“Wow, what a massive dog!” is undoubtedly what first comes to mind when anyone encounters an Irish Wolfhound.
This brilliant breed has a number of defining characteristics. The most notable one is that they’re, well, huge! In fact, this breed is the largest among the family of sighthounds. Additionally, it’s considered the world’s tallest dog breed!
But there’s more to Irish Wolfhounds than just their size.
Today, I’ll be listing everything you need to know about the Irish Wolfhound, so you can get to know these brilliant dogs better. Is the Irish Wolfhound the right companion for you? Well, let’s find out!
History of the Irish Wolfhound: The World’s Tallest Dog
Although the Irish Wolfhound’s exact origin is a bit vague, we can say one thing for sure: they’re quite famous in legends, myths, and all throughout history.
The earliest written history of the Irish Wolfhound dates back to ancient Rome in 391 A.D. It was in the form of a letter sent by a Roman consul to his dear brother, thanking him for the beautiful “Irish dogs” he had sent him as a gift.
In the letter, he stated that “All Rome viewed them in wonder.”
At the time, Irish Wolfhounds were deemed one of the most frequently given gifts to important personages and foreign nobles.
They believe that the Irish Wolfhound’s great size, strength, and greyhound shape contributed to its high-rank status.
The history of Irish Wolfhounds is extensive, indeed. Here are some of the most prominent highlights of an Irish Wolfhound’s life:
12th Century: He’s Mine and Mine Alone!
Legend says that an Irish Wolfhound by the name of Aibe unknowingly started a war in the 12th century. It was brought upon because his owner refused to trade him to the King of Ulster, even when he offered 4000 cows in exchange.
15th Century: The More, the Better
It’s said that one of the High Kings of Ireland, Cormac mac Airt, proudly had an army of 300 hounds. He used them for hunting the now-extinct Irish elk, wild boar, deer, and even wolves.
During this period, many referred to Irish Wolfhounds as “majestic hunters.” Many noble Irishmen also said that these dogs are, and I quote, “gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked.”
18th Century: Irish Wolfhound’s Almost-Extinction
Because Irish Wolfhounds were so frequently used for hunting, the number of Ireland’s wolves and elks dramatically decreased. As a result, the demand for Irish Wolfhounds dropped.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Being great at your job can be a dangerous thing”? Well, that applied to the Irish Wolfhounds perfectly. It seems they did their job too well for their own good, and they had to pay for it.
19th Century: I’ll Save Them No Matter What
In 1862, a British army captain named George Augustus Graham heard the unfortunate news of the Irish Wolfhound’s almost-extinction.
He didn’t want the breed to die out, so he made it his mission to find the few remaining Irish Wolfhounds and took it upon himself to protect, standardize, and promote them. If it wasn’t for him, there’s a great possibility that the Irish Wolfhounds would’ve become extinct.
Present Time: Big and Lovable
Irish Wolfhounds became a desirable breed for many as the years passed.
They’re so popular that Herbert Hoover and John F. Kennedy, two former US presidents, both owned an Irish Wolfhound in their family.
Introduction to the Irish Wolfhound: Everything You Need to Know!
The Irish Wolfhound is tall and gracefully built, similar to a sophisticated, respected soldier. Despite their imposing look, this breed is actually one of the friendliest and gentle dogs you’ll ever meet.
Irish Wolfhound Appearance
Irish Wolfhounds are the largest and tallest of the galloping hounds. They’re built like greyhounds, only much more massive and stockier.
Their heads and necks are carried high, and their muzzles are long and moderately pointed. Like most sighthounds, their tails are long and carried low. Plus, their noses are darkly pigmented, black or liver, depending on the color of the hound.
As for their coat, it’s wiry and rough. Many owners say that the best part of an Irish Wolfhound’s appearance is their distinctively long eyebrows and beard, giving them a noble-like expression.
Similar to other breeds, the Irish Wolfhound comes in various colors. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), some of the most common include gray, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, and any other color that appears in the Scottish Deerhound.
The average male Irish Wolfhound stands at 34 to 35 inches tall at the shoulder. The Irish Wolfhound female, on the other hand, is about 32 to 34 inches tall.
The minimum weight of the Irish Wolfhound is 120 pounds for males and 105 pounds for females.
The average male weighs around 140 to 180 pounds. For females, it’s about 115 to 140 pounds.
Irish Wolfhound Temperament
Irish Wolfhounds have a strong desire for human companionship. Despite their intimidating stature and appearance, they’re actually sweet-tempered, friendly, and gentle-natured. They perfectly fit the term “gentle giant” to a T.
