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Once belonging to its country’s elites, the Scottish deerhound is a giant, hairy dog who can be the ultimate human companion—whether that’s for long walks around the neighborhood, full-out sprints on an acreage, or kicking back on the couch.
Scottish deerhounds were originally bred to hunt and take down stags more than four times their size in the Scottish highlands, but the sighthounds these days are more gentle, family dogs. They do have one major trait leftover from their hunting days, according to Rachel Matthews, a longtime deerhound breeder and member of the Scottish Deerhound Club of America’s Rescue and Placement Committee.
“It’s the human-dog bond,” she says. “I don’t think there’s any dog more loyal than a deerhound. They’re almost human sometimes.”
They’re still, of course, good dogs who could very well be your next best friend. Read on to find out more about the Scottish deerhound.
Well, we can get the obvious out of the way: They’re big. The American Kennel Club (AKC) says female deerhounds can weigh 75–95 pounds while male dogs tip the scales at 85–110 pounds. Be mindful of putting anything valuable or edible on any low tables or counters in your house, too. These dogs can measure between 28 and 32 inches tall.
Scottish deerhounds sport a long, wiry-looking coat. Their colors vary between blue-gray, brindle, gray, gray brindle, black, black brindle, and blue. Some dogs will have white markings in their fur, too, sometimes on their chests.
Matthews says the most common colors you’ll see are gray and gray brindle, noting that black deerhounds don’t meet the breed’s standards.
These big boys and girls are pretty laid back around the house, and like many other breeds these supremely loyal pups prefer to lounge around their people.
“If they have a choice, they prefer a person to a dog,” Matthews says.
They’re well-behaved generally, and are some of the smartest dogs to the point of being manipulative. One of Matthews’ nine deerhounds recently got her up, she thought, to be let outside. Once Matthews was up and at the door, the hound simply went and took what had been her spot on the couch.
While they love their people the most, they get along fine with other dogs. To make sure, socialize your deerhound puppy starting when it’s young. Once they get past the noisier, wilder puppy stages, they’re mostly quiet. They’re certainly some of the biggest dogs you can find, but Matthews wouldn’t characterize them as good guard dogs.
You’re gonna need a yard, probably a big one. The hounds—have we mentioned they’re big?—need adequate space to roam and run freely. They’re sighthounds with a high prey drive: If they see something run by—rabbit, cat, or car—they’re probably going to chase it, Matthews says. Not to mention, they can absolutely book it. The Scottish Deerhound Club of America (SDCA) says these dogs can hit speeds of about 30 mph. A tall fence, 6 feet or so, can help keep them from being tempted by the outside world and prevent any escapes. Regardless of the fence situation, make sure your dog is microchipped.
Despite your Scottish deerhound’s need for exercise, you probably want to think twice about going to a dog park. Deerhounds are mostly gentle, but their playing style can make other dogs uncomfortable or worse, the SDCA says. (Matthews notes that they were originally bred to team up and take down giant deer, an instinct that doesn’t translate well to the local dog park.)
Scottish deerhounds enjoy a good walk with their owners, though. Regular walks and a daily romp outside will go a long way in making sure your hound is living a healthy life. Otherwise, they want to spend their time indoors with their humans. (Humans are probably their best source of enrichment, Matthews says.) That’s inside a house, not an apartment because, again: their size.
They also want to stay inside because they’re equipped for neither the hot nor the cold. Based in Arizona, Matthews gives all her new puppy parents the same talk: Keep your deerhound out of the extreme heat. They can be vulnerable to heatstroke. Inversely, they also don’t do great for long periods of time in the cold and snow. Their wiry coat is perfect for the cool, misty Scottish highlands after all.
The hounds make good family dogs, but their size is also why Matthews usually cautions families with small children against adopting a deerhound. The dogs just don’t know their own size and can knock down the little ones. You can still raise a deerhound and a toddler at the same time, but Matthews suggests waiting until your human kids are in their teens.
Scottish deerhounds’ hair might look messy and tangly but it’s actually pretty easy to groom. Matthews recommends brushing their harsh, wiry hair once a week. It’ll help relieve your dog of his shedded hair and prevent matting. (While you’re brushing, make sure to look for any abnormalities on your dog’s skin or in his ears.)
Always have fresh water available for your hound to drink, and, as always, talk with your veterinarian about which food you should be feeding your deerhound. How much your dog needs can depend on your deerhound’s age and health. The AKC recommends offering your Scottish deerhound several small meals a day rather than one large one.
The several small meals a day could help prevent your deerhound from suffering from bloat. The condition, in which a dog’s stomach swells up with gas or fluid to put pressure on other organs and restrict blood flow, affects the largest dogs and can be deadly if untreated.
Matthews says she avoids giving her deerhounds raw food, opting instead to feed them cooked chicken. Quality food, digestive enzyme supplements, and gas-reduction medication (Gas-X) help limit the chances of bloat, she says, though it's best to check with your pup's veterinarian before introducing any new supplement or ingredient into their diet.
Your hound’s vet may also recommend a preventative gastropexy due to his size. During this procedure, which can be performed when your dog is spayed or neutered, the stomach is sutured to the abdominal wall or diaphragm to prevent it from twisting.
But tests and screenings won’t catch everything. You’ll likely deal with health problems at some point, Matthews says. She recommends having pet insurance and making sure you can afford to pay any hefty vet bills.
“They’re not the dog for everybody,” she says.
As their name implies, the primary job of deerhounds—equipped with strength, speed, and excellent scent-detection—was to hunt Scotland’s wild red deer, which could weigh up to 400 pounds (gnarly antlers included). But the sighthounds were still rare dogs and their ownership was restricted to the elites. By the mid-1700s, the breed was prevalent only in Scotland, and its numbers ran close to extinction at the turn of the century, the Complete Dog Book explains.
The book says Archibald and Duncan McNeill were able to revive the deerhound’s numbers around 1825. While they make excellent companions to humans, “the royal dog of Scotland” is still rare to this day when compared to other breeds. In 2019, the Scottish deerhounds ranked No. 149 of 193 on the AKC’s list of most popular dog breeds. (Not likely to replace the Labrador retriever as the most popular dog on the list anytime soon.)
- Scottish deerhounds played a role in the making of the Harry Potter films. Over the course of several years, two of Kilbourne Deerhounds’ dogs helped bring the character of Sirius Black, who could magically transform into a big, black dog named Padfoot, to life. The real-life Fern was used as the model for the dog who was eventually computer-animated in The Prisoner of Azkaban. Two years later, Kilbourne’s Cleod played Padfoot in The Order of the Phoenix, having his fur dyed black for the role. You can read more about their adventures here.
- When deerhounds have puppies, they have a lot of puppies. According to the SDCA, deerhound litters commonly include 10–15 puppies, and at least one litter has produced 21(!) pups.
- A Scottish deerhound named Hickory won Best in Show at the 2011 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the only time a deerhound has won the title in the show’s more than 100-year history.