History of the Irish Wolfhound Breed
Long before the arrival in Ireland of Christianity or the written word and before the Romans clamored at the door, the Irish wolfhound stood guard over the green isle. Known in Irish as cu faoil, denoting bravery, the Irish wolfhound is the stuff of legends. This tallest of dogs has been a warrior, a hunter and a companion to nobility. It is thought that circa 1500 B.C., a breed of large dog made its way to Ireland from the European continent, possibly from Greece. In Ireland, the breed grew further in size. Used to hunt big game, such as wolf and elk, it gained a reputation for unequalled valor. Sent to Rome as gifts and as war booty, the dog fought well in the arena. The Irish wolfhound even participated in battle, pulling men off horseback to be slain. Irish laws restricted ownership of the Irish wolfhound to noble families, but export of the prized animal continued at a rapid pace. Often as many as seven wolfhounds at a time were given to foreign nobility. By the time of Oliver Cromwell, the base population of the animal was severely reduced, and Cromwell stopped further exports. Nonetheless, the breed's numbers continued to decline. By the 18th century, there were no more wolves in Britain and the dog no longer had a place in battle. Then, the great Irish famine of 1845 nearly wiped out the breed. One man, Capt. George A. Graham, is credited with saving the Irish wolfhound. In 1869, he began crossing the few remaining purebred dogs, especially a favorite named Bran, with breeds such as the Great Dane and the Scottish wolfhound, restoring the population. When first exhibited at show in the 1870s, the Irish wolfhound enjoyed the same fervent admiration it had in Roman times. Today, it is the mascot of the Irish Guard in England and heads their regimental parades. Only the difficulty of keeping such a large dog restricts the general popularity of this magnificent breed.
Size and Appearance of the Irish Wolfhound Breed
Great size, power and speed are the hallmarks of this substantial dog. Built like a very muscular greyhound, the Irish wolfhound male can attain the stature of a small pony. Its large, long head tapers to a medium point and is held high. Ears are small and stay close to the head except during moments of intensity. Strong shoulders, a muscular neck, a deep chest and a retracted abdomen give the dog its characteristic body shape. Paws are large and round. The tail is carried between the legs, curving slightly upward. The coat is rough, shaggy, wiry and especially bushy over the eyes and under the jaw, protecting the dog from the elements and the fangs of adversaries. The Irish wolfhound is graceful with an easy yet powerful gait. Coat colors are grey, steel-grey, brindle, red, black, white, fawn and wheaten.
Irish Wolfhound Temperament
Gentle, friendly and very intelligent, the Irish wolfhound has a calm demeanor and is great with children and other pets. An easygoing animal, its receptive nature makes it a poor watchdog, although one glimpse of it may easily vanquish an intruder. Willing and loyal, it responds well to firm but gentle training. It is sensitive and quick to understand. When courage is required, this dog is never found wanting. The Irish wolfhound can occasionally be clumsy.
Irish Wolfhound Recommended Maintenance
The Irish wolfhound's long, shaggy coat needs brushing one to two times a week to prevent matting. Hair around the eyes and ears should be clipped with blunt scissors. Dead hairs need to be stripped twice a year. The dog is an average shedder. The Irish wolfhound must have a lot of space. It is not suited to apartment living; a large house and a large, fenced yard are recommended. Even the car used to transport the animal must be oversize. The Irish wolfhound is a social dog, happy in the bosom of the family. Although the Irish wolfhound requires much room to manoeuvre, it needs no more frequent exercise than smaller dogs. Daily walks will keep it fit and help to preclude its tendency towards laziness. The keen-sighted Irish wolfhound will give chase to passing animals, so be sure that its recreation area is secure. Irish wolfhound puppies need special care. Although appearing full-grown at eight months, the breed requires two years to mature. Before that, too much strenuous exercise or sport will harm its joints. Added calcium, vitamins and minerals are needed in the diet. Be sure to train the dog thoroughly, but gently, while it is still small enough to be managed.
Irish Wolfhound Health
Life span: 5 - 8 years
Major concerns: gastric torsion
Minor concerns: cardiomyopathy, OCD, osteosarcoma, CHD
Occasionally seen: none
Suggested tests: (hip), (heart)
Note: sensitive to anesthesia; prone to tail-tip injuries