The calm, dignified, and kindly Irish Wolfhound is the tallest of all AKC breeds. Once fearless big-game hunters capable of dispatching a wolf in single combat, Wolfhounds today are the most serene and agreeable of companions.
The amiable Irish Wolfhound is an immense, muscular hound gracefully built along classic Greyhound lines, capable of great speed at the gallop. A male might stand nearly 3 feet at the shoulder and weigh up to 180 pounds. Females will run smaller but are still a whole lot of hound. The rough, hard coat comes in many colors, including white, gray, brindle, red, black, and fawn. IWs are too serene to be fierce guard dogs, but just the sight of them is enough to deter intruders. IWs are characteristically patient with kids, though animals their size should be supervised around small children. Owning an Irish Wolfhound is a unique, rewarding experience but acquiring a giant galloping hound is a commitment as big as the dog itself.
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.”
Temperament: Courageous / Dignified / Calm
Height: 30-32 inches
Weight: 105-120 pounds
Life Expectancy: 6-8 years
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. Extensive health information is available on the sites of the AKC breed club, the Irish Wolfhound Club of America, and its sister health organization, the Irish Wolfhound Foundation.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Hip Evaluation
- Elbow Evaluation
- Cardiac Exam
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
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. A thorough brushing once a week or so will help to remove dirt and loose hair and keep the dog looking his best. Unlike many double-coated breeds, Irish Wolfhounds don’t ‘blow out’ their coats during an annual or semi-annual shedding season. 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.
Wolfhounds need exercise throughout their lives. Because they retain a strong instinct to hunt and chase prey, they should only be allowed loose in areas that are securely fenced, and any walks must be taken on a leash. As adults, 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. A home with a fairly large fenced area is necessary to provide the kind of environment in which they can thrive. The breed can also exercise mind and body by participating in canine sports like tracking, agility, and lure coursing.