The tallest of the sighthounds, the Irish Wolfhound resembles a rough-coated Greyhound, although of more powerful build. Great size has been especially valued in the breed. This combination of speed, power, and size enabled the Irish Wolfhound to run down and overpower large prey. Despite its size, the breed is gracefully built, with an easy and active gait and a proudly held head. The rough coat, which provides protection against the cold and damp, is especially wiry and long over the eyes and under the jaw.
Dogs of great size are believed to have come to Ireland from Greece by 1500 b.c. In Ireland they became even more imposing, and gifts of these great dogs were made to Rome. The first definite mention of the Irish Wolfhound occurred in Rome in a.d. 391. The breed historically gained fame for its imposing stature and fighting ability. It was so acclaimed in Ireland that it became the subject of many legends recounting its valor in battle and chase. All large hounds were once known as Cu, a term implying bravery. The Irish name for the breed is Cu Faoil. Favored by Irish chieftains for the hunt, it gained its reputation as an unparalleled hunter of wolves and Irish elk. Illustrations of these dogs from the seventeenth century look very similar to modern Irish Wolfhounds. The impressive hounds (often seven at a time) were traditionally given to foreign nobility. This practice, along with the extinction of the wolf in Ireland in the eighteenth century, contributed to the decline of the breed’s numbers. By the nineteenth century, Irish Wolfhounds were almost extinct in Ireland, and the famine of 1845 virtually decimated the breed. In 1869, Captain G. A. Graham determined to resurrect the Irish Wolfhound, a task he set about by crossing the few existing Wolfhounds—in particular one named Bran, thought to be the last true Wolfhound in Ireland— with such breeds as Scottish Deerhound as well as Great Dane, Borzoi, and even Tibetan Wolfdog. When first exhibited at a dog show in the 1870s, the reborn Wolfhound created a sensation—the same reaction it inspires to this day when first seen. Its commanding appearance draws many admirers, but its popularity is tempered by the responsibilities of keeping such a large dog.
Known as the gentle giant, this is an apt description of this soft-natured, easygoing breed. The Irish Wolfhound is calm around the house, sensitive, patient, easygoing, and sweet. Despite its great size, this breed is good with children, pets, and other dogs. He is friendly with strangers, and courageous when the need arises.
The Irish Wolfhound enjoys a long walk and a chance to stretch its legs, so this breed needs daily exercise. At home, ample room is required so the dog can stretch out on a soft surface; this breed should not be required to live in cramped quarters. The dog can develop callouses if required to lie on hard surfaces too often. The coat needs to be brushed or combed once or twice weekly, plus occasional slight scissoring to neaten up straggly hairs. Dead hairs should be stripped around twice a year.