The mild-mannered, serene Irish Wolfhound has a surprising history as an ancient war dog and is central to many legends. This gentle giant has existed in Ireland for thousands of years. They don't just run—the swift Irish Wolfhound gallops, which is fitting, as he is nearly as large as a pony. Though they are friendly with everyone they meet, patient with children, and look dignified, the Irish Wolfhound does not make an ideal choice for every household. They are difficult to get, expensive to care for, and their care requires a serious commitment.
The Irish Wolfhound was originally called Cú, or Cú Faoil, meaning hound or wolf dog. Irish Wolfhounds are also called Wolfhound.
Irish Wolfhounds have a soft undercoat and a rough overcoat of grey, brindle, red, black, white, fawn, or wheaten. They also have a wiry beard and eyebrows.
Average Height: 30-32 inches
Male: Minimum of 120 pounds
Female: Minimum of 105 pounds
Breed Standard & History
The commanding Irish Wolfhound is an athletic, galloping breed: he is muscular and strong, and built to move gracefully. The chest is deep and wide, the back is long, and the legs are powerful. The coat is rough and wiry, longer over the eyes and muzzle, and the slightly curved tail is covered with hair. Minimum size requirements for the Irish Wolfhound are at least 120 pounds and 32 inches for dogs, 105 pounds and 30 inches for bitches. The Irish Wolfhound is left natural, with no ear cropping or tail docking. – AKC Breed Standards
The Irish Wolfhound is an ancient dog breed, possibly dating back to Ireland in 7000 BC, though the oldest written record of the Wolfhound is from Rome dating to 391 AD, when seven dogs were given to Quintus Aurelius as gifts. When he was no longer needed as a war dog, the Irish Wolfhound became an indispensable hunting companion and imposing protector of homes in Ireland. The massive dog who had been used to pull armored warriors off of horses could also chase down and kill a wolf if necessary.
Royalty developed an affinity for the breed, and European nobles exported many of them—leaving few Irish Wolfhounds in Ireland. Though the export of the breed was banned to preserve the population in Ireland, they were nearly extinct by the 19th century. An effort was made to revive the bloodline of the ancient hound by breeding the few remaining Irish Wolfhounds with other large breeds—possibly the Great Dane, English Mastiff, and Scottish Deerhound. After nearly three decades, the breed was re-established.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Irish Wolfhound in 1897.
AKC Breed Category
Though the Irish Wolfhound is an imposing sight, this giant dog is a gentle, friendly companion. When given plenty of exercise, they're likely to spend their free time relaxing alongside their people. Irish Wolfhounds prefer to spend as much time as possible with their family. The dignified Irish Wolfhound is intelligent and easy to train, though he may have a bit of an independent streak. This breed is loyal and loving, with a sensitive side.
Are Irish Wolfhounds Good with Kids? The gentle Irish Wolfhound is patient and does well with children, but may accidentally knock over small children. Older, dog-experienced children are the best match for this breed due to its size and strength.
Though the breed is large and sturdy, children should never be allowed to climb or ride on an Irish Wolfhound or any other breed, as it may injure the dog or instigate a bite.
Are Irish Wolfhounds Good with Other Pets? The Irish Wolfhound may do well with other dogs if properly socialized, but he is often not the best match for cats or small animals due to his instinct to chase. He may not be ideal for properties with livestock as he may chase.
While alert, watchful Irish Wolfhounds are not meant to be guard dogs. Though their enormous size may be enough to scare off potential thieves, aggression or protective behaviors are not common in the breed. They may defend their pack if necessary, but are more likely to cautiously greet newcomers.
Galloping, running, and romping in a fenced yard is the Irish Wolfhound's preferred way to burn off energy—and he has plenty of it. After enough exercise outdoors, the Irish Wolfhound makes a calm and easygoing indoor companion.
- The Irish Wolfhound needs plenty of space to gallop and play outdoors—fenced areas are ideal.
- His incredible size and weight makes an adult dog difficult to lift or carry, and you'll need an extra-large dog bed with memory foam to comfortably hold him and allow him to rest his joints.
- He has health concerns and a short life span.
- The Irish Wolfhound is difficult to find and expensive to purchase.
- His food, care, and medication are expensive.
Time indoors is most often spent lounging with people—Irish Wolfhounds love to stretch out for a good nap. They're large, and they need the space to match—but with enough exercise and long walks, they're couch potatoes. They aren't ideal for apartments or city living as these are giant dogs and they need space to run.
