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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The giant Irish Wolfhound has a commanding appearance but a gentle nature. He loves human companionship and welcomes one and all. His rough coat requires weekly grooming and sheds moderately.
Welsh folklore tells the story of Gelert, a brave Wolfhound who protected his master’s son when a wolf broke into the house. When the father returns, he sees the dog with blood on his mouth and kills him in a rage. He then finds the baby, safe, next to the body of the dead wolf. A village named Beddgelert (Gelert’s Grave) commemorates the story.
The Irish Wolfhound stepped straight out of a medieval tapestry. His name implies ferocity, but he is the gentlest of creatures. Considering his giant size — 105 to 120 pounds — it's an essential characteristic. The Irish Wolfhound has many wonderful traits, but he is by no means for everyone. His giant size and tragically short lifespan are just two of the factors you should consider before taking one into your family.
This is a giant breed. That gangly 20-pound puppy will eventually weigh as much as 120 pounds, sometimes more. If your home is reached by stairs, think twice before getting this breed. How will you get him up and down if he is incapacitated? His huge size is often what attracts people, but the tradeoff is a heartbreakingly short life span of six to eight years.
There’s another aspect to a Wolfhound’s size to consider: He’s a countersurfer and will swipe those steaks on the table without a second thought. Finally, it is expensive to own a giant breed. Food, veterinary, and boarding costs are all greater than those for a dog of moderate size. Of course, if none of that fazes you, an Irish Wolfhound may be your dog of choice.
Choose the Irish Wolfhound if you have a spacious home with a large fenced area where he can run safely. Be prepared to share your furniture with him or provide plenty of cushioned resting places. His large, bony body can develop calluses if he is forced to lie on hard surfaces, and he needs plenty of room to spread out.
Because of their size, Irish Wolfhound puppies can be particularly destructive when left to their own devices. Don’t blame the puppy if you come home to find your sofa gobbled up. You need to have a safe room where he can’t destroy anything. Long hours in a crate are detrimental to a Wolfhound’s development.
The Irish Wolfhound needs to live in the house, with access to soft furniture or bedding.
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In 391 CE, all Rome marveled at seven giant dogs from Ireland presented as a contribution to the city’s shows and games by consul Quintus Aurelius Symmachus. The consul’s thank-you note to his brother, who had procured the dogs, is thought to be the first written mention of what was to be called the Irish Wolfhound.
Over the centuries, the enormous Irish hounds populated a number of royal courts, including those of England’s Edward III, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I, as well as France's Henry IV. The dogs were also presented as royal gifts to the courts of Sweden, Denmark, and Spain.
Unfortunately for the Wolfhounds, they did their job a little too well. By the 18th century, their numbers had decreased. They were no longer needed because they had hunted Britain and Ireland’s wolves to extinction. The Earl of Chesterfield complained in 1750 that, despite a two-year search, he had been unable to obtain any of the dogs because the breed had become so rare. Twenty years later, author Oliver Goldsmith wrote that the dogs were kept only as curiosities in the houses of gentlemen and noted “He is extremely beautiful and majestic in appearance, being the greatest of the dog kind to be seen in the world.”
The great dogs might have faded into the history books had it not been for the efforts of Captain George Graham. In 1862, he managed to obtain some of the few remaining Wolfhounds and crossed them with Scottish Deerhounds, the Tibetan Borzoi, a Pyrenean wolfhound, and a Great Dane. It took 23 years to restore the breed.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Irish Wolfhound in 1897. The breed ranks 79th among the dogs registered by the AKC, a respectable showing for a giant dog.
His great size not withstanding, the Wolfhound is known for his quiet manners and gentle nature. This alert and courageous dog would defend his family with his life, and does not tend to be aggressive. Fortunately, his size is enough to deter many would-be intruders or assailants.
Toward one and all, including children, strangers and other dogs, he tends to be calm, intelligent, dignified and friendly. That said, his great size may make him unsuited to homes with toddlers. Nor is it appropriate to let children ride the Wolfhound. He isn’t built for that and it can cause back injuries.
