Before the fancy name, the Irish Wolfhound was simply known as a hound or a war dog, from the Gaelic term Cu. But even then, the dog breed was admired all throughout history. Aurelius, a Roman consul, wrote a great reference about them in 391 AD. This is due to the display of ferocity and skills that the Irish Wolfhounds, which were given to him, displayed when pursuing Irish elks and wolves. It is also because of their ability to hunt wolves that the name Wolfhound came about. In old Irish law, only kings and nobles are allowed to own the Irish Wolfhounds, which is a testament to the prestige of this dog breed. There was a time, however, the 19th century to be exact, when the number of Irish Wolfhounds declined because great prey animals, such as wild boars and wolves, were in danger of becoming extinct. It is only when Major H.D. Richardson got interested with these hunting dogs that the line continued.
The Irish Wolfhound may be a breed of domestic dog, but they were first a war dog, tasked to pull down men from chariots and horses. They were also hunting dogs, with boars, elks and wolves as their favorite quarry. As their name suggests, Irish Wolfhounds hunt wolves, often in long solitary hunts. They are sighthounds, bred to visualize their landscape and determine where a quarry might be hiding. Because of the type of prey they hunt, they must have the structure to seek, catch and kill a wolf.
As a gentle, intelligent hound, they must be trained through positive reinforcement. They respond best with praise and food rewards, rather than harsh words or physical punishment. Anything that is remotely cruel will cause them to shut down. The Irish Wolfhound needs early socialization. They must be exposed to different situations, people, sights and sounds, so they will become a well-rounded hound. Although they’re excellent hunting dogs, they don’t have the aggressive and suspicious nature that will make them good guard dogs. Early on, they should be taught not to pull on their leash. With their great size and strength, to make them heel without proper training could prove very difficult, especially when they’re full grown.
The Irish Wolfhounds are described as “Of great size and commanding appearance” by The American Kennel Club, which the hunting dogs certainly lived up to. Only a few dog breeds, after all, can go as tall as 7 feet when standing on there hind legs. On all fours, they stand up to 35 inches tall and weigh up to 180 pounds. Their coat is rough and hard that comes in varying colors, such as gray, black, white, fawn, red or brindle. Those that are of pet-quality tend to have a softer or longer coat.
Despite being war dogs and hunting dogs, the Irish Wolfhounds are sweet-tempered, kind, thoughtful, intelligent, patient and gentle. As a pet, they are very loyal and eager to please. This dog breed often has a mind and body that takes about two years to mature, but will grow rapidly with quality food.
The Irish Wolfhounds are generally healthy hunting dogs, but they are still prone to certain health problems, including bone cancer, bloating, hip dysplasia, cardiomyopathy and Von Willebrands disease. Like most sighthounds, they’re also very sensitive to anesthesia and other drugs, which could prove fatal when given in regular dose. Irish Wolfhounds would go crazy if kept indoors. They need to go outside and stretch. It’s highly recommended that they exercise daily for at least 40 minutes, and in a large fenced area. However, exercise should be avoided an hour before meals and two hours after. The same thing is true when they’re still in the growth and development phase, because excessive workout can result in joint problems. The average life span is between 6 and 10 years.