While there is some debate over the origin of the Irish Wolfhound, most experts believe that the breed’s Middle Eastern sighthound ancestors were brought to the British Isles by Phoenician sea-traders approximately 3,000 years ago. Some think they were then crossed with local mastiffs to produce what looked like a giant greyhound; others surmise that the Irish Sheepdog and/or the Scottish Deerhound are in the ancestral mix.
Whatever its actual lineage, the Irish Wolfhound was known at least as far back as 391 A.D., when the Roman consul received several of them as gifts from Ireland, causing quite a stir among the Roman people of that time. Over the ensuing centuries, Irish Wolfhounds were cherished for their hunting skills, especially in pursuing marauding wolves and giant Irish elk, working in packs. Indeed, so proficient was the Irish Wolfhound at completing these tasks that by the end of the 18th century, it found itself almost out of work. Most experts accept that the last Irish wolf died in 1770 in the Wicklow Mountains, although some believe that a few wolves remained in County Carlow until 1786, after which they certainly were gone according to all accounts. As the wolf and elk disappeared from the Irish countryside, and as the Irish exported many of their Wolfhounds to other countries, the breed nearly disappeared. The Great Irish Famine also took a toll on the breed’s numbers.
In 1862, a Scotsman in the Brittish army, Captain George Augustus Graham, made it his life’s work to rescue the Irish Wolfhound from extinction. He gathered all the Wolfhounds he could find and reportedly crossbred them with the Scottish Deerhound, Great Dane, Russian Wolfhound, Pyrenean Mountain Dog and/or Tibetan Mastiff. While breed experts disagree whether Graham restored the breed or created a new one, there is no disagreement over the fact that he revived or founded a magnificent breed. Twenty-three years later, an Irish breed club was formed, and the first breed standard was written under Graham’s tutelage. The Kennel Club (England) recognized the Irish Wolfound in 1925.
The Irish Wolfhound Club of America was founded in 1926 and remains the parent club of the breed in this country. The modern Irish Wolfhound is a house dog rather than a hunter. Their quiet manners and gentleness make them wonderful companions, as long as they have a large, fenced area within which to gallop and romp freely and frequently. They are competitive in the conformation show ring, as well. It is wise to remember that this breed was bred for the chase, and it retains this natural instinct. As a result, Irish Wolfhounds excel in the sport of lure coursing, where they can run at full speed after a fast-moving, inanimate quarry.
The average life expectancy of the Irish Wolfhound dog breed is between 6 and 8 years. This is notably lower than the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), but consistant with most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders more commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Irish Wolfhound are as follows:
- Bloat (Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus): An extremely serious medical condition where a dog’s stomach becomes filled with gas that cannot escape
- Bone Cancer
- Atrial Fibrillation
- Dermatitis: Defined as any inflammation of the skin
- Hypothyroidism: Inadequate production and release of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)
- Immunodeficiency Syndrome
- Shoulder Osteochondrosis
- Cervical Vertebral Malformation (Wobbler syndrome)
- Entropion: The inversion, or the turning inward, of all or part of the edge of an eyelid
- Eversion of the Cartilage of the Nictitating Membrane
- Cataracts: Refers to any opacity of the lens of the eye. Dogs of either gender can develop cataracts
- Portosystemic Shunts
- Hip Dysplasia: Involves abnormal development and/or degeneration of the coxofemoral (hip) joint
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes.
- Von Willebrand Disease: the most common hereditary blood-clotting disorder in domestic dogs.