"GENTLE WHEN STROKED, FIERCE WHEN PROVOKED"
By A. Croxton Smith, from Country Life April 6th, 1929
|Six Irish Wolfhound Puppies|
Personality is a good thing, whether in men or dogs; by means of it one stands out from the ruck, leaving an impression that is not easily effaced. As far as dogs are concerned, those of the bigger breeds are more likely to arrest attention than the smaller or better known. Imposing stature and bulk are usually accompanied by a dignity of demeanour and qualities of character that win our regard. Perhaps the big ones are not so alert superficially, nor can they be expected to perform parlour tricks, but they possess a solid worth that is estimable to a degree, and it is not often that they presume upon their strength. Though the expert may see the beauty in a terrier, the ordinary spectators at a dog show, unversed in the finer distinctions that make one exhibit superior to another, stand lost in admiration before the St. Bernards, mastiffs, Newfoundlands, Irish wolfhounds, deerhounds, Great Danes or borzois. Size appeals to them as it did to Dorothy Osborne, who, nearly three centuries ago, begged her lover to get her an Irish greyhound through his father, who was about to visit the neighbouring country. "Whomsoever it is you emply," she wrote, "he will need no other instructions but to get the biggest he can meet with; 'tis all the beauty of these dogs, or of any, indeed, I think. A masty is handsomer to me than the most exact little dog that ever lady played withal." Dorothy had entertained hopes that Henry Cromwell would be able to gratify her wishes, but something arose to prevent this consummation. It may be because she had not encouraged the pretensions of the young man, or was it on account of the fact that the Protector looked with disfavour upon the exportation of dogs that were needed in Ireland for destroying wolves? At any rate, Oliver Cromwell made an order to prevent any leaving that island. This may have been at a later date, as Dorothy afterwards got a brace from "a gentleman that serves the General," and she was greatly pleased with them.
|Mrs. Knox with Gelert, Duke, Roderick and Lady|
Were these dogs that went to Chicksands in Bedfordshire the counterparts of those we know to-day? I like to think they were, and that those of a century after, some of which resembled Great Danes, were debased specimens, the result of an outcross attributable to the scarcity of the pure stock. On these pages are illustrations of typical modern dogs, the originals of which belong to Mrs. W. Knox, Raikeshill, Silsden, Yorks. Mrs. Knox, who is so devoted to her breed that she cannot part with any of her dogs, is the fortunate possessor of one of the finest bitches of the day in Ch. Lady of Raikeshill. Of exceptional size for her sex, Lady has a graceful outline, the desirable substance, and a sweet head, which is a matter of moment, for the head and eyes are an index of temperament. The late Captain Graham, who was responsible for rescuing Irish wolfhounds from extinction, once declared that he looked upon the head as the most important point, as the character of the dog comes almost entirely from that.
|Ch. Lady of Raikeshill|
We are more exacting now, recognising that any breed, especially a utilitarian, must have symmetry and soundness, besides a head typical of its race. Height, desirable though it is, is not the only consideration, as Dorothy Osborne thought. It may come from a stilted formation of the hindquarters and straight shoulders, which, surely, are undesirable features. The accepted standard desires a dog "of great size and commanind appearance, very muscular, strongly though gracefully built, movements easy and active; head and neck carried high; tail carried with an upward sweep with a slight curve towards the extremity."
|Roderick of Raikeshill|
Since this standard was framed, with its aspiration for an average height of 32ins. to 34ins. in dogs, remarkable progress has been made. I do not know how much Lady measures, but I should imagine she is about 34ins., and dogs from 36ins. to 37½ins. are not uncommon. The wolfhounds at Raikeshill have every opportunity of reaching their fullest development, their surroundings being ideal and the care bestowed upon them unremitting. Both Mr. and Mrs. Knox are great admirers of these fine dogs, whose history stretches far back through the centuries. They are blazoned on the coat of arms of the old Irish kings, with the appropriate motto, "Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked," and those responsible for history-in-making have put one on the new sixpence of the Irish Free State.
|Gelert of Raikeshill|
At one time, in England and Wales, greyhounds might only be kept by gentlemen above a certain degree. So in Ireland, wolfhounds were a privilege attaching to chieftainship, and for long they were regarded as presents suitable for monarchs. Who has not heard of the fidelity and sad ending of Gelert, the wolfdog given by King John to Llewellyn, the Welsh prince? I dare say the story is mythical, for similar legends prevailed elsewhere, but one prefers not to be too critical. I do not suppose the unities were outraged by their introduction into Quo Vadis as protagonists in the Roman arena. Symmachus mentions that, in 391 A.D., seven were sent to Rome. In this more practical age, when any man who has the money to buy and the accommodation to house may become the possessor, Irish wolfhounds are to be found in all quarters of the globe. A few years ago breeders depended to a large extent upon the foreign market for the disposal of their surplus stock; but in the fashion that is springing up again for exhibiting the bigger dogs, they are receiving their share of consideration, and the home demand must have increased to a corresponding extent.
|Gelert of Raikeshill||Tarzan of Raikeshill|
We cannot expect that they will ever enjoy a wide popularity among the general public, for a variety of reasons. They can never be really cheap, nor have we a right to expect they should be, considering the heavy expense involved in rearing the puppies. And they can put away a substantial quantity of food, an adult requiring about 6lb. of meat and biscuits a day; but far more than the cost of those articles is spent by many on objects that afford less satisfaction.
In the British Dominions and other sparsely populated regions an Irish wolfhound is an ideal protection for the women when the men are away; or he can be used in sport or for killing wolves, jackals or coyotes. He is sensible enough to be trained as readily as any dog, and, notwithstanding his size, he has a useful turn of speed. He requires no pampering, being capable of roughing it; but if a puppy is to grow into a really big dog, he must receive generous feeding on a scale that is expensive unless a supply of cheap meat is available.
|Duke of Raikeshill|
For those who have the room, I can imagine that of a dog these fine proportions must be an enviable possession, and if one is well trained in habits of obedience, he will be every bit as tractable and gentle as any half his weight. I should say that, as a breed, they are not afflicted with nervousness. At any rate, those I have seen in the judging ring have been uniformly staid and composed amid surroundings that are frequently disturbing, nor have I met one that ever exhibited signs of bad temper. In common with most bigger breeds, they are not always sound, and a purchaser should have a critical eye for the legs and movement, crooked fronts, cow hocks or slack backs being very disfiguring. Be sure to get the structural features correct, because where these are wrong, a dog tires more easily and is not so pleasing.
A. CROXTON SMITH
August 29th, 2005