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Spotlight – The Irish Wolfhound

Val Cairney September 22, 2023 57

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The Irish Wolfhound

Hi everyone, and thanks for joining me for this spotlight episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  Today’s spotlight is on one of the gentle giants in the dog world.  I love these dogs, and you really don’t see them very often, so when you do, it’s a special treat.  Are you wondering who I am talking about?  Well, it is the Irish Wolfhound!

Irish Wolfhounds are shaggy, big, and gentle giants.  I find them fascinating, so let’s go on a tour of the Irish wolfhound.

An Irish wolfhound falls into the category of “sighthounds”.  Sighthounds are hounds that have amazing sight and were originally bred to hunt independently from humans.  They are also very fast, so hunting hares, for example, is on their resume.  According to Wikipedia, the Irish Wolfhound is “strongly associated with Gaelic Ireland and Irish history; they were famed as guardian dogs and hunting wolves!” Looking at their physical traits, male wolfhounds stand about 31 inches and females stand 28 inches at the shoulder.  They weigh about 120 lbs. for males and 89 lbs. for females.  Their coat is rough, and they have a beard with wiry hair over their eyes.

In terms of their history, there is evidence that the wolfhounds were used by the Gaels as far back as the 6th century but were more of a size like an Alsatian, not the size we see today. According to the CKC, around this time, there was a dog called the cu that was a large, rough-coated greyhound. It is believed that the Irish Wolfhound is directly descended from the cu.  As Wiki says, “hunting dogs were coveted and were frequently given as gifts to important personages and foreign nobles.  King John of England, in about 1210, presented an Irish hound named Gelert to Llewelyn, the Prince of Wales.  The poet The Hon. William Robert Spencer immortalized this hound in a poem”.  The last wolf in Ireland was killed in 1786.  Then, “the wolfhounds that remained in the hands of a few families, who were mainly descendants of the old Irish chieftains, were now symbols of status rather than used as hunters and these were said to be the last of their race.”  Unfortunately, as with many of the ancient breeds, the wolfhound in Ireland had just about died out. 

A gentleman by the name of Captain George Augustus Graham who lived from 1833 – 1909, was responsible for reviving the Irish wolfhound breed.  However, he stated “that he could not find the breed “in its original integrity” to work with”.  Graham thought that he could recreate the original wolfhound by using the Scottish deerhound and the Great Dane.  It had been surmised that the Scottish deerhound and the Great Dane had actually been derived from the Wolfhound.  Graham also used the Borzoi and a Tibetan wolf-dog.  So off Graham went to County Kilkenny in 1860 to acquire sires who were thought to have descended from the wolfhounds of old.  So, with this grouping Captain Graham embarked on recreating the Irish Wolfhound.  In 1885 he founded the Irish Wolfhound Club and the breed standards.  

In terms of temperament the wolfhound is gentle, intelligent and tends to be a bit reserved.  But, they have their individual quirks and being quiet by nature they are easy going and like people and other animals.  

In terms of health and lifespan, the most heartbreaking part of a wolfhound is that it lives for 6 – 10 years with 7 being the average.  Wiki says that the leading cause of death is actually DCM, Dilated Cardiomyopathy, bone cancer and possible gastric torsion or bloat.  

So, I didn’t really find a lot of overly concerning information about Irish Wolfhounds.  They make very good pets, but should go to experienced owners as they do need socialization and training.  We are talking about a very large dog here, so someone who is confident with their skills is best and the wolfhound tends to be a bit reserved so socializing is important to make sure they become an integral part of the family.  Wolfhounds are intelligent so they will respond well.  And although they are not known for being a security dog, they can protect their family and their sheer size can be a deterrent.  Things to think about before choosing a wolfhound is in fact their size.  A wolfhound will need space inside and out.  Plus, large dogs eat a fair bit so food cost will not be on the cheap side.  The biggest concern is their propensity to DCM, bone cancer and heart disease as well as gastric torsion and possible hip dysplasia. Good breeding will be paramount when choosing a wolfhound for these reasons.  And wolfhounds tend to be quite expensive.  

So, one of the biggest breeds of dogs is also a preverbal gentle giant.  If you are as enamored of this breed as I am and have the experience, the space and the respect for this ancient breed, the Irish wolfhound just might be for you.  So,  do some research and see what you think, because as I say, knowing is caring.   

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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