About the breed

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The Breed Standard

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The Breed Standard

All pedigree breeds of dogs have a breed standard (usually maintained by a national or international breed association) describing the desirable characteristics that a specimen of the breed should possess in order to fulfil the function that the breed was developed for. The standard will also describe undesirable features that may, at first sight, appear cosmetic but that usually have a functional (or dysfunctional) basis.

In the case of the Irish Wolfhound the original breed standard was drawn up in 1885 by the following the efforts of Captain George Graham to rescue the breed from near-extinction. Since then the substance standard has remained relatively unchanged although there have been refinements in content and format over the years. Any change to the standard is the source of much debate as can be seen in the following link, http://www.fiwc.club/main/en/en_standard.html. Similarly, as of mid-2017, the FCI standard was due to include an overshot bite (the upper canines project beyond the lower canines) as a fault in the standard.

In the case of Irish Wolfhounds in South Africa the official breed standard used by judges is that adopted by KUSA (Kennel Union of South Africa) and published on their website. https://www.kusa.co.za/index.php/documents/breed-standards/hound-group/1040-irish-wolfhound-2 . This standard is the same as that of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) that has developed a standardised format for breed standards.

In the case of the Irish Wolfhound, the FCI breed standard omits the “points in order of merit” that are still used by some breed associations and are dear to the heart of many wolfhound admirers. The points in order of merit serve as a useful overview of the breed and are set out below.

The Irish Wolfhound is a rough-coated Greyhound-like breed, the tallest of the coursing hounds and remarkable in combining power and swiftness.

  1. Great size and commanding appearance.
  2. Movements easy and active.
  3. Head, long and level, carried high.
  4. Forelegs, heavily boned, quite straight; elbows well set under.
  5. Thighs, long and muscular; second thighs, well-muscled, stifles nicely bent.
  6. Coat, rough and hard, especially wiry and long over eyes and under jaw.
  7. Body, long, well ribbed up, with ribs well sprung, and great breadth across hips.
  8. Loins arched, belly well drawn up.
  9. Ears, small, Greyhound- like carriage.
  10. Feet, moderately large and round; toes, close, well arched.
  11. Neck, long, well arched and very strong.
  12. Chest, very deep, moderately broad.
  13. Shoulders, muscular, set sloping.
  14. Tail, long and slightly curved.
  15. Eyes, dark.

For newcomers to the breed a particularly useful link that illustrates what the breed characteristics look like in practise is the Illustrated Standard by the Irish Wolfhound Club of America. https://www.iwclubofamerica.org/IllustratedStandard

Breed History

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The continental Celts kept a greyhound, probably descended from the greyhounds first depicted in Egyptian paintings. Like their continental counterparts, the Irish Celts were interested in breeding large hounds, but theirs seem to have been even bigger than the more ancient variety. These large Irish hounds could have had smooth or rough coats but, in later time, the rough coat predominated possibly because of the Irish weather. The first written account of these dogs was by a Roman Consul in 391 A.D. but they were already established in Ireland in the first century A.D. when Setanta changed his name to Cu-Chulainn (the hound of Culan). Mention is made of the Uisneach (1st century) taking 150 hounds with them in their flight to Scotland. Irish hounds undoubtedly formed the basis of the Scottish Deerhound. Pairs of Irish hounds were prized as gifts by the Royal houses of Europe, Scandinavia and elsewhere from the Middle Ages to the 17th century.

From the 9th century Book of Kells

They were sent to England, Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, Persia, India and Poland. The change of name to Wolfdog probably dates from the15th century when each county was required to keep 24 Wolfdogs to protect farmers flocks from the ravages of wolves. The Cromwellian prohibition (1652) on the export of Wolfhounds helped preserve their numbers for a time but the gradual disappearance of the wolf, and the continued demand abroad, reduced their numbers almost to the point of extinction by the end of the 17th century. It was probably part of the surge of the Romantic nationalism which helped interest in the breed. The Wolfhound achieved a true strain only through fairly frequent inbreeding, but the results were ultimately accepted as a legitimate revival of the breed. A club for the Irish Wolfhound was formed in 1885 and the Irish Kennel Club scheduled a class for the breed at their show in April 1879. The Irish Wolfhound now enjoys once again something of the reputation it had in the Middle Ages and excites the most interest because it is a living symbol of Irish culture, a remembrance of the Celtic past.

Grooming

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Grooming your hound helps keep it clean and healthy and minimizes the shedding of hair around the house.

For showing purposes, grooming the hound is essential if it is to be competitive. Aesthetics apart a rough shaggy coat can obscure the underlying conformation of the hound to the judge who may have very little time to devote to an individual animal.

