If you’re a regular reader, then you know how I love to tell stories, and you know that I have a lot of them. I don’t usually start off the “Breed of the Week” with a story, but I think this time I’ll make an exception. This is just because it’s something that has kind of stuck in my mind over the years, and it always brings a smile to my face – I hope it will make you smile, too.
I vividly remember the first time I ever saw an Irish Wolfhound, outside of pictures. I’d just moved to the place where I now live, and in order to get to my poverty-level call center job, I had a little bit of a commute. I mentioned before in Introduction to Hunting With Dogs that although I don’t exactly live in the middle of nowhere, my neighbors are pretty spaced apart. We see each other once in a while, but we don’t exactly live shoulder-to-shoulder. Usually we exchange greetings at the community mailbox, and that’s about it. Of course since I was new to the neighborhood, I hadn’t really met anyone just yet.
One day on my morning commute, it was pretty foggy. I’d just rounded a corner and was coming up on the crest of a hill when this massive shape appeared out of nowhere. I slammed on the breaks, and there in the middle of the road, was the biggest dog I’ve ever seen in my eyes, blending into the fog with his dark grey coat. His eyes were startling – almost purple. I honked my horn, but he didn’t move.
Of course I was worried that maybe the next driver to come along wouldn’t see him. I rolled down my window and shouted “Go home!” He just gazed impassively at me. Well, obviously, something had to be done, so with some trepidation, I opened the door and got out of the car. Speaking softly, I approached.
“Hi, dog,” I said, “My name’s Ash, and I’m a little bit worried about you standing out here in the middle of the road.” The dog didn’t seem hostile, so I extended my hand for him to get a sniff. I kept on talking to him. I can’t really remember what I said, except that it was probably the usual “Good boy, pretty fella” stuff that people say when they’re approaching a strange dog. He seemed fine with me approaching him, so I ventured a gentle touch on his shoulder, and then a very careful ear tousle. He still seemed to be okay with me, so I got really brave, and took hold of his collar. “Let’s try to find your people,” I said, and I began walking up the hill.
As luck would have it, the first house I stopped at was the right one, and I was greeted by a smiling woman who informed me that the dog’s name was Ivan, and that he sort of had a habit of venturing out onto the road in the morning. “Everyone knows him,” she said, “And they always stop until he’s ready to come home, or they drive around him.”
Since that stretch of road only gets local traffic, I was relieved to learn that everyone knew about Ivan. Most mornings I’d see him on my way to work, and a lot of the time if I wasn’t worried about being late, I’d pull over and pet him for a bit and give him treats.
So that was my first experience up close and personal with an Irish Wolfhound. Ivan and I became good friends. Oh, and by the way, I ended up being three minutes late for work that morning, and call centers being what they are, I lost “points” off my attendance record and ended up having to work 2 pm to 11 pm for the next four months, which is pretty much the shift from hell. I was okay with that, though, because I knew that Ivan was okay.
Now, back to Irish Wolfhounds in general.
The Irish Wolfhound is a huge dog, standing nearly as tall as most humans at the shoulder. Originally, the Wolfhound was developed to hunt with other dogs and were also used for guarding estates thanks to their impressive size.
The Irish Wolfhound is a very old breed, believed to have been brought to Ireland as early as 7000 BC. They were originally referred to as “dogs of war” and “war dogs” and were believed to be used by Julius Caesar in his conquest of various countries. They were also used as hunting dogs and guardians of the home and livestock.
During the conquest of Ireland, only nobles were permitted to own Irish Wolfhounds. How many Wolfhounds you could own depended on how important you were – Wolfhounds were considered to be fit companions only for the nobility or royalty, and were housed in palaces along with the very rich.
The Irish Wolfhound has been written in ancient history, as far back of the 18th century, where it was pointed out that these dogs were rare, strong, and also possessed of a peaceful disposition. However, in battle, they were considered the equal of the English Mastiff, which is no small honor. They were also as expensive to maintain as the English Mastiff. It’s said that Henry VIII once gave a present of a thousand English Mastiffs to the king of France – not out of affection, but because Henry knew the King of France couldn’t turn down the gift, and he hoped that maintaining all those Mastiffs would bankrupt his rival king. I don’t know if anyone ever did the same thing with the Irish Wolfhound, but certainly it’s a possibility.
