The Wolfhound’s long history goes back to antiquity and over the centuries has acquired a patina of myth and legend. It can be reliably stated, however, that they were created by breeding the indigenous large dogs of Britain to the Middle Eastern coursing hounds that were bartered around the known world in the earliest days of international trade. By the time the Roman Empire had gained a toehold in the British Isles, the giant hounds of Ireland were already long established. In the year 391 the Roman consul received a gift of seven of these hounds that “all Rome viewed with wonder.” These majestic hunters, whose motto was “Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked,” were used on such quarry as the now-extinct Irish elk, a massive, ferocious beast said to stand six feet at the shoulder.
In 15th-century Ireland, wolves were overrunning the countryside. The Irish hounds, already renowned big-game hunters, began to specialize on wolves. By the late 1700s, when wolves and other big-game animals of Ireland were hunted to extinction, IWs lost their job and nearly went extinct themselves. This was a case of a breed doing its job too well for its own good.
In 1862, British army captain George Augustus Graham began scouring the country for remaining specimens of Ireland’s national hound. Graham made it his life’s work to protect, standardize, and promote the breed, and today his name is still spoken with reverence wherever IW fanciers gather.
Among the many Irish legends inspired by the breed is the melancholy tale of loyalty and remorse “Gelert, the Faithful Hound.”
The most difficult thing about raising an Irish Wolfhound is keeping them safe from their exuberance. New owners find it difficult to understand that the right care is vital for the first year during the growing process. Conveying this message is particularly hard.
The Irish Wolfhound is a giant-sized dog, one of the tallest breeds in the world, reaching the size of a small pony. Of great size and commanding appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is remarkable in combining power and swiftness with keen sight. The head is long and the skull is not too broad. The muzzle is long and somewhat pointed. The small ears are carried back against the head when the dog is relaxed and partway pricked when the dog is excited. The neck is long, strong and well arched. The chest is wide and deep. The long tail hangs down and is slightly curved. The legs are long and strong. The feet are round, with well-arched toes. The wiry, shaggy coat is rough to the touch on the head, body and legs and longer over the eyes and under the jaw. Coat colors include gray, brindle, red, black, pure white or fawn, with gray being the most common.
The Irish Wolfhound is not recommended for apartment life. It is relatively inactive indoors and will do best with at least a large yard. This is a giant breed that needs some space. It needs to be part of the family and would be very unhappy in a kennel. Being a sighthound, it will chase and so needs a secure, fenced area for exercise.
Irish Wolfhounds are sweet-tempered, patient, kind, thoughtful and very intelligent. Their excellent nature can be trusted with children. Willing and eager to please, they are unconditionally loyal to their owner and family. They tend to greet everyone as a friend, so do not count on them being a watchdog, but may be a deterrent simply due to their size. This giant breed can be clumsy and are slow to mature in both body and mind, taking about two years before they are full grown. However, they grow rapidly and high-quality food is essential.
A high-quality dog food appropriate for the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) and ideally formulated for large breeds should have all the nutrients the Irish Wolfhound needs. Because of the risk of bloat, strenuous exercise is not recommended before or after feeding time. Check with the dog’s breeder and your vet if you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s weight, diet, or feeding schedule.
Irish Wolfhounds have a double coat that consists of a harsh, wiry outer coat covering a soft undercoat. They shed throughout the year, but not to an excessive degree. The rough, medium-length coat needs regular and thorough grooming with a brush and comb. This with keep the coat in good condition. About once or twice a year pluck the coat to remove excess dead hair. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can be painful to the dog and cause problems walking and running.
Irish Wolfhounds can become couch potatoes if allowed to, but regular exercise such as long walks or play sessions will help keep them physically and mentally healthy. While it is important to take a growing pup for daily walks for their mental well-being, hard exercise should not be forced and may be too taxing for this dog’s body when it is young. However, the puppy should get a free run for about 5-10 minutes a day, to allow the muscular development of their legs.
- Don’t over exercise your puppy under any circumstances.
- Do not walk your Wolfhound puppy until six months old and then build up the walk gradually, initially only walking for 5 minutes.
Despite their size, Wolfhound puppies are very delicate so treat their growing bones and joints with great care. Any mistakes in exercise and over exuberance under a year old can affect the puppy for the rest of its life.A home with a fairly large fenced area is necessary to provide the kind of environment in which they can thrive.
The breed can exercise mind and body by participating in canine sports like tracking, agility, and lure coursing, however, please do not start any sports until after at least 12 months of age, as the puppy is not yet physically mature.
The Irish Wolfhound is relatively easy to train. He responds well to firm, but gentle, consistent, leadership. This approach with plenty of canine understanding will go a long way because this dog quickly grasps what you intend. Wolfhound puppies take 18 months or more to mature, and they can be very destructive, and possibly prone to injuring themselves, when left alone for extended periods. Teach it not to pull on its leash before it gets too strong. Make sure the young dog is given as much self-confidence as possible and that you are always consistent with it, so that it grows into an equable, confident dog. This calm dog gets along well with other dogs.
Puppies should have reasonable access to age-appropriate free play, but not with adult dogs, and with no forced exercise. Early socialization and puppy training classes (using positive training methods only) are recommended.
Like other large and deep-chested breeds, Wolfhounds can experience bloat, a sudden and life-threatening swelling of the abdomen, and owners should educate themselves about its symptoms and what to do should bloat occur. Responsible breeders will screen their breeding stock for health and genetic conditions such as pneumonia, heart disease, certain cancers and liver shunt. An annual examination, preferably by a veterinarian familiar with sighthounds, is recommended and should include an EKG.
Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:
- Hip Evaluation
- Elbow Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- Cardiac Exam