Irish Wolfhound: The Ultimate Guide


Irish Wolfhounds are commanding large dogs that are rugged in appearance. Before you go running out to buy one, here are some important pieces of information that you should know. 

Irish Wolfhound The Ultimate Guide

Key facts

Average lifespan

This is not a particularly long-lived breed. They tend to live for between 6 and 8 years.

Minimum exercise (per day)

Irish Wolfhounds are a very energetic dog breed. They need a minimum of 2 hours of exercise each day to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. This is when they have reached adult age.

As a puppy, their exercise requirements are greatly reduced. You should gradually increase the duration and intensity of their exercise over time.

This allows their joints to develop properly without stressing them too much. If you over-exercise your dog when they are a puppy this can cause life-long joint and bone problems.

Coat length

Irish Wolfhounds have a medium coat length. The coat color can be very variable, anything from white, gray, brindle, red, and fawn to black. Their fur is rough and hard, and in some places, very wiry. They have a double coat which is used to insulate their bodies through harsh winters. 

Minimum cost (per month)

It is estimated that an Irish Wolfhound will cost you around $145 to $200 a month. This includes the cost of preventative healthcare, food, pet insurance, veterinarian bills, toys, and accessories.

This also allows for a monthly grooming session and gives you some room for financial flexibility in case of an emergency. 

Appearance

Size

Irish Wolfhounds are a large dog breed.

Average height

The size of these dogs tends to be between 30 and 35 inches at the withers (the tallest part of the shoulder). Males tend to fall between 32 and 35 inches, whereas females are slightly smaller. They measure 30 to 34 inches tall. 

Average weight

The average weight for an Irish Wolfhound falls between 115 and 180 pounds. Males often weigh between 140 and 180 pounds. Female Irish Wolfhounds will weigh between 115 and 140 pounds. 

Temperament

Apartment living

Irish Wolfhounds are a large breed and as such, are not suited to apartment living. They require a lot of space and exercise, and it is borderline cruel to keep them confined in such a small area. They are not very active when indoors and will quickly become bored. 

They also need a sufficient area to stretch and lounge about. Their great height means that they need a lot of space to do this in, making an apartment unsuitable. 

Good for novice owners

Provided you have sufficient space for this dog, they would make a perfect choice for a novice owner.

They have a very mild temperament and are hugely affectionate to their families. They are very large dogs and can be intimidating if you have never owned a dog before. They will also need a great deal of training which can be overwhelming for novice owners. 

Irish Wolfhound Ultimate Guide

Sensitivity level

They are a sensitive breed of dog and respond best to kind and gentle words of encouragement. 

Tolerates being alone

Irish Wolfhounds are okay to leave alone, but it is not recommended that you do this for extended periods. They are known to become destructive when they are left alone for too long. 

Tolerates cold weather

These dogs are much better suited to cold weather than they are hot. 

Tolerates hot weather

They can handle warmer climates but they are likely to be a little uncomfortable. During the summer months, you will often see your Irish Wolfhound lying on the cold, hard flooring. 

Affectionate with family

Irish Wolfhounds are very intelligent and gentle dogs. They love to be around people and will thrive in a family setting. They are calm, responsive, and docile. They are sensitive animals and should be spoken to with kindness.

Kid-friendly

These dogs are known for their patience with children. As they are large dogs, we strongly recommend supervising children around them, as they can easily knock small children over.

You should not let children ride your dog as if it is a horse. This can cause back problems as the weight is too great for their spines to bear. 

Dog friendly

Irish Wolfhounds are friendly dogs and will get along with other dogs very well. They tend to prefer to be the only dog in the home but they can cohabitate with other pets provided they are socialized sufficiently when they are a puppy. 

Friendly towards strangers

These dogs are not aggressive or suspicious and are unlikely to be wary of strangers. 

Health and grooming

Shedding

Irish Wolfhounds are known to shed constantly all year round. This is not an excessive shed and should be tolerable. We advise grooming them once per week to dislodge any dirt and loose hairs trapped in their coats. 

Drooling

As they have such long hairs around their faces, you are likely to notice drops of water dribbling from your Irish Wolfhound’s mouth after they drink.

