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Understanding the Scottish Deerhound Standard

Scottish Deerhound standing



The preface to the Scottish Deerhound Club of America breed standard and the Australian National Kennel Council breed standard reminds the fancy (if you look hard) of the historic function of the Deerhound. Brief mention is made of “coping with large Scottish deer (often weighing 250 pounds)” and much is made of the mythology of the “Royal dogs” owned by earls and noble lords.*

More on function would have been helpful in interpreting the standard, in particular helping to grade the severity of “faults,” “undesirables,” and other deviations noted in the standard by assisting the reader in understanding to what extent the deviation affects the original purpose of the breed.

Two key elements are instrumental in understanding Scottish Deerhound conformation: (a) its quarry, the Red deer (Cervus elaphus scoticus) and (b) the terrain over which this breed coursed. Red deer are smaller than an elk, but larger than a white-tailed deer.

The Scottish Red deer, smaller than the Western European Red deer thanks to the inhospitable windswept hills of its habitat, weighed 225 to 300 pounds with a shoulder height of about 40 to 47 inches.

The terrain is extraordinarily rough: peat bogs, stony hills covered with coarse heather, rocky crags, and rushing burns. Watching Deerhounds work in their home terrain illuminates how this breed needs to be constructed and the standard is the breed experts’ attempt to describe this.

*Fortunately, the revised AKC The Complete Dog Book has a new introduction to the standard, correcting this historically inaccurate romanticism encouraged by that great Deerhound fancier Sir Walter Scott.

Scottish Deerhound
The Titan • Peogh & Glen. Crealock 1873

Those few paragraphs adopted as the Scottish Deerhound breed Standard in 1935 by the AKC and subsequently immortalized by the show fancy as the “ideal” Scottish Deerhound have an interesting and rather chequered history. Early in the 1800s, Archibald MacNeill of Colonsay revived the sport of coursing Red deer with the “Highland deer-hound” or “rough Scotch greyhound” on the islands of Colonsay and Jura.

He describes a day of deer coursing (August 11, 1835) on the Island of Jura that saw six sportsmen, a piper, and a deer-stalker watch two deerhounds, “Buskar” and “Bran,” take down a 308-pound stag that was 3 feet 11-1⁄4 inches at the shoulder. Buskar, his “best in field” dog, was painted by Sir Edwin Landseer, carefully measured, and an account of this event was published in William Scrope’s The Art of Deerstalking (1838). There was no Sight and Scent Magazine or Sighthound Review in those days! This description became an important benchmark in understanding the working Deerhound.

By the mid-1800s, J.H. Walsh (“Stonehenge”) began pressing for the development of breed standards as the sport of showing dogs increased in popularity. So began the very public debate about how a Scottish Deerhound should look. Weston Bell started the task in 1892 with his seminal book, The Scottish Deerhound with Notes on its Origin and Characteristics. This provided a first prototype breed standard developed with the assistance of the Duchess of Wellington, the Marquis of Breadalbane, Captain Graham, G.W. Hickman, and Robert Hood-Wright.

Hickman summed up their conclusions:

Between the large greyhound and a small deerhound there was no difference in outward characteristics… the deerhound is simply a rough greyhound raised to a larger size by selections, common to the whole of Scotland… the Highlands of Scotland, being the only place where the stag has remained in a wild state in any numbers…

Bell makes a clear distinction that while his description is of the “modern Deerhound” with measurements of specimens currently appearing in the show ring, the working Deerhound forms the basis of his written “ideal.” So, in deference to the working Deerhound, he capped size at “29 to 30 inches, but not over 30 inches” for males and “26 to 27” inches for bitches.

To run into and hold a full-grown stag, a large and strong animal, is certainly required and it was found that a dog averaging 29 to 30 inches was the correct animal.”

Hickman and Hood-Wright then went on to reformat this description by Bell (with one crucial difference) into a Deerhound Standard which was formally amended and approved at a meeting of the UK Deerhound Club, November 26th, 1892, and again endorsed in 1901. It was recognized by that time that the breed had, in effect, been saved from extinction by this new sport of dog showing in England. Specimens that were “over-big” for deerstalking had regularly been sent south to compete in the show ring, which they did with distinction, and the breed became very popular.

That reality and pressure from Graham and Hood-Wright who were great advocates of size (and then both went on to develop the Irish Wolfhound), ensured that the newly adopted 1892/1901 Standard provided for a size greater than 30 inches… “if there be symmetry without coarseness, which is rare.

Then in 1914, a major change took place to the Standard with the addition of “Points of a Deerhound arranged in Order of Importance.” Type was placed where it belongs… first in order of importance. The absence of a description of movement in the original Standard of 1892 was addressed. Also slipped into the Standard was the phrase “as tall as possible consistent with quality” and the height limits were changed.

