Formidable beasts, the Irish Wolfhound is a stunning dog to behold. These are large creatures originating from Ireland, as the name implies. Although they were originally bred as war dogs, they began to be used for their hunting skills. As massive themselves, they were particularly adept at hunting big game.
The “wolf” portion of their name didn’t come into existence until the 15th century. During this time, Ireland was overrun with wolves. The Irish Wolfhound was used to hunt these animals, thus earning them the name Wolfhound.
Other names this breed has been called include Irish Dogs, Greyhounds or Grehounds of Ireland, Big Dogs of Ireland, and Great Hounds of Ireland.
- The tallest of the AKC-recognized breeds
- The breed dates back to the days of the Roman empire
- Known for being gentle giants
- Wolfhounds stay puppies for a year or more, and can sometimes weigh around 100 pounds even during puppyhood
- One of the central figures in the legend “Gelert, the Faithful Hound” is an Irish Wolfhound
The history of the Irish Wolfhound is legendary. Although it’s impossible to say when exactly the breed came into existence, the Irish Wolfhound was likely created as a result of breeding large dogs native to Britain with Middle Eastern hounds during the beginning of international trade.
The Irish Wolfhound quickly gained recognition for its size, beauty, and powerful hunting abilities. In the year 391, seven Irish Wolfhounds were sent to Rome as a gift to the Roman consul Aurelius, who described these dogs as a breed “all Rome viewed with wonder.”
For many years, the Irish Wolfhound was used as a war dog before eventually becoming a hunting dog. In particular, they hunted the Irish elk, which is now extinct. At the time, however, these beasts roamed Ireland, and were just as formidable as their hunters, standing around six feet tall at the shoulder.
The Irish Wolfhound also became known for its ability to hunt the wolves who called the Irish countryside home during the 15th century. However, by the late 18th century, these wolves and elk had been hunted to extinction, and the history of the Irish Wolfhound nearly ended here.
However, in the 1800s, two men caused a resurgence of the breed’s popularity. One man was H.D. Richardson, who began breeding these dogs himself. The other was Captain George Augustus Graham who worked hard to protect and revitalize the breed.
Today, the Irish Wolfhound enjoys life as a companion in homes around the world.
Appearance and Vital Stats
These imposing dogs have a naturally rugged look, reminiscent of their time as both war dogs and as hunting dogs in the Irish countryside. Contrasting against this breed’s muscular and large build is the dog’s keen and gentle expression.
Dog breed Group
The Irish Wolfhound is part of the Hound Group. These are dogs bred for their hunting abilities, as well as their scent work and stamina. Hounds also tend to be howlers, and many of them produce a unique sound called “baying.” Although generally quiet, the Irish Wolfhound can be prompted to make this sound.
The Irish Wolfhound is the largest breed recognized by the AKC. Male Irish Wolfhounds stand at a minimum of 32 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh around 120 pounds. Meanwhile, female Irish Wolfhounds stand at least 30 inches tall and weigh in at about 105 pounds.
Sadly, the Irish Wolfhound is one of the shortest-lived breeds. Most Irish Wolfhounds only live to about 6 to 8 years old.
Coat and Colors
Irish Wolfhounds have rough and hard double coats that are long and wiry around the eyes and on the chin, lending them a wise, ancient appearance. Their coats can come in a variety of colors, including gray, brindle, fawn, white, black, and red.
Irish Wolfhounds shed regularly, but not excessively. Despite their large size and the amount of fur they carry on their bodies, you shouldn’t need to invest in a new vacuum to take care of any shed fur on your floor.
The Irish Wolfhound’s tail is neither extremely thick nor very thin. It is long and curves upwards slightly. Generally, the tail should be carried low to the ground.
The Irish Wolfhound’s ears are small and set wide and far back on the dog’s head. They are relatively narrow and flop over against the Irish Wolfhound’s head rather than standing straight up.
These dogs may look large and imposing, but don’t be fooled by appearances alone. The Irish Wolfhound is known for being an incredibly gentle and patient animal. They have very serene personalities by nature, which would make them ineffective guard dogs if not for their intimidating size.
These are intelligent dogs that are generally very alert. However, they do have an independent side, which means training may take some extra work on your part. Stay consistent, positive, and patient and you’ll find yourself with a well-trained Irish Wolfhound.
Adult Irish Wolfhounds can easily become couch potatoes, but it won’t take much prompting to get them to play with you.
Irish Wolfhounds don’t generally bark or howl often, but a noisy Irish Wolfhound isn’t unheard. Overall, however, this is a relatively quiet breed.
Irish Wolfhounds make good apartment dogs, despite their size. As generally very calm and serene animals, they can adapt easily to apartment life. Since they don’t often bark or howl, you’re unlikely to get any noise complaints from your neighbors.
Just bear in mind that it’s important to make sure your Irish Wolfhound is getting enough exercise outdoors, as an apartment will likely be too small to get in much indoor exercise.
Children and Other Pets
Despite their history as war and hunting dogs, Irish Wolfhounds are known today for their extremely gentle and loving natures. It’s difficult to find a kinder breed than the Irish Wolfhound.