The best way to learn how to groom a wolfhound is to observe experienced owners doing it. If a newcomer to the breed wishes to show their hound the breeder will often give advice as they want their hounds to appear to best effect in the ring. It is best to groom a hound several weeks before a show to avoid a newly-shorn appearance.

The IWC occasionally holds grooming clinics and these are posted on this site and/or emailed to members.

The photograph below shows some basic grooming instruments and their purpose.

Finishing combs are used to remove debris and for those final touches just before the dog enters the ring.

Stripping knives are used to remove excess hair all over the body, especially around the neck area and anywhere where the coat is thick and unmanageable. It can also be used to strip hair from the hounds ears to emphasize the small size and the double fold. Ear hair should ideally be stripped by gripping it between thumb and forefinger and pulled out without discomfort to the dog.

Thinning shears are used to blend transitional lines and smoothly thin out bulky areas of the coat, such as the ruff that can develop around the neck. Single-sided shears remove coat rapidly while double sided shears are for a fine finish.

A Slicker brush is used for removing loose and dead hair from the hound’s undercoat.

A Stripping comb acts like a rake and is used to rapidly remove thick and/or matted coat.

The following series of “before and after” photographs of the same dog ( Photos by kind permission of Mo Aiken, California USA.) show the effect of good grooming on a hounds appearance. 

And the result!

SOME TIPS FOR

GROOMING YOUR IRISH WOLFHOUND:

  • A lways like to strip when the dog is unwashed. The coat is more “sticky” and easier to grip when it still has natural oils on it.  Once you have groomed then you can wash the dog and just tidy up afterward.
  • Always, ALWAYS increase your hound’s confidence and sociability by touching him often. Regularly touching your dog gives you a chance to see if they have anything that wasn’t there before. This should be done weekly.
  • Don’t decide to strip out a very hairy hound the day before a show. The coat will need time to settle and it is better to bath at least a week before a show to let the natural harshness return after shampooing.  Start by stripping a little each day preferably when the hound is tired, as he will resist less.  Remember, stripping should never be obvious so you should never see scissor or stripping knife marks in the coat.
  • Too little stripping is far better than too much. Bald patches on your dog do nothing for his/her image or chances in the ring!
  • Stripping will improve the quality of your dog’s coat and make him more comfortable.
  • Finger and thumb stripping is the absolute best way to get the best results and the right look. Any tools such as stripping knives, Mars Coat King etc always cut the coat rather than stripping it out.  Where possible use your fingers to strip and if you find it difficult use an old-fashioned rubber finger or a latex glove to give you grip on the hair.
  • Always start by brushing (use a slicker brush) thoroughly then combing with a very fine-tooth comb. Make sure you brush absolutely everywhere. From between the toes to under the tail and around all those sensitive areas that get so mucky and matted. Then you can stand back and look at your dog and decide what needs to be tidied up.
  • Always start on the head, specifically the ears. The ears should ALWAYS be hand stripped.  They are a small enough area to work on without making mistakes or tiring your hands.  Always check the inside of the ears and make sure they are clean and pink and not smelling.  Do not use ear buds in your dog’s ear.  A good ear cleaner is – 1/4mm Thayer’s witch hazel, 3/4 mm Aloe Vera Gel and 2-4 drops Tea Tree Oil. 
  • Remember – on the head, don’t strip forward of the line from the corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth down to the tip of the nose. If absolutely necessary trim a very, very long beard down.
  • Move onto the neck, arguably the most difficult area to strip. The hair is thick and strong for good reason.  It provides protection should it be needed in an encounter with a wolf.  But, lots of hair on the neck makes it look short and stuffy.  Use thinning shears or the Mars Coat King and then finish by hand stripping.
  • The body usually requires less work. You are only going to tidy the dog’s outline.  The only area that will need a bit of harder effort will be the dogs underline i.e. the belly area.
  • Strip the hair tufts off the elbows.
  • Strip the hair tufts off the hocks.
  • Strip the big hair tuft at the base of the tail.

The whole outline of the dog from tip of the nose to the end of the tail should be one continuous smooth curvy line. No dips or bumps.

  • The outer edges of the feet should be neatened. Make sure the nails are cut often and kept short.  This will improve the shape of the foot.  If the dog has dewclaws still attached, don’t forget to trim the nails on these too.
  • Some people do not like stripping their hounds and prefer a more natural shaggy look. However, if you do show your dog, then if the judge has to come to a final decision between two evenly matched dogs, the groomed dog may have the advantage.

