The Killybracken Get-Together

The following material was compiled from tape-recorded opinions as expressed by Mrs. Nagle at the Killybracken Get-Together in 1971. It is not a verbatim transcript; rather the comments have been regrouped into general categories. Obviously, only a portion of the discussions could be transcribed.

An interested group of participants at the Killybracken Get-together.
Mrs. Nagle seated facing the group on the right of the picture.


I try to breed a dog that can still do the job that he was meant to do. I only breed once or twice a year....Quality, not quantity. I've only bred in all my life from about eight or nine or ten bitches. I never breed more than three times to a bitch. I only have about fourteen dogs; I never have more. And I keep my old ones. But you mustn't be sentimental about it. The thing is to look at your puppies and see if you've got one that's special. Keep that one and then let the others go at fourteen weeks of age or so.

The most important features to look for when selecting an Irish wolfhound puppy are good spring of ribs, well-laid shoulder, broad hindquarters, width across the stifle and angulation in the hocks; one that moves one-two-three-four at three or four weeks of age or younger. I look mostly at the hind end. I'm perfectly happy to select a puppy after everyone else because they always look at the head and the other end.

I've had to start over three times - we couldn't feed dogs during the wars - and I've always started from the back end. The rear end is more important than the front end, of course - it is the engine. A dog can propel himself with good hindquarters and a bad front but he can't drag himself along with bad hind legs. And you must have muscle, because, if you don't have muscle, you don't get the right shape.

I don't breed my bitches frequently. You've got to let them recover and then your brood bitch will still be a great show dog at the age of seven or eight.

I don't breed from very big bitches. As a rule they're not as good as the smaller bitches. And don't go potty on size. In America they want everything to be a bit bigger than somewhere else. The one cup I've never won, and I don't think I ever will, is the Height Cup - and it's done more harm to our breed, both in dogs and bitches, than anything else.

When you don't read the Standard closely enough - I know it says big, commanding, and all that - but it is to attain 34 inches. If you have a good 36 inch or 37 inch it will win, but often they're very poor. People won't read the Standard. You've got to be broad in front, not narrow, and broad in the back, and various things - but people just don't read it. Judges don't read it, either.

Good Wolfhounds today are probably very much the same as they were before World War II. We didn't have the commercial breeding then that we have now. Irish Wolfhounds are not a commercial breed. A lot of very bad dogs have been sold at high prices. That's why you should go and see them before you buy, or write to someone reliable.

At what age do I look for temperament? I don't look for it - it comes. You must breed for temperament. And don't let anyone tell you that it's because they're inbred that their temperament is bad. If you inbreed to good temperament, you'll have even better temperament, but if you breed to bad temperament, you'll have a dog that you can do absolutely nothing with. Temperament is an essential thing and it must be bred for.

My dogs are very, very closely bred all through. I don't actually breed brother and sister because I don't care for it, but you take the pedigree of a bitch like Maria, who produced the Best-in-Show winner at Crufts. I sent her to three different dogs, also thoroughly line-bred, and she produced champions in each litter. They weren't big litters. Each dog was line bred to her as well. I always find that, if I go out, I've got to be very careful. Everytime you outcross, you lose a little quality. Then you've got to come in again.

I only breed to so few bitches because I take only what I consider the very, very best and then line breed them all (inbreed, if you like) very closely. But, you see, I have one advantage over you all; I am very old and I know the animals all back. Apart from their pedigrees, I know their faces and conformation, and I've always line-bred heavily. I also bred Irish Setters and there you're breeding for "guts" and "brains". That's a much more difficult thing to breed for - courage, in other words, and brains - and I did exactly the same thing and had great success.

People should not in-breed if they don't know everything way back. It's not a job for anybody that doesn't know what he's doing, because you can stamp in as much as you can stamp out.

I believe in only breeding from the very best bitches. You want your bitch right all the way back; I think you get a lot of your conformation from her. I think she's 80 per cent of your puppies. A great stud dog can uplift, but you don't get a great stud dog very often. But you can see that your bitches are all right. It's not right to say "Oh that bitch; she's not very good, but she'll do to breed from."

If you are a good breeder - a breeder who really means something to the breed - you don't breed a whole lot of duds. I've told this story so often before: Somebody said of me, "Poor Mrs. Nagle, how dull it is for her - all her puppies are exactly the same. She must be so bored with them." Well, that's what I've spent fifty years trying to get.

