Information about the Scottish Deerhound
The Scottish Deerhound, or simply the Deerhound, is a breed of hound (a sighthound), once bred to hunt the Red Deer by coursing.
The Scottish Deerhound has existed back to a time before recorded history. Its antecedents have been kept by the Scots and Picts, and would have been used to help in providing part of their dietary requirements, namely from hoofed game (archaeological evidence supports this in the form of Roman pottery from around 1st Century AD found in Argyll which depicts the deerhunt using large rough hounds (these can be viewed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh). Other evidence can be found on standing stones from around the 7th century AD reflecting a hunt using hounds, such as the Hilton of Cadboll Stone). In outward appearance, the Scottish Deerhound is similar to the Greyhound, but larger and more heavily boned. However, Deerhounds have a number of characteristics that set them apart. While not as fast as a Greyhound on a smooth, firm surface, once the going gets rough or heavy they can outrun a Greyhound. The environment in which they worked, the cool, often wet, and hilly Scottish Highland Glens, contributed to the larger, rough-coated appearance of the breed. The Deerhound is closely related to the Irish Wolfhound and was the main contributor to the recovery of that breed when it was re-created at the end of the 19th century.
The Deerhound was bred to hunt red deer by ‘coursing’, and also ‘deer-stalking’ until the end of the 19th century. With modern rifles and smaller deer-forests, slower tracking dogs were preferred to fast and far-running
In coursing deer, a single Deerhound or a pair was brought as close as possible to red deer, then released to run one of them down by speed, which if successful would happen within a few minutes – rarely were there sustained chases.
With the eventual demise of the clan systems in Scotland, these hunting dogs became sporting animals for landowners and the nobility, but were also bred and hunted by common folk when feasible. As fast and silent hunters they made quick work of any game the size of a hare or larger and were highly regarded by nobility and poachers alike. One of the most precarious times in the breed’s history seems to have been towards the end of the nineteenth century, when many of the large Scottish estates were split into small estates for sporting purposes, and few then kept Deerhounds. The new fashion was for stalking and shooting, which required only a tracking dog to follow the wounded animal, using a collie or similar breed. Although a few estates still employed Deerhounds for their original work, the breed was left in the hands of a few enthusiasts who made them a show breed.
In Australia, Deerhounds have been used to hunt the kangaroo and wild boar. In North America they were also used to hunt wolves.
The Scottish Deerhound resembles a rough-coated Greyhound. It is however, larger in size and bone. Height of males from 30 to 32 inches (75-80cm) or more, weight 85 to 110 pounds (40-50kg); height of females from 28 inches (70cm) upwards, weight from 75 to 95 pounds (35-43kg). It is one of the tallest sighthounds, with a harsh 3-4 inch long coat and mane, somewhat softer beard and moustache, and softer hair on breast and belly. It has small, dark “rose” ears which are soft and folded back against the head unless held semi-erect in excitement. The harsh, wiry coat in modern dogs is only seen in self-coloured various shades of gray (blue-gray is preferred). Historically, Deerhounds also could be seen with true brindle, yellow, and red fawn coats, or combinations. 19th century Scottish paintings tend to indicate these colours were associated with a wire haired coat, but, with show breeders preferring a longer coat, these genes now appear to be lost. A white chest and toes are allowed, and a slight white tip to the tail; a white blaze on the head or a white collar are not accepted. The head is long, skull flat, with little stop and a tapering muzzle. The eyes are dark, dark brown or hazel in colour. The teeth should form a level, complete scissor bite. The long straight or curved tail, well covered with hair, should almost reach the ground.
The Scottish Deerhound is gentle and extremely friendly. The breed is famed for being docile and eager to please, with a bearing of gentle dignity. It is however a true sighthound which has been selected for generations to pursue game; consequently, most Deerhounds will be eager to chase. The Deerhound needs considerable exercise when young to develop properly and to maintain its health and condition. That does not mean it needs a large house to live in; however it should have regular access to free exercise in a fenced or otherwise “safe” area. Deerhounds should not be raised with access only to leash walking or a small yard, this would be detrimental to their health and development . City dwellers with conviction, however, can keep the dog both healthy and happy, as long as they are willing to take their Deerhounds to nearby parks for lengthy runs and rigorous fetching sessions within these wider running courses. Young Deerhounds can sometimes, depending on the individual, be quite destructive especially when they are not given sufficient exercise; however, the average adult Deerhound may want to spend most of the day stretched out on the floor or a couch sleeping. They do require a stimulus, preferably another Deerhound, and a large area to exercise properly and frequently. They are gentle and docile indoors and are generally good around company and children (however they require supervision with young children due to their size).
Scottish Deerhounds can be expected to live an average of 8 to 9 years. The serious health issues in the breed include cardiomyopathy, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), bloat and torsion (GDV).
Scottish Deerhounds compete in conformation, lure coursing, and where it is still legal, in some states of the USA, in hare coursing and coyote hunting. A few are trained to succeed in obedience competition but few excel in it, and fewer still excel in dog agility or flyball because the courses and activities are generally designed for smaller dogs with lower body weight and a much shorter stride.