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The Deerhound

The Deerhound is one of the most decorative of dogs, impressively
stately and picturesque wherever he is seen, whether it be amid the
surroundings of the baronial hall, reclining at luxurious length
before the open hearth in the fitful light of the log fire that
flickers on polished armour and tarnished tapestry; out in the open,
straining at the leash as he scents the dewy air, or gracefully
bounding over the purple of his native hills. Grace and majesty are
in his every movement and attitude, and even to the most prosaic mind
there is about him the inseparable glamour of feudal romance and
poetry. He is at his best alert in the excitement of the chase; but
all too rare now is the inspiring sight that once was common among
the mountains of Morven and the glens of Argyll of the deep-voiced
hound speeding in pursuit of his antlered prey, racing him at full
stretch along the mountain's ridge, or baying him at last in the
fastness of darksome corrie or deep ravine. Gone are the good romantic
days of stalking beloved by Scrope. The Highlands have lost their
loneliness, and the inventions of the modern gunsmith have robbed
one of the grandest of hunting dogs of his glory, relegating him to
the life of a pedestrian pet, whose highest dignity is the winning
of a pecuniary prize under Kennel Club rules.

Historians of the Deerhound associate him with the original Irish
Wolfdog, of whom he is obviously a close relative, and it is sure
that when the wolf still lingered in the land it was the frequent
quarry of the Highland as of the Hibernian hound. Legend has it that
Prince Ossian, son of Fingal, King of Morven, hunted the wolf with
the grey, long-bounding dogs. Swift-footed Luath and White-breasted
Bran are among the names of Ossian's hounds. I am disposed to affirm
that the old Irish Wolfhound and the Highland Deerhound are not only
intimately allied in form and nature, but that they are two strains
of an identical breed, altered only in size by circumstance and

Whatever the source of the Highland Deerhound, and at whatever period
it became distinct from its now larger Irish relative, it was
recognised as a native dog in Scotland in very early times, and it
was distinguished as being superior in strength and beauty to the
hounds of the Picts.

From remote days the Scottish nobles cherished their strains of
Deerhound, seeking glorious sport in the Highland forests. The red
deer belonged by inexorable law to the kings of Scotland, and great
drives, which often lasted for several days, were made to round up
the herds into given neighbourhoods for the pleasure of the court,
as in the reign of Queen Mary. But the organised coursing of deer
by courtiers ceased during the Stuart troubles, and was left in the
hands of retainers, who thus replenished their chief's larder.

The revival of deerstalking dates back hardly further than a hundred
years. It reached its greatest popularity in the Highlands at the
time when the late Queen and Prince Albert were in residence at
Balmoral. Solomon, Hector, and Bran were among the Balmoral hounds.
Bran was an especially fine animal--one of the best of his time,
standing over thirty inches in height.

Two historic feats of strength and endurance illustrate the tenacity
of the Deerhound at work. A brace of half-bred dogs, named Percy and
Douglas, the property of Mr. Scrope, kept a stag at bay from Saturday
night to Monday morning; and the pure bred Bran by himself pulled
down two unwounded stags, one carrying ten and the other eleven tines.
These, of course, are record performances, but they demonstrate the
possibilities of the Deerhound when trained to his natural sport.

Driving was commonly resorted to in the extensive forests, but
nowadays when forests are sub-divided into limited shootings the deer
are seldom moved from their home preserves, whilst with the use of
improved telescopes and the small-bore rifle, stalking has gone out
of fashion. With guns having a muzzle velocity of 2,500 feet per
second, it is no longer necessary for sportsmen stealthily to stalk
their game to come within easy range, and as for hounds, they have
become a doubtful appendage to the chase.

Primarily and essentially the Deerhound belongs to the order
Agaseus, hunting by sight and not by scent, and although he may
indeed occasionally put his nose to the ground, yet his powers of
scent are not remarkable. His vocation, therefore, has undergone a
change, and it was recently ascertained that of sixty deer forests
there were only six upon which Deerhounds were kept for sporting

Happily the Deerhound has suffered no decline in the favour bestowed
upon him for his own sake. The contrary is rather the case, and he
is still an aristocrat among dogs, valued for his good looks, the
symmetry of his form, his grace and elegance, and even more so for
his faithful and affectionate nature. Sir Walter Scott declared that
he was a most perfect creature of heaven, and when one sees him
represented in so beautiful a specimen of his noble race as St.
Ronan's Rhyme, for example, or Talisman, or Ayrshire, one is tempted
to echo this high praise.