It is a fallacy to think that, if you have an excellent dog's brother, you can use him at stud and get the same result as with the better dog because the pedigrees are the same. You don't know. You can have eight puppies and they can inherit different genes and be quite different. You can get a famous racehorse from a particular breeding, then breed the same way again and get a thing that's half a furlong behind all the rest. It depends on what genes they inherit.

A lot of Irish Wolfhounds being bred today are from very bad parents. That's what I think is half your trouble - you don't know the background of many of these hounds. You can't breed good stock from parents and grandparents and greatgrandparents that have had various faults. Some of the stock that is being bred today is from animals that shouldn't have been bred from at all. When you have mass breeding, that is what occurs. That is why the old breeders are so very careful as to what they breed from. Don't breed from animals that have all sorts of queer faults behind them. They are bound to come out.

The population explosion is a disastrous thing for the breed. There are lot of very poor puppies being sent to America and others are being prduced there. Some of them no doubt make good pets. But you don't want to breed from the pet quality. (Incidentally, it is not true that a bitch will get all sorts of ailments if she's not bred from). The best breeders are the ones who only breed from the very best and it pays in good quality.

Believe you me, the one thing you are not going to make is any money out of breeding good Irish Wolfhounds. In fact, they're a rather expensive luxury. You can't mass produce good dogs. You're luck if you get a very good one once or twice in your lifetime, even if you're being very careful. If you try to produce more puppies than you can feed well, more puppies than you can exercise well, they will get faults - not faults that they inherited, necessarily, but faults from lack of attention. Even if they started good, they'd end up bad. You can't have quantity and quality. You must beware of the people who are churning out lots and lots, breeding from the bitch every time, etc. They can't produce good puppies. It's very serious, because there are far too many Irish Wolfhounds being bred at the moment.

The breed has a wonderful temperament. They are one of the most marvellous breeds for temperament when they're raised properly. But when they're bred en masse and get into bad hands, they are then going to get reputations that they don't deserve at all. Should you have a dog with a bad temperament, you've no business selling it to someone else. Put it down.

We're not all good breeders. We can't be. It's a gift. It's not a science - it's a gift or an art. Some people have the gift to blend bloodlines together and know what they want and get it.

 Another scene at the Killybracken Get-together,
with Mrs. Nagle standing on the right of the picture

Conformation, Handling, and Judging

When puppies are about eight weeks old I train them to walk on a leash, because it's so easy at that age.

Only show a puppy once or twice before he is twelve months old. If you overshow and overtrain you get a bored dog. Never overshow a puppy; it can ruin it quicker than anything I know. Have you ever looked at your puppy the day after a show? You will find he is absolutely flat out and you've got to let him recover. There is a certain amount of stress to a puppy going to a show. We had a five-month-old puppy in the ring recently. He'd never been in the ring before but he was enjoying himself. He hasn't been trained to do anything like that but he's got a nice temperament and he thinks it's fun to be with his owner. It is important to let your puppy enjoy himself.

I never put choke chains on my dogs - never! I do not care for obedience training - too much can destroy presence.

If you have a first class dog, and if you want presence - do you know what presence is in a Wolfhound? Presence is the dog that comes into the ring, holds his own head up, looks round and says "Oh I'm the boy" and then moves off with his head at the right angle, not strung up with an ewe neck. When you string your dog up like that, have you any idea what you are doing to it? You turn its neck up backwards; it's got a curve the wrong way, you give it a dip in its back and it looks like a horrible animal. Instead, take your dog into the ring, let it stand on its own, and run on its own, and then you've got that valuable quality called PRESENCE which will always carry you. If you have conformation as well, it will take you right to the top.

The winning your dog does can only be evaluated in relation to the quality of the dogs you beat. It's much harder to make a champion in England than in America because your dog has to beat the old dogs (champions).

Over in the States they pay more attention to the setting up and glamour than we do, but I've been pleased to see that some of the best American judges who have come to England have not been deceived by just glamour and coat and spray and powder, and all the other abominations that some dogs are absolutely cluttered up with, and have let one show one's dog as one wanted to. Wolfhounds don't need much grooming but you don't want them to be fuzzy around the gars and neck.

