Irish Wolfhound Breed Guide

Breed Group:
Hound Dogs

Middle Age: 8 years

Geriatric Age: 6 years

Life Span: 7 to 10 years

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Irish Wolfhound Breed Info & Background

The Irish Wolfhound breed has a long and storied history in Western society. History’s first mention of the Irish Wolfhound dates back to 391 A.D. in Rome. However, the rise of their popularity is mainly attributed to their favored status among Irish chieftains. This breed was prized for their prowess coursing, as well as tracking and hunting with sight rather than smell.  the Irish Wolfhound filled an important role in the British Isles by tracking wolves and elk for local hunters.

The appearance and structure of the Irish Wolfhound breed are in line with its traditional role assisting in hunting large game. The Irish Wolfhound is a large and powerful dog; standing at a minimum of 32” tall at the shoulder for males, and 30” tall for the females. The Irish Wolfhound is impressively the tallest dog breed in the world. Not only are these hounds towering in their height, but they are also incredibly strong. Possessing a deep chest and powerful legs, male Irish Wolfhounds weigh over 120 pounds. Their strong, tall legs were able to propel them to catch the fastest prey, and their keen eyesight was used to track that prey through the wilds of the British Isles. The Irish Wolfhound is distinguished not only by their enormous size but also their shaggy coat. Their coat kept them warm in the cool, wet climate of the British Isles, and is most often left natural on today’s Wolfhounds.

Although prized for their hunting ability, Irish Wolfhounds nearly became extinct in the 19th century. This was in part due to the extinction of wolves, their traditional prey. The practice of giving an Irish Wolfhound as a gift to visiting nobility is also theorized to have contributed to their declining numbers.

A man named Captain G. A. Graham resuscitated the breed by crossing some of the few remaining Wolfhounds with Scottish Deerhounds, breathing life back into the declining breed. Since then, the Irish Wolfhound breed has continued to grow in popularity, and create the same breathtaking reaction that they had once before.

Irish Wolfhound Temperament & Personality

Belying their name and original purpose, Irish Wolfhounds are described as having a sweet, gentle, and sensitive personality. They have an easygoing temperament and love to please their owners. They are considered calm, thoughtful, intelligent, and brave. Irish Wolfhounds are not ideally suited as a guard or patrol dog. While they are powerful and strong, they are neither aggressive nor suspicious of strangers, two characteristics which distinguish dogs naturally suited to guarding life or property. Irish Wolfhounds thrive on human interaction and deal best in situations where they live and work closely alongside their human counterparts.

Training an Irish Wolfhound

While Irish Wolfhounds are undoubtedly an extremely intelligent breed, that intelligence does not necessarily correlate to easy training. Many owners recount difficulties training Irish Wolfhounds. Even performing simple tasks such as sitting, retrieving, or completing actions can be a challenge. These difficulties are less due to stubbornness and can be more easily attributed to their traditional role in history. For training that requires sitting, it is theorized by many that Irish Wolfhounds fail to follow this command because sitting is not a natural position for their breed. Wolfhounds would much prefer to stand or lay than sit, with some even requiring demonstration on how to sit because it is so unnatural for them. Wolfhounds are also not retrievers and were never bred nor intended for this purpose. With all that being said, many owners have found their Wolfhounds to be very well behaved towards others, human and animal alike.

Exercise Requirements for an Irish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhounds need daily exercise to live a full, happy, and healthy life. Because they are so closely attached to their owners, Irish Wolfhounds are happiest when they are able to accompany their owner on walks or while doing chores around the yard. They do best with lots of space, so houses with a large fenced in yard are best for a breed of their size. They do not do well with small or cramped quarters.

Irish Wolfhound Lifespan & Longevity

Like many other large dog breeds, the Irish Wolfhound lifespan is shorter than many other breeds. Wolfhound life expectancy is placed anywhere between 7-10 years of age, with females living a bit longer than males.

Irish Wolfhound Popularity

Although not as popular as some other breeds, Irish Wolfhounds are still relatively common in the United States. Their level of popularity is due in some part to their large size and their need for space, as they don’t do particularly well in urban environments or small houses. Irish Wolfhounds are currently ranked as the 73rd most popular dog breed, according to the AKC.

Irish Wolfhound Feeding Requirements

Although there is no such thing as a perfect diet for all Irish Wolfhounds, owners are encouraged to feed them a diet consisting of high-quantity proteins and natural ingredients. You can expect to be feeding your 120lb Irish Wolfhound around 5-5 ½ cups of dry food a day, broken into two equal meals. Some Irish Wolfhound organizations encourage owners to look into starting or switching their Wolfhounds to a raw diet, as many have positive responses in both health and longevity when this is done.

