This sturdy creature, frequently mentioned in songs and stories because of its gentleness and courage, almost became extinct in the 19th century. Also known as the wolf-dog, it is Ireland’s national dog and referred to as the Irish Greyhound or the Great Dog of Ireland.
Its ancestor was the Cu, a massive shaggy-coated dog used for the pursuit of wolves, elk, and wild boar. Irish Wolfhounds were often given as royal presents and eventually became such popular gifts that Oliver Cromwell had to stop their export from Great Britain.
With the last wolf in Scotland being killed in the early 18th century and the species disappearing from Ireland in 1776, the great dog that had hunted it likewise went into decline. The breed was revived in the second half of the 19th century, mainly by a British army officer, Captain George Graham.
The Irish Wolfhound has a temperament of a reliable, sweet-tempered, and intelligent dog that will not hurt children. Their owners will find them keen and enthusiastically pleasing. They get along with other dogs well and are friendly even to strangers. Hence, such a dog would not make a great watchdog even though it may serve as a great deterrent.
If these dogs are kept indoors, they have a tendency to become lazy. Still, they need to feel like they’re a significant part of the family and would not be content if kept in a kennel. Once they spot their prey, they like to chase it with vigorous speed. Therefore it would be best to keep them in a large, fenced-in yard.
An Irish Wolfhound’s appearance consists of a body with a fairly long back, deep chest, and arched loins. Its coat is rough and wiry, especially over the eyes and beneath the jaw. Colors vary from white to brindle (patterned or striped) and grey to black. The forelegs are straight and strong while its hind legs are long and muscular. Their feet are big and round with pronounced arching of the toes and the nails are very strong and curved. Its tail is slightly curved and moderately thick.
The head of an Irish Wolfhound is long but not overly broad, with characteristics as slightly raised frontal bones on the forehead; ears that are set high, very mobile, rather small, and preferably dark-colored; eyes that are dark and oval-shaped with black eyelids; black nose and lips; and a slightly tapering muzzle.
These muscular commanding creatures need lots of space to gambol in but require no more exercise than the smaller breeds. Today’s breeders are aiming to produce wolfhounds that are of greater size and stature. Adult dogs range in 28 to 35 inches in height, 90 to 150 pounds, and live as long as 6 to 8 human years. As they stand on their hind legs, these dogs can reach objects up to 7 feet off the ground.
It can take as long as two years for Irish Wolfhounds to fully mature. High-quality food is a must to enable them to grow optimally in their bodies and their minds. Providing their owners are firm, but gentle and convey a sense of leadership, they are easy to train. They must be taught not to pull on their leashes at an early age or else they will become too strong to control. In their first two years, they should be taken for walks each day, but it is crucial not to over-exercise them since this can slow down their growth.
As Irish Wolfhounds age, they are likely to develop bloating, bone cancer, cardiomyopathy, hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy (causing them to go blind), and Von Willebrand disease (a bleeding disorder where the blood fails to clot).
As for grooming, these dogs require regular and thorough combing and brushing to ensure their coat stays in great shape. Because they shed as much as an average dog, one must hand-pick out their dead hairs at least once a year.