Every dog has probably three faults. But some faults are much more important than others. A bad shoulder, a bad conformation, is a shocking fault. The dog is going to pass that on to its puppies. An ear held a bit wrong, or a tooth out, is not a shocking fault. To penalise such things too much only encourages people who fake. We all know perfectly well that, in some breeds, if the teeth are slightly wrong, they're jolly well put right at an early age and you don't know what you're breeding from. If your dog remains with its fault, a tooth out, or whatever it is, at least you'll know what you're breeding from. It's the same with a tail that's slightly wrong. That can be faked as easily. But nobody can fake the outline, the conformation. Those are the things that matter.

When you become pernickety about details, you throw the baby out with the bath water. Other things that are more important are going down the drain when too much emphasis is placed on minor things. The jawbone is more important than one or two crooked teeth. Coat isn't the most important thing, either.

Allow me to tell you that an Irish Wolfhound should have a double coat; an undercoat and a topcoat, and he can stand a great deal of cold and wet, but doesn't like heat.

You like a nice long tail, and you want the dog to carry it down. You don't want it held in a tight ring. You get that with a square flat topline.

I can't bear straight shoulders, which means straight stifles and a straight hock. These are conformation faults. Nor can I bear dogs that have to be held up. A good dog, well made, rarely stands badly. Just let it stand and it will place itself beautifully. A good dog doesn't have to be propped up.

Ewe necks (from handling on a tight lead) - absolutely ghastly. Will you people please go back to handling on a loose leash?

The walk is an important thing - you see, a Wolfhound is a walker and a galloper - he's not a trotter. In England, we always make the dog walk as well as trot (in the show ring). If he can walk well slowly, it means his hocks are all beautifully as they should be. The old dog, Caragahoolie, walked most beautifully with his hocks, and did you notice how low his hocks were? He walked absolutely marvellously.

No hackney action, please. When you're running, you don't waste your time doing a high step, do you?

There are not enough breeder-judges in America. It would be best if about half the judges were breeder-judges.

Some judges have no idea of balance. Although they may know the Standard by heart, they have no idea of conformation and are obsessed by details. If they were the only judges, in a short time you'd have a very peculiar breed. You've got to have a general eye; an artist's eye. Every time you judge there are people around the ring who probably know the dogs better than you do, and, if you're a bad judge, it'll soon come out.

Do you realise the qualities that a judge needs? Apart from having a really good eye, his integrity has got to be impeccable. We aren't going to get this everywhere. He's got to be able to resist the hidden pressures, and these pressures are not crooked ones at all. You've got your friends; you've got the pressure not to be frightfully hard on them, which you're inclined to be, or the pressure to be too good to them. Until a person has judged, he has no idea of these things. Very often you're nervous and will make mistakes, but judging is like a tape-recorder - everything eventually comes out. We can't expect to get hundreds of top-class judges.


To exercise puppies, I take them out to a nearby field and let them run around and do what they like. When they're older and off the bitch, I take them two at a time to a very big field (a twenty acre field) and they gallop around for twenty minutes. That's all they have, but they gallop. At about four months they begin to be interested in things and they gallop right round the field. As they get older you see their gallop improving.

You've got to use your common sense. Some puppies are big, heavy puppies. You must never tire them. Exercise must be free. You must never drag them behind an estate wagon or bicycle. Don't be lazy; get out and walk yourself. There's nothing worse than exercising a Wolfhound behind a car or bicycle at any age. Slow walking develops muscle, but there's nothing that develops muscle like a gallop.

You also want muscle on the shoulder. Don't get the silly idea that, if you put muscle on the shoulder, that's a loaded shoulder. You can tell - you've only got to look at a dog or a photo and, if you see a shoulder that is straight up (what some people love), that is wrong, because then the dog can't stretch out. You never want a hackney action in a galloping dog. The crowd loves it. They think that when they see a thing prance along, that's lovely. It isn't; it's all wrong.

I exercise the adult dogs about ten to twenty minutes a day. They go and gallop like blazes. I have deer, hare and various things that sometimes go through the field and the dogs generally gallop right around it once or twice, and they go flat out. I have a picture of my biggest winning dog galloping and you can see how the hind legs come right in front of the front legs.