Furthermore, they’re highly social. They not only get along well with humans, but they also love the companionship of other dogs.
Irish Wolfhounds are ideal family dogs because of their unconditional loyalty. They’re quite playful and energetic, as well, so taking care of them is a lot of fun!
Irish Wolfhound With Children
Around children, Irish Wolfhounds are quite sweet and patient. They can put up with ear and tail tugging without too many complaints. This further proves just how sweet-tempered they are.
However, due to their large size, they can accidentally knock young children down, scare them, or even injure them without meaning to. Therefore, it’s best to always supervise toddlers around these dogs. The same rule applies to any other large-breed dogs.
Irish Wolfhounds as Guard Dogs
When it comes to watchdog duties, Irish Wolfhounds are far too friendly and serene to do their “job” properly. In fact, these dogs are about the most social you’ll ever meet! They were bred to hunt, so they aren’t naturally inclined to guard.
Nonetheless, their sheer size alone is enough to intimidate and deter intruders.
This isn’t to say; however, they won’t protect you when you’re in need. Despite their reluctance to guard, they absolutely will attack if they believe you’re in great danger. They’re hunters, after all!
Irish Wolfhound Lifespan
Irish Wolfhounds have a below-average life span of 6 to 10 years, with only about 9% of them making it to 10 years of age. In fact, they’re among the top 10 breeds for the shortest lifespans.
Caring For Irish Wolfhounds
For the most part, Irish Wolfhounds are relatively easy to take care of.
As much as possible, start performing the below tasks when your Irish Wolfhound is young, so he’ll get used to these procedures and accept them as a normal part of life. Once he grows up, it’ll be quite tricky to restrain him because of his massive size and power.
The Irish Wolfhound isn’t a high-maintenance dog, and it doesn’t need a vast amount of grooming. Here are several essential tips to follow:
The Irish Wolfhound’s coat is rough, hard, and of medium length. His “eyebrows” and “beard” are wiry and long.
You might be thinking, “do Irish Wolfhounds shed?” The answer’s yes, these dogs shed all throughout the year, but not to an excessive degree. Unlike many other double-coated breeds, Irish Wolfhounds don’t blow-out their coats.
To maintain an Irish Wolfhound’s coat, a thorough brushing about once a week is a must. This will help remove any dirty and/or loose hair. More importantly, it’ll prevent matting.
When it comes to bathing, the Irish Wolfhound shouldn’t be bathed more than once every 6 to 8 weeks. While doing so, make sure to use a proper dog shampoo that maintains the pH balance of a dog’s skin.
An Irish Wolfhound’s nails need to be trimmed about twice a month to prevent painful tears and other related problems. If you hear his nails clicking on the floor, they’re far too long and ready for a trim.
Like all other breeds, daily brushing is a must to prevent gum disease and bad breath. At a minimum, the Irish Wolfhound’s teeth need to be brushed twice a week.
In the book The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren, a professor of canine psychology, the Irish Wolfhound is the 67th intelligent dog. He says that Irish Wolfhounds are “of average working intelligence.”
However, according to pet experts, these dogs score 5 out of 5 on the scale of intelligent dog breeds because they’re relatively easy to train. Here are some tips to follow when training Irish Wolfhounds:
- Positive reinforcement works best with the Irish Wolfhound.
- Like many other dogs, they don’t respond well to harsh corrections and punishment. Surprisingly, they’re quite sensitive, despite their size!
- Start early! It’s ideal to train your Irish Wolfhound when he’s younger than one year old, and he can still be carried around. When grown-up, Irish Wolfhounds can easily overpower even the toughest owners!
- Spend extra time to get them comfortable with your hands on them, whether it be by trimming their nails, brushing their teeth, or lifting them up when they’re injured.
- Focus on short, successful, and efficient training sessions. Make sure to allow them to rest sufficiently in between, so they won’t get too bored, tired, or lose interest. Don’t push them too hard!
- Seemingly simple skills like taking the stairs may require specific training.
- Don’t forget to train your dog how to greet people in a mannerly fashion. Irish Wolfhounds are increasingly social, so they might get too excited when meeting other people.
Although they’re not highly energetic, Irish Wolfhounds require at least 40 minutes of exercise every day to keep them strong and healthy. Avoid long-distance walks and vigorous exercises, as it may be too taxing for their bodies.
It’s recommended to allow them to participate in canine sports like tracking, agility, and lure coursing, if only to satisfy their strong instinct to hunt.
At home, ample space is required so they can stretch out and walk around to their liking. If you have precious belongings around that are breakable, it’d be wise to remove them!
