The Breed

The Irish Wolfhound is a breed of domestic dog (canis lupus familiaris), specifically a sighthound. The name originates from its purpose (wolf hunting) rather than from its appearance. Irish Wolfhounds are among the tallest dog breeds.

They have a swift pace and very keen eyesight and a rough coat (grey, wheaten, brindle, red, black, pure white,or fawn, though wheaten and grey are the most common colors), a long head, and a long, muscular neck. They have a greyhound-shaped body, but larger with heavier bone.They average around 34 inches the withers, a fact that sometimes is its biggest disadvantage when attracting owners who have no concern for the hound's special needs. As with all breeds, the ideal and accepted measurements vary somewhat from one standard to another, and there will always be individuals whose size falls outside these standards. However, generally breeders aim for a height averaging 33 to 36 inches in males, to 2 to 4 inches less for females. Acceptable weight minimums range from 120 lb. for males and 105lb. for females.

Though the puppies may look adult at the age of 7 months, they are not considered mature until the age of 18-22 months depending onthe breeder.

Irish wolfhounds do not live exceptionally long lives. Published lifespan estimations vary between 6 and 8 years although there are those that live to 12 and above. Heart disease and bone cancer are the leading causes of death and like all deep-chested dogs, gastric torsion (bloat) is also common. The breed is also affected by hereditary intrahepatic portosystemic shunt.

By the age of 8 months, the dogs appear full size, and many owners begin over exercising them. This can lead to serious damage such as Carpus Valgus.Wolfhounds need at to be least 15 months after the growth plates have closed to be ready for lure coursing, running as a sport, and other strenuous activities.

Wolfhounds should not receive additional supplements when a good dog food is used. It is generally accepted that they should be fed a large breed puppy food until6 months old and then changed to a large breed adult food. Most breeders today recommend that they not be supplemented, in order to slow their rapid growth. They will eventually reach the same height, but at a slower, and safer, rate. Wolfhound puppies around 10 weeks old grow approximately one inch a week and put on one pound a day.

Irish Wolfhounds are among the tallest dog breeds, along with their relatives, Great Danes. Because of their size they will have a hard time settling in a small house and need a reasonable area to exercise.


Irish Wolfhound History

The breed is very old, possibly from the 1st century BC or earlier, bred as war dogs by the ancient Celts, who called them Cú Faoil. The Irish continued to breed them for this purpose, as well as to guard their homes and protect their stock.

While many modern texts state Irish Wolfhounds were used for coursing deer, contemporary pre-revival accounts such as Animated Nature (1796) by Oliver Goldsmith are explicit that the original animal was a very poor coursing dog. Their astonishing size, speed, and intelligence made them ideal hunting animals for both wild boar and wolves, and many were exported for this purpose.  They were perhaps too ideal, as the boar and wolf are now extinct in Ireland. The Irish Wolfhound has been recorded as being exhibited in ancient Rome to some excitement, and mention is made that they so amazed and terrified the Romans that it was seen fit to only transport them in cages. There exist stories that in the arena, the original Wolfhound was the equal of a lion. It has also been shown that when hunting animals, the wolfhound would bite the neck and crush the spine, killing the creature.

Due to a massive export into various countries as a gift for royalty and a ban that allowed only royalty to own such a dog, the breed almost vanished in the middle of the 19th century. Building on the work of Richardson and others Captain Graham worked to revive the Irish Wolfhoundusing the last few known hounds and judiciously out crossing.The ancient breed (often referred to as the Irish Wolfdogge in contemporary accounts) was available in both a smooth and rough coated variety. Descriptions of its appearance and demeanor, as well as the method of its use place it closer to the flock guardians in appearance than the modern breed. The historical variety was famed for its loyalty, discernment, grave nature and aggression. In terms of temperament the modern breed has been greatly mellowed. Wolfhounds are often referred to as "Gentle Giants", and an historic motto of the breed is "Gentle when stroked. Fierce when provoked."

The Wolfhound is sometimes regarded as the national dog breed of Ireland but in fact no breed has ever been officially adopted as such. The Irish wolfhound was featured on the old Irish sixpence, and frequently pictured along with the Round Tower and the Harp of Taraas symbols of Ireland.