Irish Wolfhound History

The Dog Book, by James Watson

Chapter XLIV The Scotch Deerhound

If a clear line of descent could be established to the Irish wolfhound precedence would be given to that dog as the oldest type of hunting dog preserved in its original purity, but such not being the case the off-shoot therefrom, the deerhound of Scotland, is entitled to priority. It is a little more than singular that modern writers on the two breeds have contented themselves with the surmise that they were possibly of similar origin, when the fact of their having been the same could have been authenticated so readily. There is a question as to whether there were two Irish wolfhounds a smooth and a rough, but that there was a rough is not contraverted and it was this rough dog which was also kept in the Highlands of Scotland and has been preserved to this day, not in what we should call original purity, but with his original appearance and characteristics.

Lord of the Isles 
 Lord of the Isles - An ideal picture of one of the best dogs owned by
Mr. G.W. Hickman, Solihull, England
 Judging ring at Wissahickon Show
 Mr. Spackman's Winning Couple
A scene in the judging ring at Wissahickon Show
 Dunrobin - Bred by the Duke of Sutherland. Late the property of
Mr. A.L. Page of New York
 Olga - The property of Mr. A.L. Page of New York

The first descriptive reference to these dogs is found in Taylor's "Pennilesse Pilgrimage", published in 1618, and is given in the account of one of the great red-deer hunts of the Earl of Mar. "The manner of the hunting is this: five or six hundred men doe rise early in the morning and they doe disperse themselves various ways, and seven, eight or even ten miles compass they doe bring or chase the deer in many heards (two, three or four hundred in a heard) to such or such a place, as the nobleman shall appoint them. Then when the day is come, the Lords and gentlemen of their companies doe ride or go to the said places, sometimes wading up to their middles through bournes and rivers, and then they being come to the place, doe lye down on the ground till these foresaid scouts, which are called the tinckell, doe bring down the deer; but as the proverb says of a bad cook, so tinckell men doe lick their own fingers, for besides their bows and arrows which they carry with them we can hear now and then a harquebusse going off, which they doe seldom discharge in vain; then after we had stayed three houres or there abouts, we might perceive the deer appear in the hills round about us (their heads making a show like a wood), which being followed close by the tinckell, are chased down into the valley where wee lay; then all the valley on each side being waylaid with a hundred couple of strong Irish greyhounds, they are let loose as occasion serves upon the heard of deer, that with the dogs, gunnes, arrowes, durks and daggers, in the space of two houres four-score fat deer were slaine, which after were disposed, some one way and some another, twenty or thirty miles; and more than enough left for us to make merry withal at our rendezvous.

"Being come to our lodgings there was much baking, boyling, roasting, and stewing, as if cook ruffian had been there to have scalded the devil in his feathers - the kitchen being always on the side of a banke, many kettles and pots boyling, and many spits turning and winding, with great varietye of cheere, as venison baked, sodden, roast and stu'de; beef, mutton, goates, kid, hares, fish, salmon, pigeons, hens, capons, chickens, partridge, moorcoots, heathcocks, caperkillies and termagants, good ale, sacke, white and claret, tente (or aligant), and most potent aqua vitae. All this, and more than these, we had continually in superfluous abundance, caught by faulconers, fowlers, fishers and brought by my Lord Marr's tenants and purveyors to vitual the camp, which consisted of fourteen or fifteen hundred men and horses."

The quotation is lengthy, but it is worth giving as showing the number of red deer at that time in the Western Highlands of Scotland and the wholesale manner in which they were killed when attacked in this method of driving. The minuteness of the detail carries with it the conviction that the "pilgrim" was very exact in his statements and being a participant at such gatherings he would not use the term "Irish greyhounds" unless he was fully justified in so doing . Whether, if these dogs had been such immense animals as we read about in some old books, the author of this description would have dwelt upon that fact we leave to the opinion of the reader. Our mind was made up long ago that the many claims to gigantic height in the wolfhound are gross exaggerations, to give them a mild term. Goldsmith mentions them as being as large as a calf of a year old and being four feet high. Buffon eclipses Goldsmith entirely when he says that he had only seen one which when sitting down seemed to five pieds (a pied was 13 1/8 inches) high, and resembled the dog to which is given the name of Great Dane. There is no evidence that these measurements were taped and when we come to reliable data we find that the Irish and Scottish dogs differed but little. The Marquis of Sligo was one of the last to keep any wolfhounds and to pay attention to their breeding. And it was one of his dogs which Aylmer Bourke Lambert, vice-president of the Linnean Society, measured and found to be 10 inches in length of head, "from tip of nose to back part of skull", and "from the toe to top of the fore shoulder" 28½ inches. That is to say a 27-inch dog, standard measure. As Mr. Lambert was not seeking to depreciate the wolfhound we may presume that this was a large dog which he measured. That height would not have been at all uncommon for a Scottish deerhound. Sir Walter Scott's Maida cannot be given as an example of the latter for he was a black and white dog, a cross between a large Pyrenean sheep dog and a deer hound. He was bred by Macdonell of Glengarry, or Glengarry as he was commonly called, and he made no secret of his introducing the West Indies bloodhound and the dog of the Pyrenees into his kennel "to prevent the degeneracy which results from consanguinity." Maida must have been a very large dog, but we have not found any record of his height. Coming to later times, we have in Dalziel's "British Dogs" a number of measurements of dogs of about 1880, and of the sixteen heights recorded only two were under 27 inches; the others ranging from 27 inches to 32 inches. The contributor of much of the article in "British Dogs" did not believe in the usefulness of large dogs, considering that 28 inches was as tall as a working dog should be. He stated that he had measured the deerhounds at the Birmingham Show of 1873 and gives the particulars of seven named ones, two at 26½ inches, three at 27, one at 28 and one at 30½, adding that there were seven dogs over 30 inches and that the second prize was taken by one of 26 inches. This was in the early days of dog shows and before there could have been any of the breeding for size which dog shows cultivated.