It's so important to muscle up your hounds when they're young, because, if you don't muscle them up then, you'll never have them as well muscled if you try to do it later. That doesn't mean that they have to gallop, gallop, gallop - but take them out and let them go with another, and gallop around once or twice. That's quite enough. Then you develop the hindquarters and the second thigh.

Do you know what the second thigh is? It's here (area between knee and hock; corresponds to the calf of the leg in humans) - you want a powerful bit there. That's why you want a good angle and a low hock. If you muscle that up, you won't have cow-hocked dogs. You get cow-hocks because there hasn't been any muscle to keep the hocks straight when they're growing up. You ought to be able to see the second thigh when the dog is walking or standing in front of you. You want a bulge there. If any of you saw me judging yesterday, you probably noticed that I ran my hand down the hindquarters. When they have no muscle, you can poke your finger right in and it's all wobbly. When the muscle is hard, you can't poke your finger in. If you don't get that when they're young, you're never going to get it as satisfactorily later on. Don't expect the judges always to appreciate your muscles. They may do to you what one did to me and say "What are those nasty bunches on your dog's legs?" And I said, "Muscle". A lot of judges have never seen muscle.

I'm not a veterinarian and I don't know much about it, but I'm quite certain that one of the troubles with dysplasia is that the puppy is too heavy at an early age when his bones are green. The muscle does not get enough exercise and does not develop enough to keep the hip bone in the socket. Now don't take anything I say as gospel. It's simply what I think. I personally haven't had hip dysplasia. But it seems to me that a lot of dogs that have it are kept soft and fat and they don't do any work.


There is one thing I want to say about feeding. I've judged in this country (America) three times at ten year intervals and every time I've told the exhibitors: you are too good to your dogs. You feed them too well. They are too fat. We've got that problem in England, too, but you're so kind in America. They're too fat, and a fat dog is not a fit dog.

You ought to turn that fat into muscle and you'll be surprised how much better your dog will look. I think the novice is more inclined to overfeed than anybody else, and I think it is due to the goodness of your food. It is laced with additives and has so much nourishment. You may be a bit short on exercise but you certainly are not short on feeding. Wolfhounds don't need the food that a Mastiff or Great Dane can comfortably put away. They don't want to be fat. You see, I'm trying to tell you that most of your dogs are too fat.

If they don't eat, then starve them for a day or two until they go back on their feed. You may be overdoing it. You don't want to give more, you want to give less. Never stuff a Wolfhound puppy. Do you realise that, at one stage of their life, they gain half-a-pound a day and an inch or more every four days? The bones are all green then and you don't want to fill them up with a lot of heavy food.

All wolfhounds do not mature at the same rate. You can't put condition on an 18- or 20-month hound if he's a slow finisher.

My adult dogs get one meal a day. Puppies get four meals to start with and then they go on to three and then two meals until they're about fourteen months. My stud dogs are not fed differently from the other dogs.

Natural foods are good, such as milk, butter, and cottage cheese. Dogs all need a certain amount of fat in their diet. You don't want completely lean meat. They get leftover fat and table scraps from the kitchen.

On the question of milk, I think it is the most important item in the diet. I give the dogs Jersey milk straight from the cow. I don't use any additives. I don't feed any calcium. I'm not recommending anything I do; I'm just telling you. I use milk because it is the most digestible form of calcium. I sometimes use fish, boiled up hard so that you can put it through a mincer (bones and all) because that's calcium. I don't know anything about quantities. Everything I have left over goes into the dogs' pan. They have ordinary hound meal, they have milk, and they have a small quantity of the best meat I can get - nothing like two, three or four pounds. I don't go in for quantities. I give what I think the pup or dog needs, some more, some less. You must use common sense in feeding. I just feed according to the animal. I feed the puppies myself. I want the puppy or dog to clean up his meal and be slightly hungry.

I don't know if you are aware that you can have protein poisoning, which is quite a deadly affair? You get it in cattle, horses and dogs. It has various dire effects. Sometimes the animals go very thin and sometimes their bones go wrong. I saw an Irish Wolfhound with it. It was said to have been fed seven pounds of meat a day. I said I didn't believe it. I did not think any dog would eat it, but it had had nothing else. It had gone entirely to pieces; it had gone very tall, bones were all over the place. It was wrong in front, it was wrong behind, and it had been a very good puppy when they got it.

top of page   kennel page  history page index  site guide  previous page Next Page 

Updated 3/12/2006