A-chasing the Wild deer, and Following the Roe

Ponder upon this Robert Burns poem and see if it doesn’t conjure up for you images of Scottish Deerhounds standing tall and dignified as they overlook the misty highlands and fog-covered moors:

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer –

A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North
The birth place of Valour, the country of Worth;

Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

Farewell to the mountains high cover’d with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;

Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer

Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.”

Being the “Royal dog of Scotland” meant that only men holding the rank of an earl were allowed to own a Scottish Deerhound, and this restriction lasted well into the 1700s. The Scottish Highlands were the last bastion of healthy Deerhound numbers because the Highlands were the last piece of geography where deer still lived as wild animals, and thus, were hunted by Deerhounds. It probably didn’t help the breed that Highland Chieftains felt they were privy to exclusive Deerhound ownership, and it became all but impossible to find a Deerhound south of Scotland’s Central Belt.

As we mentioned in an earlier post about the Flat-Coated Retriever whose development was rooted in technological advances, technology also impacted the Deerhound, but not in a good way. The modern rifle helped nudge the breed into a more precarious state since its use eliminated the need for a big dog able to run down and grab prey.

The living symbol of the Highlands, Alba, and Ancient Caledonia deserved better.

On a cheerier note, we conclude with a clip from the wonderful computer-animated fantasy drama from 2012 – and yes, there’s a Deerhound in it:

Image: “Foghound” by Rosalind Trigg

7 thoughts on “A-chasing the Wild deer, and Following the Roe”

    • We will, Leigh! We are lucky enough to know some Scottish Deerhound folks, and luckier still to have accompanied Westminster Best in Show winner, Hickory, on her media tour the day after her fabulous win. What a terrifically sweet dog she was.

  1. <> This is not true, it is pure fiction taken straight from Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Talisman. You had to have income and property to own any type of hunting dog (including lurchers) from the first English Game Law of 1389 until the repeal of British Game Laws in 1830. There have never been any “laws” restricting ownership of any dog to those of the rank of an earl.

    • Our information is as good as our sources, Barb. We got this information about ownership from the book, “Levrieri,” by By Mario Canton, as well as from Harper’s Weekly, Volume 23, the websites Renstore.com and canineweekly.com, Irish Wolfhound Time, and ANIMALLIFEEXPECTANCY.

      • Your sources are unreliable and not historically accurate ….even the AKC had the “no-one less than an earl could own a Deerhound’ in their breed write up for decades…it appeals to owners and snobbery. However it is not true, based on popular romantic fiction. For reliable sources, you don’t read Harpers Weekly etc all rehashing Sir Walter Scott’s famous line in the Talisman, read the Game Law itself and academic books focused on the subject (The Statues At Large: from Magna Carta, to the end of the last parliament, 1761 by Ruffhead …available on Wikipedia & the Internet Archive, this is a complete record of all English and British law). …or read the piece I have attached below.

  2. As a coursing enthusiast, keeper of sporting sighthounds of several types and student of the historic development of my hounds, I can earnestly say that never was there so much romantic nonsense attributed to a breed than the noble Deerhound. The examples one sees in the show ring of today, no matter how prestigious the event may be, has neither the ability or inclination to ‘run down and grab prey’, magnificent, warm devoted companions as they certainly are. Coursing clubs existed and survived the alleged ‘technological’ advances that apparently made the Deerhound obsolete. Coursing, and dogs working to guns are two distinct and separate sporting disciplines. The show Deerhound was exaggerated in size and coat for no other reason than romantic fancy. The true Deerhound having the size and dynamism in movement as a modern track bred greyhound with a physique somewhere between that of the same greyhound and a Saluki with a thick weather and thorn resistant coat. The acceleration and speed they possess is nothing short of explosive matched by a keenness to persue game that a good example would never quit the chase or ‘jack’ until it was literally exhausted or the prey in question was firmly held in its firm, never ‘snipey’ muzzle. The head should have a defined stop unlike the borzoi with well muscled cheeks. Show breeder have done nothing but degrade the breed in some abstracted notion of soundness based on a ‘standard’ that describes some literary fantasy that never existed anywhere but the lid of a shortbread tin. Pure breeding should preserve the abilities the dog was originally bred for not something as shallow and pointless as appearance. To be honest the list of ruined breeds is as long as the ques they generate at the vets surgery. Shamefull, can we move away from this Victorian fetishism at last and be truly proud of the animals we breed? Please!!!

    • Thank you, Mr. Thordall-Wynne, for your unvarnished point of view. We wonder with earnestness if, in your opinion, there are any present day deerhounds that could do the job for which they were bred?

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