They may be large, but many owners become addicted to keeping these dogs. They are incredibly loyal and sensitive. With their size comes a responsibility – they need plenty of exercise and a family who is as devoted as they are.
The huge hunting dogs of Ireland have been mentioned in historical documents since 600 BC. Originally fighting alongside the Celts as war dogs, they were feared and idolised by those who dared to invade. The Romans procured a number in 391 AD to take back to Rome, where they fought lions and bears.
The dogs were mainly bred for hunting in their native country, and were still being used in 1571 to cull the wolf population around settlements. Being a large impressive animal, many were taken in the English Conquest of Ireland to live in Royal households. They became a status symbol for the rich, becoming so popular abroad that in 1652 Oliver Cromwell insisted that a set number always should remain in Ireland to help kill the wolves still living in the mountains.
By the 19th Century however the breed had almost died out. One man decided to bring the breed back from the brink, obtaining a number of the remaining dogs in England and Ireland. Captain George Augustus Graham only had a small number of the original dogs however, too small to restart the breed. He reviewed old images of the Wolfhound, and decided to introduce blood from a number of breeds to help create a dog true to the original type. Breeds used included: Borzoi; Deerhound; English Mastiff; and, the Great Dane. Only dogs that adhered to the original Irish Wolfhound conformation and temperament were kept in the breeding programme. In 1885 the Irish Wolfhound Club was created by the Captain. A number of other breeders joined and soon the breed grew in number. The Kennel Club recognised it as a breed of sporting dog in 1925.
Despite the breed decreasing in number during the two World Wars, breeders on both sides of the Atlantic continued the tradition. Many have been show champions, and today one dog still holds the honour of being a mascot for the Irish Guards.
They are the largest of the sight hounds, averaging near to 3 foot at the shoulder. Their length however makes them up to 7 feet tall when standing on their hind legs. Males can also be up to 120 pounds in weight.
The Irish Wolfhound comes in a variety of colours. This includes: black; cream; grey; red; and, wheaten. They are allowed to be brindled, and have white tips on their feet and tail end. A lot of white, such as a blaze or collar, is not allowed to be registered. They have a rough coat, which is medium length. Their muzzles also have wiry beard.
Built to hunt, underneath their coat they will have the body type of a greyhound. This will give them great speed, and an easy, graceful stride. They are a lot heavier and stronger than a greyhound, so are able to bring down large prey. This makes them more similar to a Great Dane.
A Wolfhound will have an elegant, balanced gait. Their long, upright neck is balanced by a long tail that is low set. This breed rely on their eyes to hunt, so should have exceptional eyesight.
This breed is incredibly loyal, and enjoys being around people. As a result they make perfect family pets when kept indoors. They are very gentle, enjoy a lot of attention, and have a great deal of patience with children.
The only downside is that smaller children can sometimes be knocked over by a loping Wolfhound and its large whip like tail. This is always accidental. It is wise to make sure small children are kept out of the way when letting the dogs out or when they are playing.
You must prepare to change your lifestyle if you are planning to get an Irish Wolfhound. Low tables will be pointless to keep, and food even at a kitchen counter level is still in easy reach. Your house will need to be Wolfhound proof, providing them with plenty of room to roam and sleep whilst not destroying your possessions. Transporting a Wolfhound will also mean a larger car with plenty of room for them to sit and lay down.
They need a lot of exercise every day, with space to run for miles rather than a quick wander around the park. As a hunter, they will get distracted often and it is quite possible that they will chase rabbits and cats. Many who grow up with pets will not kill smaller creatures, but the hunting instinct can be very strong.
Irish Wolfhounds can be trained in basic commands. You will need to get them to walk calmly on a lead without any force, as their strength will pull many owners over. They are eager to please and willing to learn, but it can sometimes take a while for the commands to sink in.
If you are away from home during the day, your dog will pine. This will result in loud howling which can be heard over a great distance. It is not an ideal pet for a person who works away from home, or who has neighbours close by. They can jump 3 foot high fences, so large gardens with a 4 foot minimum fence will be adequate for them.
Despite their size and loud bark, they are very friendly and bond closely with their owners. Most will live with other pets, and will welcome attention from strangers who enter the house. They are not guard dogs! They are very sensitive, and if the owner is nervous or upset they will act as your guardian, protecting and looking after you. Their sensitivity means you must be careful when chastising them. Never use force, and always prepare for the sulk if you shout at them.