The Irish Wolfhound

The Irish wolfhound is classified as a sight hound. It is an ancient breed and was originally used as a dog of war and of the hunt. In wartime, they were trained to pull armoured knights off their horses. In Irish mythology, it is sometimes called the Great Hound of Ireland, the Big Dog of Ireland and/or the Greyhound of Ireland. Other sight hounds include the Afghan, borzoi, whippet and greyhound.

The Roman Consul Quintus Aurelius was given seven Irish wolfhounds as a gift according to documentation of 391AD. They were popular gifts until Oliver Cromwell forbade their export. At one time, they could only be owned by royalty.

Irish WolfhoundCredit:

The dog hunted singly or in pairs so it needed to be big and strong. Before the Irish elk and the wolf became extinct, the wolfhound was used to hunt these animals. After the wolf and elk disappeared, the wolfhound was exported in great numbers to the point where, by the middle of the 19th century, it almost became extinct.

In 1862, Captain George A Graham, an Englishman, began to collect the remaining wolfhounds. He crossed the dogs he found with deerhounds, borzoi, great danes and others with the result that the appearance of the wolfhound altered somewhat. The first breed standard was set in 1885 and the American Kennel Club recognised the breed in 1897.

It is the tallest of the dog breeds although not the heaviest. The minimum heights set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) is 32 inches for dogs and 30 inches for bitches. Minimum weights are 120 pounds and 105 pounds respectively. The Irish wolfhound has a commanding appearance. He is strong, swift and has exceptional vision. Although not a sprinter, he is reasonably fast over long distances. Once he catches his quarry he is certainly strong enough to deal with it. To kill his prey, he grabs it by the back and shakes it vigorously.

Irish Wolfhound headCredit:

This breed is intimidating purely because of his size but he is not suspicious of strangers nor is he aggressive enough to make a good watchdog. He is normally peaceful unless provoked or excited.

The Irish wolfhound is taller and narrower than the Great Dane. The head and long tail are carried high, the tail having an upward sweep with a slight curve at the end. For such a muscular, strong dog, he is surprisingly graceful.

As with all sight hounds the head and muzzle are long with small, half-erect ears and dark eyes. The arched neck is longish and muscular. There is no loose skin on the neck. The long body is well-sprung and broad across the hips. The chest is very deep and broad. The straight legs are muscular and heavily boned. The tail is well covered in hair.

The wolfhound once came with either a smooth or rough coat. The modern day wolfhound has rough, wiry hair which is longer over the eyes and under the jaw. This breed ranges in colour from black to white with brindle, red, grey and fawn also occurring. They need brushing every few days with a stiff brush. Check the ears for dirt at the same time. The toenails may need clipping from time to time.

Large dogs need a good bed. A trampoline type is preferable as this will protect the joints. The Irish wolfhound is beset by a number of problems. These include bloat, bone cancer, liver shunt (which is inherited and can be screened for by a blood test), heart disease and osteochondrosis (a disease of the shoulder cartilage).

Puppies should be discouraged from strenuous exercise until 18 months of age. As a puppy may weigh 100 pounds it is essential that he have plenty of socialisation and obedience training. He is genetically wired to chase anything that flees from him which can cause a problem with other small pets. He is not suited to living in a confined space. He needs a fenced property where he can gallop and play. He will be unhappy and frustrated with city living. He needs to be part of a family and, because he is quite sensitive, correction should be firm but not harsh.

Wolfhounds are expensive to feed. His tail will sweep everything off a coffee table and he can easily lay his head on a table top without even stretching. Because of his size, the amount of food he eats and his need for plenty of exercise and a fenced are for free play, this breed sometimes ends up in a pedigree dog rescue centre or in rehoming dog kennels.

Encourage a quiet and gentle temperament. This is not a breed to rough-house with, especially with pups and juveniles. You will be pleased you have instilled sound obedience skills when he puts his paws on your shoulders and smiles down at you but obediently drops to the ground when asked!