The Irish Wolfhound

by PetBond Veterinary Surgeon

Breed Traits

Irish Wolfhounds are loyal, affectionate and trustworthy by nature
They are extremely good around children
They are social by nature and generally good around other dogs
They are not known to be “barkers”
They are low maintenance on the grooming front
They are intelligent and in the right hands, easy to train
They shed moderately throughout the year

Factors to Consider

Irish Wolfhounds are extremely large and need enough space to express themselves
They are known to suffer from a few health issues so vet bills can be high
Feeding an Irish Wolfhound is costly
They are known to have a high prey drive
Irish Wolfhounds like to take their time about things which includes coming back when called
They are not the best choice for first time dog owners
They are not very good watchdogs
Irish Wolfhounds need to be well socialised from a young age

Background to Irish WolfHound

These proud dogs are the largest of all the hound breeds and although the Irish Wolfhound boasts an impressive size, they are known to be gentle giants and especially kind around children. They are renowned for their calm, relaxed natures and for their turn of speed. With this said, although the Irish Wolfhound is tall and large, they are perfectly balanced dogs boasting a harsh, rough coat that suits their overall appearance to a tee.

Anyone wanting to share a home with one of these impressive dogs, might well need to accept being put on a waiting list, because not many well-bred Irish Wolfhound puppies are registered with the Kennel Club every year which means they can be hard to come by. They are not the best choice for first time dog owners because they need to be socialised, handled and trained by people who are familiar with the specific needs of an Irish Wolfhound.

When & Where did the Irish Wolfhound Originate?

It is estimated that Irish Wolfhounds have been around since 7000 BC which makes them one of the most ancient breeds on the planet and the largest hound breed too. Their name in ancient times was “Cu” which translated from ancient Irish means hound, war dog, wolf dog and Irish Hound. There is mention of these dogs in Irish laws that existed well before Christianity, there are also records of them in a lot of ancient Irish literature written back in the 5th Century.

Irish Hounds were highly prized, but only Kings and nobility could own them, but the number of hounds anyone could own, depended on their station in life. During war times, the hounds were used to drag men off their horses and to pull men out of chariots, but these hounds were also used to protect herds and property too. They were highly prized hunters and would work alongside their handlers tracking down elk, deer, wolves and wild boar.

It was standard practice in ancient time to offer Irish Hounds as gifts to foreign nobles and other dignitaries with one dog being sent to the King of Wales in 1210 AD by John of England who was to become King. Other nobles and important people to have been given an Irish Hound included the Great Mogul, the Shah of Persia, Cardinal Richelieu and many hounds were offered to the King of Spain. King John of Poland took so many Irish Hounds that it nearly led to their extinction before a total ban was set in place in 1652.

By the late 1700’s all the wolves had been killed in Ireland which saw a decline in the number or Irish Hounds too. People began keeping them as companions rather than hunting dogs as a result. It was at this time that a lot of outcrossing took place with Great Danes being introduced into the mix. In the middle of the 19th Century a breed enthusiast by the name of Major H. D. Richardson claimed that the Irish Wolfdog and the Highland Deerhound were the same breed of hound, but he began a breeding programme with an end goal being to increase the size of his hounds back to their original stature which he did using specific and well-chosen lines. Although little is known of the Major’s breeding programme, it is thought that he introduced other breeds into the mix which included the Pyrenean which was a different dog to the one we know and see today being much like the Spanish hounds of times long past.

Another breed enthusiast was a man named Captain George Augustus Graham who made it his mission to improve the breed back to its former glory and although it was hard to find good examples of the Irish Wolfhound at the time, he did succeed by using Glengarry Deerhounds, Borzois and a Tibetan in his breeding programme. With this said, the Great Dane was used in many breeding programmes right up to the 1930’s as a way of saving and improving the breed.

