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Irish Wolfhound Dog Breed Information: Facts, Traits, Pictures & More

Trying to figure out if the Irish Wolfhound is your next gentle giant? These large and imposing dogs are fantastic dogs for families with enough room to keep them. Find out more about this magnificent breed.

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: March 2, 2021 | 15 min read

Irish Wolfhound

Have you ever found yourself wondering why the Irish Wolfhound is called so? It’s because he was used for hunting wolves in Ireland, amongst many other things. And although he isn’t used for this purpose anymore, it’s not hard to imagine thanks to his size and strength.

Irish Wolfhounds are one of those dogs that you need to see in person to believe his sheer size! For this reason, he doesn’t make the best apartment doggo. This, amongst many other reasons we’ll run you through in this breed guide, makes him unsuitable for all families.

But for those that can offer him what he needs will find a kind and dignified companion. Just like many big dogs, he is a gentle giant who adores his family. This guide is a must-read for those about to welcome one of these magnificent dogs into their lives. So, let’s dive into the world of the tallest dog on the planet.

Irish Wolfhound Overview
    • weight iconWeight105-120 pounds
    • height iconHeight30+ inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan6-8 years
    • color iconColorsBlack, Blue, Brindle, Cream, Gray, Red, Silver, Wheaten, and White
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

History

Two Dogs in a Field
The breed was originally established to hunt large game animals such as elk.

Irish Wolfhounds are an ancient dog breed. His history isn’t clear-cut, but he was created as a result of breeding large British dogs and Middle Eastern coursing hounds. When the Romans conquered the British Isles, these giant hounds were already in existence. In 391 A.D., seven Irish Wolfhounds were gifted to the Roman consul. And their popularity boomed amongst the rich landowners and other nobility.

His purpose was to hunt big game and other large predators, including the now-extinct Irish Elk. To put into perspective how impressive he is, the Irish Elk measured six feet from his paws to shoulders. They came to be known as the Wolfhound in the 15th century because it was then that the wolf population was getting out of hand and needed controlling. He did such a good job at hunting them that wolves became extinct in the 18th century.

Unfortunately, this put the breed out of a job, and he nearly became extinct himself. A British army captain called George Augustus Graham made it his life mission to save the breed. In the 19th century, he began locating fine specimens and breeding them. Over time, he restored the breed to health, and the breed standard was established.

The most famous Irish Wolfhound was named Gelert. He belonged to the Prince of North Wales. The Prince left his child with his dog for a short while. On returning, he found the child to be missing and the dog covered in blood. The Prince killed the Irish Wolfhound, but he heard his child’s cries as he lay dying. It turns out that the dog was covered in wolf blood, whom he killed to protect the child. The Prince was distraught and is said never to have smiled again.

It is unknown when the first Irish Wolfhound came to America. But we do know that they were first registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) was in 1897. He usually finds himself between the 70th and 80th most popular breeds in America. But instead of being employed for hunting, he is now found snoozing his day away on the sofas in large family homes.

Temperament

Gray Dog Laying Down
This breed is known for being gentle and is great for families.

These dogs are caring companions that adore their family. From infants to grandparents, he loves them all equally. He’s also affectionate with other dogs and sometimes the family cat if he is a polite pup. He loves to cuddle on the sofa and climb onto your bed. We hope you’re comfortable with this because he’ll be super sad if you tell him to keep off.

He doesn’t tolerate being left home alone for too long, so he needs a family who can keep him company for most of the day. An anxious Wolfhound is a destructive one, so it’s best to keep this pup company. His craving for human company can make him an intense dog to have around the home. But for humans who love a second shadow will find comfort in his constant company.

He doesn’t make the best guard dog, although his large appearance should be enough to put intruders off the thought of breaking in. He is alert but very rarely suspicious. Meaning he’ll leave intruders to get on with whatever they want to do. However, if his family is in danger and being attacked, he will stick up for them. His motto is “gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked,” which describes him perfectly. His low suspicions mean that he is friendly and accepting of visitors and strangers.

He is a calm and well-balanced dog in the home who will happily be a couch potato for most of the day. Like all dogs, he needs his daily exercise, but other than his constant need to be around you, he is an easy-going dog. He is sweet and lovable, and everyone who meets him is sure to fall in love. But he is not so laid back that children can ride him like a horse. Please don’t try this!

As you can see from his history, this breed was bred for hunting. And although he excelled at this back in the day, he isn’t the most popular choice as a hunting dog nowadays. But he does have a very high prey drive still, and this is something that you’ll need to consider. Because a dog able to kill a wolf will easily whip you off your feet if he decides to chase the neighborhood cats. You’ll always need to be alert with this breed on the end of a leash.

Size & Appearance

Dark Gray Large Dog in Grass
These massive creatures are often taller than many men when standing on their hind legs.

These dogs are giants, and they are the tallest dogs in the canine kingdom. Females measure, from paw to shoulder, a minimum of 30 inches. And males measure a minimum of 32 inches. When they stand on their rear legs, they are taller than many men. Females weigh a minimum of 105 pounds, and males weigh a minimum of 120 pounds. They have been known to weigh 180 pounds!

His breed standard describes him as having a commanding size that combines power and swiftness. He is strong but gracefully built, looking like a rough-coated large Greyhound-like breed. Some people commonly mistake the Irish Wolfhound for a Scottish Deerhound when they are on the smaller side.

He is proportionate and symmetrical in shape, with a deep chest and thick neck. His head is relatively small compared to his long neck and body, and his ears are relatively small too. His tail is long and slightly curved towards the end. He is often mistaken for the less popular and slightly smaller Deerhound.

Coat & Colors

White, Black, and Gray Dogs in a Field of Flowers
The most common breed standard colors are gray, black, and cream.

Most Wolfhounds have a short to medium-length double coat. The outercoat is rough and stiff to the touch, and his undercoat is short and soft. His fur is particularly wiry and long over his eyes and underjaw, giving him a shaggy appearance. Many dogs born from non-conformation lines often have a softer coat. But if you want an Irish to show off in AKC competitions, he needs to have a wiry coat.

When it comes to colors, he has a variety to choose from. The most typical color is gray, but he can also enjoy black, brindle and reverse brindle, blue, red, cream, fawn, silver, wheaten, red wheaten, and pure white. Pure white and cream Irish Wolfhounds are a rare sight, and they look like very large Labradoodles or Goldendoodles. White marks on the chest are quite common in the breed.

Exercise Requirements

Large Gray Dog Running
Expect your Irish Wolfhound to play and frolic for at least 30-40 minutes daily.

The Irish Wolfhound needs less activity than other breeds due to their size. They need about 30-40 minutes of exercise every day. He is best suited to long walks, adventures in the forest, and frolicking on the beach. If you are looking for a jogging partner, this isn’t your dog. Once he has had a leg stretch, sniff, and pee, he is more than happy to go back home.

His high prey drive means that you’ll need to keep him on the leash at all times. Because if he sees something fast and furry, it’ll be game on, and we guarantee that he can run much faster than you can catch him! If you live near a gated doggy park or an enclosed field, you can let him off-leash. Short explosions of energetic running are a great way to keep his heart healthy and mind happy.

He is a relatively intelligent dog who likes his activities to be varied. A walk around the block every day will eventually bore him. For this reason, you’ll need to mix up walkie locations. Playtime at home is also needed, which is why this pup needs a home with access to a private (and enclosed!) yard. As a hound, he will love to partake in lure coursing, tracking, agility, so be sure to find your local doggy clubs for him to join in the fun.

Living Conditions

Two Large Gray Dogs in the Snow
Since these dogs are basically giants, they need lots of space to roam around.

As a giant breed, it’s safe to say that he is not the best breed choice for small homes or apartments. He will do much better in a large home where he has got space to wag his tail without the threat of knocking things over. He is suited to families of all shapes and sizes, including those with small children. The breed is generally calm in the home and not boisterous, so he makes a great canine sibling for kids of all ages. Just be sure to supervise them at all times.

Most Irish Wolfhounds are pleasant and friendly dogs who will get along well with others. As long as he is socialized well as a pup, he shouldn’t have any issues making friends at the local doggy park. If raised alongside a family feline, he shouldn’t have any problems there either. But anything other than canines outside of the family unit will be game to chase.

Training

Large Dog Sitting in Grass
Begin training as early as possible and you’ll end up with an obedient and loyal dog.

The Irish Wolfhound is an intelligent pup who takes to training well. As a hound bred to serve alongside humans, he is a breed who is eager to please his master. Of course, you need to start early with his training to encourage him to be obedient. But with early direction, he’ll be an obedient adult. Positive reinforcement training is the best way to train this giant breed due to its gentle temperament.

The only thing that you will not be able to train out of him is his prey drive. This is an innate instinct, and he will always listen to that over your command if he can see something tasty on the menu. Because he will always be on the leash, and because he is a powerful pup, leash training is advised at an early age. Otherwise, walkies might be a struggle when he is a fully grown adult.

