The Irish Wolfhound is a breed of dog from Ireland, part of the sight hound group, it was used to pursue game using its speed.
The Irish Wolfhound is thought to be one of the oldest breeds of dog, Wolfhounds were used as hunting dogs by the Gaels who called them Cu Faol. Dogs were mentioned as Cu in Irish law and literature dating from around the 6th century, the word Cu was often added to the names of warriors as well as kings, denoting that they were worthy of respect and loyalty.
Hunting dogs were coveted and were often given as gifts to foreign nobles and other important people, in 1210 King John of England presented an Irish Wolfhound called Gelert to Llywelyn the Prince of Wales. Due to their popularity overseas, many were exported to European Royal houses. This meant that by the 16,00s numbers in Ireland were depleted, forcing a declaration by Oliver Cromwell himself being published in Kilkenny on 27th 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. The last wolf in Ireland was killed in 1786, it is thought to have been killed at Myshall, on the slopes of Mount Leinster by a pack of wolf dogs kept by a Mr Watson of Ballydarton. The Wolfhounds that remained in the hands of a few families, were now viewed as symbols of status rather than for hunting, and these were said to be the last of their race.
Captain George Augustus Graham (1833-1909) of Rednock House, Dursley, Gloucestershire was responsible for creating the modern Irish Wolfhound breed. Based on the writings of others Captain Graham formed the opinion that a dog resembling the original Wolfhound could be recreated using the best examples of the Scottish Deerhound and the Great Dane, two breeds which he believed had been derived from the Wolfhound.
Into the breed with the Scottish Deerhound and the Great Dane went Koratai, who was the Duchess of Newcastle’s Borzoi, who had proved his wolf hunting abilities in his native Russia. For an outbreed, a huge shaggy dog possibly a Tibetan Mastiff was added.
The Wolfhound as been adopted as a symbol by both rugby codes, the National rugby league team is nicknamed the Wolfhounds and the Irish Rugby Football Union changed the name of the country’s national A team (second level) in that code to Ireland Wolfhounds in 2010.
Considered by the American Kennel club to be the tallest of all breeds, the Irish Wolfhound combines power and swiftness with keen sight. A very muscular and strong but graceful breed, its movements are easy and active, the head and neck are carried high and the tail is carried with an upwards sweep with a slight curve towards the extremity.
Despite being the tallest breed, the Irish Wolfhound isn’t the heaviest, it as a structure should be very similar to that of a Greyhound with a broad and deep chest that tucks up.
The Irish Wolfhound should appear to be longer than it is tall, once used to hunt wolves, its structure should appear as though its fast enough to catch a wolf, and strong enough to kill it. The American Kennel club specifies a minimum height of 32ins (81cm) for the male and 30ins (76) for the female, and the minimum weight 120 pounds (54) for males and 105 (48kg) for females. The height and weight standards in Ireland and England are slightly different, 79cm (31.5in) and 54.5kg (120 lb) for males and 71cm (28in) 40.9kg (90 lb) for females.
Irish Wolfhounds have varied personalities and are most often noted for their personal quirks and individualism, however they are rarely mindless and despite its size they are not normally boisterous or destructive around the house. It is an easy going breed generally introverted, intelligent and reserved in character. Wolfhounds often create a strong bond with their owners and are good with children, though they can get upset if left alone for long periods. Irish Wolfhounds are best described by their historical motto which is ‘gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked.’
Like a lot of large dog breeds, Irish Wolfhounds have a relatively short lifespan, estimates vary between 6 and 10 years, with 7 being the average. The leading causes of death are Dilated Cardiomyopathy ( the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood properly) and bone cancer. The breed can also be affected by hereditary Porto systemic shunt ( a bypass of the liver by the body’s circulatory system), and gastric torsion (bloat) is also common.