Background and History
The Hound group includes not only fastest dog in the world, the Greyhound, but also the tallest in the form of the majestic Irish Wolfhound.
This huge hound originates in Ireland and frequently features in Celtic myths and legends. Some accounts suggest this breed may go back as far as around 700BC. This is a dog who walked with kings and chieftains.
As its name implies the Irish Wolfhound had the bulk and ferocity to hunt down wolves and is a dog equipped with a formidable combination of speed, strength and size. But these dogs became the victims of their own success. Their popularity waned when wolves were hunted into extinction in the British Isles. The last documented wolf killed in Ireland was killed in 1786 in County Carlow. In the following century this majestic breed also faced extinction.
But in the 1860s and 1870s a Captain G A Graham became a key figure in rescuing and restoring the breed. His extraordinary breeding alchemy proved successful in restoring the moribund dog. He rescued the depleted stock of remaining Irish Wolfhounds and at the same time he introduced other large breeds to restore their bulk and size. These included: the Great Dane Scottish Deerhound, Borzoi and Mastiff.
Enthusiasm for the Irish Wolfhound was soon rekindled. The Irish Wolfhound ranks as the 74th most popular breed in the USA (2020 AKC ratings)  . This puts it one place ahead of its compatriot the Irish Setter. This breed has also served as army dogs and to this day remains the mascot of the Irish Guards .
Character and Temperament
These dogs are gentle giants and a very far cry from their ancestral origins when they walked tall as ferocious wolf killers and war-dogs. Now Irish Wolfhounds have a reputation for being generally very friendly to humans but this does not make them the best guard dogs. Although that is not to say these fiercely loyal dogs are not protective of their owners if they sense a threat.
Like the Greyhound, this Sight Hound is the silent and strong type. This breed is generally very quiet around the house making them good pets. But this does not mean they do not have a tremendous sense of fun. They love to play with both children and other dogs although it goes without saying that small children or small dogs may be prey to unintended injury from this cavorting canine colossus without watchful supervision.
The Irish Wolfhound has a calm, kind and balanced temperament. They are very rarely aggressive and their gentleness makes them suitable to live alongside other dogs and smaller pets such as cats.
These dogs make fantastic companions. But these huge Hounds have strength as well as size so they are usually recommended for a more experienced dog-owner. They also need lots of exercise. Owners will need to set aside at least a couple of hours today for walking. This exercise regime is fundamental in ensuring this dog does not put on too much weight. An overweight Wolfhound can develop health complications. The usually relate to the heart and joints.
Apartment-living is not suitable for these dogs. They do need lots of space. A fenced, outdoor area in which they can burn off any excessive energy is ideal.
It is also very important to remove any slippery surfaces as these dogs can be injured if they fall. Conscientious owners must also ensure that these dogs do not become overweight. This will avoid placing extra strain on their heart and joints.
Links to other breeds: This breed is related to the Scottish Deerhound. Even experts can struggle to tell them apart and speculate that they share a common ancestor named the ‘vetragus’ .
Irish Wolfhounds can be a little stubborn but do respond well to consistent training. They might therefore be recommended for a more experienced owner. A first time owner is strongly urged to attend training classes to ensure these dogs gain very proactive socialization training they need in order that their size does not become a problem for other people or dogs.
Positive reinforcement works very well with this breed. Irish Wolfhounds are human-oriented, intelligent and very eager to please their owners. But this breed can suffer acute separation anxiety so training to prevent or mitigate this is a priority.
In short, Irish Wolfhounds can be trained to a good standard although this may take slightly longer than it does for more receptive breeds.
The Irish Wolfhound has all the attributes associated with a sight-hound. They are elegant in their movements and quick. Both their tails and their heads are held high in a streamlined gait. These dogs are very agile despite their gargantuan size.
A male Irish Wolfhound stands today are around 32-34 inches (81 – 86cm) . The female is generally only slightly smaller at 30-32 inches (76- 81 cm) These dogs stand imposingly over 6ft on their hind legs. The male weighs at least 120lb (54kg), while the female weighs at least 120lb (54kg) .
Coat and Grooming
These dogs have wiry, rough grey coats that can come in a variety of colors although steel grey is the most common. These dogs do shed throughout the year but not excessively. A couple of brushes a week will suffice to maintain their coats.
Lifespan and Health
Irish Wolfhounds have an average lifespan of around 6 to 10 years. But with greater size comes a greater possibility of medical complications. These dogs can suffer from heart issues and there are incidences of bone cancer. They can also be prone to hip and elbow dysplasia and other joint complications. Some of the breed also get gastric torsion.