Club minutes that might have explained this change have been lost, but most likely it reflects the continuing concern expressed by some of the Deerhound fancy (letters and discussion in The Stock-Keeper) that the breed will lose popularity to its much larger competitor, the Irish Wolfhound. This, of course, is exactly what happened. Regardless, with this change the Deerhound officially became a show dog.

The breed Standard, adopted by the AKC in 1935, included these changes while also increasing the breed height by two inches “from 30 to 32” for males and for bitches “from 28 inches upwards.” Weights were correspondingly increased in the AKC version and the somewhat spurious claim that the climate of the US might produce a mixed silky and hard coat was added.

This is very important history for those judges who see the Standard as a tool for evaluating breed specimens on the basis of form following function. The Scottish Deerhound Standard already describes a modern show Deerhound, so any exaggeration of the breed characteristics described in the Standard will move the Deerhound even farther from its working roots.

Scottish Deerhound
Photo Courtesy of Annemiek Hawkins


Type (Point #1)

Type is the sum of those qualities that are distinctive to the breed which make the animal not a dog, but a Deerhound. Most breed Standards start with General Appearance, but the Scottish Deerhound Club of America’s Deerhound Standard follows the format of the original Hickman and Hood-Wright Deerhound Standard approved by the Deerhound Club (UK) in 1892. Head is mentioned first, but foremost in Points Arranged in Order of Importance is Type. Point #1.

A Deerhound should resemble a rough-coated Greyhound of larger size and bone. This is the General Appearance missing at the beginning of this Standard. The overall first impression of a Scottish Deerhound should be that of a large Greyhound… not a giant Greyhound and not a small Irish Wolfhound.

To quote G.A. Graham (Vero Shaw, 1881 p. 229): “The general appearance should be striking, elegant and aristocratic to a marked extent and nobility of carriage is a very strong feature of the breed.


Scottish Deerhound’s Movement (Point #2)

Almost as an afterthought, easy, active and true was added in the Points in 1914 to describe this breed’s movement. Perhaps the lapse was in recognition that the Scottish Deerhound is above all a galloping hound, and trotting about the ring simply shows off a dog’s structure which only hints at how it may perform in the field. Deerhounds should be light on their feet, with a seemingly effortless ability to bound over rough terrain.

Propulsion in the field comes from the rear assembly and drive from the rear, with no hint of closeness or cow hocks, is extremely important. Deerhounds, unlike Greyhounds, gallop with their head up when after deer and spring (or bound) over the terrain, keeping the quarry sighted in the long, thicket-like heather.

Written reports from the 1800s (Stonehenge, British Rural Sports, 1875) note this head-neck carriage and describe it as a feature that distinguishes the rough Scotch greyhound from other regional greyhound types… “…the deerhound gallops with his head in the air, and his body raised off the ground, ready for a spring at the throat or ear… while the greyhound, with his head close to the ground, lies down ventre à terre; and he is also prepared to pick up his game, not pull it down.” That characteristic is captured in easy and active.

Scottish Deerhound
Buskar (1836 by Sir Edwin Landseer) Height at Shoulder: 28 Inches; Girth at Chest 32 Inches Weight in Running Condition… 85 Pounds. “The deer he killed that day in total weighed 308 pounds.” Source: Scrope (1839) The Art of Deerstalking p.347


Scottish Deerhound’s Size (Point #3)

Size has been an ongoing debate for the past two hundred years and continues to this day. While the Standard reads as tall as possible consistent with quality Scottish Deerhounds greater than 30 inches at the shoulder are generally not functional on deer… that was a known fact. We know the measurements of two of the best working Deerhounds… Buskar and Bran (this page).

The Standard recognizes the “modern Deerhound” size and the show world’s expectation that “bigger is better,” but this needs to be balanced by the knowledge that those famous for their functionality were not more than 30 inches. The battle over size will continue, but moderation appears to be the most reasonable approach if type and breed health are to be maintained in the long-term.

Scottish Deerhound
Bran (‘The Famous,’ 1842 by Thomas Duncan) Height at Shoulder: 29 Inches; Girth: 31-1⁄2 Inches “Killed his first stag at 9 months and his last at 9 years.” Source: Vero Shaw (1879-91) The Illustrated Book of the Dog. Chapter XXXI. The Deerhound by G. A. Graham


Scottish Deerhound’s Head (Point #4)

Long, level, well balanced, carried high. The head should look like that of a large, strong-jawed Greyhound. The length of the muzzle should appear, and be, longer than the length of the skull, as the jaws need length and strength to seize and hold the quarry.


Scottish Deerhound’s Body (Point #5)

Long, very deep in brisket, well-sprung ribs and great breadth across hips. A Scottish Deerhound is a “long-dog” in hunting nomenclature… a dog that is slightly longer than tall. The croup should not be too steep or too level: too steep a croup places the hindquarters too far under the galloping hound so that all the power from the rear is lost; too level a croup forces the dog to work too hard to get sufficient leverage for a power take-off from the rear.

