12 Facts About The Pawsitively Huge Irish Wolfhound

From their record-breaking height to their ancient origins, the incredible Irish Wolfhound is a fascinating breed.

Dec 6, 2023By Natasha Elder
pawsitively huge facts about irish wolfhounds

Are you ready to meet one of the largest and most majestic dog breeds in the world? Say hello to the incredible Irish Wolfhound! With their towering height, good nature, and fascinating history, there is a lot to love about these gentle giants – and even more to learn. Let’s start with these 12 facts.

Irish Wolfhounds are Native to Ireland

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Although the name gives it away, it’s worth talking about this Gaelic dog. Irish Wolfhounds are native to Ireland. The beloved breed has a long history with the country and its people. But the Irish Wolfhound is not the only dog that hails from Ireland; it’s one of nine dog breeds native to the Emerald Isle.

The Irish Wolfhound is arguably the most famous Irish dog. You may recognize some of these other breeds that also come from Ireland:

  • Kerry Beagles (which are also hounds)
  • Irish Water Spaniels
  • Irish Red Setters
  • Irish Red & White Setters
  • Irish Terriers
  • Irish Glen of Imaal Terriers
  • Irish Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers
  • Kerry Blue Terriers

World's Tallest Dog Breed

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The Irish Wolfhound might not be one of the biggest animals in the world, but it’s one of the biggest in the dog world, and it is officially THE tallest dog breed of all canine kind. So just how tall is the Irish Wolfhound? From the withers, which is the ridge between the shoulder bones, adult Irish Wolfhounds are expected to measure in at a whopping 32 to 42 inches (81 to 86 centimeters). That’s nearly three feet tall!

As with most dog breeds, male Irish Wolfhounds are taller than females. And don’t think the puppies are pint-sized! By the time they reach three months of age, the males typically measure in at 21.2 inches, and the females clock in slightly lower at 20.8 inches. By six months old, they measure in at 30.1 and 28.6 inches, respectively. Irish Wolfhounds stop growing at three years old.

The Irish Wolfhound is an Ancient Breed

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The history of Irish Wolfhounds is long and legendary. Irish Wolfhounds have been around for hundreds of years and are one of the world's oldest dog breeds. Irish Wolfhounds' origins can be traced back to ancient Ireland where the breed was used for hunting boars, elk, and – you guessed it – wolves.

Named "Cu Faoil," meaning "hound of the wolf," Irish Wolfhounds have appeared in Irish literature from as early as the sixth century. Throughout the centuries, they gained notoriety for their sheer size, strength, and ability. They were even given as gifts to important foreign nobles and often made appearances in poetry.

The Irish Wolfhound’s Ties to Extinction

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Did you know it was possible to do a job too well? Just ask the Irish Wolfhound, and it’ll tell you. Irish Wolfhounds were so good at hunting wolves that by the end of the seventeenth century, wolves were added to the list of recently extinct animals in Ireland. In fact, the last authenticated record of a wolf in Ireland was in 1786 – and it was killed by an Irish Wolfhound owned by a sheep farmer.

However, the annihilation of wolf populations meant that there was no longer a need for Irish Wolfhounds. In a twist of fate, the breed itself faced near extinction. In the mid-eighteenth century, a British Captain named George Augustus Graham was determined to bring the breed back from the brink of extinction by cross-breeding the last remaining Irish Wolfhounds with Scottish Deerhounds. This interbreeding played a pivotal role in their resurgence.

Irish Wolfhounds Have Short Lifespans

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All dogs go to Heaven, but when you get a chihuahua or a Yorkshire, you get a friend for life thanks to their life expectancy reaching up to 20 years. But sadly, this is not the case when you get an Irish Wolfhound. Like most other gentle giant dog breeds, unfortunately, Irish Wolfhounds do not enjoy long lifespans.

Irish Wolfhounds are known to live for six to 10 years, with most dogs living up to the age of seven and a measly 9% making it to their 10th birthday. The oldest Irish Wolfhound on record was an old boy called Killykeen Kildevin, who reached the ripe old age of 16-and-a-half years before passing away.

Bone Cancer Plagues the Irish Wolfhound

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Irish Wolfhounds are very susceptible to developing cancer. Of the top four causes of death in Irish Wolfhounds, cancer kills almost as many as the other three combined (specifically, bone cancer).

This ailment is the leading cause of death for Irish Wolfhounds. If it’s detected early enough, treatment for Irish Wolfhounds with bone cancer includes radiation, chemotherapy, bisphosphonates, and amputation, although this last option is a very rare course of action. Despite the treatment available, the average life expectancy after receiving palliative care is six months.

