Breed Group: Hound
The tallest of all AKC breeds, the Irish Wolfhound’s menacing appearance is in sharp contrast to its mild, easy going temperament. One of the breeds known as gentle giants, they are sweet and loving. Although they tend to be relaxed and fairly inactive indoors, this is a giant dog, that needs regular exercise in a large (about an acre) fenced yard when outdoors. As a sight hound, they love to run, especially if they can pursue another animal. But they do not need an excessive amount of exercise. In fact, over-exercising growing puppies (up to three years old) can result in problems with the formation of their bones. Excellent with children of all ages, they usually prefer them over other family members but, have little if any interest in playing. Some are reserved with strangers but are neither suspicious nor aggressive. Normally quiet, an Irish Wolfhound’s watch and guard dog ability, rated as average, comes more from their intimidating size rather than from a willingness to engage in an active defense. They are accepting of most other animals, but as a sighthound, they love to chase and pounce on anything that moves quickly.
A huge, yet exquisitely graceful breed, the Irish Wolfhound is famous for its majestic presence. They stand a minimum of 30 inches in height as an adult, with some reaching the size of a small pony. Most can reach seven feet high or more when standing on their hind legs. Weight varies too, but as adults, they reach a minimum of 105 pounds. The greater their size, the more highly they are prized. They have a hard, grizzly coat, usually gray in color but may also be brindle, red, black, fawn or white. Their thick, shaggy coat, gives them a great ability to tolerate cold temperatures, but they overheat easily. Extreme caution should always be used in warmer temperatures, especially when exercising them. When brushed once or twice a week, they shed less than most other breeds.
With their placid temperament, the Irish Wolfhound needs only moderate socialization. Training them can be a challenge, not because of a lack of intelligence or stubbornness. Indeed, Wolfhounds have normal intelligence and are easy going. The problem they have in training stems from their instinctual nature as a sighthound– they are easily distracted by the sights surrounding them. Not easily motivated by traditional training methods, it takes an experienced, insightful trainer to determine what will motivate each dog. With this in mind, this is not a breed for a novice dog owner.
The Irish Wolfhound is plagued by a number of serious health problems. Bloat is a major concern and about 1 in 8 dogs suffer from Elbow Dysplasia. Much less of a problem, Hip Dysplasia affects about 1 dog out of 20. Cardiomyopathy, Cancer, especially bone cancer, and OCD complete the most frequently seen medical problems. Less frequently seen are Liver Shunt and Von Willebrands Disease. As with most of the giant breeds, longevity is low typically 5 to no more than 7 years.
The Irish Wolfhound ranks 83rd in popularity among AKC breeds with about than 1,000 dogs registered each year.
The Irish Wolfhound is a breed of great legend. Their first documented evidence appears in 391 AD Rome in writings by Consul Quintus Aurelius in which he noted that seven dogs he had received as gifts were “all viewed with wonder.” The breed became well-known in both Rome and Ireland for its valor and hunting ability. In Ireland, they hunted wolves and giant Irish elk. Their numbers dwindled in 1700s Ireland as the wolf became extinct. In 1869, Captain George Graham, a British army officer, pledged to return the Irish Wolfhound to its past glory. He crossed what was thought to be the last existing Wolfhound with Scottish Deerhounds, the Great Dane, Borzoi, and Tibetan Wolf Dog. When the resurrected Wolfhound was first exhibited at a dog show in the 1870’s, it created a sensation.
The National (US) Breed Club is the Irish Wolfhound Club of America.