For exercise, he’ll enjoy a long daily walk, as well as any opportunity to run full-on in a traffic-free area. When it comes to dog sports, Wolfhounds are found competing in obedience and tracking, but it's on the lure coursing field that they take your breath away. Wolfhounds will adapt to your level of activity, but they shouldn’t be allowed to become couch potatoes. Lack of exercise can cause them to put on weight, which is injurious to their joints.
Sighthounds are attracted by movement, and the Wolfhound will happily chase cats and other small furry animals if he sees them running. If he is brought up with other animals from an early age, though, the dog can live amicably with cats or small dogs. Even so, it’s best to supervise them when they’re together and to separate them when you’re not home. Don't let them outside together. They may be best buds indoors, but the instinct to chase and kill a running cat outside may be too strong for the dog to overcome.
Train your Wolfhound with positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play, and food rewards. He is smart and learns quickly when he has the right motivation.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Irish Wolfhound, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who keeps puppies isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
In Irish Wolfhounds, health problems include hip and elbow dysplasia, cardiomyopathy, osteosarcoma, liver shunt, hypothyroidism, von Willebrand’s disease, progressive retinal atrophy, and gastric torsion.
Hip and elbow dysplasia are joint problems that can cause lameness. They may be mild or severe, and severe cases require expensive surgical repair to spare the dog a life of pain.
Cardiomyopathy causes an enlarged heart. Regular veterinary exams are critical in catching this condition early, and no Irish Wolfhound should be bred without a comprehensive heart examination by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and OFA certification in the previous year. Affected dogs should not be bred. The sad reality, however, is that a dog who tests fine one day can develop heart disease later on, and the puppy of two parents without heart disease can still develop it. Regular veterinary exams can increase the chances of catching and treating the problem early.
Irish Wolfhounds also suffer from a very high rate of bone cancer (osteosarcoma), usually in one of their legs. It's not known exactly why this is, but there is almost certainly some genetic component.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder and insist on seeing independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Irish Wolfhound Club of America (IWCA), which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) Program. For an Irish Wolfhound to achieve CHIC certification, he must have Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification for elbows, OFA or PennHIP certification for hips, an OFA cardiac evaluation, and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
Breeders must agree to have all test results -- positive or negative -- published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
If the breeder tells you tests aren't necessary because they've never had problems in her lines, the dogs have been "vet checked," or offers any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy can develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines annd the most common causes of death. The IWCA has instituted a longevity program to recognize and study dogs that reach the age of 8 years or older.
Not every Irish Wolfhound visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. Irish Wolfhounds are more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach distends with gas and can twist on itself (called gastric torsion), cutting off blood flow. Bloat and torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums, lip licking, trying unsuccessfully to vomit, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary intervention, and surgery is necessary in many cases. Unfortunately, dogs that have bloated can bloat again, so most veterinarians offer a procedure known as "stomach tacking," which anchors the stomach to the body wall to help keep it from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an Irish Wolfhound at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Wolfhound has a rough coat that is especially wiry and long over the eyes and beneath the jaw. Extensive grooming is done to give the dog a perfect appearance in the show ring, but for a pet owner the coat is easy to maintain. There's just a lot of dog to groom.
Brush or comb the shaggy, wiry coat once or twice a week to remove dead hair and prevent or remove any mats or tangles. The double coat sheds moderate amounts year-round but doesn’t go through a heavy annual or biannual shed. A bath is rarely necessary.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a quality breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many problems as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks. Be wary of breeders who only tell you the good things about the breed.
Reputable breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps that were taken to avoid them. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Irish Wolfhound and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Irish Wolfhound Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the IWCA’s code for ethical conduct, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to sell puppies only with a written sales contract.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will clear. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Irish Wolfhound puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, field, or other activity titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Irish Wolfhound might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an Irish Wolfhound in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Irish Wolf Hounds available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Irish Wolfhound. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Irish Wolfhounds love all Irish Wolfhounds. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Irish Wolfhound Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Irish Wolfhound rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring an Irish Wolfhound home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, or children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Irish Wolfhound, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Irish Wolfhound to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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