Seven-and-twenty years ago Captain Graham drew up a list of the most
notable dogs of the last century. Among these were Sir St. George
Gore's Gruim (1843-44), Black Bran (1850-51); the Marquis of
Breadalbane's King of the Forest, said to stand 33 inches high; Mr.
Beaseley's Alder (1863-67), bred by Sir John McNeill of Colonsay;
Mr. Donald Cameron's Torrum (1869), and his two sons Monzie and Young
Torrum; and Mr. Dadley's Hector, who was probably the best-bred dog
living in the early eighties. Torrum, however, appears to have been
the most successful of these dogs at stud. He was an exceedingly grand
specimen of his race, strong framed, with plenty of hair of a blue
brindle colour. Captain Graham's own dog Keildar, who had been trained
for deerstalking in Windsor Park, was perhaps one of the most elegant
and aristocratic-looking Deerhounds ever seen. His full height was
30 inches, girth 33-1/2 inches, and weight, 95 lbs., his colour bluish
fawn, slightly brindled, the muzzle and ears being blue. His nearest
competitor for perfection was, after Hector, probably Mr. Hood
Wright's Bevis, a darkish red brown brindle of about 29 inches. Mr.
Wright was the breeder of Champion Selwood Morven, who was the
celebrity of his race about 1897, and who became the property of Mr.
Harry Rawson. This stately dog was a dark heather brindle, standing
32-3/8 inches at the shoulder, with a chest girth of 34-1/2 inches.

A few years ago breeders were inclined to mar the beauty of the
Deerhound by a too anxious endeavour to obtain great size rather than
to preserve the genuine type; but this error has been sufficiently
corrected, with the result that symmetry and elegance conjoined with
the desired attributes of speed are not sacrificed. The qualities
aimed at now are a height of something less than 30 inches, and a
weight not greater than 105 lbs., with straight fore-legs and short,
cat-like feet, a deep chest, with broad, powerful loins, slightly
arched, and strength of hind-quarters, with well-bent stifles, and
the hocks well let down. Straight stifles are objectionable, giving
a stilty appearance. Thick shoulders are equally a blemish to be
avoided, as also a too great heaviness of bone. The following is the
accepted standard of merit.

