Irish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhound
John Walton
Written by John Walton

It is amazing to see that, just like us humans, dogs have adapted and diversified tremendously in order to not only survive but to also thrive in the environments in which they lived. Sure, we are all used do the new breeds, the ones made by man himself, the ones that were bred to be house pets, attack dogs or downright dog beauty pageant winners. However we have forgotten to look in the past and admire the originators, the ones shaped by Mother Nature herself with very little human interference in the evolution process.

Yes, there are still ancient dogs running around, the breeds that were around thousands of years ago in times of legend and stories, and one of those ancient dogs is none other than the shaggy giant we all know as The Irish Wolfhound.

There have been wooden carvings discovered recently that place this specific dog breed as far back as 280 BC, and there have even been Roman writings that have been unearthed which talk about this dog. Even Caesar himself describes the dog in full detail when noting the battles against the Gaul’s and the enormous dogs that were fighting alongside them.

Yes, this breed stems from truly ancient times, however one of the main characteristics that strikes us as being odd even to this very day, is its sheer size, and believe me when I say it, this dog is a very big dog. It’s basically one of the biggest dog breeds in the world, and it has often being referred to as a smaller shaggy horse than a dog. It can stand up to 7 feet tall when on its hind legs, and it has the brawn and the strength to back that size up.

They were initially bred to hunt elk wild boars and wolves all over Ireland, and make no mistake about it, they were very good at their job. So good, in fact, that they have soon found themselves without anything to actually hunt, but then it went on to find new ways of making itself useful.

It is a big dog and an ancient dog breed, however it is not as aggressive or dangerous as you might think. Truth be told, it is regarded as being one of the original gentle giants which rarely, if ever, attacks humans, and causes no destructions or rambunctious outbursts.

It is a rather smart canine though, and make no mistake about it, it can be a bit difficult to control, however if you put in the time and effort to provide the dog with the proper training that it needs from an early age, you will never have a problem with your Irish Wolfhound.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsAbove Average

Dog Breed Group:Hounds
Height: 2 feet 8 inches at the shoulder
Weight:120 – 180 pounds
Life Span:6 — 8 years

This is the kind of dog breed that stands out, mostly because of its huge size. However it has its fair share of issues that you should be aware before welcoming it into your family.

First of all, despite its huge size, it has one of the shortest life spans for a dog in the world, only 6 to 8 years in general, and this is mostly due to the myriad of health issues that accompanies this particular breed.

Because of the fact that the Irish Wolfhound is a very big dog, it can encounter health problems such as bloating, hip dysplasia, and worst of all and frankly the most common problem among Irish Wolfhounds, heart problems.

When it comes to the breed’s temperament, what can easily be said about the Irish Wolfhound is the fact that it is a rather gentle giant, until you manage to step on its toes. This dog is friendly, docile and sweet, however if threatened or backed into a corner, make no mistake about it, this is a big dog and he knows it.

It is quite a nice dog to have around children because of the level and sheer mount of patience that it displays, especially towards young ones. It is friendly, fun, loving, and caring. This is definitely a dog that will protect your family while still being friendly to other people, so it is quite a good choice for a family dog.

In regards to the environment best suited for the Irish Wolfhound, it goes without saying that close quarters and small apartments are the worst choice for him. It is a very big dog, and as such it needs a lot of space. Ironically, the dog does not need a lot of exercise in order to stay happy and pumped. Generally speaking, if you have a spacious yard with strong fencing, and your dog has enough space to run around in it, then you’re set.

Walking the dog could be an issue for most people, mostly because it is hard to control a dog of this size if it gets riled up. This dog does pack a lot of power and it can drag you around. However the only answer to this problem is making sure that the dog is properly trained from a young age and that the training in question offers you the control that you need.

Main Highlights
  • It’s a very large dog
  • Because of its size, it comes with its fair share of health issues
  • It lives on average between 6-8 years, however there have been some individuals of the breed that managed to live 10.
  • It is one of the ancient dog breeds of old.
  • It was initially bred to hunt game such as Elk, Wild Boar and even Wolves.
  • These dogs are so strong that they fought side by side with the Celts against the Roman Legions.
  • Even though this is a very large dog, it sports a very calm and docile temperament.
  • It does not do well at all in small apartments or small living quarters. Spacious houses with large yards are to be preferred.
  • It has the tendency to attract a lot of attention because of its size.
  • This dog breed is particularly patient, especially when it comes to children.
  • Because of its size, the Irish Wolfhound tends to be a bit hard to control.
  • Because of control issues, it is strongly recommended that training should begin early.
  • The rough and shaggy coat of the Irish Wolfhound tends to cause the dog to shed heavily. Thorough brushing is required at least 2 times per week.
  • Even though this is a very big dog, the dog itself tends to be aware of its size, and thus manages to not cause any problems or destruction due to its size.
  • It does not need a lot of exercise; a daily hour of exercise is usually enough for the Irish Wolfhound.
  • This is generally a very calm and docile dog, especially if trained right, however make no mistake about it, this dog will use all the power that it packs if backed into a corner or threatened.
  • It is a very loyal and loving dog, and despite its enormous size, it is actually recommended for families with small children.
  • This dog is big, and he eats accordingly, up to 25 pounds of food per week, or around 3 -3.5 pounds of food per day.
  • This particular dog breed has always been admired; Irish Wolfhound puppies were often given to nobility and royalty as gifts.
  • It can be quite independent if not trained or not properly trained. Firm training is recommended from a very young age, which ensures that the dog will be obedient later on, rather than having to struggle with it when it grows up to its full size.
Breed History

Nobody can say for sure when this breed came into existence, however there have been inscriptions and documents discovered which date the breed back to as far back as 280 BC, right around the time of the Roman Empire and the conflict between the Roman Empire and the Celts.