Like many other breeds, the Irish Wolfhound suffered during the First and Second World Wars when their numbers fell dangerously low, but again thanks to the efforts and endeavours of many breed enthusiasts, the Irish Wolfhound was saved from vanishing off the face of the planet once again with the Irish Wolfhound Club being founded in 1885. An Irish Wolfhound was to be made the Irish Guard’s mascot in 1902 and the breed was subsequently recognised by the Kennel Club in 1925. In 1981, the Irish Wolfhound Society was established and over time, breed numbers have increased albeit slowly. Today, although the breed is known the world over, the Irish Wolfhound remains an Irish national treasure and not many puppies are registered with the Kennel Club with just under 300 being recorded back in 2015. As such, anyone wanting to share a home with an Irish Wolfhound would need to register their interest with PetBond Approved breeders and go on a waiting list for the pleasure of doing so!

Did you know….

Is the Irish Wolfhound a vulnerable breed? No, although finding a well-bred puppy can be challenging
Irish Wolfhounds are among one of the tallest breeds in the world
Being gentle giants, they are not natural watchdogs
The breed has one of the longest recorded histories
Irish Wolfhounds are tenacious and fearless hunters
Although they need a lot of exercise, they can be quite lazy too
During the 19th Century, the breed nearly vanished altogether

What should an Irish Wolfhound Look Like?

Height at the withers: Males 71 – 90 cm, Females 71 – 90 cm

Average weight: Males 40 – 69 kg, Females 40 – 69 kg

When Wolfhounds first appeared on the scene centuries ago, there were two types with dogs boasting either a smooth coat or a rough one, but the hounds we see today have coarse, rough coats that match their overall appearance perfectly. Irish Wolfhounds are the largest and tallest of all hound breeds, but they boast having a perfect balance and a symmetry that gives them their graceful yet muscular look.

Their head is long which dogs carry high adding to their proud and noble look. They also boast a long muzzle that’s moderately pointed with dogs having black noses and lips. Their eyes are full, oval-shaped and dark in colour. For such large dogs, the Irish Wolfhound boasts small, rose-shaped ears which boast a velvety texture to the touch. Their ears are dark and dog’s carry them away from their faces.

They have strong jaws with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones. Irish Wolfhounds have long, strong and muscular necks that dogs carry well arched. Their shoulders are well-muscled with dogs having quite broad, sloping chests. Their front legs are well developed, strong and straight.

They are long backed and boast well arched loins with their belly being well drawn up which adds to their balance and symmetrical lines. They have well-muscled thighs and second thighs with strong, long back legs. Their feet are quite large and round with well arched closed toes and their nails are curved and extremely strong. Tails are long and quite thick, slightly curved and they are well covered in hair which dogs carry quite low.

When it comes to their coat, the Irish Wolfhound boasts a harsh, rough coat on their body, head and legs, but it is especially long and wiry around their eyes and under a dog’s jaw. The recognised colours for Kennel Club registration are as follows:

Black
Black Brindle
Brindle
Cream
Dark Brindle
Fawn
Grey
Grey Brindle
Red
Red Brindle
Wheaten
Wheaten Brindle

The Kennel Club frowns on any exaggerations or departures from the breed standard and would judge the faults on how much they affect a dog’s overall health and wellbeing as well as their ability to perform.

Males should have both testicles fully descended into their scrotums and it is worth noting that a dog can be a little lighter or heavier as well as slightly taller or shorter than set out in the Kennel Club breed standard which is only given as a guideline.

Will an Irish WolfHound Have a Good Temperament?

Although very large and tall, the Irish Wolfhound is a truly kind, friendly and gentle giant. With this said, they are not the best choice for first time owners simply because being hounds, these dogs need to be given the right amount of training and guidance from a young age and then throughout their lives to be truly happy, well-rounded characters. As such, they are better suited to people who are familiar with how to manage and handle this type of large hound.

One thing about the Wolfhound that most people notice apart from their size, is the fact they never seem to rush things, but when they do put on a turn of speed, they can cover a tremendous amount of ground. They are not high energy dogs, but they do need to be given a ton of daily exercise to keep them happy, healthy and fit. They also need to be given the right amount of mental stimulation to prevent boredom from setting in which could see a dog looking for other ways to amuse and entertain themselves. In short, they may well develop some unwanted behavioural issues which is best avoided if they get bored.