Health

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What is liver shunt?

Liver shunt is a condition that affects about 2% of wolfhound puppies and reputable breeders usually test for shunt at about nine weeks. After birth, a malfunction in the development of the puppy circulatory system allows some blood to bypass the liver and waste products, including ammonia, build up in the blood. Symptoms are weight loss, a coat with upright hair, apathy and brain damage leading to circling, apparent blindness and seizures. The onset of these symptoms is affected by various factors such as diet and the severity of the shunt (degree of bypass) and may only become apparent once the pup is in its new home. In South Africa liver shunt has been corrected surgically at least twice (and at significant cost) but puppies with liver shunt are usually euthanized. http://www.cornovi-iw.co.uk/livershunt_page.htm

Puppy Paralysis

Puppy Paralysis or FCE (Fibrocartilagenous Embolism) affects a small minority of Irish Wolfhound puppies and may be hereditary. It typically occurs between the ages of eight and sixteen weeks. The puppy suddenly loses the use of its hind legs due to an embolism in its spinal cord. If the puppy receives prompt veterinary attention, within about three hours, the administration of a steroid and anti-inflammatoriy greatly aids recovery.  Once initial recovery has been achieved, physiotherapy, acupuncture and extended hydrotherapy (“doggy paddle”) usually allows a near complete recovery. The condition occurs in wolfhound puppies, older dogs in other breeds and humans. Relatively few vets have encountered it. Since time is of the essence for successful treatment a wise owner will draw attention to the possibility of FCE. It is a good idea to check if your vet knows about FCE early on.

http://www.robinsonvet.com/documents/Fibrocartilagenoussynd.pdf

Hounds that have had FCE should not be used for breeding.

Correct Puppy Dentition

Although easier said than done with a wriggling puppy, potential owners should check the puppies bite which should be a “scissor bite” (the top teeth nestle neatly against the lower teeth) or, at worst, “level” (the upper and lower teeth touch). A small minority of puppies have an overshot or undershot bite where the upper teeth are respectively materially further forward or behind the lower teeth. Apart from being unsightly a, say, overshot bite has the effect that the lower canines create painful holes in the gums of the upper palette. Sometimes the condition will correct itself as the puppy grows or when the adult teeth appear. Often the condition will not correct itself so it is advisable to get an objective opinion from a vet. Orthodentistry is a possibility or the offending canines can be removed. An overshot or undershot bite is considered a fault when showing. If possible, also check the dam and sires bite.

What is Hip and Elbow Dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia (HD & ED) are conditions where joints are malformed because of hereditary factors, over-exercise when young or overfeeding. The condition is infrequent in wolfhounds but is usually severe when it is present and causes the animal great pain. Because of the hereditary component of HD & ED most reputable breeders will X-ray their adult animals prior to breeding them and their HD and ED scores become part of their registered pedigree name. The FCI scale for hip dysplasia is shown below.

FCI GRADE DESCRIPTION FCI CRITERIA
A1 Excellent hips No signs of hip dysplasia
A2 Good hips
B1 Fair hips Near normal hip joints
B2 Marginal dysplasia
C1 Mild dysplasia Mild hip dysplasia
C2 Mild to moderate dysplasia
D1 Moderate dysplasia Moderate hip dysplasia
D2 Moderate to severe dysplasia
E1 Severe dysplasia Severe hip dysplasia
E2 Very severe dysplasia

 

KUSA has no mandatory rules on parental hip dysplasia and puppy registration for Irish Wolfhounds in South Africa but does for other breeds such as the Rottweiler.

When considering buying a puppy it is reasonable to request the breeder to provide the sire and dams HD and ED ratings and/or their 5-generation pedigree.

The Heart

The size of a wolfhound places strain upon the heart and some heart conditions are hereditary. Ideally, hearts should be checked yearly. It is reasonable for a buyer to expect the breeder to have had both parent’s hearts evaluated at the same time that they were tested for HD and ED and to have a veterinary report on whether the heart is clear, or not, of any cardiac abnormality.

Torsion or Bloat

The Irish Wolfhound’s deep chest causes the stomach to sometimes twist and form a constriction like the link between two sausages. This causes gas to build up and inflate the abdomen. Unattended torsion is fatal and, in treating it, time is of the essence. Rapid veterinary attention and surgery is required after which the animal usually recovers fully but torsion can reoccur. Torsion can occur as a result of stress or boisterous play before or after a meal. The symptoms of torsion are that the dog becomes uncharacteristically restless and has a taught abdomen. http://www.iwhealthgroup.co.uk/bloat.html

 Life Expectancy?