How to Groom an Irish Wolfhound

The coarse, curly coat of the Irish Wolfhound requires a thorough brushing at least twice a week to ensure optimal health. Wolfhounds may also need regular trips to the groomer to keep a healthy coat. Their powerful nails grow fast and should be trimmed regularly to avoid health problems. Owners are also encouraged to check and clean their ears to avoid infections.

Are Irish Wolfhounds Good with Children?

Irish Wolfhounds are known to be gentle and loving towards children. They are excellent companions and are patient with children. If a family has very young children, they are encouraged to supervise them together, as the immense size of the Wolfhound can inadvertently knock over a child if they are not careful. Lastly, Irish Wolfhounds, like other large breeds, have relatively low energy levels compared to dogs smaller in size. Therefore, they may not be a satisfying playmate for children that have very high energy levels.

Irish Wolfhound Health Issues

Bone Cancer: Bone cancer in dogs is a serious and life-threatening health problem that predominantly affects large breeds. In over 80% of cases, bone cancer in dogs takes the form of osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is a malignant bone tumor that generally develops in the fore or hind legs. Osteosarcoma is more likely to develop in older dogs, but can also develop during the period of adolescent growth. As an Irish Wolfhound owner, be mindful if your dog develops sudden lameness in their fore or hind leg, or if those areas appear to be favored or develop a hard swollen area. Irish Wolfhounds are considered more at risk for developing osteosarcoma than many other breeds, so paying particular attention to the signs of bone cancer is highly recommended.

Cardiovascular Disease: Heart disease is a condition where a muscle or a valve in the heart is weakened over time. The two forms that heart disease takes in dogs is chronic valvular disease and myocardial disease. In the former, a leaking valve reduces the heart’s ability to produce an adequate blood flow. In the latter, a weakness in the muscle of the heart causes the heart to swell under pressure. As the heart enlarges it has to work harder to continue to pump, resulting in decreased flow of oxygen throughout the body. Typically, dogs exhibiting signs of heart disease will experience a shortness of breath, a lack of energy, coughing, or swelling of the abdomen. Large dogs are more likely to develop myocardial disease, so it is important to watch for any abnormal signs of breathing or energy levels in your Irish Wolfhound.

Gastric Torsion: Irish Wolfhounds are at an elevated risk for developing gastric torsion, due to their large size. Gastric torsion is a condition where food and gas buildup in the stomach, causing increasing pressure that cannot be released. The pressure in the stomach becomes so great that the stomach actually expands, placing pressure on the lungs making it difficult to breathe, and reducing the flow of blood to surrounding tissue. In some cases, the expanding stomach actually flips within the abdominal cavity, a condition known as volvulus. If you notice your Irish Wolfhound drooling, pacing, exhibiting signs of abdominal pain, or attempting to vomit repeatedly, they may be suffering from gastric torsion. Gastric torsion most often follows a large meal, so be sure to feed your Irish Wolfhound multiple times a day, rather than just one large meal. If you suspect your Irish Wolfhound is suffering from gastric torsion you should seek medical attention immediately.

Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is an extremely painful condition resulting from a malformation in the connection between the femur and the pelvic girdle. This malformation causes a loose connection between the two bones, resulting in cartilage wearing down unevenly over time. In younger dogs, the signs of hip dysplasia is a looseness in the hip assembly, which can be difficult to see. Owners can have their veterinarian perform an examination to test for this. In older dogs, hip dysplasia most commonly results in arthritis and lameness in the hind legs. Due to their size, Irish Wolfhounds are at an elevated risk factor for developing hip dysplasia.

Elbow Dysplasia: Elbow dysplasia in Irish Wolfhounds is a condition that results from uneven growth at the elbow joint between the radius and ulna. The exact cause of elbow dysplasia is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of factors including genetics, trauma, diet, and exercise. Wolfhound’s with elbow dysplasia will almost certainly show signs of pain or lameness in their front limb or limbs. Look for lameness following exercise, slow recovery, and progressively worsening symptoms. Elbow dysplasia most commonly appears during the period of puppy growth in large breeds. Over time, the damage caused in the elbow joint will result in painful arthritis and lameness.

Other Resources

national breed website: Irish Wolfhound Club of America
resources: Irish Wolfhound Rescue

Health Issues Associated with this Breed: