Historians believe the Irish wolfhound has served as a loyal companion to humans since 273 B.C. and were once presented as gifts to kings and Roman consuls. During the 2nd and 4th centuries, a High King of Ireland had more than 300 of them. These majestic canines hunted large game and wolves. Admirers of the breed say it is a highly affectionate, gentle giant. These sensitive canines thrive when they can be close to their human family.
The Irish wolfhound’s physical growth continues for two years after their birth. By the time the dog is six months old, males weigh around 100 pounds, and females reach an average of 87 pounds. Once they mature, males weigh anywhere between 140 to 180 pounds. Females are smaller, weighing between 115 to 140 pounds. The body length of both males and females average between 32 and 34 inches. A full-grown male Irish wolfhound grows to a height of 34 to 35 inches at the shoulder, with females reaching 32 to 34 inches. Taller heights are sometimes the result of poor bone structure and may lead to joint issues, such as arthritis.
This rough-coated breed has a hard, double coat two to four inches in length. Beneath the outer coat is a soft undercoat. In some Irish wolfhounds, the coats do not fully develop until the dog is between three and four years old. The texture of the coat varies within the breed. Some wolfhounds have a more woolly or silky coat with a single coat instead of two. Breeders say the standard wiry, double coat is the most desirable from a showing standpoint and meets the guidelines established by the American Kennel Club.
The Irish wolfhound’s coat may be pure white, gray, red, black, fawn, brindle, or wheaten, a yellow-beige color. Sometimes the coat is a combination of brindle and red, gray, or wheaten, or red and wheaten. They may have black, gray, or white markings. When you look at one of these beautiful canines, they should appear muscular and commanding, yet graceful, with a slender build and broad chest. They have an elongated head, with a long, pointed muzzle and small ears.
The Irish wolfhound is not a guard dog. Its nature is that of a companion who loves spending time with its human family. Adult dogs are good around children, but as puppies, they tend to be rambunctious and playful and could easily but inadvertently knock down or hurt a child. Irish wolfhounds are normally calm, gentle, and responsive once they reach adulthood. This sensitive breed thrives in a loving home environment.
Studies show that the average life span of an Irish wolfhound is about 6.5 years, though breed experts say this can vary within breeding lines, with about nine percent living beyond ten years. A German study of 56,000 dogs found that for every 4.4 pounds of body mass, a dog’s life span decreases by one month. Researchers believe that larger dogs die at a younger age because they age more quickly. Giant breeds like the Irish wolfhound grow faster, which forces the body to work harder to reach its adult size. This rapid growth can lead to a variety of medical conditions, as well as abnormal development. Wolfhounds are also prone to bloat.
Like most larger breeds, the Irish wolfhound can experience joint problems that lead to mobility issues. Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is a disease of the cartilage. An excess of calcium leads to the condition, as can overfeeding. Research points to a genetic connection as well. A rapid growth rate is another factor in OCD development, but the condition is treatable. Irish wolfhounds are also prone to bursas, benign fluid-filled sacs around the joints, usually on the elbows. These eventually go away without treatment. Hip and elbow dysplasia are not common in this breed, though veterinarians recommend screening in adulthood. About 20% of older Irish wolfhounds experience rear-end weakness once they reach eight years old.
One of the leading causes of death in Irish wolfhounds is bone cancer. Some of the symptoms include limping or a lump on one of the legs. Because these courageous dogs seldom show signs of pain, cancer may go undetected and spread to the lungs. Lymphoma is another malignancy vets diagnose in this breed. Early signs are extreme fatigue, a lowered appetite, and, later, enlarged lymph nodes. Chemotherapy is an option.
It doesn’t require much grooming to keep an Irish wolfhound’s coat in good shape. Bathing every eight to 12 weeks is sufficient. These dogs experience a small amount of shedding. It’s important to brush wolfhounds at least once per week, and tools such as an undercoat rake and a pin brush are good to have on hand. The undercoat rake removes dead, loose hair from the torso and legs, which allows a new coat to grow in. A pin brush grooms the face and muzzle and smooths out the hair on the torso and legs. Owners should clip the dog’s nails every four to six weeks.
There is some disagreement about how much exercise Irish wolfhounds need. Most experts agree that that too little exercise prevents a puppy from gaining the needed strength for their growing musculoskeletal system. For dogs under one year of age, too much physical activity, such as long walks or forced exercise, can also damage developing bones and joints. Owners should provide room for puppies to be able to gallop. Adult Irish wolfhounds do best in a yard with a secure, above-ground fence with enough room to stretch out and run.
Most Irish wolfhound breeders don’t release puppies to new owners until the dog is at least ten weeks old. This breed is easy to train. Once you bring your new puppy home, it is essential to start the socialization process. Vet trips, short car rides, and exposing the puppy to a variety of noises helps socialize and build confidence. Trainers recommend adding a new experience every day for the first month. Because the Irish wolfhound is a large breed, discipline is also key to a happy home life. Positive reinforcement works well, and most experts recommend avoiding kenneling or leaving the dog alone for long periods.
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