The Irish wolfhound is a breed of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), specifically a sighthound. The name originates from its purpose (wolf hunting) rather than from its appearance. Irish Wolfhounds are the tallest of dog breeds.
The standard of The American Kennel Club describes the breed as "Of great size and commanding appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is remarkable in combining power and swiftness with keen sight. The largest and tallest of the galloping hounds, in general type he is a rough-coated, Greyhound-like breed; very muscular, strong though gracefully built; movements easy and active; head and neck carried high, the tail carried with an upward sweep with a slight curve towards the extremity". The colours allowed by the American Kennel Club are "grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, wheaten and steel grey". The American Kennel Club allows "any other color that appears in the Deerhound". The size as specified by the AKC is "Minimum height for males: 79cm (31.1in), females: 71cm (27.95ins). Minimum weight: 54.5kg (120.15lbs) for males, 40.9kg (90.16lbs) for females. Great size, including height of shoulder and proportionate length of body is to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a breed that shall average (minimum) from 81-86cm (31.88-33.85in) in dogs".
An easygoing animal, Irish wolfhounds are quiet by nature. Wolfhounds often create a strong bond with their family and can become quite destructive or morose if left alone for long periods of time. Despite the need for their own people, wolfhounds generally are somewhat stand-offish with total strangers. They should not be territorially aggressive to other domestic dogs but are born with specialized skills and it is common for hounds at play to course another dog. This is a specific hunting behavior, not a fighting or territorial domination behavior. Most wolfhounds are very gentle with children and are aware of their size and power. The Irish wolfhound is relatively easy to train. They respond well to firm, but gentle, consistent leadership. However, historically these dogs were required to work at great distances from their masters and think independently when hunting rather than waiting for detailed commands and this can still be seen in the breed.
The wolfhound of today is far from the one that struck fear into the hearts of the Ancient Romans. Irish wolfhounds are often favored for their loyalty, affection, patience and devotion. Although at some points in history they have been used as watchdogs, unlike some breeds, the Irish wolfhound is usually unreliable in this role as they are often friendly toward strangers, although their size can be a natural deterrent. That said, when protection is required this dog is never found wanting. When they or their family are in any perceived danger they display a fearless nature. Author and Irish wolfhound breeder, Linda Glover believes the dogs' close affinity with humans makes them acutely aware and sensitive to ill will or malicious intentions leading to them excelling as a guardian rather than guard dog.
In a privately funded study conducted under the auspices of the Irish Wolfhound Club of America and based on an owner survey, Irish wolfhounds in the United States from 1966 to 1986 lived to a mean age of 6.47 and died most frequently of bone cancer. A more recent study by the UK Kennel Club puts the average age of death at 7 years.
Irish wolfhounds are the tallest of all dog breeds. They are well suited to rural life, but their medium energy profile allows them to adjust fairly well to suburban and urban life as well, provided they receive appropriate exercise.
The breed is very old; there are suggestions it may have been brought to Ireland as early as 7000 BC. These dogs are mentioned, as cú (variously translated as hound, Irish hound, war dog, wolf dog, etc.) in Irish laws and in Irish literature which dates from the 5th century or, in the case of the Sagas, from the old Irish period - AD 600-900. The breed almost disappeared, but was successfully revived by efforts of the captain of the British Army D E Graham to recreate it, he drew the line related wolfhounds As a result, has developed a modern breed Irish Wolfhounds Today they are well established themselves as companions and guards. The word "Cu" often became an added respected prefix on the names of warriors, such as Cú Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster, as well as kings denoting that they were worthy of the respect and loyalty of a Cu.
Ancient wood cuts and writings have placed them in existence as a breed by 273 BC. However there is indication that they existed even as early as 600 BC when the Tectosages and Tolistobogii Celts sacked Delphi. Survivors left accounts of the fierce Celts and the huge dogs who fought with them and at their side. They were mentioned by Julius Caesar in his treatise, The Gallic Wars, and by 391 BC, they were written about by Roman Consul, Quintus Aurelius, who received seven of them as a gift to be used for fighting lions, bears, that in his words, "all Rome viewed with wonder".
Bred as hunting dogs by the ancients, who called them Cú Faoil. The Irish continued to breed them for this purpose, as well as to guard their homes and protect their stock. Cúchulain, a name which translates literally as "hound of Culain", gained his name when as a child, known then as Setanta, he slew the ferocious guard dog of Culain forcing him to offer himself as a replacement.
During the English Conquest of Ireland, only the nobility were allowed to own Irish wolfhounds, the numbers permitted depending on position. They were much coveted and were frequently given as gifts to important personages and foreign nobles. Wolfhounds were the companions of the regal, and were housed themselves alongside them. King John of England, in about 1210 presented an Irish hound, Gelert to Llewellyn, a prince of Wales. The poet The Hon William Robert Spencer immortalised this hound in a poem.
In his Historie of Ireland completed 1571, Blessed Edmund Campion gives a description of the hounds used for hunting the wolves on the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. He says: They (the Irish) are not without wolves and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone and limb than a colt. Due to their popularity overseas many were exported to European royal houses leaving numbers in Ireland depleted. This led to a declaration by Oliver Cromwell himself being published in Kilkenny on 27 April 1652 to ensure that sufficient numbers remained to control the wolf population.
The Irish wolfhound is sometimes regarded as the national dog breed of Ireland but in fact no breed has ever been officially adopted as such. The wolfhound was historically a dog that only nobles could own and was taken up by the British during their rule in Ireland. This made it unpopular as a national symbol and the Kerry Blue Terrier was adopted by Republicans such as Michael Collins. However, in recent years, the wolfhound has been adopted as a symbol by both rugby codes, which are organised on an All-Ireland basis. The national rugby league team are nicknamed the wolfhounds, and the Irish Rugby Football Union, which governs rugby union, changed the name of the country's A (second-level) national team in that code to the Ireland Wolfhounds in 2010.