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Irish wolfhound dog

"Gentle when stroked, yet fierce when provoked"

The Irish Wolfhound dog breed belongs to the Giant dog breed group, standing at a minimum of 32 inches tall at the withers (shouders) for male dogs. That's nearly 3 feet tall, at the shoulder! Irish Wolfhound dogs are the same height or slightly taller than a Great Dane; the AKC says it is the tallest breed on their register. However, at 120lbs to 150lbs, it is not quite as heavy as the Great Dane, which weighs in at around 140lbs to 170lbs.

Irish Wolfhound dogThe magnificent Irish Wolfhound

The main reason for the weight difference in these 2 majestic dogs is that the Irish Wolfhound dog was bred for speed, to catch - and take on in single combat - a wolf.

The Wolfhound is a unique blend of speed, power, sheer size, and very good eyesight. Bigger even than the Scottish Deerhound, the modern Irish Wolfhound is an amiable, calm and dignified breed.

BUT how big is BIG?  These images may give you some idea as to the size of adult Irish Wolfhound dogs.

Irish Wolfhound dogA Wolfhound is as big as a small donkey
Irish Wolfhound dogA massive dog!
Irish Wolfhound dogA wolfhound standing. Image courtesy witzich.ch

Irish Wolfhound Dog - Temperament

This a very calm and confident breed that likes to be friends with everyone, but in a calm, dignified manner, unlike a Labrador Retriever for example, that can be very excitable. The Wolfhound will wander around without any great exuberance, and loves to be petted and stroked. They love human company, and will seek it out.

This breed is very good with children, due to its calm nature, and generally they don't mind small kids charging around and making a noise. However, due to their size and weight, they should always be supervised when with children, as they can easily knock one over by accident.

Irish Wolfhound dogA Wolfhound with a small child

Because they were bred to chase Elk and then Wolves, the Wolfhound will have a tendency to chase after anything that moves - and an adult dog will cover a lot of ground in a matter of seconds. While they need regular exercise every day, they must be controlled in some way, such as a very big fenced yard, or kept on a leash when out in public.

A dog of this size and strength must be properly trained, otherwise it will dominate the owner and take over the house! We have a great page on the 7 best dog training books, and we recommend that you take a look at that page - just click HERE.

You can also exercise your Wolfhound by taking part in sports such as running with your dog, Canicross, tracking competitions, and lure coursing. These activities will burn off your dog's energy and help to keep it fit and active.

Irish Wolfhound dogIrish Wolfhound

Once back home, Irish Wolfhound dogs will love to stretch out on a comfy bed or sofa and snooze a couple of hours away. They can become couch potatoes if you let them, as they are so laid-back, but it's best to keep your dog active.

Irish Wolfhound Dog - History

The origins of the Irish Wolfhound have been lost in the mists of time, and have become the stuff of ancient legend and myth. However, we know for sure that they resulted from breeding British big hounds with hounds from the Middle East used in coursing (ie. chasing prey).

When the Roman Empire reached the modern-day British Isles, the big dogs of Ireland were already well-established. A gift of 7 big Irish hounds was given to the Roman consul, and in Rome they were a wonder!

But the Irish Wolfhound did not have that name at that time - it was involved more in hunting the enormous Irish Elk, which by legend could stand at six feet tall at the shoulder. They were simply referred to as a "Big Dog of Ireland".

By the 15th century, there were hardly any Irish Elk left in Ireland, but there was a new problem - the countryside was gradually being over-run with wolves. The big hunting hounds that had been used in hunting the Irish Elk had a change of role, and they were switched over to wolf hunting. They were superb at the job.

At this time they were called several names, such as "Big Dogs of Ireland", "Greyhounds of Ireland", or "Wolfdogs of Ireland". The current name of Irish Wolfhound is a modern invention.

Irish Wolfhound dogIrish Wolfhound

Unfortunately, they were almost TOO good at wolf hunting, and by the 17th century the wolf problem had gone away. The Irish Wolfhound was now redundant. Without a useful job, there was no reason to keep these giants. They nearly became extinct.

