The actual origin of the Irish Wolfhound is shrouded in myth and legend. What is known is that "wolfe dogges" of great size and strength can be found in literature and artwork that predate Christianity. In the earlest times, the dogs were called "cu" meaning Irish hound or wolf dog, and they were only owned by royalty or nobility. They served their masters in war, as guard dogs, as hunters of the Irish Elk and wolf, and were often gifted to royalty of other countries. After the disappearance of the elk, the number of Irish hounds began to decline until their export outside of Ireland was banned by Oliver Cromwell in 1652.
In the 1800s, a Scottish deerhound breeder named Captain George Augustus Graham became interested in the old Irish wolfdog. He began to collect as many of the "true" Irish hounds as he could find, and bred them with Deerhound, Borzoi, Tibetan Mastiff and Great Dane crosses in an attempt to resurrect the disappearing breed. In 1885, he founded the "Irish Wolfhound Club" to further protect this beloved breed at which time the Standard was created and accepted by the Kennel Club and Irish wolfhounds began appearing in registered shows. However there was much controversy surrounding the purity of the bloodlines of the dogs that the Irish Wolfhound club was promoting as "true" Irish hounds, with many dog enthusiasts believing that the strain currently produced and touted as Irish Wolfhounds were too diluted from the original "wolfe dogges" of ancient times.
Regardless of whether Captain Graham and his contemporaries revived the breed or manufactured what they felt to be a representative dog of the ancient Irish hound, we have them to thank for the magnificent wolfhounds we see today.
Standard of Excellence
General Appearance: 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 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 minimum height and weight for of dogs should be 32 inches and 120 pounds; of bitches 30 inches and 105 pounds; these apply to Hounds over 18 months of age. Anything below this should be barred from competition. Great size, including height at the shoulder and proportionate length of body is the desideratum to be aimed at, and it desired to firmly establish a race that shall average from 32 to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry.
Head: Long, 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. Ears, small Greyhound-like in carriage.
Neck: Rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap or loose skin about the throat.
Chest: Very deep
Back: Rather long than short. Loins arched.
Tail: Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair.
Belly: Well drawn up.
Forequarters: Shoulders, muscular giving breadth of chest, set sloping. Elbows well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards.
Legs: Forearm muscular, and the whole leg strong and quite straight.
Hindquarters: Muscular thighs and second thigh long and strong as in the Greyhound, and hocks well let down and turning neither in nor out.
Feet: Moderately large and round, neither turned inwards nor outwards. Toes, well arched and closed. Nails, very strong and curved.
Hair: Rough and hard on the body, legs and head; especially wiry and long over eyes and under jaw.
Colour and Markings: The recognized colours are grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn or any other colour that appears in the Deerhound.
Faults: Too light or heavy a head, too highly arched frontal bone; large ears and hanging flat to the face; short neck; full dewlap; too narrow or too broad a chest; sunken or hollow or quite straight back; bent forelegs; overbent fetlocks; twisted feet; spreading toes; too curly a tail; weak hindquarters and a general want of muscle; too short in body; lips or nose liver-coloured or lacking in pigmentation.
Characteristics of the Breed
Children and Wolfhounds
The typical Irish Wolfhound is completely trustworthy with children. Their kindness and patience is renowned.
Biting is not characteristic of, nor at all common in Irish Wolfhounds, however any dog may bite if severely mistreated or sufficiently provoked.
Irish Wolfhounds are quiet by nature, but their very size combined with some barking will discourage potential intruders. While they will endeavour to protect their owners from a physical threat, anyone seeking a vicious guard dog to snarl at strangers should look for another breed.
When given comfortable travelling quarters and consideration to their needs, Irish Wolfhounds are usually excellent travelling companions. It is advisable to introduce young hounds, gradually, to a variety of experiences including visiting and travelling.
An Irish Wolfhound usually reaches full height between 18 and 24 months of age, but may not reach full maturity until 3 years or later.
The Irish Wolfhound, like most large breeds, tends to have a shorter life span than smaller breeds. Naturally, there are some exceptions, but the average is usually between 7 to 10 years.
Their great size, together with then space and exercise requirements obviously prohibit the Irish Wolfhound from being in the "popular" category.