Behavior Breed Lists All about the Irish Wolfhound, the Great Hound of Ireland

All about the Irish Wolfhound, the Great Hound of Ireland

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Irish Wolfhound is a large and muscular dog. If you are thinking of having one as a pet, you have to know how big of a commitment this is. Caring for an Irish Wolfhound can be quite challenging and we are not only talking about finding a dog house that fits this great size and commanding breed.

However, owning gentle giant breeds like Irish Wolfhound is also a rewarding experience. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this immense but serene dog breed.

A Long History of Irish Wolfhounds

Irish Wolfhounds have a long history that dates back at least to the times of the Roman Empire, perhaps even earlier. What we know for sure is that Irish Wolfhound was created by breeding Middle Eastern coursing hounds and Britain’s indigenous large dogs.

We also know that Irish Wolfhounds were already well established in Britain when the Roman Empire came to the island. In fact, we have written proof of how these giant hounds were once viewed, dating back to the year 391 AD. One Roman consul received seven Irish Wolfhounds that “all Rome viewed with wonder”.

From the very beginning, these hounds were used by Gaels to protect herds and hunt big game animals such as deer, boar, Irish elk and wolves. Perhaps the most impressive was their ability to hunt the extinct Irish elk which was around 6 feet tall, almost double the height of modern Irish Wolfhounds.

This reputation followed them all the way to the 15th century, when the population of wolves in Ireland grew rapidly and presented a huge problem. These hounds were used to hunt the wolves down and keep the population in check.

However, by the late 1700s, wolves and other Irish big game animals were hunted to extinction, Irish Wolfhounds lost their jobs and almost went extinct as well.

Modern Irish Wolfhounds

In the mid of the 19th century, George Augustus Graham, a British army captain, started looking around the country for the remaining specimens of Irish Wolfhounds.

However, he couldn’t find the breed that had the “original integrity”, so he believed that he could recreate the original breed by using the largest and best specimens of the Great Dane and the Scottish Deerhound. Graham thought that these two breeds have derived from the wolfhound but he also added in the mix a Borzoi and a large, shaggy, outbreed dog, probably a Tibetan Mastiff.

Graham dedicated his life to protect and promote Irish Wolfhounds. In 1885, along with other breed enthusiasts, he founded the Irish Wolfhound Club and developed the Breed Standard of Points to which breeders aspire. Today, there are many breed clubs, while the American Kennel Club specifies The Official Standard of the Irish Wolfhound.

Basic Information about the Irish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhound is also known as “Greyhounds of Ireland”, “Big Dogs of Ireland”, “Irish Dogs”, “Great Hounds of Ireland” and “Wolfdogs of Ireland”.

Due to their long-lasting history and heritage, these dogs have been a part of many folk tales from the British Isles. Such is the Welsh legend of “Gelert, the Faithful Hound.” It is a story of a dog that protects a baby from a wolf but gets killed by the baby’s father when he sees him with blood in his mouth.

According to the American Kennel Club, this towering, muscular hound is the tallest dog breed in the world. Irish Wolfhounds possess a unique combination of swiftness, power and great vision.

Appearance

Irish Wolfhound is not only the tallest breed of all but also the largest of all hounds. Adult Irish Wolfhounds can grow to be over 36 inches tall. In fact, the American Kennel Club specifies that the minimum height for breed standard is 30 inches for females and 32 inches for males.

AKC also specifies the minimum weight for males at 120 pounds and 105 pounds for females. However, some specimens of the breed can weigh up to 180 pounds.

Irish Wolfhounds are very similar to Greyhounds when it comes to their appearance. They have a very muscular yet graceful built, with broad and deep chest and long necks. These dogs carry their head and neck high. Their tail is usually held in an upward arc and with a slight curve.

These dogs have a physique that allows them to move in an easy but forceful manner. They can achieve great speeds in short bursts since they can run up to 40 miles per hour at the gallop.

This breed has a hard, rugged coat that comes in various colors. Some of the most common colors include gray, black, white, beige and brindle (brownish).

Temperament

Irish Wolfhounds can have very different personalities. In fact, they are often noted for individualism and personal quirks. However, they are rarely foolish and they don’t usually behave in a destructive manner. And despite their active lifestyle and moderately high energy levels, they are not boisterous in the house.

This breed is generally quite introverted and reserved. Irish Wolfhounds are intelligent, easygoing dogs with a quiet nature. They are able to develop a strong bond with their owners but that can often make them gloomy if they are left alone for a long time. This is also one of those rare situations when they can become destructive.

Since they are too serene and often friendly toward strangers, Irish Wolfhounds are not the best guard dogs. However, their awe-inspiring size can often deter intruders, which is why they have sometimes been used as watchdogs during their history.

And while they may not be the best guard dogs, they can be fearless guardians. These dogs are more likely to protect people than the house or certain possessions since they are often aware of potential ill intentions due to their close affinity to humans.

Irish Wolfhounds are patient with kids by nature and they can be very gentle around children. Still, a dog of their size should always be supervised around small children.

This breed is rarely territorial and aggressive to other dogs but due to their specialized skills, they may course another dog while playing. This specific hunting behavior is characteristic for all hounds but it is not a sign of aggression. In general, Wolfhounds get along well with other domestic dogs.