Irish Wolfhounds need a large, secure area outdoors to run and play. A fenced area is ideal for this large sighthound, otherwise he may wander or chase other animals. Tie-outs are not suitable for the Irish Wolfhound as they will not withstand more than a single tug from this massive dog. Though they enjoy spending time outdoors, their place is inside with their people. They are not meant to live outdoors full-time.
Irish Wolfhounds are among a variety of dogs called galloping hounds and are the largest of the type. They need plenty of fenced space outdoors to stretch their legs and get a full-speed gallop. They're high-energy dogs, but after at least 40 minutes of daily exercise and play, are likely to snooze at your feet. Sometimes they develop a lazy attitude, but encouraging exercise will keep them in the best condition.
Stamina was an important consideration in the development of the Irish Wolfhound. They were bred first to catch war horses and pull riders off, then to chase down prey and run wolves off—so Irish Wolfhounds have the endurance to sprint at an impressive speed.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: An Irish Wolfhound in good condition may be able to accompany you on a run for three to five miles. Though the Wolfhound loves to run, too much running, or running before the dog is fully developed, may damage his joints and bones.
- Hiking Miles: A 10-mile hike may be possible for an Irish Wolfhound. But consider their sighthound nature—they may run or chase critters along the way. Also, keep in mind that if there's an accident on the trail, you'll have to carry the immense, heavy canine out.
Irish Wolfhounds eat a lot—the recommended diet for most Wolfhounds is about four to eight cups of high-quality dry food daily, based on the dog's average weight and activity level. This amount should be split between two meals, or can be offered in a food-dispensing puzzle toy. They may suffer from gastric torsion, or bloat. Using a raised feeder and limiting activity for an hour after eating can help prevent this dangerous condition.
Wolfhounds do not tend to guard their food, but children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating.
Though the Irish Wolfhound is attached to his family and prefers to spend time with them, he is patient if he must stay home alone. You can leave him alone from four to six hours per day, but he prefers someone nearby as often as possible. Though adult Irish Wolfhounds don't tend to be destructive, puppies itch for something to gnaw on. Crate training will help keep both puppies and adult dogs safe when left alone during the day.
Health and Grooming
The wiry hair of the Irish Wolfhound requires little to maintain. They shed year-round, but don't shed their undercoat seasonally like many other breeds. Their rough coat needs weekly brushing. Bathing is needed only occasionally, as necessary. Minimal trimming with scissors helps keep the shaggy hair neat. Stripping the coat occasionally through the year helps maintain the breed's natural look. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting and cracking, or breaking a nail.
Common Health Issues
The Irish Wolfhound is has some breed-specific health concerns, including:
- Cancer, most often osteosarcoma
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Liver shunt
- Heart disease
- Von Willebrand's disease
You can minimize serious health concerns in an Irish Wolfhound by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Positive reinforcement and gentle correction are the best training methods for this intelligent, yet sensitive breed. They learn basic obedience quickly and are food motivated. Priorities should include polite leash walking and no jumping up—when they're full grown, you'll be glad you taught these manners early. If you don't want a full-grown Irish Wolfhound on your furniture, discourage the behavior in puppyhood.
Irish Wolfhounds excel at advanced obedience, lure coursing, and tracking. High-impact activities should wait until the Wolfhound is fully grown to prevent damage to his growing bones and joints.
Sporting Dog Training
As a former hunting companion, the Irish Wolfhound may be trained as a sporting dog, though he's not a common choice. His prey drive is strong, and he is willing to please—so this sighthound may make a fitting hunting dog.
The Irish Wolfhound is a galloping breed originally used for hunting elk and chasing down wolves. Their gait is a double-suspension rotary gallop, which means their back legs propel them forward, and then they push off with their front legs to propel them even further—alternating the leading limb with each stride. This is the fastest type of gait, but leads to early fatigue. The Irish Wolfhound is better suited for bursts of speed rather than endurance running. Irish Wolfhounds can run between 30 and 40 miles per hour.
Though the giant Irish Wolfhound is incredibly tall, a Great Dane named Gibson holds the record for biggest dog—he stands over 42 inches tall, towering over the tallest Irish Wolfhounds. Gibson is not a typical example of a Great Dane and the Irish Wolfhound is considered the tallest dog by breed standards.