Despite facing near extinction in the 17th century, the Irish wolfhound has been the National Dog of Ireland for over 2,000 years. The largest and tallest of the galloping hounds, this breed makes an excellent companion dog, but their life expectancy – 6 to 8 years – is short.
History and Origin
The Irish wolfhound is an ancient breed used by the Celts nobility for hunting wolves and the extinct Irish elk. Their bravery and skills are legendary, and only royalty were permitted to own them. They were sent as gifts to nobility throughout Europe, and they became a favored breed in the Roman Empire.
Historically, they have been referred to as Irish greyhounds. Their likeness adorned many jars, porcelain works, bottles as well as in art. However, the breed was exported excessively and was threatened with extinction. A Scottish captain in the British army, named George Graham, is credited for rescuing the breed from oblivion.
Graham, a deerhound breeder, collected wolfhounds over a period of 23 years and developed the breed standard.
In 1885, under the supervision of Captain Graham, the first breed standard was written for the Irish wolfhound. The American Kennel Club then accepted the breed and he found a home in the hound class.
Appearance and Size
The Irish wolfhound is the tallest dog in the world, standing 28 to 35 inches and weighing between 90 and 150 pounds. They have a long head with a pointed muzzle and a black nose. The eyes of the Irish wolfhound are medium-sized and dark in color and the ears are triangle-shaped hanging down from the head. The body is long and muscular with a long tail that hangs down with a curve towards the end. The Irish wolfhound’s coat is rough and wiry with long hair under the eyes and under the jaw. They come in colors of gray, brindle, pure white, fawn, wheaten or a steel gray/blue.
The Irish wolfhound is an intelligent, quiet, loyal breed that can move with elegance and grace.
Home and Family Relations
The Irish wolfhound is patient and very slow to anger. They are gentle with children, but smaller children need supervision around them due to their large size. The Irish wolfhound is good around other household pets, but must be taught not to chase them. They are friendly and loyal to their family, but reserved with strangers. However, they are not a good watchdog by nature, but may be a simple threat to strangers due to their size.
The Irish wolfhound has a mind of his own and needs a firm, yet gentle, hand by the owners starting at a young age. They need socialization and basic obedience classes at an early age developing into the more advanced obedience classes to make the enjoyable, loving companions.
The Irish wolfhound needs daily brushing to keep the coat free of knots. The hair on the eyes, neck, and underside may need to be trimmed from time to time.
The Irish wolfhound needs plenty of space and a reasonable amount of yard to exercise. They need a secure fenced in yard because, as a sighthound, their natural desire to chase little critters will overcome them.
Common Diseases and Disorders
The following diseases or disorders have been reported in the Irish wolfhound:
- Gastric torsion, also known as bloat, is a life-threatening sudden illness associated with the stomach filling with air and twisting.
- Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that results in pain, lameness and arthritis.
- Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland does not function adequately.
- Cataracts cause a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.
- Entropion is a problem with the eyelid that causes inward rolling. Lashes on the edge of the eyelid irritate the surface of the eyeball and may lead to more serious problems.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a serious heart condition that results in a large, thin walled heart muscle.
- Atrial fibrillation is an arrhythmia of the heart. Can be asymptomatic or associated with dilated cardiomyopathy.
- Pyoderma refers to deep skin infections.
- Von Willebrand’s disease is a disorder that results in the inability to clot blood. Affected animals will bleed extensively following trauma or surgery.
- Osteocondrosis of the shoulder (OCD) is congenital problem that causes degenerative joint disease of the shoulder joint.
- Lateral patellar luxation is a disorder affecting the kneecap.
- Osteosarcoma is a type of cancer that typically arises in the bones of the limbs, or the appendicular skeleton.
- Wobbler’s syndrome is a malformation of the spine in the neck leading to weakness, staggering and potential paralysis.
- Elbow hygroma, a fluid filled swelling of the elbows.
The life expectancy of the Irish wolfhound is approximately 6 to 8 years.
We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.