It is clear that the Irish Wolfhound is attested both by history and tradition that there existed in Ireland in early times a large, rugged hound of Greyhound form, used to hunt the Irish elk, the wolf, the red deer, and the fox. This dog was known to the Romans, who carried them back after their invasion of the island, and there are records of them being presented to Norwegian kings. In course of time the wolves disappeared, the elk became extinct, and with them all but passed away a noble breed of dogs. In fact, it has been claimed that the real Irish Wolfhound became extinct about one hundred years ago. This was vigorously denied by others, who, while they admitted that the breed had deteriorated, asserted that there was still existent enough of the old blood to restore the breed to a resemblance of its original type. The leader in this movement was Captain Graham, who for a score of years devoted himself to the resuscitation of the breed with conspicuous success.
There have been many theories advanced as to the origin of the Irish Wolfhound, but the opinion of Captain Graham is probably nearest the truth, for it is his belief that the Irish Hound that was kept to hunt wolves never became extinct, but is now repeated in the Scottish Deerhound, only altered a little in size and strength to suit the easier work required of it, that of hunting the deer. The old Irish Wolfhound was called upon to hunt the wolf and the Irish elk, an immense animal standing six feet high at the shoulder, with a spread of antlers of ten or twelve feet, and it required a much more powerful hound to cope with these animals than the deer which are now existent.
One thing is certain: the chief factor in the resuscitation of the Irish Wolfhound has been the Scottish Deerhound. In building up the breed Captain Graham secured bitches from three strains, which it was believed were direct and pure descendants of the old line, although they were not nearly as large as those mentioned in early writings. These were crossed on the Scottish Deerhound and the Great Dane. Later on Borzoi blood was introduced through a dog named Koratai. These matings and the mixing of the blood of these breeds resulted in progeny with both size and bone, but unshapely in form. By careful elimination and selection they were eventually graded up to a fixity of type, and for the past thirty-five years they have been among the most attractive dogs seen at shows.
There is naturally a great deal of similarity between the Scottish Deerhound and the Irish Wolfhound, for much of the same blood is in their veins. The Irish dog is larger, more powerful, and less elegant in outline. His coat is also harder in texture and his jaw more powerful.
As in the case of most big dogs, the great difficulty in breeding the Irish Wolfhound is to insure straight forelegs and sound hindquarters. Of course, a great deal depends upon the rearing of the dogs in this particular connection. A puppy may be found sound and straight in limb and become incurably defective by his faulty bringing up. This is the tendency, and such faults as cow hocks (which are very prevalent in the breed), crooked forelegs, or splay feet, once established become hereditary, and should be carefully avoided. A little white on the chest is perfectly immaterial, and color is but of secondary importance, the favorite color being grizzle or wheaten.
The chief points to look for in the selection of Irish Wolfhound puppies at from two to four months old and after, are: A long, level head, great strength of muzzle, big nostrils, enormous bone, big body, deep chest, big hindquarters, moderately short body.
The Irish Wolfhound’s standard description is as follows:
GENERAL APPEARANCE.-The Irish Wolfhound should not be quite so heavy or massive as the Great Dane, but more so than the Deerhound, which in general type he should otherwise resemble. Of great size and commanding appearance, very muscular, strongly though gracefully built, movements easy and active; head and neck carried high; the tail carried with an upward sweep with a slight curve toward the extremity.
THE MINIMUM HEIGHT AND WEIGHT Of dogs should be 31 inches and 120 pounds; of bitches, 28 inches and 90 pounds. Anything below this should be debarred from competition. Great size, including height at shoulder and proportionate length of body, is the desideratum to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a race that shall average from 32 inches to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage, and symmetry.
HEAD.-Long, the frontal bones of the forehead very slightly raised and very little indentation between the eyes. Skull not too broad. Muzzle long and moderately pointed. Ears small and Greyhoundlike in carriage.
NECK.-Rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap, or loose skin about the throat.
CHEST.-Very deep. Breast wide. BACK.-Rather long than short. Loins arched. TAIL.-Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair. BELLY.-Well drawn up. FOREQUARTERS.-Shoulders muscular, giving breadth of chest, set sloping. Elbows well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards. LEG.-Forearm muscular, and the whole leg strong and quite straight.
HINDQUARTERs.-Muscular thighs and second thigh long and strong as in the Greyhound, and hocks well let down and turning neither in nor out.
FEET.-Moderately large and round, neither turned inwards nor outwards. Toes well arched and closed. Nails very strong and curved.
HAIR.-Rough and hard on body, legs, and head; especially wiry and long over eyes and underjaw. COLOR AND MARKINGS.-The recognized colors are grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, or any color that appears in the Deerhound. [Captain Graham states that he has seen several perfectly black-and-tan Deerhounds.
FAULTS.-Too light or heavy a head, too highly arched frontal bone, large ears and hanging flat to the face; short neck; full dewlap; too narrow or too broad a chest; sunken or hollow or quite straight back; bent forelegs; overbent fetlocks; twisted feet; spreading toes; too curly a tail; weak hindquarters and a general want of muscle; too short in body.