Breed of the Week - Irish Wolfhound

by Jamie Pyatt

The Irish Wolfhound is the modern version of an ancient breed of sighthound. In Ireland this breed was known as “Cu”, a name for large hounds. These courageous dogs were used in war and were known for their ferocity during battle. Fianna, Irish foot soldiers of the second century A.D., fought with pairs of Wolfhounds.

Only Irish nobility were permitted to hunt with these dogs. The Wolfhound was unequaled in the hunting of not only wolves, but deer, boar and elk. The combination of size, speed and power allows it to chase and overpower large prey. Irish Wolfhounds were gifted to foreign nobility until the scarcity of the breed led to a ban on the export of these noble hounds in 1652.

By the time wolves were extinct in Ireland, around 1786, Wolfhounds had dwindled in quantity and stature. There were several attempts to reverse the decline of the Wolfhound starting in the mid 19th century and included out crossing with Deerhounds, Borzoi and Great Danes to produce specimens similar to the Irish Wolfhound we know today.

The Irish Wolfhound is an easy going breed that flourishes in a family home. This gentle giant is good with children and other dogs - although children and dogs should never be left unsupervised, no matter how sweet the dog.

As imagined, due to its size, the Wolfhound should live in a home where he is not cramped for space and has room to stretch out with a soft surface to stretch upon or he could develop Hygromas, which are fluid filled sacks over elbows, shoulders or other bony protrusions resulting from frequent contact with a hard surface.

This sweet tempered dog, although large and imposing, will not make a good guard dog and should not be kept for that purpose. His friendliness towards strangers and lack of aggressive tendencies are positive traits that should be encouraged.

Irish Wolfhounds are very intelligent dogs and respond best to positive training methods. Using traditional correction methods will often result in the dog “shutting down”. Wolfhounds are independent and may not appear as eager to please as some other breeds.


While these gentle giants no longer hunts wolves they do well in lure coursing and agility, both activities that make use of their natural abilities. Even though Wolfhounds excel in Lure Coursing and Agility, they may find Obedience pointless. Their intelligence to learn a certain command is not the same as a desire to perform that command at your will.

The Irish Wolfhound requires a sizable amount of daily exercise consisting of long walks, biking or jogging, as well as a secure, fenced in yard to stretch their legs and romp about. According to the Irish Wolfhound Club of America, the Wolfhound should never be tied, or staked out, ever. An invisible fence should not be used because a Wolfhound in full chase mode will cross the fence with nary a thought.

A healthy Irish Wolfhound will have clean ears, teeth and clipped nails. Twice weekly brushing will keep the Wolfhounds coat in fine shape.

Heart disease such as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) where the heart becomes weak and enlarges frequently leading to congestive heart failure and early death, is common in Wolfhounds. DCM is often related to Atrial fibrillation (AF) or irregular heart beat. In researching this article I found a large amount of research is being done into these conditions, relative to the Wolfhound being a less “common” breed.

Bloat, or Gastric Torsion, is common in large deep chested breeds and is caused when the stomach “twists”, trapping gases and contents and can lead to death without immediate veterinary treatment. Feeding several small meals, discouraging rapid eating , not allowing exercise for 2 hours after eating and raising the dog’s dishes to shoulder height, are all thought to assist in Bloat prevention.

Bone cancer is the most common type diagnosed in Irish Wolfhounds and other large and giant dog breeds. According to The Irish Wolfhound Foundation “Approximately 25% of IWs die from Osteosarcoma. This cancer is aggressive and painful and life expectancy without treatment varies from a few weeks to 3-6 months”.

As with any dog you are considering, ask the breeder which hereditary conditions the sire and dam have been tested for. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), Canine Health Foundation (CHF) and The Irish Wolfhound Foundation are all good sources of information on health issues in Irish Wolfhounds.

If you are considering making and Irish Wolfhound a member of your family or just desire more information on this noble breed, check out the Irish Wolfhound Club of America.

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