The Irish Wolfhound, also at times known as the Cú Faoil, the Wolf Dogge, the Rough Greyhound, the Big Dog of Ireland, the Irish Dog, the Irish Elkhound, the Irish Wolfdog, the Great Hound of Ireland, the Great Irish Greyhound Wolf-dog, the Canis Graius Hibernicus, the Grehound of Ireland and the Greyhound of Ireland, is a commanding, rough-coated, eyebrowed and bearded hound built for running. It is an ancient breed, today best known for being the tallest of all dogs and having one of the sweetest temperaments in the canine world. Irish Wolfhounds tend to mature later than most dogs; a 6-month old Wolfhound puppy can weigh upwards of 100 pounds and yet not be finished teething. Like puppies of other giant breeds, Wolfhound puppies should not be taken on long, arduous walks or runs, as they are predisposed to developing cartilage and joint problems during their stages of rapid growth. Irish Wolfhounds typically are unsuitable as guard dogs, because they are inherently kind and trustful of strangers. Certainly, their sheer size can be intimidating and by itself deter intruders. Their long tail is unusually powerful, and when wagged can wreak havoc on objects in the home, including humans. The Irish Wolfhound was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1897 as a member of its Hound Group.
While there is some debate over the origin of the Irish Wolfhound, most experts believe that the breed's Middle Eastern sighthound ancestors were brought to the British Isles by Phoenician sea-traders approximately 3,000 years ago. Some think they were then crossed with local mastiffs to produce what looked like a giant greyhound; others surmise that the Irish Sheepdog and/or the Scottish Deerhound are in the ancestral mix.
Whatever its actual lineage, the Irish Wolfhound was known at least as far back as 391 A.D., when the Roman consul received several of them as gifts from Ireland, causing quite a stir among the Roman people of that time. Over the ensuing centuries, Irish Wolfhounds were cherished for their hunting skills, especially in pursuing marauding wolves and giant Irish elk, working in packs. Indeed, so proficient was the Irish Wolfhound at completing these tasks that by the end of the 18th century, it found itself almost out of work. Most experts accept that the last Irish wolf died in 1770 in the Wicklow Mountains, although some believe that a few wolves remained in County Carlow until 1786, after which they certainly were gone according to all accounts. As the wolf and elk disappeared from the Irish countryside, and as the Irish exported many of their Wolfhounds to other countries, the breed nearly disappeared. The Great Irish Famine also took a toll on the breed's numbers.
In 1862, a Scotsman in the Brittish army, Captain George Augustus Graham, made it his life's work to rescue the Irish Wolfhound from extinction. He gathered all the Wolfhounds he could find and reportedly crossbred them with the Scottish Deerhound, Great Dane, Russian Wolfhound, Pyrenean Mountain Dog and/or Tibetan Mastiff. While breed experts disagree whether Graham restored the breed or created a new one, there is no disagreement over the fact that he revived or founded a magnificent breed. Twenty-three years later, an Irish breed club was formed, and the first breed standard was written under Graham's tutelage. The Kennel Club (England) recognized the Irish Wolfound in 1925.
The Irish Wolfhound Club of America was founded in 1926 and remains the parent club of the breed in this country. The modern Irish Wolfhound is a house dog rather than a hunter. Their quiet manners and gentleness make them wonderful companions, as long as they have a large, fenced area within which to gallop and romp freely and frequently. They are competitive in the conformation show ring, as well. It is wise to remember that this breed was bred for the chase, and it retains this natural instinct. As a result, Irish Wolfhounds excel in the sport of lure coursing, where they can run at full speed after a fast-moving, inanimate quarry.
The average life expectancy of the Irish Wolfhound dog breed is between 6 and 8 years. This is notably lower than the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), but consistant with most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders more commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Irish Wolfhound are as follows:
Bloat (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus): An extremely serious medical condition where a dog's stomach becomes filled with gas that cannot escape
Dermatitis: Defined as any inflammation of the skin
According to AKC Standards, "Of great size and commanding appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is remarkable in combining power and swiftness with sight." Irish Wolfhounds are massive dogs that can be an imposing force, but are true gentle giants. Reliable and loyal family companions, this breed bonds deeply with his people and wants to be included in all aspects of family life. Their sheer size is enough to scare away those with ill intentions, but Irish Wolfhounds are by no means guard dogs. They are polite to strangers and many expect that all people are willing to (and should) provide belly rubs on command. They are too large to safely play with small children, but Wolfhounds are very patient with kids who want to climb all over them and and enjoy romping with older kids.
Though large and athletic looking, Wolfhounds tend to be couch potatoes and need to be coaxed to get out and exercise. Several daily walks and the occasional weekly opportunity to stretch their legs and run is enough exercise to keep a Wolfhound happy. Finding the right balance of exercise to keep him from becoming destructive can be tricky, and often people get lulled into laziness because their dog isn't itching to get outside. On the flip side, some Wolfhounds are rambunctious and hyperactive and that can be hard to quell, even with proper exercise.
These dogs are far to big and clumsy to live in an apartment. Without enough space to move about, the Wolfhound will knock over tables, lamps and drinks.
Irish Wolfhounds are difficult to train. They have a mind of their own and like to do things on their own terms. Inexperienced dog owners will often back down from training exercises when their Wolfhound exhibits stubbornness or boredom because this giant dog can be intimidating, but consistency in training and setting boundaries is necessary. They are puppies until they are about two years old, and if they aren't properly trained by the time adolescence sets in, it can be difficult to reign them in.
Animal aggression is common among Wolfhounds. They were originally bred as combat dogs, and watched over sleeping armies at night. Eventually they were used to hunt wolves, and their hunting instincts are still present today. Even though this breed is pleasant with people and gets along with other family pets or dogs he meets at the park, Wolfhounds can become aggressive toward dogs he does not know who trespass on his property.
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 minimum height and weight of dogs should be 32 inches and 120 pounds; of bitches, 30 inches and 105 pounds; these to apply only to hounds over 18 months of age. Anything below this should be debarred from competition. Great size, including height at shoulder and proportionate length of body, is the desideratum to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a race that shall average from 32 to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry.
Long, the frontal bones of the forehead very slightly raised and very little indentation between the eyes. Skull, not too broad. Muzzle, long and moderately pointed. Ears, small and Greyhound-like in carriage.
Rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap or loose skin about the throat.
Very deep. Breast, wide.
Rather long than short. Loins arched.
Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair.
Well drawn up.
Shoulders, muscular, giving breadth of chest, set sloping. Elbows well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards.
Forearm muscular, and the whole leg strong and quite straight.
Muscular thighs and second thigh long and strong as in the Greyhound, and hocks well let down and turning neither in nor out.
Moderately large and round, neither turned inwards nor outwards. Toes, well arched and closed. Nails, very strong and curved.
Rough and hard on body, legs and head; especially wiry and long over eyes and underjaw.
Color and Markings
The recognized colors are gray, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn or any other color that appears in the Deerhound.
Too light or heavy a head, too highly arched frontal bone; large ears and hanging flat to the face; short neck; full dewlap; too narrow or too broad a chest; sunken or hollow or quite straight back; bent forelegs; overbent fetlocks; twisted feet; spreading toes; too curly a tail; weak hindquarters and a general want of muscle; too short in body. Lips or nose liver-colored or lacking pigmentation.
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Sources: American Kennel Club