Roman Emperor Julius Caesar even mentions them in his writings as being dogs the size of small horses, with a rugged fur, which fight as ferociously as the Celts that they accompany.

There is even a story from old times where an Irish Wolfhound charged at a roman soldier, jumping and knocking him down with such force that it nearly crippled the soldier.

As time went on, the Irish Wolfhound grew more and more popular, and because of its huge size and incredible power, it was even used to hunt Elk, Wild boar and wolves. The name itself gives the breed away. It’s not because it is so ancient that it is closely related to wolves, but rather because, out of all the animals they hunted, they were more skilled at hunting down wolves.

They were so skilled at hunting, and they were doing such a good job, that their prey disappeared from Ireland, and in the late 18th century, most Irish Wolfhounds found themselves without a job. The breed itself faced extinction throughout the 19th century, however it managed to bounce back and people managed to find other occupations for this giant dog breed.


These dogs are very big, measuring 2 feet 8 inches at the shoulder and a comfortable 7 feet while standing on their hind legs.

Their weight is appropriate for their size, between 120 and 180 pounds, however make no mistake about it, that is not fat, it’s dense strong muscle, which packs quite a bit of power that the dog can use if need arises.

Personality and Character

This dog may look huge and, at first sight probably menacing, however it is actually known more as a gentle giant than anything else. It is very friendly, loyal and loving, and, above all else, it is a very patient dog. So patient, in fact, that it is actually recommended for families with small children.

One thing to note here is the fact that this dog is a relatively smart dog, and it requires quite a bit of training early on in its life in order to make sure that there will be no obedience problems in the future.

Something to note here is the fact that even though the dog is very calm and gentle, it does not hesitate to show its teeth and use its power when threatened or backed into a corner. It is faithful and loyal, and a great dog to have, however you do not want to get on this canine’s bad side.

Health and Potential Problems

Sadly, this dog packs quite a few health issues with it. First thing to note is the fact that the dog lives only 6 – 8 years on average, and this is due to the fact that it has a lot of serious health issues.

  • Hip dysplasia — where the dog starts having problems with the bones and the skeletal configuration in the hip region.
  • Bloating — where the dog starts having problems with the intestinal tract wrapping around the stomach, and causing digestion to be not only inefficient but also dangerous.
  • A series of heart conditions — third, and probably the most dangerous one on our list. One of the most common heart conditions in Irish wolfhounds is given away by the swelling of the feet. The heart is often 3 feet away from its paws, and if the it starts failing to pump blood properly, gravity causes blood and fluids to build up in the extremities, which in this case are the front and hind paws. If the dog starts chewing and gnawing at its paws, you might want to get its heart checked out.
Care Features

This dog does not really require much care from the owner. The only things that you have to look out for have to do with its size. While on walks, make sure that other dogs won’t start barking at your Irish Wolfhound and that your dog will not get riled up by them. Remember that your dog is the size of a small horse, and it is just as strong as one.

Another thing to note is the fact that this dog does not do well in warm climates. It is accustomed to the temperate climate of Ireland, and its coat is adapted to handle strong winds, cold temperatures, and often rough climate changes.

Heat is not on this dog’s preference list, and you will find that the dog will start shedding heavily, sweat constantly, have hydration issues, and a myriad of other problems following that.

Feeding Schedule

The Irish Wolfhound is a very big dog, and he eats as much as you would imagine. The dog needs to eat 2 to 3 times per day, an average of 3 solid pounds of food per day. This adds up to around 25 pounds of dog food per week, so make sure you are ready for the extra expenses before deciding to get yourself an Irish Wolfhound.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Irish wolfhound’s coat is specific to the actual breed itself. The coat is rough and wiry, often times giving the dog a shaggy appearance. The hair is quite rough and not exactly pleasant to touch, but then again, we are talking about a breed which took on wolves, elks and wild boars. Coat toughness more or less comes with the territory.

They come in a variety of shades but they are generally a mixture between grey and tan.

Grooming is not exactly a chore with these dogs. They require thorough brushing twice per week in order to make sure that the shedding will not spiral out of control.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

These dogs are very gentle, and they love spending time with children. Most experts actually recommend the Irish Wolfhound to families with small children. Yes, there are very big dogs, but they are also very caring, very patient and above all else, very careful. They are aware of their size, and they tend not to cause any trouble or destruction as a result of it.

When it comes to other pets, this dog tends to get along with the vast majority of them, often times opting to play with them or to simply hang out. Make sure, however, that the other pets are not aggressive toward the Irish wolfhound. This is, after all, a very big dog with a lot of power behind it, and if other pets try to harm him or her, he or she will strike back with a lot more than the other pet can chew.

The Irish Wolfhound is indeed a dog worth noting. It is very big, very patient, very gentle and loving – an all-around great dog. The only things that let the breed down is the short life span and the health issues that tend to pop up.

If you have made up your mind and consider that and Irish Wolfhound is the dog that you want for your family, then I am more than sure that you will not be disappointed.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.