerhounds, and described his Maida as “the most perfect creature of heaven.” She lies alongside Scott as the subjects of a giant statue in Edinburgh, Scotland.
- King Robert the Bruce (known to most of us from the movie Braveheart) was a Deerhound owner.
- The sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington was an avid owner and breeder of Deerhounds. She often made them the subjects of her work.
- Karen Blixen, who wrote the memoir Out of Africa, wrote of her dogs: “In Africa, I never had dogs of any other breed than the Scotch Deerhound. There is no more noble or gracious kind of dog. They must have lived for many centuries with men to understand and fall in with our life and its conditions the way they do.”
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.