Cader   Scotch Deer Hound
"A deerhound of pure Glengarry breed,
28 inches high." From "Stonehenge on
the Dog", 1859
From Jesse's "Anecdotes", 1845
 Ch. Chieftain
A celebrity fifteen years ago when Colonel John E. Thayer's kennel was invincible

The tallest dog we have had here to our knowledge was Mr. John E. Thayer's Chieftain which measured 31 inches, and he was a dog that beat all England and to the best of our recollection was the largest of the deerhounds of his day. Since then Mr. Lee in his "Modern Dogs" mentions one of 32¾ inches at twenty months. Stonehenge also illustrated a deerhound said to be 33 inches in height, but of that there is much doubt.

Height is not at all an essential in a deerhound, in fact if the dog is to be considered as one for work his height shuld be limited to a size that would keep him a workman and not merely a show poser. We had but the one objection to Chieftain of his being too large and for that reason always preferred his kennel mate, the bitch Wanda, who was 28½ inches. She showed a little more quality, was much better in ears and was every bit as large as one wants in a deerhound bitch. We do not remember whether we ever had them in opposition inthe ring, but if we did then Wanda must have won, or condition beat her. We consider 30 inches as much as a deerhound should measure to be of use. It is a breed which should be judged on the lines of a greyhound, symmetry and speed formation being placed over size.

Reference was made to cross-breeding by Glengarry, but his was an exception to the general usage of deerhound breeders in Scotland, at the time these dogs were used exclusively in deer stalking. There were many other kennels where the utmost care was taken to keep the breed pure, and if any cross became necessary it was obtained from other kennels and not by such radical departures as Glengarry resorted to. There were in his days plenty of rough Scottish greyhounds of stout breeding, even if no deerhounds were obtainable.

Several works have treated at length upon the deerhound, the first of which is Scrope's "Deerstalking", and he commended the cross of the foxhound. Colonsay also wrote on the breed, and St. John, in "Highland Sports", gives many interesting anecdotes and sketches in which deerhounds figure. The most pretentious work is Weston Bell's monograph, published in 1892, from which we learn that the breed is no longer in request in deerstalking, his place even then having been usurped by the less demonstrative collie, taught to track the wounded stag.

The deerhound is a dog that really should be popular, but he is not, at least he has always had a small following here. After Mr. Thayer gave up exhibiting, the only person who took any interest in the breed was Mr. Page, who had some hounds from the Duke of Sutherland's kennels, while of late Mr. Spackman of Philadelphia has been about the only exhibitor, and such was the paucity of competition and the ease with which he secured the prefix of champion for his dogs that he became a strong advocate for increased difficulty is securing that coveted title. Exhibitors who think champion titles won too easily should collies, fox terriers, Irish terriers or some breed like that and they would not complain of easy wins.

The deerhound so closely approaches the greyhound in conformation that the standard of that dog may be taken to apply for all points except the larger size and greater bone of the deerhound, and his coat. The deerhound's coat should be about 3 inches in length and as harsh as possible to the touc, especially along the back and ribs. It is softer on the under part of the body and is shorter on the head than on the body, but it should not be smooth. In order to obtain the correct expression it is especially necessary that the eyebrows should be shaggy and the moustache somewhat long compared with the skull coat. There should be a beard from the lower jaw, and ears should be small, neatly carried like a greyhound, and covered with short hair, darker than the body coat. The English club for this breed gives the weight as from 85 lbs. to 105 lbs. for dogs and from 65 lbs. to 80 lbs. for bitches. This club has also published the following scale of points:

Head and Skull   15 Coat  8
 Eyes and Ears  10 Stern 
 Neck and Chest 10  Colour 
 Body, including Loins 10  Generaly symmetry  15 
 Thighs and Hocks 12  Legs and Feet  10 
     Total 100

Previous page   Book index  Site guide  History index Home page  Next page 

Updated June 17th, 2005