Irish Wolfhound – General Description
The Irish Wolfhound (Irish: Cú Faoil, Irish pronunciation: [ˈkuː ˈfˠiːlʲ]) is a breed of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), specifically a sighthound. The name originates from its purpose (wolf hunting with dogs) rather than from its appearance. Irish Wolfhounds are the tallest of dog breeds.
Classification and Standards
- FCI Group 10, Section 2, #160
- AKC Hound
- ANKC Group 4 (Hound)
- CKC Group 2 (Hound)
- KC (UK) Hound
- NZKC Hound
- UKC Sighthounds and Pariahs
Character & Temperament
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. 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.
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 (variously translated as hound, Irish hound, war dog, wolf dog, etc.) 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 breed almost disappeared, but was successfully revived by efforts of the captain of the British Army D E Graham to recreate it. He drew the line related to Wolfhounds, and as a result developed a modern breed, Irish Wolfhounds, which are today well established as companions and guards. The word “Cu” often became an added respected prefix on the names of warriors, such as Cú Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster, 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.
Irish Guards’ mascot in parade dress
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 (the Irish) 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.
The 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 wolfdog. Owing to the small numbers of surviving specimens outcrossing was used in the breeding programme. It is believed that Borzoi, Great Dane, Deerhound and Mastiff dogs all played their part in Graham’s creation of the dog we currently know. However, the inclusion of “mastiffs” on the list may be erroneous. 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 KyiApso” 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 (second-level) national team in that code to the Ireland Wolfhounds in 2010.
Size & 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”. The colors allowed by the American Kennel Club are “grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, wheaten and steel grey”. 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: 120lbs for males, 105 lbs for females. 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 (minimum) from 32-34in. in dogs”. The height/weight standards in Ireland and England are slightly different.
Health & Maintenance
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 (bloat) 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 (19 to 21% protein) 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. 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.
In Movies, TV & Print
- The domestic dogs in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are modeled after the Irish Wolfhound.
- “American Kennel Club: Irish Wolfhound”. AKC. 2011. – http://www.akc.org/breeds/irish_wolfhound/index.cfm
- “Irish Wolfhound Breed Standard”. The Kennel Club. 2011. – http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/31
- McBryde(1998) pp.97, 160-162
- Glover, Linda (1999). Irish wolfhound (World of Dogs). TFH. ISBN 978-1-85279-077-6.
- Urfer SR, Gaillard C, Steiger, A (2007). “Lifespan and disease predispositions in the Irish wolfhound: a review”. Vet Q 29 (3): 102–111. doi:10.1080/01652176.2007.9695233. PMID 17970287. – http://www.ths.vetsuisse.unibe.ch/lenya/housing/live/publications/Diss_Urfer_2007.pdf
- Bernardi, Gretchen (1997). “Longevity and Morbidity in the Irish Wolfhound in the United States”. Irish Wolfhound Club of America. – http://www.wolfhoundweb.com/breedinfo/health/longevity/bernardi.html
- “Summary results of the Purebred Dog Health Survey for Irish Wolfhound”. Kennel Club/British Small Animal Veterinary Association Scientific Committee. 2004. – http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/download/1577/hsirishwolfhound.pdf
- DeQuoy, Alfred W. (1991). Modern wolf and Irish wolfhound skeletons. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-9622015-2-9.
- “SUMMATION OF IRISH WOLFHOUND DOGS”. The Trendy Style Tendance. 10 July 2011. – http://www.thetrendystyle.com/tendance/2011/09/summation-of-irish-wolfhound-dogs
- See John Koch, ‘The Celtic Lands’, in Medieval Arthurian Literature: A Guide to Recent Research, edited by Norris J Lacy, (Taylor & Francis) 1996:267. 2007, p. 237.
- Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (Editions Errance), 2001:274-6,.
- for examples of Gaulish *uolco- in various ancient personal Celtic names see Xavier Delamarre Noms des personnes celtiques
- Hans H. Orberg, Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata – C. Iulii Caesaris Commentarii De Bello Gallico 2003.
- Howell, Elsworth S. (1971). The International Encyclopedia of Dogs. McGraw-Hill. pp. 254–255. ISBN 978-0-7015-2969-7.
- Hamilton,, Ferelith editor (1971). The World Encyclopedia of Dogs. New York and Cleveland: The World Publishing Company. pp. 672.
- Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Irish Wolfhound
- Irish Wolfhound Club of Ireland
- Irish Wolfhound at Open Directory Project.
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Animal Planet – Dogs 101: Irish Wolfhound
Animal Planet – Breed All About It: Irish Wolfhound
FCI- Standard No 160 / 02. 04. 2001 / GB
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN : Ireland.
DATE OF PUBLICATION OF THE ORIGINAL VALID STANDARD : 13.03.2001.
Up to the end of the17th century, Irish Wolfhounds were used for hunting wolves and deer in Ireland. They were also used for hunting the wolves that infested large areas of Europe before the forests were cleared.