Health

Irish Wolfhounds have a relatively short lifespan, similar to other large dog breeds. It is estimated that they live between 6 and 10 years, while the estimated average lifespan for Irish Wolfhounds is 7 years.

They also have similar health problems as other deep-chested and large breeds. For example, the leading causes of death for Irish Wolfhounds are bone cancer and dilated cardiomyopathy. In fact, it is estimated that more than 20% of Irish Wolfhounds suffer from bone cancer (osteosarcoma).

Some studies have revealed that neutering increases the risk of bone cancer in many breeds. Many experts thus suggest that you adult dogs, especially male Irish Wolfhounds, should only be castrated after they are fully grown.

Additionally, Irish Wolfhounds are also more susceptible to gastric dilatation (bloat), as well as a liver shunt (hereditary portosystemic shunt). Bloat is particularly dangerous because it is sudden and life-threatening in many cases.

Breeders, at least the responsible ones, will screen the breeding stock for potential genetic conditions like heart disease, pneumonia, liver shunt and certain cancers. Also, it is recommended to take your dog for an annual examination by a vet familiar with hounds. The examination should also include an EKG.

On the bright side, Irish Wolfhounds have a great sight because they were bred for long, often solitary hunts during which they had to rely on their sight rather than scent and their ability to visualize the landscape.

Caring for Irish Wolfhounds

As we already said, taking care of an Irish Wolfhound can be demanding but if you do a good job you will be rewarded with a loving and loyal dog.

However, if you are not certain that you are ready for such a responsibility, think twice before you get an Irish Wolfhound. After all, this breed is usually very expensive, with the price tag upwards of $1,500.

These dogs are best suited to rural life because they need plenty of space to play outdoors and gallop. Households with fenced areas are perfect for Irish Wolfhounds. However, these dogs can also adjust quite well to living in suburban and urban parts, as long as they get enough exercise.

gray and white long coat medium dog sitting on brown concrete floor during daytime. Part of the "All about the Irish Wolfhound, the Great Hound of Ireland" article.
Photo by Stéphane Juban on Unsplash

Nutrition

High-quality dog food that is appropriate for the dogs’ age should have all the necessary nutrients for Irish Wolfhounds. It is recommended to find a dog food that is formulated specifically for large breeds.

Your dog’s food bowl should be filled with low-protein adult dog food after puppyhood. For Wolfhound puppies, a slow-growth diet is important to prevent potential orthopedic problems that may occur with rapid growth. However, it is not recommended to use supplements for growing puppies, especially if you feed them the appropriate dog food.

Check with your vet or with your dog’s breeder if you have any concerns about the dog’s diet, weight or feeding schedule. One thing to keep in mind is to avoid strenuous exercise before or after meals to reduce the risk of bloat.

Training

Irish Wolfhound puppies can take a lot of time to grow. In fact, it takes around 18 months for them to mature. Until they become mature, Wolfhound puppies shouldn’t be left alone for extended periods of time. When left alone, they can get destructive and even injure themselves.

Wolfhound puppies should be socialized early and have access to free play with other puppies. They shouldn’t be forced to exercise but puppy training classes are recommended.

Since Irish Wolfhounds are very intelligent dogs, they can learn anything pretty quickly. They also respond well to consistent and firm leadership, so they are relatively easy to train.

Since these dogs were often required to be separated from their owners and work at distances, they had to learn how to think independently when hunting. This can still be noticed in the breed. However, since Wolfhounds are sensitive to humans and crave their company, they are also great candidates for therapy work.

Exercise

Although they aren’t the most energetic dogs out there, Irish Wolfhounds need regular exercise. They have moderate energy levels. Long walks and active play sessions are needed to keep them physically fit and ensure mental health.

Since Wolfhounds have strong hunting instincts, you should only let them loose in fenced areas. They should be leashed during walks.

These dogs can also participate in various canine sports, such as agility, tracking and lure coursing. In fact, participation in these sports is a great exercise for their bodies and minds.

Grooming

Irish Wolfhounds need regular grooming. After all, they have a double coat that needs to be maintained. The outer coat covering is rough and wiry, while the undercoat is soft. Wolfhounds also shed year-round but not excessively.

Unless you want to get your dog in the show ring, you can maintain the coat with minimal effort. For example, brushing or combing their shaggy coat with a good dog brush once or twice per week is enough to remove dead hair and prevent tangling.

This breed rarely needs a bath but they do need regular nail trimming like any other breed. If your dog’s nails grow too long, they can be painful and cause problems when running or walking.

Conclusion

Irish Wolfhounds are loyal and gentle giants. They have a physique similar to Greyhounds but they are the tallest of all dog breeds. Wolfhounds are best suited for living in rural areas because they need fenced areas to gallop and play.

Like some other large breeds, Irish Wolfhounds have a short life span of 7 years. They are also susceptible to various health problems. These include bloat, liver shunt, bone cancer and dilated cardiomyopathy.

They are fond of humans and good with children. Wolfhounds are easy to train but they are known for being independent and having different personalities. They don’t need a lot of grooming but regular brushing is necessary to keep their rugged coat in check.

Want to read more about Irish Breeds? Please read our “Irish Doodle: All that you need to know about this breed” article here.

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