Wolfhounds, like other giant breeds, do not live as long as smaller dogs although, probably as a result of the availability of better diets and better medical care, life expectancy does seem to be improving. Eight years used to be considered “a good innings” but is now unexceptional. Wolfhounds now regularly reach ten years.

Other Health Issues

Wolfhounds can get the same illnesses as any other dog. Their fast rate of growth from puppyhood places strain on their skeleton and bone cancer in the legs is unfortunately quite common but can be treated if diagnosed early enough. The cause of even minor limping should be carefully established.

As wolfhounds reach great age the nerves in their spine tend to degenerate and they lose control of their rear legs. Acupuncture can relieve this condition.

Before any surgery you should check that the vet is aware that wolfhounds require less anaesthetic per unit weight than other dogs. This is a problem experienced by all sighthounds stemming from their fat to muscle ratio which affects the removal of the drug from their systems.

An excellent source of information on issues affecting wolfhound health is the Irish Wolfhound Health Group based in the UK http://www.iwhealthgroup.co.uk/

It’s not just dog shows… Wallace the therapy-hound

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When one in lying in a hospital bed, attached to various bags and machines by tubes and wires, it can be a dispiriting and frequently lonely time.

But what if, lying there one was suddenly to see the smiling face of a great, hairy hound level with yours?

The joy that therapy dog visits have brought to numerous patients is difficult to comprehend, but from patents dying in the oncology ward who have taken solace in the company of a dog visitor, through people who have just lost a friend or family member have leaned on strong canine shoulders while they have cried for their loss, to the numerous patients have spent a little time distracted from what ails them in the company of a doggy friend, these visits make a difference.

Our therapy dog group is involved in various different kinds of therapy work, from school visits to working with autistic children and children suffering from epilepsy, visits to old age homes and so forth, but it is the hospital visits that are arguably the most challenging for the dogs, but also the most rewarding.

Mankind has an undeniable bond with dogs. This bond has been built over the last twenty thousand or so years, and it seems to be encoded into out very genes. A number of studies have indicated that simply being in the company of a dog can promote the brain to release endorphins, can reduce stress levels and lower high blood pressure as well. It is a proven fact that people who interact with animals during the healing period heal faster than those who do not, and the animal that has the greatest effect is the dog.

Most people simply feel better after interacting with a dog. It brightens their day and makes everything seem a little better, and that is why dog therapy work is accepted and even encouraged by a large number of medical facilities and hospitals around the world.

Of all the therapy dogs I have ever met, Wallace the wolfhound was one of the greatest. Not because he was the best, there were and are a number of smaller dogs who did and do a better job actually interacting with people than he did, but the one of the greatest because of the incredibly positive impact that his mere presence had on patients.

Without previously having met him, little children over whom he towered would run up to him and throw their arms around his neck. Patients in obvious pain and discomfort would visibly relax in his presence, and anxious family members waiting outside I.C.U. would become engrossed in talking to him.

It was not that he ever did very much, he simply stood there, and was still. For Wallace had about him a truly magical quality of stillness. It was contagious. And if you were very, very fortunate, he might give you a little, gentle lick.

Yet for all of that, he made a huge impact. People who only met him once stop us in the street and ask about him. The nursing sisters at the hospital burst into tears on hearing that he had left us, and a year after his last visit, people still tell stories of the gentle giant who visited them.

Therapy dog work is not for the faint of heart. It is heart breaking to watch the suffering of people and know that there is little one can do but offer a few moments of respite. And it is very hard on the dogs. They must permit all manner of strangers to interact with them, often in cramped conditions where there is no retreat, and often by people who have absolutely no idea how to interact with a dog. And they must do this in a calm and outwardly friendly manner.

In order for a dog and handler to become a therapy dog team, there must be several factors in play. First, there must be a passion on the part of the handler to do this kind of work. The dog must have a stable, and have an even, out going personality, and should not be nervous. The dog should also be in good health. And then there is the training.

All the therapy dogs in our group are expected to have achieved a bare minimum of CGC Bronze, and be working towards Silver and then Gold, and all must undergo intensive training and then pass an evaluation by a behaviouralist. And once they are trained, they need to undergo constant, ongoing re-training to ensure that they remain suitable for the task.

On the physical side, the dogs must be healthy and undergo regular veterinary inspection to ensure they remain healthy. They must be treated against internal parasites on a regular basis, and be treated against tick and flea infestation well. They must be groomed and cleaned before all visits, and always appear in good condition.

