Irish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhound


The Irish Wolfhound is a breed of domestic
dog, specifically a sighthound. The name originates from its purpose rather than from its appearance.
The breed was originally developed from war hounds to one used for hunting and guarding.
Irish Wolfhounds can be an imposing sight due to their formidable size; they are the
tallest of all dog breeds. Appearance The standard of The American Kennel Club describes
the breed as “Of great size and commanding appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is remarkable
in combining power and swiftness with keen sight. The largest and tallest of the galloping
hounds, in general type he is a rough-coated, Greyhound-like breed; very muscular, strong
though gracefully built; movements easy and active; head and neck carried high, the tail
carried with an upward sweep with a slight curve towards the extremity”.
In actuality, the Irish wolfhound is the tallest of the galloping hounds as well as the tallest
of any dog in any of the seven AKC dog groups. The average height of an Irish wolfhound should
be taller than that of a Great Dane. However, the wolfhound is not to be confused with being
the heaviest, as its structure should be similar to that of a Greyhound, or any sight-hound
for that matter. The hound should have a very broad and deep chest that tucks up. The colours
allowed by the American Kennel Club are “grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, wheaten
and steel grey”. The Irish wolfhound was bred for long solitary
hunts based solely off of the dog’s ability to visualize its landscape and perceive, unlike
scent hounds who rely on scent rather than sight. For this reason, the neck of an Irish
wolfhound should be long with the head held high the majority of the time. The Irish wolfhound
should also appear to be longer than it is tall. Once used to hunt wolves, an Irish wolfhound’s
structure should appear as if it is “fast enough to catch a wolf, and strong enough
to kill it”. The American Kennel Club allows “any other
color that appears in the Deerhound”. The size as specified by the AKC is “Minimum height
for mature males: 32 inches, females: 30 inches. Minimum weight: 110lbs for males, 105 lbs
for females. It is not rare to see modern day female hounds reaching the minimal height
requirements of those of male hounds; most females are well over 30 inches and in most
AKC conformation shows a wolfhound’s height is looked at with as much importance as the
hound’s head and face structure. Great size, including height of shoulder and proportionate
length of body is to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a breed that shall
average from 32-34in. in dogs”. The height/weight standards in Ireland and England are slightly
different. Maximum weight for males is 130lbs And 120pounds maximum for a female
Temperament Unlike many other breeds, Irish wolfhounds
have a varied range of personalities and are most often noted for their personal quirks
and individualism. An Irish wolfhound however, is rarely mindless, and despite its large
size, is rarely found to be destructive in the house or boisterous. This is because the
breed is generally introverted, intelligent, and reserved in character. An easygoing animal,
Irish Wolfhounds are quiet by nature. Wolfhounds often create a strong bond with their family
and can become quite destructive or morose if left alone for long periods of time. An
Irish wolfhound is not a guard dog and will protect individuals rather than the house
or the owner’s possessions. However independent the wolfhound is, the breed becomes attached
to both owners and other dogs they are raised with and is therefore not the most adaptable
of breeds. Bred for independence, an Irish wolfhound is not necessarily keen on defending
spaces. A wolfhound is most easily described by its historical motto, “gentle when stroked,
fierce when provoked”. Despite the need for their own people, Wolfhounds generally
are somewhat stand-offish with total strangers. They should not be territorially aggressive
to other domestic dogs but are born with specialized skills and it is common for hounds at play
to course another dog. This is a specific hunting behavior, not a fighting or territorial
domination behavior. Most Wolfhounds are very gentle with children. The Irish Wolfhound
is relatively easy to train. They respond well to firm, but gentle, consistent leadership.
However, historically these dogs were required to work at great distances from their masters
and think independently when hunting rather than waiting for detailed commands and this
can still be seen in the breed. The Wolfhound of today is far from the one
that struck fear into the hearts of the Ancient Romans. Irish Wolfhounds are often favored
for their loyalty, affection, patience and devotion. Although at some points in history
they have been used as watchdogs, unlike some breeds, the Irish Wolfhound is usually unreliable
in this role as they are often friendly toward strangers, although their size can be a natural
deterrent. That said, when protection is required this dog is never found wanting. When they
or their family are in any perceived danger they display a fearless nature. Author and
Irish Wolfhound breeder Linda Glover believes the dogs’ close affinity with humans makes
them acutely aware and sensitive to ill will or malicious intentions leading to their excelling
as a guardian rather than guard dog. Health Like many large dog breeds, Irish Wolfhounds
have a relatively short lifespan. Published lifespan estimations vary between 6 and 10
years with 7 years being the average. Dilated cardiomyopathy and bone cancer are the leading
cause of death and like all deep-chested dogs, gastric torsion is common; the breed is affected
by hereditary intrahepatic portosystemic shunt. In a privately funded study conducted under
the auspices of the Irish Wolfhound Club of America and based on an owner survey, Irish
Wolfhounds in the United States from 1966 to 1986 lived to a mean age of 6.47 and died
most frequently of bone cancer. A more recent study by the UK Kennel Club puts the average
age of death at 7 years. Irish wolfhounds should not receive additional
supplements when a good dog food is used. It is generally accepted that they should
be fed a low protein adult dog food from puppyhood onward. Most breeders today recommend that
they not be supplemented to slow their rapid growth.
Irish wolfhounds are the tallest of all dog breeds, sometimes reaching 7 feet tall on
their hind legs. They are well suited to rural life, but their medium energy profile allows
them to adjust fairly well to suburban and urban life as well, provided they receive
appropriate exercise. Genetically, the Irish wolfhound as a breed
is threatened by a bottleneck related to the over-use of a popular sire.
