Irish Wolfhound

Country of origin:
Height (cm):
Weight (kg):
Life span (years):
grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn
very large
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Good with kids:
Pros Cons
  • forms strong bonds with its family
  • good with kids
  • not aggressive
  • gentle
  • chases all that moves
  • needs a considerable amount of daily exercise
  • not suited for urban life

The Irish Wolfhound is a giant dog with impressive appearance and gentle and biddable disposition. Being a truly ancient breed it was used as a hunting dog in its native Ireland. Nowadays it enjoys the life of a sweet-tempered companion dog and it also competes as at the highest level in number of dog’s sport.

The forebears of the Irish Wolfhound arrived to the British Isles with Phoenician marine traders nearly 3000 years ago. Some dog’s historians propose that it was mixed with local Mastiffs in order to acquire its rather memorable conformation. Other group of experts supposes that in the creation of the breed played a substantial role the Irish Sheep Hound and/or the Scottish Deerhound. First mention of the dog dates back to 391 A.D. when the Roman consul was granted a few specimens from his Irish friends. He was immensely pleased with the gift and wrote in the same year that «all the Rome marvelled at» these majestic dogs.

For numerous centuries the Irish Wolfhound was treasured for its superb hunting talents and was widely used in chasing ferocious wolves and massive Irish elks. It helped to keep the population of these beasts at bay and proved to be so skilful at this task that by the end of XVIII century the Irish wolf ceased to exist. The dog lost its main predestination and its population drastically dwindled. Over the years the Irish Wolfhound was driven to the verge of extinction because few people could afford to keep such a huge dog as a pet.

The breed escaped this sad fate thanks to Captain George Augustus Graham, a Scotsman in the British army. In 1862 he decided to dedicate its life to save this ancient and revered breed. In his breeding program the Captain used all the Wolfhounds he could find. In order to restore the breeds’ unique features he repeatedly mated original dogs with such breeds as the Scottish Deerhound, the Great Dane, the Russian Wolfhound, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog and/or the Tibetan Mastiff. Actually there is a debate whether Graham re-established the breed or produced a new one but the result of his efforts was undoubtedly quite impressive. The first standard of the breed was developed twenty-three years later under Graham’s guidance.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) gave its full recognition to the Irish Wolfhound in 1897. In vast majority of cases the present-day dog doesn’t hunt anymore and plays purely a role of a companion animal. It’s also a frequent participant in conformation events. The breed is destined for running, which makes it highly suitable for the lure coursing. The Irish Wolfhound is considered to be one of the tallest dogs in the world and one of the best-known breeds native to Ireland.
Despite its hunting background the Irish Wolfhound is notable for a kind, tender and docile temperament. The dog commonly shows an outmost loyalty to its master and his family. It’s a highly people-oriented breed and some individual specimens tend to become very upset and anxious if left alone for a long period of time. The Irish Wolfhound treats children with proper cautiousness and easily tolerates any amount of their mischievous behaviour. It’s essential though that the dog should get used to the kid’s company since its puppyhood. The breed is also too powerful and big for a toddler as it can knock it over by accident.

The Irish Wolfhound is generally very tolerable of unknown people. A well-socialised breed member will demonstrate its good manners in the presence of strangers and will be quite friendly with them. In the most cases the breed is vigilant enough to make an acceptable watchdog. Some specimens though seem to be rather uninterested in this job. The dog poorly adapts for the role of a guardian since it would rather amicably greet an intruder and follow him into the house than to manifest any signs of aggression.

The Irish Wolfhound is a low-aggressive breed in regards to other canines but on conditions that they are medium-to-large in size. The breed usually can’t be trusted with small dogs, particularly with toy breeds. It requires very thorough and early socialisation to learn to see the difference between a rabbit and a small dog. It’s also rather unwise to put this dog in a household with other potentially aggressive breed since the Irish Wolfhound is able to seriously injure almost any dog with minimal efforts. The breed possesses one of the highest levels of a prey drive among all dogs. This purports that all stray animals will become objects of its hunting instinct and it will inevitably mean a death sentence for them. Moreover some Irish Wolfhounds will suddenly go after and dispatch a household cat after years of a peaceful co-habitation.

Health Problems
The most common problems for the breed include:

• canine hip dysplasia;
• back problems;
• eye problems;
• elbow dysplasia;
• hypothyroidism;
• von Willebrand's disease;
• gastric torsion;
• joint problems;
• heart disease;
• cancer;
• epilepsy;
• non-epileptic seizures.

The Irish Wolfhound is rather demanding when things come to grooming. Its coat requires brushing several times a week and can take quite a lot time due to the dog’s size. The dog’s hair should also be plucked once or twice a year in order to get rid from its excesses. The procedure is fairly uncomplicated and can be done by the owner himself.

The breed does shed but in much lesser extent than the dogs of a similar size. Generally speaking the Irish Wolfhound is an average shedder. It’s highly recommended to introduce all periodic care practices such as baths and nail trimmings as early as possible since it can become very tricky to do them with a grown-up, or even adolescent, dog.

The Irish Wolfhound’s training usually needs moderate amount of time and efforts. Majority of its specimens is quite responsive to basic training and with proper dedication it’s quite capable of learning several complex commands. The breed usually learns at an average speed so it takes time and patience to make it perform some particular trick.

Timely and sufficient training is a must for the dog of this size otherwise it would be completely unruly. It’s crucial that the relationships of the handler and the dog are based exclusively on trust and not on fear. The Irish Wolfhound will most probably demonstrate its stubbornness and wilfulness if a handler applies forceful methods in the work with it.

The Irish Wolfhound is an enthusiastic runner and should receive considerable amount of daily exercise. Nonetheless its exercise need is far from excessive. At a very minimum it should be taken on a prolonged energetic walk on a daily bases. This is the breed that absolutely craves for an opportunity to run freely in a large area with a high and secure fence.

It’s close to impossible to keep Irish Wolfhound in an apartment, even with a small yard. Without appropriate amount of physical activity this dog will turn into a destructive creature and its destructiveness will be greatly magnified by its impressive size. That’s why this breed will do much better in a home with acres of adjacent territory, which should be safely fenced.