BUT in 1862, a British army officer called George Graham realized the danger of losing this unique dog breed, and started to collect any Irish Wolfhounds he could find. He made a commitment to protect and promote the breed. It is thanks to him that the breed exists today. But he had to start from scratch.

Graham started a breeding program to re-create what he believed to be the ancient wolf-hunting "Big Dog of Ireland". He bred the Scottish Deerhound with the Great Dane, the Russian wolf-hunter Borzoi, and probably a Tibetan Mastiff. The Irish Wolfhound Club was established in 1885.

A later DNA analysis concluded that Captain Graham had largely succeeded in reproducing the appearance and size of the ancient Irish Wolfhound dogs, but with the modern DNA of the Scottish Deerhound and Great Dane, as well as the Borzoi.

Irish wolfhound dog headIrish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhound - Ease of Training

Young Wolfhounds will quickly become bored if left alone, and chew anything they can find. It's important to keep them occupied much of the time, but also important NOT to over-exercise them as their bones and joints grow.

While playing with your dog will provide some exercise and socialization, they should not be taken out running nor allowed to play with adult dogs until the age of 18 months.

This is an intelligent breed that learns quickly, and they want to be around humans and will do their best to please them. The best strategy is to combine play with short training sessions as a puppy. You may be surprised how quickly a Wolfhound learns!

Vital Statistics

Height;  32 inches minimum (male)

            30 inches    (female)

Weight;   120lbs - 150lbs (male)

              110lbs to 130lbs (female)

Life Span;  6 to 10 years

Grooming

Irish Wolfhound dogs have a double-layer coat. They have a soft, fine undercoat next to the skin, which is covered by a wiry, shaggy topcoat for protection from the elements. Careful and thorough brushing once a week will normally be enough to keep your dog looking its best.

As always, the dog's claws should be trimmed when they get long enough to make a clacking sound on the floor when it walks. Ears should also be inspected regularly for any foreign objects or lumps, bumps and signs of infection.

Irish Wolfhound dog

Irish Wolfhound Dog - Protection

The Irish Wolfhound is alert by nature, like most sight hounds, but not suspicious nor aloof with strangers. And although immensely brave and courageous, they are not at all aggressive. This means that they will probably not bark when a stranger approaches your house, nor will they try to deter a stranger from entering. They are more likely to welcome an intruder as a friend!

However, their sheer size and appearance will be very intimidating for anyone who doesn't know about the breed, and for this reason they will be a deterrent to any would-be intruder.

In addition, if you should be unfortunate enough to get into a tussle with an intruder, your Irish Wolfhound will finally stir into action. Then its bravery and power will overwhelm your unwanted guest quite quickly. They are NOT good watchdogs nor guard dogs, but they will, like any domestic dog, try to protect their owner when things turn bad enough. Only then will their size, strength and courage be exercised.

As such, they are not good guard dogs in the usual sense, but they are supreme at defending their human owner. They will form a very close bond with their "family" as opposed to their home, and will take action against an intruder with ill-will, as opposed to a simple home invader who does not threaten the human family.

Irish Wolfhound dog - Health Considerations

As with all large and giant dog breeds, the lifespan of the Irish Wolfhound is relatively short, at 6 to 10 years. The average age is actually around 7 years. The usual causes of death are bone cancer and cardiomyopathy.

Some studies suggest that neutering a dog increases the risk of bone cancer. A Wolfhound should not be neutered until after 2 years of age.

Feeding such a big dog is a matter of some importance. Have a look at our page on the best food for dogs, HERE.

Famous Irish Wolfhound Dogs

An Irish Wolfhound dog is featured on the original cover of Mike Oldfield's album "Hergest Ridge".

We hope our guide to the magnificent Irish Wolfhound has been interesting and helpful. Please let us know if you think we have missed anything out!


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