F.C.I. CLASSIFICATIONS :
- Group 10 Sighthounds.
- Section 2 Rough-haired Sighthounds.
Without working trial.
BRIEF HISTORICAL SUMMARY:
We know the continental Celts kept a greyhound probably descended from the greyhound first depicted in Egyptian paintings. Like their continental cousins, the Irish Celts were interested in breeding large hounds. These large Irish hounds could have had smooth or rough coats, but in later times, the rough coat predominated possibly because of the Irish climate. The first written account of these dogs was by a Roman Consul 391 A.D. but they were already established in Ireland in the first century A.D. when Setanta changed his name to Cu-Chulainn (the hound of Culann). Mention is made of the Uisneach (1st century) taking 150 hounds with them in their flight to Scotland. Irish hounds undoubtedly formed the basis of the Scottish Deerhound. Pairs of Irish hounds were prized as gifts by the Royal houses of Europe, Scandinavia and elsewhere from the Middle ages to the 17th century. They were sent to England, Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, Persia, India and Poland. In the15th century each county in Ireland was required to keep 24 wolfdogs to protect farmers’ flocks from the ravages of wolves. The Cromwellian prohibition (1652) on the export of Wolfhounds helped preserve their number for a time but the gradual disappearance of the wolf and continued demand abroad reduced their numbers almost to the point of extinction by the end of the 17th century.
The revival of interest in the breed accompanied the growth of Irish nationalism in the late 19th century. The Irish Wolfhound became a living symbol of Irish culture and of the Celtic past. At this time, one determined enthusiast, Capt. G A Graham, set about obtaining some of the few remaining hounds of the Wolfhound type that could still be found in Ireland, and with the use of Deerhound blood and the occasional outcross of Borzoi and Great Dane, he eventually achieved a type of dog that bred true in every generation. The results were ultimately accepted as a legitimate revival of the breed. The Irish Kennel Club scheduled a class for Irish Wolfhounds at their show in April 1879, and a club was formed in 1885. The Irish Wolfhound now enjoys once again something of the reputation that it had in the Middle Ages. Wolfhounds are now owned and bred in fairly large numbers outside of Ireland.
GENERAL APPEARANCE :
The Irish Wolfhound should not be quite so heavy or massive as the Great Dane, but more so than the Deerhound, which in general type he should otherwise resemble. Of great size and commanding appearance, very muscular, strongly 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.
Great size, including height at shoulder and proportionate length of body, is the desideratum to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a race that shall average 32 inches (81cm) to 34 inches (86cm) in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry.
BEHAVIOR AND TEMPERAMENT :
“Lambs at home, lions in the chase”.
Long and level, carried high; the frontal bones of the forehead very slightly raised and very little indentation between the eyes.
Skull : Not too broad
Muzzle : Long and moderately pointed.
Teeth : Scissor bite ideal, level acceptable.
Eyes : Dark.
Ears : Small, rose ears (Greyhound like in carriage).
Rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap or loose skin about the throat.
Long, well ribbed up.
Back : Rather long than short.
Loins : Slightly arched
Croup : Great breadth across hips
Chest : Very deep, moderately broad, breast wide.
Ribs : Well sprung
Belly : Well drawn up.
Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair.
Shoulders : Muscular, giving breadth of chest, set sloping.
Elbows : Well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards.
Forearm : Muscular, heavily boned, quite straight
Thighs : Long and muscular.
Stifle : Nicely bent.
Second thigh : Well muscled, long and strong.
Hocks : Well let down and turning neither in nor out.
FEET : Moderately large and round, neither turned inward nor outwards. Toes, well arched and closed. Nails, very strong and curved.
GAIT / MOVEMENT :
Movements easy and active.
Rough and hard on body, legs and head; especially wiry. Hair over eyes and beard especially wiry.
COLOR AND MARKINGS :
The recognized colours are grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn or any colour that appears in the Deerhound
SIZE AND WEIGHT :
Desired height : averaging 32 inches (81cm) to 34 inches (86cm) in dogs.
Minimum height : Dogs 31 inches (79 cm).
Minimum weight : Dogs 120 pounds (54.5kg).
Minimum height : Bitches 28 inches (71 cm).
Minimum weight : Bitches 90 pounds (40.5 kg).
Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.
- Too light or too heavy a head.
- Too highly arched frontal bone.
- Crooked forelegs; weak pasterns.
- Weak hindquarters and a general want of muscle.
- Too short in body.
- Back sunken or hollow or quite straight.
- Large ears and hanging flat to the face.
- Twisted feet.
- Spreading toes.
- Short neck; full dewlap.
- Chest too narrow or too broad.
- Tail excessively curled.
- Nose of any color other than black.
- Lips of any color other than black.
- Very light eyes. Pink or liver coloured eyelids.
Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.
N.B. : Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum
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