History The breed is very old; there are suggestions
it may have been brought to Ireland as early as 7000 BC. These dogs are mentioned, as cú
in Irish laws and in Irish literature which dates from the 5th century or, in the case
of the Sagas, from the old Irish period – AD 600-900. The word “Cu” often became an added
respected prefix on the names of warriors as well as kings denoting that they were worthy
of the respect and loyalty of a Cu. Pre-19th century
Ancient wood cuts and writings have placed them in existence as a breed by 273 BC. However
there is indication that huge dogs existed even as early as 600 BC when the Tectosages
and Tolistobogii Celts sacked Delphi. Survivors left accounts of the fierce Celts and the
huge dogs who fought with them and at their side. They were mentioned by Julius Caesar
in his treatise, The Gallic Wars, and by 391 AD, they were written about by Roman Consul,
Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, who received seven of them, “canes Scotici”, as a gift to be
used for fighting lions, bears, that in his words, “all Rome viewed with wonder”.
Wolfhounds were bred as hunting dogs by the ancients, who called them Cú Faoil. The Irish
continued to breed them for this purpose, as well as to guard their homes and protect
their stock. Cúchulain, a name which translates literally as “hound of Culain”, gained his
name when as a child, known then as Setanta, he slew the ferocious guard dog of Culain
forcing him to offer himself as a replacement. During the English Conquest of Ireland, only
the nobility were allowed to own Irish Wolfhounds, the numbers permitted depending on position.
They were much coveted and were frequently given as gifts to important personages and
foreign nobles. Wolfhounds were the companions of the regal, and were housed themselves alongside
them. King John of England, in about 1210 presented an Irish hound, Gelert to Llewellyn,
a prince of Wales. The poet The Hon William Robert Spencer immortalised this hound in
a poem. In his Historie of Ireland completed 1571,
Blessed Edmund Campion gives a description of the hounds used for hunting the wolves
on the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. He says: They are not without wolves and greyhounds
to hunt them, bigger of bone and limb than a colt. Due to their popularity overseas many
were exported to European royal houses leaving numbers in Ireland depleted. This led to a
declaration by Oliver Cromwell himself being published in Kilkenny on 27 April 1652 to
ensure that sufficient numbers remained to control the wolf population.
References to the Irish wolfhound in the 18th century tell of its great size, strength and
greyhound shape as well as its scarcity. Writing in 1790, Bewick described it as the largest
and most beautiful of the dog kind; about 36 inches high, generally of a white or cinammon
colour, somewhat like the Greyhound but more robust. He said that their aspect was mild,
disposition peaceful, and strength so great that in combat the Mastiff or Bulldog was
far from being an equal to them. The last wolf in Ireland is thought to have been killed
at Myshall, Co Carlow in 1786 by a pack of wolfdogs kept by a Mr Watson of Ballydarton.
The remaining hounds in the hands of a few families who were mainly descendants of the
old Irish chieftains, were now symbols of status rather than hunters, they were said
to be the last of their race. Modern wolfhound
Englishman Captain George Augustus Graham is responsible with a few other breeders for
reaffirming the dogs’ existence. In 1879 he wrote: “It has been ascertained beyond all
question that there are few specimens of the breed still left in Ireland and England to
be considered Irish wolfhounds, though falling short of the requisite dimensions. This blood
is now in my possession.” Captain Graham devoted his life to ensuring the survival of the Irish
wolfhound. Owing to the small numbers of surviving specimens outcrossing was used in the breeding
programme. It is believed that Borzoi, Great Dane, Scottish Deerhound and English Mastiff
dogs all played their part in Graham’s creation of the dog we currently know. The famous English
Mastiff Garnier’s Lion was bred to the Deerhound Lufra, and their offspring Marquis enters
Wolfhound pedigrees through his granddaughter Young Donagh. Graham included “a single outcross
of Tibetan Wolf Dog”. This was long assumed to have been a Tibetan Mastiff. However, a
photograph of “Wolf” shows a bearded, long-coated dog – what would now be called a “Tibetan
Kyi Apso” or “dokhyi apso”. In 1885 Captain Graham with other breeders founded the Irish
Wolfhound Club, and the Breed Standard of Points to establish and agree the ideal to
which breeders should aspire. The Irish Wolfhound is sometimes regarded
as the national dog breed of Ireland but in fact no breed has ever been officially adopted
as such. The Wolfhound was historically a dog that only nobles could own and was taken
up by the British during their rule in Ireland. This made it unpopular as a national symbol
and the Kerry Blue Terrier was adopted by Republicans such as Michael Collins. However,
in recent years, the Wolfhound has been adopted as a symbol by both rugby codes, which are
organised on an All-Ireland basis. The national rugby league team are nicknamed the wolfhounds,
and the Irish Rugby Football Union, which governs rugby union, changed the name of the
country’s A national team in that code to the Ireland Wolfhounds in 2010. References in modern culture
The domestic dogs in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are modeled after the Irish Wolfhound.
An Irish Wolfhound appears in the cinematic trailer for Total War: Rome II as it serves
a group of Roman legionaries. In the 1987 film The Princess Bride, an Irish
Wolfhound is briefly seen as the pet of the villain Prince Humperdinck.
In the Sam & Max video game series, Sam is an Anthro-Irish Wolfhound.
The protagonist of The Iron Druid Chronicles Atticus O’Sullivan, owns an Irish Wolfhound
named Oberon. See also
Wolves in Ireland References Further reading
McBryde, Mary. The Irish Wolfhound: Symbol of Celtic Splendor. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-87605-169-6. 
Samaha, Joel. The New Complete Irish Wolfhound. Howell Book House. ISBN 978-0-87605-171-9. 
External links Irish Wolfhound at DMOZ

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