The ancestors of the Deerhound existed way before the recorded history. Like many ancient breeds, the Deerhound’s exact origin is open for discussion. However, what is known is that they were used by the Gaels and Picts in hunting hoofed game as a part of their diet. Roman pottery found in Argyll that dates back to the 1st Century AD depicts deer hunting using large hounds with rough coats. Similar evidence can be found on Pictish stones in the Scottish Higland dating back to the 7th Century AD depicting a hunt using hounds that are similar in appearance to the Deerhound. Before the middle of the 18th century, greyhounds and deerhounds varied considerably in appearance, but by then, there were two distinct strains – the Highland and the Lowland. The Highland strain was taller and stronger with a dense coat than the Lowland. When the rulers of the Highland claimed exclusive ownership of the Deerhound during this period, the Deerhound population greatly declined.
Red deer coursing was popular for taking down the quarry until the 19th century when modern rifles were invented that paved the way for smaller hunting/tracking dogs. As the large Scottish estates were split into smaller estates and the deer population dwindled, so was the need for a fast-running greyhound. Eventually, breed fanciers like the brothers Archibald and Duncan McNeill began meticulous breeding efforts to revive the breed and kept the Deerhound as a show dog.
The Deerhound is friendly, gentle and is well known for its eagerness to please its master. It is naturally well-behaved and is a quiet animal. Consequently, it does not make a good watchdog and will never bark at someone including strangers but will greet anyone with a wagging tail. It is a true sighthound and will be eager to chase small animals like cats and other small dogs if given the chance.
Trainability is on the moderate side. A Deerhound can easily pick up new commands quickly, especially if positive reinforcement training technique is adapted. Praise and food rewards are good motivation for training this breed. However, different dogs have different level of trainability. Some Deerhounds are quite stubborn and can simply ignore commands. Like most other breeds, consistent training from a firm but gentle handler will go a long way in raising a well-balanced Deerhound. In the United States, Deerhounds compete in conformation and lure coursing. They also compete in obedience, dog agility, and flyball, although few Deerhounds excel in these fields meant for smaller dogs.
The harsh coat of the Deerhound requires minimal grooming. Brushing the coat twice or three times a week is advised in order to remove dead hair, as the Deerhound sheds whole year round. Combing should be done, going up to the skin to make sure that tangles are removed. Regular brushing and combing will keep the coat looking great and the skin healthy, as brushing and combing helps promote good blood circulation on the skin. Bathe the Deerhound only when necessary. The ears should also be regularly checked and cleaned when necessary, looking for signs of infection or wax build up. Use a cotton ball and an ear cleanser, making sure that the ears are dry after cleaning because moist ears are breeding grounds for fungus and bacteria. Brushing the teeth once a week helps remove plaque and tartar build up which makes the teeth and gums healthy. The nails should be trimmed occasionally. A good sign when to trim the nails is when you hear them ticking on the floor when the dog is moving.
The Deerhound is generally a healthy breed with a typical lifespan of 8 to 11 years. In the United Kingdom, the median age of the Deerhound is between 8.3 to 8.6 years. Among the health concerns that are known to affect the breed include cardiomyopathy, osteosarcoma, stomach or splene torsion, bloating, allergies, pseudoachondrodysplasia, cystinuria, hereditary factor VII deficiency, hypothyroidism, and pyometra.
The Deerhound is a large breed with a lot of stamina and endurance. It needs considerable exercise as a puppy and as an adult to become a well balanced adult and maintain its health and condition. It is an adaptable breed and can live in any home setting provided that it has access to regular exercise, whether it is a long walk or jog or a session of free running in a fenced yard or in any secured area. Access to nearby parks for lengthy runs and rigorous fetching sessions is even better. A Deerhound puppy has a tendency to display destructive behaviour if it is not given sufficient exercise. However, an adult Deerhound is content to spend most of its time snoozing on the floor or sleeping on the couch. It is a good choice for someone who live an active lifestyle.
The Deerhound is great and amiable with other dogs, although the same cannot be said with anything small that runs including cats and small canines. Although mildly stubborn, the Deerhound can get along with children but it is not a playmate type of dog that can play fetch with kids. It will do best in a home with older children who know how to interact and handle a dog similar to the Deerhound’s temperament. Its sheer size makes it unsuitable to live with small children as it can easily knock them down in a rough play session.