I may be just a tiny bit biased, but I believe there is no better way for your Irish Wolfhound to interact with the community than for him or her to do therapy work, and there are no better dogs to do therapy work that the Irish Wolfhound.

Sadly, Wallace left us in December 2016, but he had already been retired for some time before than. Dougal, Reilly and Stirling had in the mean time qualified, and all continue the great work that Wallace started.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to see them work their magic.

Philip Santilhano

Training

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It is essential to train a wolfhound puppy because:

  • The puppy is going to grow into a large, powerful animal that is likely to be stronger than you are. You must be able to control it so that it is not a danger to humans and other dogs.
  • Dogs are pack-animals and the owner is a member of the pack. Within the pack there is a strict pecking-order and through training the puppy learns that the owner is the pack leader.
  • Although the puppy learns socialisation while with their litter-mates (one reason not to take them home too soon) training brings the puppy into contact with a variety of strangers and reinforces socialization skills. A well-socialized hound makes benching at shows and ring-work much less stressful on dog and handler.

For the above reasons it is best to sign up to group training led by a professional trainer. The breeder, your vet or other hound owners can usually suggest an appropriate trainer; or you can contact the IWC.

Show training teaches different skills (to the handler as much as the dog!) than basic training and professional trainers also offer show-training. The IWC often offers brief, refresher, handling workshops prior to Open and Championship shows.

Training can be frustrating for the new owner:

Liquor Training

Now clicker training’s quite the fad.

Results from some are not too bad.

The concept stemmed from Pavlov’s hound

Responding to some special sound.

 

The dog would start to salivate

Before he got the food he ate.

The modern click does much the same.

Enhancing our dog training game

 

By causing Fido’s hopes to raise–

Anticipating treats or praise.

Sometimes you click to no avail,

And other methods also fail.

 

No matter how you plead or shout,

Sometimes the dog just won’t put out

When asked to sit or heel or stay,

Thus giving you a rotten day.

 

It makes you feel quite like a fool,

And then you start to lose your cool.

But if your methods fail for you.

There’s something else that you can do.

 

Try “liquor training”, that’s its name,

To help you with your dog sport game.

“How does this method work?” you ask

Well, first you get a little flask

 

Containing gin or other booze

Of any kind that you may choose.

Each time your dog decides to goof,

You take a sip of 80 proof.

 

It helps the handler to relax

And minimize the stress attacks.

When handler’s mood is more at ease,

The dog may sometimes try to please,

 

Or, then again may still refuse

To mind his training P’s and Q’s.

But whether foul results or fair

You liquor train — you just don’t care.

 

Author Unknown

Nutrition

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Give them a chance, wolfhounds will eat as much as they can! So keep any dry food in tight containers. It is important to ensure that they are not fed too much as this places strain on their skeleton and heart and can lead to problems in later life. Small, frequent meals are preferable; four times a day for puppies and twice a day for adults is a good guide.

A useful test to check for overfeeding is to feel their ribs. Ribs should only have a thin covering of flesh/fat. If the ribs are covered by a substantial amount of flesh/fat (more than a centimeter or so) then you are probably feeding too much.

If feeding commercial, dry, food the guidelines on giant breed (puppy and adult) should be adhered to.

Breeders tend to have strong views on the appropriate diet for puppies and adults and it is reasonable to expect detailed advice about feeding upon buying a puppy.

Wolfhound enthusiasts have strong opinions about the merits of raw versus dry food (for the dog, not the owner). If you intend to feed raw food (BARF or Bones and Raw Food) the following links are useful.

http://barfaustralia.com/  and   http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/raw-feeding-prime

Be careful when giving wolfhounds bones. If in doubt, don’t.

Avoid:

  • cooked bones that a dog’s digestive system cannot process
  • chicken and similar bones that can splinter and puncture the stomach/intestine
  • Small bones that can be crunched into large pieces and swallowed whole that then block the stomach/intestine. Remember that what may be a large bone for most breeds is just a snack for a wolfhound.

In modest quantities, large, whole, uncooked, beef knuckles that the wolfhound is obliged to gnaw on are acceptable. Once the bone has been gnawed down significantly it is best to remove it before it is swallowed.

Exercise

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Wolfhounds are quite lazy and will quite happily snooze for 18 hours a day. On a large property wolfhounds effectively self-exercise through play (see above). For a small property, a walk twice a day is preferable and for a flat four times a day.

It is most important not to over-exercise puppies for the first year as their joints are still soft and over-exercise can bring on hip and/or elbow dysplasia. Because of the risk of bloat/torsion do not exercise wolfhounds immediately before or after feeding.