Their demure and relaxed personalities make them great playmates for kids. These are extremely patient dogs who will love to be around your children. However, as with any breed, you should never leave your Irish Wolfhound and children together unsupervised. Also be mindful that because of the Irish Wolfhound’s size, young toddlers can easily be knocked over by these dogs.
Kids should be reminded never to tug on any part of the dog. And, even though the Irish Wolfhound is a large dog, no one should ever climb up onto his back.
Irish Wolfhounds are companionable animals and will do well with other dogs. Their old hunting instincts may kick in around cats, but with proper introductions and socialization, he can learn to live happily with cats and other smaller animals.
As a large breed, the Irish Wolfhound requires a lot of food, so be prepared to shell out a decent chunk of money every month on feeding him. Your Irish Wolfhound will do well on 4 to 8 cups of high-quality dog food every day.
To keep your dog feeling full throughout the day, it’s best to split their food into two or three meals.
Because of their relaxed personalities, Irish Wolfhounds can be prone to laziness and therefore obesity. Make sure you are being mindful of your Irish Wolfhound’s caloric intake as well as the amount of daily exercise he is getting. The best way to check if your dog is becoming overweight is by putting your hands flat against his sides while he’s standing. You should be able to feel his ribs without putting pressure on his sides, and without the ribs protruding or being visible.
The Irish Wolfhound’s coat is relatively low maintenance. Although they have double coats, they don’t go through intense seasonal shedding as many other double-coated breeds do. Instead, they shed consistently throughout the year, and shouldn’t need more than a weekly brushing to keep their coats healthy.
Irish Wolfhounds should be exercised regularly. Because they tend to become couch potatoes, it’s very important to make sure your Irish Wolfhound is getting enough physical activity. A brisk walk or two every day should do the trick.
Know that Irish Wolfhound puppies should not get any vigorous exercise until they’re about 6 months old to prevent injury to their joints while they’re still growing.
The Irish Wolfhound can be prone to several conditions. Your vet should be mindful to check for any signs of these conditions when you bring your dog in for checkups.
Gastric dilatation-volvulus or bloat is a condition that occurs in many large, deep-chested breeds like the Irish Wolfhound. It happens when the dog’s stomach twists after filling up with air or gas.
This condition can be life-threatening. Symptoms include a swollen stomach, retching, pacing, panting, or drooling. If your Irish Wolfhound shows any signs of this condition, take him to your vet immediately.
Irish Wolfhounds can be especially prone to heart disease and heart failure. Dilated cardiomyopathy is especially common in this breed. This is when the heart muscles become thin and weak and are unable to contract properly. In turn, this causes the heart to become enlarged, as it must work harder than normal.
Dogs with this condition will experience irregular heartbeats, weakness, difficulty breathing, or coughing. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dilated cardiomyopathy. Your vet will give your dog medication and recommend rest and a healthy diet to help manage the disease.
This condition is common amongst large breeds like the Irish Wolfhound. It is a genetic condition in which the dog’s hip joint does not fit together properly, causing the bones to grind together. If your dog has hip dysplasia, he may begin limping or favoring that leg. Surgery may be necessary for severe cases.
This breed is incredibly similar in looks to the Irish Wolfhound. Both breeds share the same kind of rugged-looking wiry coats. The Scottish Deerhound generally stands slightly shorter than the Irish Wolfhound and weighs slightly less as well.
Also similar to the Irish Wolfhound is the Scottish Deerhound’s long, mythical history. It’s uncertain when exactly the Deerhound first came into being, but we know it was a very long time ago. These dogs are known for their hunting abilities, especially their proclivity for hunting the wild red deer that roamed Scotland. For the most part today, however, the Deerhound is a family companion, recognized for their dignified and polite personalities.
The Irish Wolfhound is frequently described as Greyhound-like in many respects. Both breeds share a graceful, lean physique and keen expressions, although the Greyhound is several inches smaller than the Irish Wolfhound, and generally weighs less too.
Greyhounds have a reputation as racing dogs, but Greyhound owners know that that’s only one side of their stories. These dogs generally have two speeds: as fast as they can possibly go and total layabout. People not familiar with the Greyhound’s nature and personality may be put off by their history as racing dogs, but they are overall a very easygoing breed. Their short coats require minimal grooming, and they’re good with kids and other dogs, making them great companions for the family.
Sleek and lithe, the Borzoi is a large breed, though still stands shorter and weighs less than the Irish Wolfhound. These dogs are recognizable by their long, flowing, silky fur as well as their regal countenance. Originating from Russia, the Borzoi was bred as a hunting dog, though that may be hard to believe just by looking at them. These dogs exude elegance and dignity, and it may be difficult to imagine them doing anything other than sitting royally on a velvet cushion.
The Borzoi is a highly energetic dog who will need a lot of daily exercise to stay happy and healthy. Their long coats also require a great deal of grooming, which is something to consider if you’re thinking about getting one of these dogs. You can also expect these dogs to shed extremely heavily about once a year and require daily brushing.