Irish Wolfhounds are large and muscular dogs. Their harsh coat comes in a variety of colors, including brindle, black, gray, red, pure white, and fawn. Their chest is wide and deep, and their necks are long, strong, and well arched. Irish Wolfhounds have small, Greyhound-like ears and long muzzles. At minimum, adult males measure 32 inches and weigh 120 pounds and adult females measure 30 inches and weigh 105 pounds.
These dogs make great companion animals and the breed will unhesitatingly defend its loved ones with its life. However, that does not mean the breed is aggressive or even overly suspicious of strangers.
These gentle giants are loving and tolerant and make excellent companions for families. However, the breed is not a good choice for everyone. The Irish Wolfhound's extremely large size and short lifespan should be significant considerations before purchasing or adopting one of these dogs.
Irish Wolfhounds are the tallest and largest of the galloping hounds. They are described in an old Irish proverb as "Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked."
Irish Wolfhounds are known for their gentle nature and good manners. They are also very intelligent, friendly, and dignified. These dogs make great companion animals and the breed will unhesitatingly defend its loved ones with its life. However, that does not mean the breed is aggressive or even overly suspicious of strangers. In most cases, the breed's size is more than sufficient to deter any would-be assailants.
Although these dogs get along quite well with children, their large size makes them unsuitable for homes with toddlers. Additionally, it is extremely important to prevent children from attempting to ride on the back of the Wolfhound. While these dogs may seem like small horses to children, they are not built for riding and are prone to back and other injuries.
Irish Wolfhounds enjoy long walks and some opportunity to run at full speed in an open field or large yard. They also enjoy competing in tracking, obedience, and lure coursing. If allowed, these dogs will adapt to the activity level of their owners, which means they may become couch potatoes if that is what they are exposed to on a daily basis. This is a very unhealthy lifestyle for the Irish Wolfhound. It is therefore essential to encourage these dogs to get out and move every day. Care must be taken to protect small animals in the neighborhood, though, as Irish Wolfhounds have an irresistible impulse to chase small creatures.
Irish Wolfhounds are generally healthy dogs, but they are known to suffer from a few health problems that can shorten or reduce quality of life. Congenital hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, gastric torsion, and liver shunts are all known to affect this breed. Additionally, these dogs are prone to certain eye conditions, including progressive retinal atrophy, a condition that causes permanent blindness.
Cardiomyopathy and von Willebrand's disease, a bleeding disorder, are two serious disorders seen in Irish Wolfhounds, and the breed also suffers from a very high incidence of osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that usually develops in the legs. It is not known why the breed is so susceptible to this type of cancer, but there is likely a genetic component. It's also important to note that veterinary expenses for Irish Wolfhounds average more than for other breeds. This is simply due to the larger size of these dogs.
With proper nutrition, regular exercise, routine veterinary care, and timely canine vaccinations, Irish Wolfhounds live an average of 6 to 8 years.
Early training is essential to minimize potential negative behaviors in Irish Wolfhounds. Fortunately, these dogs take well to training and do especially well with positive reinforcement techniques, such as play, praise, and food rewards. This breed is highly intelligent and learns quickly when given adequate motivation.
This breed is known for specific behaviors that may make it challenging to live with, especially if training is not adequate. The Wolfhound's size makes him a natural counter-surfer, and these dogs will swipe any meat or other food left on kitchen counters or on the dining room table. Additionally, these dogs tend to become destructive when left alone for long periods. Digging, chewing up furniture, and otherwise making a mess are all signs that these dogs are being neglected. Crating is not the answer; if these dogs must be left alone for more than several hours, they need a safe room designed to contain them.
Irish Wolfhounds should never be left alone outside with cats or other small animals. No matter how close the duo are when indoors or under supervision, the breed's natural hunting instinct can kick in when outdoors, causing the Irish Wolfhound to chase and kill even a well-known running cat.
Irish Wolfhounds have a harsh coat that needs regular brushing to remain manageable and healthy. Brushing or combing a few times each week will remove tangles and mats. The breed also sheds moderately, and brushing will need to be increased if shedding becomes a problem to prevent loose hair from accumulating along baseboards and on furniture.
Bathing this breed is rarely necessary, but sometimes the Irish Wolfhound will roll around in something sticky or harmful and require a good washing. A gentle, pH-balanced canine shampoo will clean the coat without drying the skin or causing irritation.
The nails need trimming when they become long enough to snag and break, or about every few weeks. The teeth require daily brushing to protect against gum disease and tooth decay, and the ears should be checked weekly for excess wax accumulation. Cleaning should be done with a veterinarian-approved otic cleanser, and signs of infection, such as odor, redness, discharge, or pain, should be reported to a professional right away for evaluation.
Irish Wolfhounds are a very old breed. In fact, an early Roman record mentioning them dates back to 391 A.D. The dogs hunted alongside their masters, fought beside them, guarded their homes and castles, and protected and played with their children. They were prized dogs and exceptionally good at hunting wolves. So much so, in fact, that most of their prey had been hunted to extinction by the 18th century. Once the breed was no longer in high demand, their numbers started decreasing.
In 1750, the Earl of Chesterfield complained about being unable to locate an Irish Wolfhound due to the breed's rareness, even though he'd searched for a full two years. Others experienced the same level of difficultly searching for the breed. If not for Captain George Graham, the breed may have disappeared entirely. In 1862, Graham managed to acquire several Irish Wolfhounds and crossed them with the Tibetan Borzoi, Scottish Deerhounds, a Great Dane, and a Pyrenean Wolfhound. After 23 years, he was able to restore the breed.
Over the years, Irish Wolfhounds have evolved from royal gifts and fierce hunters to loyal family companions. In the United States, the dogs are primarily kept as pets.
The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Irish Wolfhound in 1897.