The IRISH WOLFHOUND (Irish : Cú Faoil, Irish pronunciation: ) is a
breed of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), specifically a very
large sighthound from
Ireland . The name originates from its
purpose—wolf hunting with dogs —rather than from its appearance.
Originally developed from war hounds to one used for hunting and
guarding , Irish Wolfhounds can be an imposing sight due to their
* 1 History
* 1.1 Pre-19th century
* 1.2 Modern wolfhound
* 2 Appearance
* 3 Temperament
* 4 Health
* 5 See also
* 6 References
* 7 Further reading
* 8 External links
Irish Wolfhound resting
Irish Wolfhound running
The breed is very old; there are suggestions it may have been brought
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 word "Cu" often became an added respected prefix on the names of
warriors as well as kings denoting that they were worthy of the
respect and loyalty of a Cu.
Wolf hunting with wolfhounds
Ancient woodcuts 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 279 BC when the
sacked Delphi . Survivors left accounts of the fierce Celts and the
huge dogs who fought with them and at their side. They were
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 and bears, in his words, "all Rome viewed
(them) 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 WWI recruitment poster
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,
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
Oliver Cromwell himself being published in
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
cinnamon 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.
Member of the Irish Guards, pictured at Waterford Barracks with
the regiment's mascot, an
Irish Wolfhound named Leitrim Boy.
National Geographic illustration showing the great size of the breed.
Scotsman Captain George Augustus Graham is responsible with a few
other breeders for attempting to reaffirm the breed's 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 Wolfhound.
Owing to the small numbers of surviving specimens outcrossing was used
in the breeding programme. It is believed that
Great Dane ,
Scottish Deerhound and
English Mastiff dogs all played their part in
Graham's creation of the dog we currently know. The famous English
Mastiff Garnier's Lion was bred to the Deerhound Lufra, and their
offspring Marquis enters Wolfhound pedigrees through his granddaughter
Young Donagh. 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 Kyi Apso " 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 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 .The Wolfhound has been adopted
as a symbol by both rugby codes . The national rugby league team is
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
The examples and perspective in this section DEAL PRIMARILY WITH
THE UNITED STATES AND DO NOT REPRESENT A WORLDWIDE VIEW OF THE
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Considered by the
American Kennel Club
American Kennel Club to be the tallest of all dog
breeds, describing the breed as, "Of great size and commanding
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 average height
Irish Wolfhound should be taller than that of a Great Dane.
However, the wolfhound is not to be confused with being the heaviest,
as its structure should be similar to that of a Greyhound, with a very
broad and deep chest that tucks up.
Its colour may be grey, brindle, red, black, white, fawn, and
Irish Wolfhound was bred for long solitary hunts based solely on
the dog's ability to visualize its landscape and perceive, unlike
scent hounds (such as Bloodhounds and Beagles) who rely on scent
rather than sight. For this reason, the neck of an Irish Wolfhound
should be long with the head held high the majority of the time. The
Irish Wolfhound should also appear to be longer than it is tall. Once
used to hunt wolves, an Irish Wolfhound’s structure should appear as
if it is “fast enough to catch a wolf, and strong enough to kill
The AKC specifies the minimum height as 32 inches (81 cm) for mature
males, 30 inches (76 cm) for females; the minimum weight: 120 pounds
(54 kg) for males, 105 pounds (48 kg) for females. It is not rare to
see modern day female hounds reaching the minimal height requirements
of those of male hounds; most females are well over 30 inches (76 cm)
and in most AKC conformation shows a wolfhound’s height is looked at
with as much importance as the hound’s head and face structure. Per
the AKC, great size, including height of shoulder and proportionate
length of body is to be aimed at, to firmly establish a breed
averaging 32–34 inches (81–86 cm) in males. The height/weight
Ireland and England are slightly different: males 79
centimetres (31 in)/54.5 kilograms (120 lb), females 71 centimetres
(28 in)/40.9 kilograms (90 lb).
Irish Wolfhound with cream coat.
Irish Wolfhounds have a varied range of personalities and are most
often noted for their personal quirks and individualism. An Irish
Wolfhound, however, is rarely mindless, and despite its large size is
rarely found to be destructive in the house or boisterous. This is
because the breed is generally introverted, intelligent, and reserved
in character. An easygoing animal, the
Irish Wolfhound is 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. An
Irish Wolfhound is not a guard dog and will protect
individuals rather than the house or the owner’s possessions.
However independent the wolfhound is, the breed becomes attached to
both owners and other dogs they are raised with and is therefore not
the most adaptable of breeds. Bred for independence, an Irish
Wolfhound is not necessarily keen on defending spaces. A wolfhound is
most easily described by its historical motto, “gentle when stroked,
fierce when provoked”. 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
Irish Wolfhound is usually unreliable in this role as they
are often friendly toward strangers, although their size can be a
natural deterrent. However, 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
Irish Wolfhound puppy
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.
Studies have shown that neutering is associated with a higher risk of
bone cancer in various breeds, with one study suggesting that
castration of male Irish Wolfhounds should be avoided at least until
the dog is fully grown.
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, sometimes
reaching 7 feet tall on their hind legs. 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
Irish Wolfhound as a breed is threatened by a
bottleneck related to the over-use of a popular sire .
* Wolves in
* ^ DeQuoy, Alfred W. (1991). Modern wolf and Irish wolfhound
skeletons. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-9622015-2-9 .
* ^ A B C McBryde, Mary (1998). The Irish Wolfhound: Symbol of
Celtic Splendor. John Wiley & Sons. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-87605-169-6 .
* ^ See John Koch, 'The Celtic Lands', in Medieval Arthurian
Literature: A Guide t