Irish Wolfhounds are friendly dogs but need to be shown the way. Early socialization is crucial, and this is something a good quality breeder will concentrate on. His mom and littermates will show him the ropes and teach him how to correctly interact with other dogs. It’ll be your job to continue this when you get him home, and doggy parks are a great and fun way to continue this. Exposing him to new environments and humans is important too.

Because he is a potentially anxious dog, he should be crate trained too. Not only will this give him a safe space that will calm his anxiety. But it will also help you out in the long run, knowing that he is safely contained when you have to leave him for a short amount of time. Just remember to get the right size for him – you’ll need an XXL-sized dog crate for sure.

Health

Senior Black Dog Lays in the Grass
Irish Wolfhounds have a very short life expectancy, but they can live very happy lives if mindfully cared for.

The Irish Wolfhound, on average, has a lifespan of 6 to 8 years. This is one of the shortest in the doggy kingdom. So, unfortunately, if you are after a dog that you can spend many years with, this breed isn’t the one for you.

You need to do everything in your power to keep him as healthy as possible, in the hope that you can keep him with you for longer. The easiest ways to keep him healthy are keeping up to date with regular vet checks, feeding him the best nutrition, and exercising regularly.

Like all purebred dogs, the breed is prone to certain health conditions. Below we have listed the most common health concerns to look out for in the Irish. Make yourself aware of the below health concerns and symptoms and get him to the vet if you notice any.

Hip and elbow dysplasia

This is a common issue in giant dogs. Giant puppies grow rapidly, and because of this, their bones can develop unevenly. Uneven bone growth causes the joints to wear faster, which eventually causes pain and arthritis. It’s important to breed Irish Wolfhounds with good hip scores to lower their puppies’ chances of inheriting joint disorders. Symptoms include stiff limbs, exercise intolerance, and being unable to stand up swiftly.

Eye conditions

The Irish Wolfhound is prone to a variety of eye concerns. The most common are cataracts, corneal dystrophy, distichiasis, iris cysts, progressive retinal atrophy, and retinal dysplasia. If you notice any change in his eyes, including excessive tears or dryness, being red or inflamed, or excessive itchiness, get him to the vet straight away. If any of these are left untreated, it can lead to total blindness.

Cardiac conditions

Around one-third of Irish Wolfhounds go onto develop dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This is characterized by an enlarged and weakened heart chamber that cannot pump blood as it should. It can be detected by heart murmurs, but unfortunately, it can also result in sudden heart failure.

Pneumonia

This condition is relatively common in the breed. It is usually brought on by other medical issues, such as kennel cough, after surgery, or other infections. Lethargy and loss of appetite are usually the first two symptoms to develop. If you suspect pneumonia, you need to get him to the vet straight away for immediate treatment as it is life-threatening.

Portosystemic shunt

This is also known as a liver shunt. It develops when an abnormal connection forms or appears in and around the liver, leaving him unable to filter the toxins from his blood. It is a life-threatening condition and is normally identified via blood samples. Symptoms include behavioral changes, vomiting, diarrhea, increased urination, and weight loss.

Cancer

The breed is prone to several types of cancer. The most common is osteosarcoma, which is a type of bone cancer. Symptoms include limping and unwillingness to put any weight on the affected limb. By the time symptoms show, it has usually spread and often requires limb amputation. Good quality breeders will never breed dogs with a history of cancer.

Nutrition

White and Gray Shaggy Dog Hungry
Be sure to choose a dry kibble with lots of nutritional value specific to his developmental needs.

Most Irish Wolfhounds will consume between 4 and 8 cups of kibble every day. This is all dependent on how old he is, how much he weighs, and how active he is. Females will need less than males, and seniors will need far less than active adults and pups. Always follow the kibble guidelines for the tailored amount so that you avoid weight gain.

Feeding your Irish the best quality nutrition you can afford is one of the most important things you can do for his health. High-quality kibbles not only provide the best quality meats, but they also provide a well-balanced diet to cover all of his nutritional needs.

It is also important that you feed him a kibble specifically designed for giant breed puppies as these cater to his unique developmental needs. This is particularly important during puppyhood, as it lays the foundations for a healthy body and lifestyle. It can also decrease the chances of joint dysplasia.

Many large dogs with deep chests suffer from a condition called gastric torsion, or bloat. It is a life-threatening condition that occurs when his stomach twists. It usually occurs during mealtime. For this reason, it is important to spread his daily food allowance into at least two different feedings. And never feed him immediately before or after exercise. You need to understand the symptoms to look out for and get him to the vet for immediate treatment.