These Dogs Need an Hour of Exercise Daily

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Ah, the age-old question: “How much exercise does my dog need?” Adult Irish Wolfhounds need to be exercised for 20 to 40 minutes every day and should always have the time and space to roam and romp freely. Like some other big dog breeds, Irish Wolfhounds have a tendency to lounge and laze (here’s looking at you, Great Dane!), so it’s important to keep them active.

There are two important things to know about exercising Irish Wolfhounds. Firstly, this breed is prone to bloat, so they should not be exercised too close to mealtimes. Secondly, you can only exercise Irish Wolfhounds when they reach one year old. This is to avoid risking any damage to their fast-growing bones, ligaments, and joints.

Irish Wolfhounds Have Gentle Temperaments

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This is one dog breed that is known for its temperament. Despite the preconceived ideas that come with their massive size, Irish Wolfhounds are not known to be aggressive, overly energetic, mindless, or boisterous. They’re typically described as:

  • Calm
  • Gentle
  • Loyal
  • Devoted
  • Patient
  • Friendly
  • Courageous
  • Of average intelligence

With all the above in mind, there’s an old saying (which is actually the motto of the 69th Infantry Regiment) about Irish Wolfhounds: Gentle When Stroked, Fierce When Provoked.

Irish Wolfhounds Are NOT Good Guard Dogs…

irish wolfhound jaws open bark yawn
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All of the pawsitive personality traits and temperament mentioned above mean that the Irish Wolfhound is not a good candidate for being a guard dog. And it’s not just that they’re friendly dogs; they’re quiet, too. On a scale of one to five, with five being “very vocal” and one being “barks only to alert,” Irish Wolfhounds score a one.

Irish Wolfhounds bond with their owners and any other dogs they’re raised with, but they’re typically not territorial about their space. If you’re looking for a guard dog, breeds like German Shepherd Dogs, Rottweilers, or Akitas would be better suited for the job.

…But Irish Wolfhounds ARE Good Therapy Dogs

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These canines might make for terrible guard dogs, but they are wonderful ESA, therapy, and service dogs. Because of their gentle nature, calm disposition, and enjoyment of cuddles, Irish Wolfhounds make excellent therapy dogs and multi-purpose emotional support animals (ESAs).

Irish Wolfhounds also make great service dogs, specifically mobility service dogs. This is largely due to, well, their large size! Their tallness means that they’re helpful for retrieval tasks and are ideal helpers for tall people who have mobility and balance issues.

Irish Wolfhounds’ Coats Come in Many Colors

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Irish Wolfhounds are double-coated dogs. They have a soft undercoat and a wiry outer coat of medium-length hair that makes them instantly recognizable. Irish Wolfhounds come in various coat colors, though gray is the most common. Here are the accepted breed standard colors as laid out by the American Kennel Club:

  • Black
  • Gray
  • Cream
  • White
  • Blue
  • Silver
  • Red
  • Brindle (a brownish color with streaks of other color)
  • Gray and brindle
  • Red and brindle
  • Wheaten and brindle
  • Silver and brindle

Unscrupulous breeders and sellers will often try to make you believe that a particular coat is rare in Irish Wolfhounds and that this should make them more expensive. This is not true and is merely a sales tactic.

The Irish Wolfhound Has a Strong Prey Drive

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And last but not least, let’s look at the Irish Wolfhound’s prey drive. Though their days of hunting down wolves are long behind them, the desire to do so is still strong. Of course, as is the case with any dog breed, the prey drive of an Irish Wolfhound will differ from dog to dog. But, generally speaking, their prey drive is still hard-wired into them, though it may not be as powerful as it once was.

Because of this complex prey drive, Irish Wolfhounds have an instinctive desire to stalk, give chase, and ultimately kill. When their prey drive is triggered, animals like squirrels, rabbits, hares, and deer are at risk, so it’s important to keep them on their leash in areas where wildlife is abundant. This also means that, while they’re known for getting along well with other dogs, they might not do well with smaller pets like cats, Guinea pigs, and other popular pets.

Natasha Elder
By Natasha Elder

Natasha is a mother, a wife, a writer, and a serial cat owner. Though she is currently in mourning, her heart not ready for another feline family member just yet, she has always lived life with four paws beside her. She loves – you guessed it – cats, as well as creatures of the fluffy, scaly, and finned variety. Natasha longs to meet Sir David Attenborough one day and is passionate about responsible pet ownership