The Irish Wolfhound is a truly gentle giant type of dog. It is not uncommon for this breed to measure over 34 to 36 inches at the shoulders and weight up to or even over 150 pounds at maturity. Typically the males are slightly larger than the females, however they are both massive, heavy and well boned dogs that are surprisingly gentle, loving and affectionate dogs towards family, children, strangers and other pets.
Historically the Irish Wolfhound can be traced back to the first century B.C. They were bred as war dogs as well as hunting dogs for wolves and wild boar throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom. Roman soldiers immediately included the Irish Wolfhound in their war dog breeding programs with the larger Mastiff type breeds. This increased both speed and improved temperament of many of these hybrids. Within Ireland and the United Kingdom the Irish Wolfhound was considered to be a dog of royalty, which limited their availability throughout the country during the Middle Ages and beyond.
The modern Irish Wolfhound is largely bred as a companion pet, however they are often used as lure coursing dogs and sight hunting types of competitions. It is interesting to note that the early Irish Wolfhounds were not as fast as the modern breed. The change in speed occurred largely due to the infusion of both Greyhound and Scottish Deerhound bloodlines in order to revitalize the breed in the early 1900s. This blood infusion was necessary after the number of Irish Wolfhounds dramatically dropped due to lack of demand for the dogs for hunting, economic means for owners to maintain the dogs, and other cultural and demographic factors.
The modern Irish Wolfhound can be several different colors, but the coat is always moderately long, shaggy and wiry. The most common color is a grizzle type of gray, however red, black, white, fawn or brindle are also common colors. The coat is a solid color with various shades, but without patterns or bi or tri-colors. The Irish Wolfhound has distinctive wiry eyebrows and longer ears that are carried back against the head. When the dogs are attending to something the ears are partially pricked and moved forward. The tail is also distinctive and is long and very tapered, carried in a gentle curl at the hocks. It is not carried high at any time.
The challenges to owning an Irish Wolfhound are not as directly related to the size of the dog as may be anticipated. They are a calm dog by nature and can easily learn to live in a larger house where they will be sedate and very low key. They do not do well in small or cramped living arrangements since they do need room to move around both inside and outside. The need for routine, regular exercise is a must for these dogs. As a sight hound they need to be on a leash or in a large, securely fenced yard. The size of the dog, which is over 7 feet when standing on his or her hind legs, the fence has to be at least five feet tall or more, very durable and secure.
Although the Irish Wolfhound is perfectly capable of living outdoors, they crave human attention and interaction. They are happiest spending the day outside and the evenings inside with the family. A very family centered breed the Irish Wolfhound, despite his or her large size they still want to be in the center of everything. They enjoy traveling in the car and spending time outdoors with the whole family, walking, jogging or hiking once they reach maturity.
During the developmental stage of up to 18 months, it is essential to limit the strenuous exercise these dogs are encouraged or allowed to participate in. Until 18 months of age they need to be fed carefully to limit growth, supplements and high protein types of foods need to be avoided, but high quality and nutritionally sound puppy foods should be fed. Keeping exercise low at this growth time prevents different muscle and skeletal problems that can occur in the breed.
Training an Irish Wolfhound needs to start immediately and with basic obedience. These dogs can actually grow at a rate of a pound or more a day when they are in the puppy stage. Although they are often as large as they will grow physically at about 10 months, they are not considered fully mature until 18 months. They should not be bred until two to three years of age. They need to be leash trained as soon as possible since they are simply too large to be controlled by a human should the dog decide to chase or run when outside of the yard. They are very easy to train and work to please the owner. They are also amazingly considerate of humans and with interactions with children of any age and they will be terrific, gentle and loving dogs for families with kids of all ages.
Unlike the Scottish Deerhound, the Irish Wolfhound also gets along very well with other household pets and actually enjoys the company of cats and even different types of farm animals and other pets. As with any breed they do need to be socialized and trained not to chase the family pets, but they quickly learn and will remember which animals are part of the household and which are not. The Irish Wolfhound is a pack dog and loves to be around other canines, especially other larger sized dogs that can engage in play and interaction with the Irish Wolfhound.
Perhaps the biggest concern with many people that are considering the Irish Wolfhound is that the breed has a very short lifespan. In a study by the Irish Wolfhound Club of America the average life of the breed is about 6.5 years, significantly less than most hounds and other breeds of dogs. Often hybrids of Irish Wolfhounds with other large dogs have a more typical lifespan.
The most problematic health issue and the most common cause of death within the breed is bone cancer. This cancer tends to be very rapid in development but also initially difficult to diagnose, typically resulting in a diagnosis and then death following relatively quickly. Bloat is a serious concern with the breed as with any deep chested dog.