Today, the Irish Wolfhound is a proud member of the Irish Guards, and the regimenal mascot. As far back as 1879, Captain George Augustus Graham 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.”
Having made that statement, Captain Graham dedicated his life to propagating the Irish Wolfhound. There wasn’t a lot of breeding stock, so there was quite a bit of in-beeding going on. Graham is believed to have outcrossed his original dogs with Borzois, Gret Danes, English Mastiffs, Scottish Deerhounds and other large breeds to create the Irish Wolfhound that we know today.
The Irish Wolfhound has come a long way from a breed that historically could be owned only by nobility. Today, its fame is known as it has been adopted by sports teams like the Irish Rugby Football Union and other sports teams.
Today’s Irish Wolfhound is recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club. It is the tallest dog recorded, and the American Kennel Club describes it as being “of great size and commanding appearance.” They further describe it as being“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.” Sounds like a pretty impressive dog.
The Irish Wolfhound was bred mainly for hunting, and depends more on scent than sight. He is long in the head so that he can hunt wolves by sight, and he is expected to be strong enough to not just find a wolf, but to hunt down and kill it.
Most of the time, an Irish Wolfhound will be about 32 inches at the shoulder and weigh about 210 pounds. Even the females will usually top 30 inches.
Irish Wolfhounds can be a bit quirky –they often are destructive in the home. They aren’t much in the way of guard dogs, since they tend to want to protect people more than property. They will bond hard and fast to people and don’t typically get along well with other dogs. They are, however, very tolerant of children. They don’t like being ordered around, but will respond to commands if they are gently delivered.
Today’s Irish Wolfhound is very different from the one of decades ago. They are loyal, affectionate, patient, and loving, but still not all that crazy about strangers. They are very sensitive to anything that might harm their people, and will respond fearlessly to any perceive threats.
It’s a sad fact that large dogs don’t typically live all that long, and the Irish Wolfhound is no exception. As is the case with many large breeds, you will not get a long time with your Irish Wolfhound. He will probably break your heart at age 6-10. It’s not fair, but it’s what it is.
If you want to have the most years that you can with your Irish Wolfhound, feed him a good generic dog food without too much in the way of additional supplements. Wolfhounds grow rapidly and shouldn’t have supplements from puppyhood on.
Yes, burbs. Irish Wolfhounds grow very well and flourish in the suburbs. You might think that a dog of this size would have to have a huge area to flourish in, but the fact is that Irish Wolfhounds do very well in the suburbs with loving owners. So don’t be afraid of raising and loving an Irish Wolfhound in the suburbs. He’ll adapt very well.
Of course regardless of where you live, you should always make sure that your Irish Wolfhound has plenty of room to exercise, so fence in your backyard and give him plenty of room to run. You’re dealing with a sizeable dog that needs plenty of exercise, so make sure that he has what he needs. Big, energetic dogs need big spaces to run around.
I know that a lot of the time I go on and on about the importance of giving your dogs room to roam, but I do that because it is important, Dogs are not happy when they’re confined to small spaces and expected to just suck up being confined. I don’t want dogs to be uncomfortable and I don’t want dogs to be unhappy. I don’t think you do either So give your dogs the space they need and make sure that whatever size dog you have, he or she is comfortable in his or her space.
As a footnote, I’ve previously stated that Irish Wolfhounds are not a long-lived breed. When I met Ivan, he was four years old. We were friends for another four years, which is about mid-range for the breed when it comes to lifespan. Sometimes, when I’m driving into town, I still catch myself getting ready to put on the brakes at the spot where Ivan used to stand in the middle of the road. I miss those days – I miss Ivan. I’d like to think that he’s at the Rainbow Bridge, playing with some of the dogs I’ve loved and lost, and waiting for his human to arrive so that they can enter Heaven together.
If you love big dogs, as I do, I can definitely recommend the Irish Wolfhound. They’re gentle giants with amazing personalities, and are a great fit for sole owners or for families with children.