Westminster dog show 2011: What the heck is a Scottish Deerhound?

A Scottish Deerhound named Hickory won Best in Show at the Westminster dog show 2011 Tuesday. What exactly is a Scottish Deerhound anyway?

Frank Franklin II/AP
Best in Show winner Hickory, a Scottish Deerhound, wins the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York on Feb. 15.

Last year the winner was a Scottish terrier named Sadie. Everybody knows what a Scottie looks like. F.D.R. had a famous one named Fala, and Barney Bush cut a fine figure as Dubya’s First Dog.

But a Scottish Deerhound? Not so much.

Enter the game-changer: Hickory, a Scottish Deerhound, officially known as GCH Foxcliffe Hickory Wind, won Best in Show at the Westminster Dog Show. With her lean frame and mottled, shaggy brown coat, Hickory looks a bit like an Irish Wolfhound, to which the Deerhound is related. She was a commanding presence in the ring, ably handled by Angela Lloyd.

An ancient breed, the Scottish Deerhound has been owned by such luminaries as Sir Walter Scott. Inspired by his dog Maida, he called the Deerhound “the most perfect creature of heaven.” Until the 1800s, no one ranking lower than an earl could own the breed. Then breeders revived the almost-extinct Deerhound.

According to The Scottish Deerhound Club of America, “In character the Deerhound is quiet and dignified, keen and alert, and although not aggressive, has great persistence and indomitable courage when necessary.”

Perhaps the Scottish Deerhound now will make an ascent from 141st on the American Kennel Club’s list of the most popular breeds (the top spot for 2010 is owned by the Labrador Retriever, and has been for years). Or maybe not. Unlike labs, they don’t fetch. And they aren't good guard dogs.

What they can do is hunt. The breed standard requires that the dog’s neck must be strong enough to hold a 250-pound stag. In the US, it is illegal to hunt antlered game with dogs, but Deerhounds have been used to hunt coyote, wolves, and rabbits.

Hickory’s next move will be to retire and live out her days on a farm in Virginia, giving chase to deer and rabbits, as is her wont. No word on whether she will be bringing down any 250-pound stags.

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