If dogs could tell stories about their distant relatives, the Irish Wolfhound could brag, “My ancestors attacked warriors on chariots, and killed every wolf and wild boar in Ireland."
Irish Wolfhounds have been the stuff of myth and legend as far back as 391 C.E., when they were used as war dogs. Records depict them literally dragging enemy soldiers off the backs of horses and horse-drawn chariots.
Later, the breed was so highly esteemed and coveted that only kings and nobility were allowed to own them. Adorned in bejewelled collars, they were considered preferred gifts exchanged between royalty.
Along with guarding herds, Wolfhounds hunted elk, boar and wolves. They were so good at it that all three of those species became extinct in Ireland, causing Wolfhounds to nearly disappear themselves.
In the 1800’s, a British army captain collected every remaining Wolfhound he could find. Mating them with Deerhounds, Great Danes, Borzois and Tibetan Mastiffs to regain their enormous stature, he’s credited with saving the breed. He also jump-started the Wolfhound’s genetic evolution from fierce battle beast to kind and patient couch buddy.
What is it that makes these dogs so unique? For one thing, their incredible size. They are considered the tallest breed in the world, literally reaching the size of a small pony. Standing on hind legs, some can reach a height of seven feet.
The Canadian Kennel Club standard has been 32" and 120 pounds for males, 30" and 105 pounds for females. However, they keep getting bigger. Over the last few years, it’s not uncommon to see males at 33" to 36", 140 to 160 pounds; females can range from 32" to 34" and 120 to 140 pounds.
They are susceptible to some “big dog" health issues such as hip dysplasia and bloat, a potentially fatal twisting within the digestive system, as well as certain cancers and heart problems. Like many large breeds, life spans average nine or ten years.