Most breeds are known for different things; intelligence, coat, skills, colors. The Irish Wolfhound is known for its size. While the size is easy to imagine in theory, it’s not until you’re standing next to one that you realize just how tall this dog is. But despite its fierce appearance, this breed is nothing but kind.
A hunter with a long history
As the name suggests, the Irish Wolfhound hails from Ireland, where it’s been around for over 1500 years. As far back as 391 AD, the Roman consul wrote that “all Rome viewed with wonder” the seven Wolfhounds he’d been gifted. Back then, the Irish Wolfhound was a breed only allowed to nobility, and the higher the rank, the more of them you could have. The Irish Wolfhound was therefore a popular gift to other rulers and nobility, often clad in chains and collars of silver or gold. There are plenty of legends surrounding the breed, and the people which it inspired over the centuries. Originally, though, this Wolfhound was the result of breeding large indigenous British dogs with the Middle Eastern coursing hounds that were commonly bartered around the world at the time.
Originally, the Irish Wolfhound was a war dog. Its size alone made it fearsome in battle, and these dogs were often used to tear riders down off their horses or chariots. Outside of war, they were used for hunting large game such as elk, boar, and even wolves ― hence the name. Guarding of homes and livestock was also common. Praised for its bravery and ferocity, the Irish Wolfhound was highly valued by all.
Its fame couldn’t keep the Irish Wolfhound safe forever, though. As elk and wolves were hunted to extinction in Ireland, the breed was rendered redundant, and was mostly kept as ornamental dogs. They rarely saw use in the field, anymore. If not for breeding efforts made in the mid-1800s, the Irish Wolfhound may have disappeared entirely. Today, the Irish Wolfhound may not be nearly as popular as it once was, but it’s by no means on its way out.
Size and appearance of the Irish Wolfhound
As mentioned, the Irish Wolfhound is big. It just barely beats out the Great Dane as the biggest breed, as the Great Dane is heavier, but the Irish Wolfhound is taller. Up to 35 inches tall, in fact. Males are usually 34 to 35 inches, while females stand at 32 to 34 inches, and they can be quite formidable in person. In terms of physique, the Irish Wolfhound is slender and long-limbed, with a friendly face to match the somewhat intimidating size, and folded ears. They’re excellent runners, and can reach impressive speeds.
The coat of the Irish Wolfhound is rough and bristly, and sheds consistently all year round, so it’s best to keep up a good brushing habit. The hair gets a little longer around the eyes and jaw, and if you prefer a neater, cleaner look, it’s still best to leave the hair long over the neck and shoulders. A bit of a mane looks good on a Wolfhound. The coat of the Irish Wolfhound comes in six different colors; gray, brindle, white, black, red, or fawn. The ones most commonly seen are perhaps gray and fawn, which adds to the breed’s impression of being wild and ancient, thanks to its already rough look.
Temperament and personality
The Irish Wolfhound may look intimidating, but it is truly a gentle giant. The war dog side of the breed has all but disappeared over the years, and despite its size, it’s very much a house dog that requires only average exercise. Though the dog still remains very brave, aggression is not a trait you’ll find here, and as a watchdog, the Irish Wolfhound is generally a poor choice; they may be alert, but aren’t suspicious by nature. Their sheer size and appearance might act as an excellent deterrent, however. The Irish Wolfhound is also a sighthound, with a very strong prey drive. This means that they need to be contained in a secure yard, and kept on a leash during walks. If they spot a rabbit, or a cat, or even a smaller dog in the distance, they’ll bolt after it, which could end in a car accident, or seriously injured “prey”.
This breed is intelligent and social, and loves spending time with its family, especially kids. Make sure to never leave children alone with the dog, though ― this goes for any breed. Despite its calm demeanor, the Irish Wolfhound is big enough to accidentally injure a small child if startled, and children may attempt to ride this dog like a pony, due to its size. Not a good idea, as the dog can’t support that weight. It’s also important to keep in mind that the Irish Wolfhound doesn’t respond well to harsh words and physical reprimands ― positive reinforcement is here the best course of action. Like with any dog, early socialization is required, in order to end up with a happy, relaxed dog that gets along with humans as well as other animals.
Things to consider
The Irish Wolfhound is a breed of contradictions, between its sheer size and calm, friendly demeanor. With patience and consistency, this intelligent, gentle breed will make an excellent companion, and display its bravery if needed. Due to their size, these dogs don’t usually live past 8 years, and can develop joint issues if pushed too hard; it’s best to start small and slow as pups, in terms of exercise. But just like the Irish realized over a millennium ago, the Irish Wolfhound is a loyal, sensitive dog, whose kindness and strength are the dominant traits. Bring an Irish Wolfhound into your life, and you’ll be happier for it.