* * * * *

HEAD--The head should be broadest at the ears, tapering slightly to
the eyes, with the muzzle tapering more decidedly to the nose. The
muzzle should be pointed, but the teeth and lips level. The head
should be long, the skull flat rather than round, with a very slight
rise over the eyes, but with nothing approaching a stop. The skull
should be coated with moderately long hair which is softer than the
rest of the coat. The nose should be black (though in some blue-fawns
the colour is blue) and slightly aquiline. In the lighter-coloured
dogs a black muzzle is preferred. There should be a good moustache
of rather silky hair, and a fair beard. EARS--The ears should be set
on high, and, in repose, folded back like the Greyhound's, though
raised above the head in excitement without losing the fold, and even,
in some cases, semi-erect. A prick ear is bad. A big, thick ear,
hanging flat to the head, or heavily coated with long hair, is the
worst of faults. The ear should be soft, glossy, and like a mouse's
coat to the touch, and the smaller it is the better. It should have
no long coat or long fringe, but there is often a silky, silvery coat
on the body of the ear and the tip. Whatever the general colour, the
ears should be black or dark-coloured. NECK AND SHOULDERS--The neck
should be long--that is, of the length that befits the Greyhound
character of the dog. An over-long neck is not necessary, nor
desirable, for the dog is not required to stoop in his work like a
Greyhound, and it must be remembered that the mane, which every good
specimen should have, detracts from the apparent length of neck.
Moreover, a Deerhound requires a very strong neck to hold a stag.
The nape of the neck should be very prominent where the head is set
on, and the throat should be clean-cut at the angle and prominent.
The shoulders should be well sloped, the blades well back, with not
too much width between them. Loaded and straight shoulders are very
bad faults. STERN--Stern should be tolerably long, tapering, and
reaching to within 1-1/2 inches of the ground, and about 1-1/2 inches
below the hocks. When the dog is still, dropped perfectly straight
down, or curved. When in motion it should be curved when excited,
in no case to be lifted out of the line of the back. It should be
well covered with hair, on the inside thick and wiry, underside
longer, and towards the end a slight fringe is not objectionable.
A curl or ring tail is very undesirable. EYES--The eyes should be
dark: generally they are dark brown or hazel. A very light eye is
not liked. The eye is moderately full with a soft look in repose,
but a keen, far-away gaze when the dog is roused. The rims of the
eyelids should be black. BODY--The body and general formation is that
of a Greyhound of larger size and bone. Chest deep rather than broad,
but not too narrow and flat-sided. The loin well arched and drooping
to the tail. A straight back is not desirable, this formation being
unsuitable for going uphill, and very unsightly. LEGS AND FEET--The
legs should be broad and flat, a good broad forearm and elbow being
desirable. Fore-legs, of course, as straight as possible. Feet close
and compact, with well-arched toes. The hind-quarters drooping, and
as broad and powerful as possible, the hips being set wide apart.
The hind-legs should be well bent at the stifle, with great length
from the hip to the hock, which should be broad and flat. Cow hocks,
weak pasterns, straight stifles, and splay feet are very bad faults.
COAT--The hair on the body, neck, and quarters should be harsh and
wiry, and about 3 inches or 4 inches long; that on the head, breast,
and belly is much softer. There should be a slight hairy fringe on
the inside of the fore and hind-legs, but nothing approaching to the
feathering of a Collie. The Deerhound should be a shaggy dog, but
not over coated. A woolly coat is bad. Some good strains have a slight
mixture of silky coat with the hard, which is preferable to a woolly
coat, but the proper covering is a thick, close-lying, ragged coat,
harsh or crisp to the touch. COLOUR--Colour is much a matter of fancy.
But there is no manner of doubt that the dark blue-grey is the most
preferred. Next come the darker and lighter greys or brindles, the
darkest being generally preferred. Yellow and sandy-red or red-fawn,
especially with black points--i.e., ears and muzzle--are also in
equal estimation, this being the colour of the oldest known strains,
the McNeil and the Chesthill Menzies. White is condemned by all the
old authorities, but a white chest and white toes, occurring as they
do in a great many of the darkest-coloured dogs, are not so greatly
objected to, but the less the better, as the Deerhound is a
self-coloured dog. A white blaze on the head or a white collar should
entirely disqualify. In other cases, though passable, an attempt
should be made to get rid of white markings. The less white the
better, but a slight white tip to the stern occurs in the best
strains. HEIGHT OF DOGS--From 28 inches to 30 inches, or even more
if there be symmetry without coarseness, which, however, is rare.
HEIGHT OF BITCHES--From 26 inches upwards. There can be no objection
to a bitch being large, unless she is too coarse, as even at her
greatest height she does not approach that of the dog, and, therefore,
could not well be too big for work, as over-big dogs are. Besides,
a big bitch is good for breeding and keeping up the size. WEIGHT--From
85 pounds to 105 pounds in dogs; from 65 pounds to 80 pounds in

* * * * *

Among the more prominent owners of Deerhounds at the present time
are Mrs. H. Armstrong, Mrs. W. C. Grew, Mrs. Janvrin Dickson, Miss
A. Doxford, Mr. Harry Rawson, and Mr. H. McLauchin. Mrs. Armstrong
is the breeder of two beautiful dog hounds in Talisman and Laird of
Abbotsford, and of two typically good bitches in Fair Maid of Perth
and Bride of Lammermoor. Mrs. Grew owns many admirable specimens,
among them being Blair Athol, Ayrshire, Kenilworth, and Ferraline.
Her Ayrshire is considered by some judges to be the most perfect
Deerhound exhibited for some time past. He is somewhat large, perhaps,
but he is throughout a hound of excellent quality and character,
having a most typical head, with lovely eyes and expression, perfect
front, feet and hind-quarters. Other judges would give the palm to
Mr. Harry Rawson's St. Ronan's Ranger, who is certainly difficult
to excel in all the characteristics most desirable in the breed.

Next: The Borzoi Or Russian Wolfhound

Previous: The Irish Wolfhound

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