They do not drool excessively. Stress, food, excitement, and sex hormones can all contribute to an increase in slobber production. 

Grooming

You should ensure you brush your Irish Wolfhound at least once a week. You do not need to bathe them often. A couple of baths a year should suffice, unless they find themselves covered in something stinky. 

You should try to brush your dog’s teeth daily to prevent dental diseases from setting in. If you cannot manage this, 2 or 3 times a week should suffice. 

You should trim your dog’s nails once or twice a month. When they are allowed to grow to excessive lengths then this can quickly become painful for your dog. When you can hear their claws clicking on the ground then it is time to get the clippers out. 

You should check their paws and the interior of their mouth frequently for signs of injury or disease.

We also advise cleaning out the inside of their ears with a cotton ball dampened in a pH-balanced ear cleaning solution. Never go inside the ear canal as this can be very painful and could lead to hearing loss. 

General health

It is recommended that you take your dog for an annual heart exam. This ensures that health conditions will be caught as early as possible and hopefully can be cured. You should also take them for annual checkups of their eyes and ocular health. 

Common health problems

There are several health issues associated with Irish Wolfhounds. These include GDV, cancer, cardiomyopathy, generalized progressive retinal atrophy, portosystemic shunt, hip and elbow dysplasia, and panosteitis. 

GDV is also known as gastric dilation volvulus or bloat. This occurs when the stomach bloats and twists around itself. It is very painful for your dog and is a life-threatening condition.

If you suspect that your dog has GDV you must take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Common symptoms of GDV are bloating and retching. 

Cancers such as osteosarcoma (bone cancer) are commonly seen in Irish Wolfhounds. This is often found in one of their legs. It is not known for sure why they are so susceptible to this cancer, but it is estimated that there is a genetic component. 

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle where the walls become enlarged, thicken, and become stiff. This leads to a reduction in cardiac function and can pose serious health risks to your dog. 

Generalized progressive retinal atrophy is a genetic condition that causes a slow onset blindness over the course of many years. There is no cure for this condition and it will eventually cause total blindness.

Antioxidant therapy has promising preliminary evidence to suggest it slows vision loss but this has not been proven. 

A portosystemic shunt is when there is an abnormal vein that connects the blood returning from the intestines to the vein returning blood to the heart.

This forces the blood to bypass the liver meaning that toxins are not filtered out of the blood. This means that levels can build and become dangerous, eventually leading to serious health issues. This is often a birth defect and does not commonly appear later in life. 

Hip and elbow dysplasia means that the balls and sockets of the joints do not fit together properly. This means that the joints are very prone to popping out and dislocating. This can be very painful for your dog if left untreated. 

Panosteitis is a painful condition where the outer surface of one or more of the long leg bones becomes inflamed. This is more colloquially known as growing pains. It can move around the body and can affect multiple limbs at the same time. 

Potential for weight gain

Irish Wolfhounds are relatively skinny animals by nature, but this does not mean that they can’t put on weight if supplied with an incorrect food source.

Obesity can  be a real problem as it exacerbates several other, pre-existing health conditions. These include worsening joint problems, digestive and metabolic disorders, back pain, and heart disease.

Trainability

Easy to train

This dog breed does not fully mature until they are at least 18 months old. During this juvenile period, the puppies can be very destructive. If they are left alone for long periods then they are known to often injure themselves. 

It is a good idea to take your dog to puppy classes for socialization as early as possible. This will teach them from an early age the importance of obedience. These dogs respond best to positive reinforcement, and you should always speak kindly to them. 

Intelligence

Irish Wolfhounds are a very intelligent breed and will learn very fast. They are a sighthound breed, meaning that they will run off as soon as they see something to chase, but they will eventually learn to come back when you call them. 

Irish Wolfhound

Potential to bite

These dogs have been selectively bred and trained to hunt down wolves in the woods with ease.

This means that they have very strong hunting instincts and a lot of muscle to back that up. Their bite strength measures at about 224 PSIO, which is not something that you want to experience.

