Spotlight – The Irish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhound

An Irish Wolfhound
Country of origin Ireland
 

The Irish Wolfhound is a breed of domestic dog (canis lupus familiaris), specifically a sighthound. The name originates from its purpose (wolf hunting) rather than from its appearance. Irish Wolfhounds, on average, are widely considered the tallest dog breed. Great Danes, however, have taken the record for ‘tallest dog’ more recently.

 Appearance

They have a swift pace, very keen eyesight, a rough coat (grey, wheaten, brindle, red, black, white, brown, or fawn, though wheaten and grey are the most common colors), a large box-shaped head, and a long, muscular neck. They have a somewhat greyhound-shaped body, but larger. They average up to 90 cm (34 inches) at the withers, a fact that sometimes is its biggest disadvantage when attracting owners who have no concern for its special needs. As with all breeds, the ideal and accepted measurements vary somewhat from one standard to another, and there will always be individuals whose size falls outside these standards. However, generally breeders aim for a height averaging 85 to 90 centimeters (33 to 36 inches) in males, 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches) less for females. Acceptable weight minimums range from 55 kg (120 lb.) for males and 48 kg (105lb.) for females. Males can weigh 140 to 180 lbs and females can weigh 115 to 140 lbs. [1]

Though the pups may look adult at the age of 7 months, they are not considered mature until the age of 18-22 months depending the breeder.

 Temperament

Irish Wolfhounds are sweet-tempered, patient, generous, thoughtful, very intelligent and can be trusted with children. Dignified and willing, they are unconditionally loyal to their owner and family. Not a guard dog by nature, but may be a deterrent simply due to his size. They tend to greet everyone as a friend, so use of them as watch dogs is not recommended.

 Health

Irish wolfhounds do not live long lives. Published lifespan estimations vary between 4.95 and 8.75 years. Dilated cardiomyopathy and bone cancer are the leading cause of death and like all deep-chested dogs, gastric torsion (bloat) is also common. The breed is also affected by hereditary intrahepatic portosystemic shunt.[2]

By the age of 8 months, the dogs appear adult, and many owners start stressing them too much. Outstretched limbs and irreparable damage are the result. Wolfhounds need at least 18 months to be ready for lure coursing, running as a sport, and other strenuous activities.

Wolfhounds should not receive additional supplements when a good dog food is used. It is generally accepted that they should be fed a large breed puppy food until 18 months old and then change to a large breed adult food. Most breeders today recommend that they not be supplemented in order to slow their rapid growth. They will eventually reach the same height, but at a slower, and safer, rate. Wolfhound puppies around 10 weeks old grow approximately one inch a week and put on one pound a day.

Irish Wolfhounds are among the tallest dog breeds, along with their relatives, Great Danes. Because of their size they will have a hard time settling in a small house and are better suited living in a rural area with plenty of space.

 History

The breed is very old, possibly from the 1st century BC or earlier, bred as war dogs by the ancient Celts, 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. Regular references of Irish Wolfhounds being used in dog fights are found in many historical sagas – Cuchulain‘s favourite dog, Luath, was slain by a southern chief’s hound, Phorp.

While many modern texts state Irish Wolfhounds were used for coursing deer, contemporary pre-revival accounts such as Animated Nature (1796) by Oliver Goldsmith are explicit that the original animal was a very poor coursing dog. Their astonishing size, speed, and intelligence made them ideal hunting animals for both wild boar and wolves, and many were exported for this purpose. They were perhaps too ideal, as the boar and wolf are now extinct in Ireland. The Irish Wolfhound has been recorded as being exhibited in ancient Rome to some excitement, and mention is made that they so amazed and terrified the Romans that it was seen fit to only transport them in cages. There exist stories that in the arena, the original Wolfhound was the equal of a lion. It has also been shown that when hunting animals, the wolfhound would bite the neck and crush the spine, killing the creature.

During times of conflict with England, it was not uncommon for Wolfhounds to be trained to take armoured knights off of their horses, thus allowing an infantry man to move in and finish the kill if the Wolfhound had not done so already.

Due to a massive export into various countries as a gift for royalty and a ban that allowed only royalty to own such a dog, the breed almost vanished in the middle of the 19th century. Captain Graham rebred the Irish Wolfhound with the Deerhound, Great Dane, Borzoi and other breeds; this saved the breed, but had the inevitable effect of altering its appearance, most noticeably leaving the Irish Wolfhound with alternative colours such as brindle (inherited from the Great Dane) as before they were mainly grey in colour. The ancient breed (often referred to as the Irish Wolfdogge in contemporary accounts) was available in both a smooth and rough coated variety. Descriptions of its appearance and demeanor, as well as the method of its use place it closer to the flock guardians in appearance than the modern breed. It is clear that the dog was not always the giant of today and it has been suggested that the Wolfhound was part of the make up of the Kerry Blue Terrier. The historical variety was famed for its loyalty, discernment, grave nature and aggression. In terms of temperament the modern breed has been greatly mellowed. Wolfhounds are often referred to as “Gentle Giants”, and an historic motto of the breed is “Gentle when stroked. Fierce when provoked.”

The Wolfhound is sometimes regarded as the national dog breed of Ireland but in fact no breed has ever been officially adopted as such. 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 early Irish Nationalists such as Michael Collins.

 Literature

McBryde, M. (1998) The Magnificent Irish Wolfhound, Ringpress Books, Dorking, ISBN-10 1860540937 , ISBN-13 978-1860540936

 References

  1. ^ <http://www.iwclubofamerica.org/faq.htm>
  2. ^ Urfer SR, Gaillard C, Steiger, A (2007). “Lifespan and disease predispositions in the Irish Wolfhound: a review”. Vet Q 29 (3): 102-111. PMID 17970287. 
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