Information about the Irish Wolfhound

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

The standard of The American Kennel Club describes the breed as “Of great size and commanding appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is remarkable in combining power and swiftness with keen sight. The largest and tallest of the galloping hounds, in general type he is a rough-coated, Greyhound-like breed; very muscular, strong though gracefully built; movements easy and active; head and neck carried high, the tail carried with an upward sweep with a slight curve towards the extremity”. The colours allowed by the American Kennel Club are “grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, wheaten and steel grey”. The American Kennel Club allows “any other color that appears in the Deerhound”. The size as specified by the AKC is “Minimum height for mature males: 32 inches, females: 30 inches. Minimum weight: 120lbs for males, 105 lbs for females. Great size, including height of shoulder and proportionate length of body is to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a breed that shall average (minimum) from 32-34in. in dogs”. The height/weight standards in Ireland and England are slightly different.

An easygoing animal, Irish Wolfhounds are quiet by nature. Wolfhounds often create a strong bond with their family and can become quite destructive or morose if left alone for long periods of time. Despite the need for their own people, Wolfhounds generally are somewhat stand-offish with total strangers. They should not be territorially aggressive to other domestic dogs but are born with specialized skills and it is common for hounds at play to course another dog. This is a specific hunting behavior, not a fighting or territorial domination behavior. Most Wolfhounds are very gentle with children. The Irish Wolfhound is relatively easy to train. They respond well to firm, but gentle, consistent leadership. However, historically these dogs were required to work at great distances from their masters and think independently when hunting rather than waiting for detailed commands and this can still be seen in the breed.

The Wolfhound of today is far from the one that struck fear into the hearts of the Ancient Romans. Irish Wolfhounds are often favored for their loyalty, affection, patience and devotion. Although at some points in history they have been used as watchdogs, unlike some breeds, the Irish Wolfhound is usually unreliable in this role as they are often friendly toward strangers, although their size can be a natural deterrent. That said, when protection is required this dog is never found wanting. When they or their family are in any perceived danger they display a fearless nature. Author and Irish Wolfhound breeder Linda Glover believes the dogs’ close affinity with humans makes them acutely aware and sensitive to ill will or malicious intentions leading to them excelling as a guardian rather than guard dog.

Like most large dog breeds, Irish Wolfhounds have a relatively short lifespan. Published lifespan estimations vary between 6 and 10 years with 7 years being the average. Dilated cardiomyopathy and bone cancer are the leading cause of death and like all deep-chested dogs, gastric torsion (bloat) is common; the breed is affected by hereditary intrahepatic portosystemic shunt.

In a privately funded study conducted under the auspices of the Irish Wolfhound Club of America and based on an owner survey, Irish Wolfhounds in the United States from 1966 to 1986 lived to a mean age of 6.47 and died most frequently of bone cancer. A more recent study by the UK Kennel Club puts the average age of death at 7 years.

Irish wolfhounds should not receive additional supplements when a good dog food is used. It is generally accepted that they should be fed a low protein adult dog food (19 to 21% protein) from puppyhood onward. Most breeders today recommend that they not be supplemented to slow their rapid growth.

Irish wolfhounds are the tallest of all dog breeds. They are well suited to rural life, but their medium energy profile allows them to adjust fairly well to suburban and urban life as well, provided they receive appropriate exercise.

The breed is very old; there are suggestions it may have been brought to Ireland as early as 7000 BC. These dogs are mentioned, as cú (variously translated as hound, Irish hound, war dog, wolf dog, etc.) in Irish laws and in Irish literature which dates from the 5th century or, in the case of the Sagas, from the old Irish period – AD 600-900. The breed almost disappeared, but was successfully revived by efforts of the captain of the British Army D E Graham to recreate it. He drew the line related to Wolfhounds, and as a result developed a modern breed, Irish Wolfhounds, which are today well established as companions and guards. The word “Cu” often became an added respected prefix on the names of warriors, such as Cú Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster, as well as kings denoting that they were worthy of the respect and loyalty of a Cu.