Irish Wolfhounds are not violent or vicious and are unlikely to bite you without being provoked.

Tendency to bark or howl

These are not particularly noisy dogs and will not bark and howl excessively. They may begin to howl if they see some prey to hunt, as a warning, as an expression of joy or pain, or simply to communicate with you. They are most prone to howling when they are around other Irish Wolfhounds. 

History

The first written record of this species is from 391 CE. Consul Quintus Aurelius Symmachus presented 7 of these dogs from Ireland to Rome as a contribution to the shows and games.

They were intended to be used to fight lions and bears in the Colosseum. Consul Symmachus wrote a thank you note to his brother, who sourced the dogs and this is our first written record of their existence. 

Through the years Irish Wolfhounds became a staple element of royal courts, including Edward II, Elizabeth I, and Henry VIII in England and Henry IV in France. They were often gifted from royal families to other countries such as Spain, Sweden, and Denmark. 

They were used to hunt wolves in the English and Irish countryside, but by the 18th century there were none left. This meant that the Wolfhounds were no longer necessary and the population went into a rapid decline. 

In 1750 there’s documents showing the Earl of Chesterfield’s upset and frustration about how futile his 2-year search for one was. Skip forward 20 years and the author Oliver Goldsmith is lamenting that they were only found in the houses of gentlemen and kept as a curiosity. 

In 1862, Captain Georfe Graham sourced some of the few remaining Irish Wolfhounds and cross-bred them with Scottish Deerhounds.

He also did this with several other breeds, including Tibetan Borzoi, Pyrenean Wolfhounds, and Great Danes. After 23 years of hard graft, the breed numbers had stabilized and the population had been restored. 

In 1897 the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed. 

Costs

Experts estimate that you will end up spending around $23,500 on your Irish Wolfhound throughout their life. Purchasing your puppy from a reputable breeder is likely to set you back between $1,500 and $2,000. If you are looking for a dog that is show quality, expect this price to increase to around $3,000.

As with most dogs, the initial month following purchase is likely to be the most costly one. You will need to purchase bedding, food, insurance, vaccinations, toys, and bowls.

You will also need to purchase leads, collars, harnesses, treats, deworming, and flea treatments, as well as taking them for an initial checkup at the vet. This is likely to end up setting you back around $1,000.

Fun facts

Irish Wolfhounds are the official mascot of the Irish Guards. In 1902 the Irish Wolfhound Club presented the Irish Guards with a dog called Brian Boru as part of a publicity drive to boost the breed’s popularity.

Irish Wolfhounds are still used to lead the Guards on their parade, and they are the only regiment allowed to do this. 

The 16th mascot, Domhnall, retired in 2019 and returned to Ireland. Before this, he had several publicity appearances with Prince William and Duchess Catherine. 

Irish Wolfhounds are mentioned in Irish literature and legislation dating back to the 5th century. 

They are the tallest dog breed in the world. When standing on their hind legs, Irish Wolfhounds have been known to measure over 7 feet. 

One of the High Kings of Ireland had an army of 300 Wolfhounds. This ruler was called Cormac mac Airt and he reigned for some of the time between the 2nd and 4th centuries.

These canine armies were often used to lead their master into battle and were trained to drag enemy soldiers off of their horses and chariots. 

In 1888 a memorial was erected at the site of the Gettysburg battle as an honorific for the Irish Brigade.

The memorial monument has a life-sized sculpture of an Irish Wolfhound lying in mourning to pay tribute to the infantry regiments from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York.

When President Herbert Hoover entered the White House his wife was given an Irish Wolfhound named Cragwood Padraic. He was renamed Patrick and lived with the family.

Another President, John F. Kennedy was also gifted an Irish Wolfhound. He was called Wolf and a present from family friends residing in Ireland. 

There is a village in Wales named after an Irish Wolfhound. Prince Llewelyn from North Wales went out hunting and was greeted upon his return by his dog, Gelert, covered in blood.

The prince noticed his son was not in his crib and assumed the worst, killing Gelert. Once he was dead, the prince found his son safe next to a dead wolf Gelert had killed to protect the baby.

Kerry White

Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners. Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.

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