The hips are the driving force of the Deerhound, so the rear must be broad at the pelvis with wide parallel hocks. This is the number one fundamental requirement for a functional Deerhound due to its breed-specific galloping style. To see the Deerhound constantly leaping in the air to remain sighted as it bounds through heather or tall grass is to understand why the Standard says the rear must be “…as broad and powerful as possible, the hips being set wide apart…

Scottish Deerhound
‘Easy’ and ‘Active,’ Ch. Thistleglen Margot. Photo by Halvorson


Forelegs & Thighs (Point #6, #7)

Legs should be well-muscled with a well-defined and muscled first and second thigh. Bend of stifle should be moderate, neither too straight nor sickle-hocked, as the former does not provide sufficient leverage for springing through heather and uphill work and the latter is too weak and inefficient, breaking down with hard use.

Scottish Deerhound
Photo Courtesy of Dan Gauss


The Loin (Point #8)

The loin which is the area between the end of the ribs and the pelvis, should be well-arched, and belly well-drawn-up, with the topline maintained while moving. The loin should be muscular (not fat), showing strength and flexibility as it provides propulsion in uphill work.


Scottish Deerhound’s Coat (Point #9):

There are striking differences in Deerhound coats today, although the Standard specifies “harsh and wiry about 3 to 4 inches long.” This is the mature coat of a 4- to 5-year-old. A puppy exhibiting this length of coat will generally be over-coated as an adult and need stripping. The Scottish Deerhound is a natural breed that should be shown tidied up, but without stripping or sculpting the coat.

A Deerhound should grow a correct coat by inheritance and have the correct body shape without needing it stripped, scissored, “Furminated,” or plucked to meet the Standard. Coats are a result of genes, not climate. As described by Captain Graham in 1881, “The coat should be coarse and hard… a well covered head gives much ‘character’… Some breeders hold that no Deerhound is worthy of notice unless he has a good rough head, with plenty of beard and coat generally… Here, however they are at fault as several of the best known dogs have nearly smooth heads.” (Vero Shaw, 1881 p. 229-230)

Scottish Deerhound
Champion Ayrshire • Painted by Arthur Wardle, c. 1908

A Deerhound should grow a correct coat by inheritance and have the correct body shape without needing it stripped, scissored, “Furminated,” or plucked to meet the Standard.


Scottish Deerhound’s Feet (Point #10)

The Standard does not specify “cat” or “hare” feet, it says “feet close and compact.” The two middle toes in a Deerhound foot are always slightly longer than the side toes, but should be so strong and well-knuckled that the overall appearance of the foot is small and tight in relation to the size of the dog. Long, weak toes are a serious fault and functionally useless.

As Miss A.N. Hartley describes in her book The Deerhound (1972), “Feet are most important, the pads should be large and thick making the feet look almost as though they had little rubber balls under them.

The Standard describes a mature Deerhound. A Scottish Deerhound generally isn’t fully mature until it reaches 4 to 5 years. Most Deerhounds are shown between the ages of one and four years. This makes judging this breed very difficult, and experience invaluable and appreciated. The Standard also describes breed features which are both aesthetic and functional.


Life Stages in a Scottish Deerhound Bitch

Scottish Deerhound



  • Judge the dog, not the handler or the “package”;
  • Attend as many Deerhound Specialties/Breed Shows as possible and always watch breed lure coursing events;
  • Understand that the Standard describes functional points and those that are aesthetic/cosmetic, and be able to differentiate between them;
  • Reward dogs by placing a priority on functionality, as this breed is, above all, a galloping hound developed for a specific prey and terrain;
  • Avoid extremes in all points: extreme size, extreme bend of stifle, extreme roach over the loin, extreme depth of brisket, extreme coat… reward moderation as the best option for the long-term health and conformation of the breed;
  • And always remember that the Scottish Deerhound is not a giant Greyhound or a small Irish Wolfhound… the Deerhound is a rough-coated Greyhound of larger size and bone.


Understanding the Scottish Deerhound Standard

By Barbara Heidenreich

Courtesy of Sighthound Review Vol. 3 Issue 1, Spring 2012 pp. 140-143  and Sight and Scent October 2013 pp. 126, 129-132.

This is an abridged version of “Visualizing the Scottish Deerhound Standard” prepared in 2004, updated in 2012 for the affiliated conformation study groups of the Canadian Dog Judges Association. A copy of the full “Visualizing the Scottish Deerhound Standard” is available as a PDF on request from [email protected].


Are you looking for a Scottish Deerhound puppy?

The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.


Want to help rescue and re-home a Scottish Deerhound?

Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.


Scottish Deerhound Dog Breed Magazine

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Read and learn more about the dignified Scottish Deerhound dog breed with articles and information in our Scottish Deerhound Dog Breed Magazine.


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