Grooming

Wiry Gray Dog Looks Up
Keep this breed’s wiry hair manageable by brushing or combing it 1-2 times a week.

The Irish Wolfhound’s coat is harsh and wiry, and he needs brushing once or twice a week to ensure that his coat doesn’t tangle and matt. When brushing, pay particular attention to where he has the most hair. As well as under his armpits and behind his ears, where matting is more common.

The best brush to use is a slicker brush. Unlike many double-coated breeds, the Irish Wolfhound sheds moderately all year round and doesn’t blow his coat during shedding seasons.

He’ll need bathing once every six to eight weeks to keep him looking his best. Use a gentle shampoo that is designed specifically for dogs. A conditioning shampoo will be best for the Irish, as it will soften his harsh locks. A walk-in shower or tub is advised for this giant, otherwise, a hoist might be in order!

He will need his nails regularly trimmed, so as soon as you can hear them tapping on your flooring, it’s time for a trim. Brush his teeth at least once a week to avoid periodontal diseases. Be sure to use doggy toothpaste as human toothpaste is toxic to dogs. To make grooming an easier and calmer experience for you both, expose him to his grooming routine as a pup.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Reverse Brindle Puppy Outdoors
Expect to pay from around $1,500 or more for this breed.

The Irish Wolfhound is an uncommon dog breed in America. This means that you will probably need to travel to find a good quality dog breeder, depending on where you live. It is also likely that you’ll be placed on a waiting list, but this is a sign of a good quality breeder, so this is a good thing!

The average price of an Irish pup is around $1,500. If you are looking for a pup from a popular breeder or one from a show line, you can expect to pay much more than this. A great place to start your search is with the AKC’s list of Irish Wolfhound breeders. Good breeders aren’t cheap, and cheap breeders aren’t good!

Responsible breeders will do everything in their power to breed healthy pups. They will raise their pups with love, attention, and handling to ensure proper socialization. And be sure to ask for health certificates to ensure that they have bred healthy dogs too.

There are more costs to owning a dog than just the initial puppy price. You need to think about setting up your home, from buying crates, beds, bowls, collars, and even escape-proofing your yard. Plus the ongoing costs of insurance, medical care, food, and some seriously giant dog toys. Remember that everything you buy will need to be giant, which also means extra money. So before you commit to an Irish, you need to consider the lifetime financial obligations.

Rescues & Shelters

Mother Dog with Her Puppy
There are resources to help rehome Irish Wolfhounds, which can reduce puppy costs and save a potentially homeless pup.

Not everyone wants or is ready to accept a pup into their life. And that’s okay! With so many dogs in shelters, it is important to consider adopting one. Although the Irish Wolfhound is not the most popular dog breed, there are some out there waiting for their forever home. Head out to your local rescue centers to find him. Speak to the staff there because they might be able to put you on an Irish waiting list.

Alternatively, some organizations dedicate their time and efforts only to rehoming dogs of this breed. A great place to start your adoption search is with the Irish Wolfhound Club of America. They list adoption centers state by state and contact details. This is a great resource for those that are open to rescuing rather than buying a puppy.

As Family Pets

  • This is a giant breed and needs space to roam.
  • They typically live their best life in a home that has plenty of room.
  • Irish Wolfhounds human companionship.
  • They are considered a velcro dog, and will follow you around everywhere.
  • Wolfhounds are calm in the home and love to cuddle and snooze.
  • They will welcome short games of fetch, or tug-o-war.
  • The breed is considered a moderately active dog breed.
  • They need about 30-40 minutes of daily exercise to stay healthy.
  • The breed is considered sociable and friendly.
  • They typically are wary of strangers, but will warm up over time.
  • He is pleasantly polite with other dogs.
  • They can live with children but children should be older due to their size.
  • He has a high prey drive and will chase everything in sight

Final Thoughts

The Irish Wolfhound isn’t the most common of dog breeds, but this is only because of its size. He is a gentle giant who is calm and friendly with all that he meets. All he asks for is a large home, constant human companionship, and a family who will let him up on the sofa for cuddles. He can be needy, but he deserves all that he desires, considering how sweet he is.

With the right family, he could make the perfect family pet. Just bear in mind that he has a very short lifespan. But the time that he does have with you is guaranteed to be some of the best years of your life. Most Irish Wolfhound owners state that once you’ve had an adorable Irish in your life, you’ll always need an Irish in your life. You have been warned!

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