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Scottish Deerhound: Form, Function & Fashion

Scottish Deerhound Opal. Best in Show SDCA Specialty 2021

Looking at our nearly nine-year-old Scottish Deerhound bitch, Opal, lying upside down on the couch beside me, I am in awe at what purebred Scottish Deerhounds have brought into our lives for over seven decades. In Opal’s case, we have, twelve generations back, Zatopek Of Ardkinglas, bred by Miss A.M.E. Noble (“Ardkinglas”) and imported from Scotland in 1958 by Bayard’s mother, Mrs. Bayard (Mickie) Smith (“Jeffcairn”). Through that importation came not just our current descendant, GCHB Fernhill’s Opal At Jeffcairn SC GRC JOR, but also the sixty-year legacy of Lyonhil Deerhounds, from Kate Lyon’s foundation bitch, Jeffcairn Dylana in 1960, and the Dalmahoy-Shanid dynasty through Keith (and Frieda) Allan’s Liath Ian Of Dalmahoy and his son, bred by Mickie Smith, Jeffcairn Mac Ian Of Dalmahoy, which are behind most of the North American Deerhounds today. It is a long legacy and a continuing passion for a breed whose beauty, athleticism, and temperament have captivated generations in the Jeffcairn household.

1960 (June) Zatopek, Bayard with Dylana, Eric with Sea Siren

We have lure coursed with all our Deerhounds, raced most of them, and even open field coursed a few. We have helped with countless Deerhound specialties and all-breed meets, and Bayard is a familiar sight hunt-mastering in his kilt. Over these years, we have been able to see Deerhounds that course well and hold up, those that show and course, and those that show but are never seen at a running event. Of course, many people who show choose not to run their dogs; however, nevertheless, we have made some observations that we feel hold up.

Deerhounds are rarely allowed to perform their original function of chasing and taking down a mature stag, often as a single dog or brace, by grabbing the ear and having the neck snap, which has been described in detail in so much of our breed’s historical accounts. Today in Scotland, Deerhound function is illegal. That makes it hard for breeders to understand the relationship between size and structure reflected in field performance and, as a result, for the breed to maintain the form necessary for its function. Yet compared to many breeds, many Deerhounds today are remarkably similar to their working ancestors. As sprinters, they need to have the speed and agility of a Greyhound, with the size and strength to handle the 200-300-pound Scottish red stag, yet not be weighed down by excessive size and bulk. Thanks to breeders who have paid attention to function, most are still recognizable as Deerhounds, with their characteristic shape and type: rough-coated Greyhounds of larger size and bone. Some functions, such as speed, agility, and drive, can be tested with lure coursing, even though a plastic bag is never as interesting as a fleeing animal.

Opal. Best in Show SDCA Specialty 2021

The American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) was founded in 1972 and its lure coursing events have been a part of the Scottish Deerhound Club of America’s (“SDCA”) national specialties since the first SDCA-hosted ASFA lure field trial at its St. Louis specialty in May, 1976. It was the largest group of Deerhounds to course at one stake in North America, ever. John Wiley was the organizer, Ch. Gayleward’s Tippity Witchet, owned by Bobbi Longfellow, was Best in Field, and the ASFA trial has continued in partnership with the SDCA’s specialty to this day. Over time, additional performance events joined the coursing program at specialties; AKC lure coursing, Large Gazehound Racing Association racing, and AKC Fast CAT are now included at all specialties. In 2023, it was a three-day event under Field Chair Dr. R. Scott Dove, DVM and Huntmaster Bayard Smith, with its own Coursing Events Program and a huge entry of “form follows function” believers who know how much this breed loves the chase. In the “olden days” it was a day of conformation showing, the next day we hit the lure-coursing field, and then headed back home with exhausted dogs. Today, conformation and fields events are given equal time at SDCA specialties.

Fashion has influenced what we see in the ring. Early on, the first 1892 Standard (ratified by the UK Club in 1901) was changed from ideal hunting characteristics with a little leniency to not totally exclude the growing popularity of show Deerhounds, or “the Modern Deerhound” as they were referred to then. Today, in the winning line-ups, we see quite a few impressive animals of great height, heavy build, extreme rear angulation, and flashy movement. They may take your breath away, but most wouldn’t have the speed, agility, or durability to take down deer in rough country. We also see a few refined, delicate beauties that look like sculptures. They may be pretty, but they wouldn’t have the strength or durability to hold up to frequent hunting. As with most things in life, moderation will get the job done—moderate in height and build, with a well-muscled engine and efficient movement.

Our hope is that breeders, judges, and fans of Deerhounds will remember their history and not be seduced into choosing extreme characteristics driven by the show world over functionality. Encouraging judges, new breeders, new owners, and especially those who haven’t open field coursed their Deerhounds, to attend the running events at sighthound specialties could really help in understanding what should be desirable in the conformation ring.

Bayard and Kris Smith. SDCA 2018 Specialty ASFA BIF (Entry of 28).

Our “Opal” (GCh. Fernhill’s Opal At Jeffcairn SC GRC JOR) was Best of Breed at the ASFA trial (entry of 28) at the 2018 SDCA National Specialty and Best of Breed in conformation at the 2021 SDCA National Specialty, and is the breed’s only Deerhound with both a national specialty lure course Best of Breed win and a national Best in Specialty conformation win; the magic confluence of form, function, and fashion… and fun!!!