Large, shaggy and bearded “Greyhounds” have been known in Scotland for centuries. Early in its development, the Scottish Deerhound was virtually identical to the Irish Wolfhound, and that contributed to the Scottish Deerhound’s name. Over time, it was bred down in size, as its primary game became the smaller deer rather than the more powerful and larger wolf. However, when the wolves started to disappear from the wilds of Great Britain, the Scottish Deerhound became highly prized as a deer-coursing dog. This breed was definitively identified as a Deerhound as early as the 16th century. From that point forward, regardless of whether the dog was larger or smaller, short haired or wiry, the breed could be recognized as a Deerhound. It should resemble a rough-coated Greyhound of larger size and with more bone. It is very similar to the Irish Wolfhound, but is smaller, much sleeker, lighter in build and reflects the contribution of the Greyhound to its ancestry. Today, in France it is the Levrier Ecossais; in Germany it is the Schottischer Hirschhund; and in Spain it is the Lebrel Escoces. The Scottish Deerhound was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1886, as a member of the Hound Group.
The Deerhound has always been versatile and valuable. Early in its development, no person of lower rank than an Earl could even possess one of these hounds, increasing its romantic persona in legend and fact. Nobility condemned to death were said to be able to purchase reprieve by offering their Deerhounds to their captors, so dearly were these dogs valued. Unfortunately, the uniqueness of this breed - and its owners’ efforts to retain exclusivity - have at many times endangered its continued existence. In both England and southern Scotland, the larger Deerhounds became rare, while the more delicate smooth-coated Greyhound and similar breeds became increasingly popular. The Highlands of Scotland were the last place where the deer (or stag) remained plentiful in their wild habitat, and this became the last stronghold of the Deerhound breed.
The Highland rulers claimed exclusive ownership of the Deerhounds even during the 1700s, which contributed to the breed’s decline in both type and number. The advent of efficient firearms and fenced lands diminished the usefulness of the Deerhound. Thankfully, in the 1820s, two brothers named Archibald and Duncan McNeill began focused efforts to revitalize the breed, and their efforts were largely successful. Queen Victoria became a huge fancier of the breed. The Deerhound regained its status for quite a time, until World War I broke up many of the largest estates of England and Scotland, thus seriously reducing the population and gene pool of the breed. World War II caused so many food shortages that owners were hard pressed to provide for these large dogs. Fortunately, because of the concerted efforts of a few resilient breed fanciers to rebuild the “Royal Dog of Scotland,” the future of the Scottish Deerhound is fairly safe now, due to the many devoted enthusiasts who adore this kind and unusual breed.
The Scottish Deerhound is a preeminent hunter, with extraordinary versatility. He has a keen nose and can track and trail as a scenthound with the best of other breeds. He also has the strength, speed, stamina and sight to make him a prized sighthound, capable of tracking and coping with the large Scottish deer, which often weigh upwards of 250 pounds. The Scottish Deerhound can be hunted alone or in pairs. This dog has an intense desire for human companionship and does not thrive when kept kenneled. The Deerhound is calm, dignified, bright, alert, persistent and courageous, with an innate sense of what the right thing to do is in any given situation. He is a polite, elegant dog, and today enjoys most popularity in South Africa and the United States.
Today’s Scottish Deerhounds are not permitted to hunt antlered game with their owners in the United States. However, they are used successfully on wolves, coyotes and rabbits under appropriate circumstances. They make tremendously loyal and affectionate family companions, with the utmost devotion to their owners. They have been called “the most perfect creatures of Heaven.”
The average life span of the Scottish Deerhound is 8 to 11 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), dilated cardiomyopothy, pseudoachondrodysplasia, cystine urolithiasis, hereditary factor VII deficiency, hypothyroidism, osteosarcoma and pyometra.