Description & History

The Royal Dog of Scotland, the Highland Greyhound and the Scottish Deerhound are the names by which this aristocratic and ancient hound were known in the past.

The history of the Deerhound, like many of our oldest breeds, is not easy to define. There is no doubt that the breed resembles the Greyhound, whose ancestors are thought to have been brought to Britain by Phoenician traders in the second century B.C.

Whether or not dogs had long or short coats at that time is not known. If similar to other breeds who through their travels were taken to colder climates, they would, out of necessity, have developed thick coats. In the sixteenth century Dr Caius, who thought of them as Greyhounds, wrote "some are of a greater sorte, some of a lesser; some are smoothe skynned and some curled, the bigger therefore are appointed to hunt bigger beasties."

From the earliest times scent hounds were used for deer coursing. Owing to their outstanding ability, Deerhounds had few equals and were highly valued. This meant that only Highland Chieftans and the aristocracy who owned large deer-forests kept these hounds; anyone in a lesser position was not permitted to do so.

There is no doubt that larger powerful hounds, bigger than Greyhounds, were used for this sport. The speed which it had inherited from its ancestors together with its larger size and its greater strength, which was developed from living in a harsher climate, enabled the Deerhound to overpower its prey or to hold it at bay until the hunter arrived to seal its fate.

A visitor to Gordon Castle in 1769 said he saw "a true Scottish Greyhound . . . of large size, strong, deep chested, and covered with a very long rough hair."

The decline of the breed came with the collapse of the clan system and the invention of the sporting rifle. By 1842, owing to the efforts of the few dedicated owners - Lord Colonsay and his brother Archibald McNeil and the Menzies family of Chesthill, Loch Tay and other Highland owners - Deerhounds were saved from extinction. The breed, now smaller in size, was seldom used for coursing as stalking was becoming a fashionable sport. As with most breeds, they became successul in the show ring, with their excellent temperament helping them to excel in their new role.

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Sir Walter Scott were all devoted owners, demonstrating that the breed was gaining in popularity as the century drew to a close.

Nowadays, the breed is still maintained for its sporting activities by a few dedicated owners, but they are mainly show dogs. For those who have the time and energy to tend to their welfare, they make delightful companions.

Rosamund Walters.



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