Hanging out with the top dog

Slideshow ( 8 images )

Having been a dog-person all my life, I thought I knew a few things about dogs. That was until a tall and skinny breed called Scottish Deerhound, represented by a five-year old named Hickory, won the “Best in Show,” the top award at the Westminster Dog Show in 2011. I had not seen this breed in person and I couldn’t help googling, only to find the winning breeder lived near me.

After several weeks of phone tagging and many more email exchanges, I was finally invited to the home of the Westminster Dog Show champion, located about an hour and a half west of Washington, DC, at Hickory’s Virginia Deerhound breeder’s home in Flint Hill, Virginia.

When I finally arrived there, I expected a group of loud and collectively barking dogs alerting the arrival of a visitor. There were about a dozen big dogs, but none of them even got up, let alone bark at me. “Psst, don’t let people know that these big dogs don’t bark, we want people to think that we’re protected here,” said Cecilia Dove, who bred and raised Hickory.

As a rule, most dogs have poor eyesight and they mostly rely on their ears and nose to find their prey but not the Scottish Deerhounds – they are sighthounds. During multiple hikes with them I could tell how keen they were looking far and wide into the horizon looking for prey. And I have never seen dogs run so fast.

Nine months later, when I returned to see Hickory’s nine puppies, her first litter, I was welcomed with a gentle nudge on my hand from the behind when Hickory came up to greet me quietly while I was talking to her owner. It was a gentle yet sweet gesture from this big and tall breed.

I’ve photographed and written about lots of dogs in my career but being around these Scottish Deerhounds has taught me a lot about the breed.

As Sally Sweatt, the co-owner, told me, “I heard the judge quoting Sir Walter Scott (who bred Deerhounds) “This dog is from the heaven, not of the Earth.””