The Scottish Deerhound is a very old breed of dog that originated with the Scottish nobility and the clan systems that were historically used as a way to govern and organize the country. Greyhounds, the ancient ancestors of the modern Greyhound breed, were a highly prized dog throughout the Middle Ages due to their outstanding hunting ability and their speed. The breed, however, was not well adjusted to the very rugged, damp and cold climate of Scotland and the northern parts of England. The Greyhound was bred with local dogs of indeterminate breeds, likely also to be hound types, to develop a more sturdy and robust dog that could endure the cold, wet climate without decreasing their speed and hunting talent.
Over several generations of specific types of breeding programs the result was the original Scottish Deerhound breed. The rough, wiry coat provided protection from the elements, plus the heavier bones and larger frame size of the Scottish Deerhound allowed them to easily survive the much harsher environmental conditions of the country. Typically they were kept in small packs although occasionally they may have been kept as pairs. These dogs were kept as hunting and companion dogs of royalty, with the rank or title of Earl the minimum requirement for owning a Scottish Deerhound. This lead to the dog being known in these historic times as the Royal Dog of Scotland, a title which the breed held until the decline of the clan system and royalty within the country.
Hunting and modernization of the agricultural system and land ownership opportunities in Scotland lead to these magnificent dogs becoming more popular for the average person to own. The breed flourished and grew in numbers, becoming ideal hunting dogs, farm dogs and companion dogs across the country. The gentle temperament and easy training of the breed matched ideally with what people wanted, plus the breed was very easy to keep as both a hunting dog and a farm dog.
During the first part of the mid to late 1700's, changes in the economy of the country resulted in a dramatic decrease in the amount of income and availability of resources within Scotland. In addition at this time the position of the royalty in the country also changed, resulting in many of the breeding kennels of Scottish Deerhound being dissolved and dispersed. With a very short lifespan of only about 8 years, the Scottish Deerhound numbers began a very drastic decline. By the 1800's the breed had almost disappeared completely except for a few purebred lines in remote areas. Two brothers, Duncan and Archibald McNeill, are credited for restoring the breed to at least minimal numbers to retain genetic viability.
The Scottish Deerhound, as with many of the larger breed dogs, also had a dramatic decrease in numbers during World Wars l and ll. During these times often the dogs simply couldn't be fed due to highly restricted resources and relocation of owners and breeders. Thankfully there were enough Scottish Deerhounds located outside of the country as well as internally to keep the breed alive and rebuild numbers.
The Scottish Deerhound really is a country dog that needs to have room and space to be outdoors in a safe environment. In general the Scottish Deerhound is not recommended for apartment living or small spaces, however with lots of intensive walks and outside time per day they can adjust. They are a sight hound breed but can also hunt by scent, and they are prone to chasing while young, but typically are much calmer when they reach maturity. The Scottish Deerhound, like any type of sight hound, needs to be kept on a leash or in a secure yard all through their life to prevent chasing types of behavior. As a sight hound they can run incredibly fast and will travel miles on the scent and trail of prey, regardless if they are in an urban or rural setting. Very sedate in the house these large sized hounds are great indoor dogs and are very quiet and not prone to problem behaviors indoors. This is, of course, provided they are obedience trained and socialized as well as properly exercised before being left alone.
The Scottish Deerhound is one of the larger hounds, measuring up to 32 inches at the shoulder and weighing in at up to 100 pounds or more. When standing up on their hind legs the Scottish Deerhound can easily be as tall or taller than the average sized human. Because of their large size and somewhat aloof type of behavior towards strangers the Scottish Deerhound is often seen as a good guard dog, although this is really not the case. These dogs are very friendly and loving and may not even bark when strangers approach. Some may be more timid when greeting strangers but routine socialization and exposure to positive people and places will greatly help this situation.
The Scottish Deerhound is not perhaps as popular of a dog as may be expected because they are not a low maintenance breed despite their gentle temperament and personality. The coat, which is a harsh, wiry coat, needs routine grooming to prevent matting and tangles that can be very problematic. The coat also may easily trap debris and dirt and can be challenging to keep clean. They also are a very short lived breed and bloat is a considerable challenge within some lines. Even in breeding lines without a history of bloat their deep, narrower chest and natural tendency towards the condition puts the breed at risk. It is essential that the owners feed several smaller meals a day and restrict exercise for at least one hour after eating. Feeding a holistic type of food or a low bulking type of dry kibble that swells very little once ingested is absolutely essential.
Training a Scottish Deerhound is also challenging for some families and individuals. While they are outstanding dogs with children of any age, they can be somewhat stubborn and independent at times. They can also become easily timid and cowed if trained using harsh methods. Positive training and lots of time to bond with the human family is essential in the adjustment of the dog to the family. Re homing this breed is also very difficult at they can be slow to accept a new human family. The Scottish Deerhound is not suitable for households with other types of pets including cats, but they get along very well with other breeds and types of dogs.