Growing Irish Wolfhound puppies and young adults burn a lot of energy. Thus, they require a diet that includes good quality protein.
According to the National Research Council of the National Academies, an active adult Irish Wolfhound that weighs 140 pounds needs to have a daily caloric intake of 2839 calories. If they’re partaking in any form of sports, like lure coursing, they may require 3154 calories or more.
Irish Wolfhounds can eat up to 3 pounds of food a day, which equates to up to 21 pounds of food a week. It’s best to feed them several small meals throughout the day to prevent obesity and bloating.
Common Health Concerns Found in the Irish Wolfhound Dog Breed
Once grown, Irish Wolfhounds are generally hardy dogs. Nonetheless, like many other large and deep-chested dog breeds, they do have a few unique medical problems.
Irish Wolfhounds are stoic and tough, so they may be difficult to diagnose. Thus, every little symptom counts.
For us, humans, bloating is a mere inconvenience. However, for large dogs, bloating can be life-threatening.
According to the Animal Medical Center, the word “bloat” is the colloquial name for one of two canine stomach disorders: Gastric Dilatation (GD), wherein a dog’s stomach fills with gas, and Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), wherein the gas-filled stomach twists on itself.
Both may cause shock and obstruct a dog’s blood flow.
Treatment-wise, GD can be relieved by pumping a dog’s stomach. GDV, on the other hand, is a bit more tricky. Oftentimes, it requires surgery to untwist a dog’s stomach.
If left untreated, it may be deadly.
Symptoms of Bloating
- Excessive drooling
- Panting or rapid breathing
- Vomiting or attempts to vomit with no success
- Visibly swollen and/or distended abdomen.
- Pain in the abdomen when touched.
Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Irish Wolfhounds are prone to heart disease because of their large stature. Canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is one of the most common heart diseases Irish Wolfhounds must battle.
DCM occurs when a dog’s heart muscles become so thin that it’s unable to generate pressure to pump blood through the vascular system. As a result, the heart must work faster and harder to ensure that blood is distributed evenly throughout the dog’s body.
Eventually, this causes the heart to become enlarged. Treatment is possible through surgery. Sufficient rest, diet, and medication greatly help as well.
Symptoms of DCM
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Long periods of weakness
- Sudden fainting
- Pale gums
Osteosarcoma is a type of aggressive bone cancer that affects a dog’s limbs, skull, spine, or ribcage. In rare cases, tumors may arise in non-boney tissues like mammary glands and muscle.
This cancerous disease can be extremely painful for dogs. Vets treat osteosarcoma with chemotherapy and, in severe cases, amputation of the limb.
Symptoms of Osteosarcoma
- Painful, hot swelling on the area affected (usually on the leg)
- High temperature
- Unexplainable lumps elsewhere on the body
- Unexpected, sudden, leg fractures
Progressive Retinal Atrophy
Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is a degenerative eye disorder that oftentimes leads to blindness.
There are two main forms of progressive retinal atrophy: Generalized progressive retinal atrophy (GPRA), which is the most common form of PRA, and central progressive retinal atrophy (CPRA). In both cases, they’re considered to be hereditary.
GPRA occurs in both young and old Irish Wolfhounds. For younger pups, GPRA occurs when the rods and cones of the eye haven’t properly developed, thus causing problems seeing.
For adult dogs or late-onset GPRA, the vision loss is gradual since the rod and cone cells were formed correctly.
CPRA, on the other hand, is far less common. Although it makes dogs struggle to see in low light, CPRA doesn’t always cause complete blindness.
Symptoms of PRA
- Bumping into objects
- Difficulty seeing in bright light and/or low light
- Unable to follow hand signals/commands
- Dilated pupils
- Eyes begin to have a cloudy look
- Decreased color of the pigment of the eyes
- Cataracts on the retina
To Sum Up
The Irish Wolfhound dog is a beautiful, majestic breed. These gentle giants are lovable, loyal, and extremely friendly, thus making them the perfect family dogs. They’re not too high-maintenance, as well!
Although they’re not suited to be guard dogs, they’re fiercely protective and loyal. They’re also quite eager to please and would do their best to keep their owners happy.
So, is the Irish Wolfhound for you?
Well, if you’re looking for a large gentle dog that is fairly low maintenance, the Irish Wolfhound might be your new dog. As long as you own a relatively large living space and a fenced backyard, your Irish Wolfhound will live peacefully by your side.
Forrest is a lover of dogs, the wild outdoors, deep mysterious conversations… and coffee. He is the owner of several websites, including Canine Weekly. He resides in Austin, Texas.