Irish Wolfhounds thrive on being around their owners and do not do well if they are left to their own devices even for shorter lengths of time. They are a great choice for people who work from home or where one family member usually stays at home during the day when everyone else is out of the house. They are not a good choice for people who work all day and who leave their dogs alone during this time. In a nutshell, the Irish Wolfhound is a real gent and they are a delight to be around, however, they are not the sort of hound that can be taken on too lightly.

They can be a little wary and aloof around strangers, but these hounds very rarely show any sort of aggressive behaviour towards anyone.

Is the Irish WolfHound a good choice for first time owners?

Irish Wolfhounds are not the best choice for first time dog owners because they need to be handled and trained by people who are familiar with the specific needs of such a large breed.

What about prey drive?

Irish Wolfhounds are very social by nature, but being hounds they have a very high prey drive and should never be trusted around small animals, pets, wildlife or livestock because their strong natural instinct to chase and hunt would get the better of them.

What about playfulness?

Irish Wolfhounds have a very playful side to their natures and love to entertain and be entertained, more especially when they are puppies which is when playtime can be quite boisterous. It’s best to teach a puppy that play takes place outside to prevent breakages around the home.

Is an Irish WolfHound adaptable?

Irish Wolfhounds are a very large breed and as such, they need enough room to express themselves as they should. They are better suited to people who have ultra-secure large back gardens with high fencing that a dog can roam in whenever possible. As such, they are not well suited to apartment living being much happier living in a country environment.

Do Irish WolfHounds suffer separation anxiety?

Irish Wolfhounds form extremely strong ties with their families and dogs are never very happy when they find themselves left on their own for longer periods of time. They are better suited to people who either work from home or in households where one person stays at home when everyone else is out so they are never alone for any length of time which could see a dog suffering from separation anxiety. This can lead to them being destructive around the home which is a dog’s way of relieving any stress they are feeling and a way to keep themselves entertained.

Will an Irish Wolfhound bark too much?

Irish Wolfhounds are not known to be “barkers” although they do have a voice all of their own and will let owners know when they are unhappy about something or when they want something.

Do Irish Wolfhounds like swimming?

Most Irish Wolfhound love swimming and will take to the water whenever they can more especially when the weather is hot. However, if anyone who owns a dog that does not like water should never force them to go in because it would just end up scaring them. With this said, care should always be taken when walking an Irish Wolfhound off the lead anywhere near more dangerous watercourses just in case a dog decides to leap in and then needs rescuing because they cannot get out of the water on their own.

Are Irish Wolfhounds good watchdogs?

Irish Wolfhounds may look impressive, but they are not natural watchdogs thanks to the fact they are so kind by nature. This means they are more likely to say hello to someone rather than bark at them.

Is an Irish WolfHound easy to train?

The Irish Wolfhound is an intelligent dog, but they need to be handled correctly and their training must be started early always taking a gentle approach to things. Puppies are usually quite well-behaved and they are quiet too. However, when training an Irish Wolfhound, it’s best to be very patient and to show a dog a lot of understanding, never attempting to rush things which would just end up being a complete disaster due their sensitive natures.

Irish Wolfhound puppies are very cute and it is all too easy to spoil them when they first arrive in their new homes. However, they quickly grow up to be large adult dogs so it is important for owners to start out as they mean to go on. This means that as soon as a puppy is settled, ground rules and boundaries must be laid out so that a puppy understands what is expected of them and what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. By laying out ground rules it also helps establish a pecking order and who is the alpha dog in a household. As such, the first commands a puppy should be taught are as follows:

Come
Sit
Stay
Heel
Quiet
Leave it
Down
Bed

Is an Irish WolfHound Safe with Children and Other Pets?

Although not the best choice for first time owners, the Irish Wolfhound does make a great family pet for people who are familiar with this type of large hound and therefore know their needs. With this in mind, they are known to be very good around children although it should be said, that their size alone means that adult supervision is necessary whenever they are around children and more especially toddlers.

Irish Wolfhounds are usually good around other dogs, but care needs to be taken when they are around any small pets and animals which includes cats because their natural instincts might just kick in.