Irish Wolfhound History

The Dog Book

By James Watson, first published in parts in 1905

The Hound Family

Hounds form a very large section of the dog family, as the term embraces all dogs which follow game either by sight or by scent. Of the former section, the leading member of the present time is the greyhound, and has as its consorts the Irish wolfhound, the Scottish deerhound and the Russian wolfhound. To these may be added the later-made breed for racing and rabbit coursing, called the whippet or snap dog. Of the hounds that follow the quarry by scent we have the bloodhound, foxhound, harrier, beagle and basset; and up to a short time ago there was another variety of large foxhound called the staghound or buckhound, which was used in deer hunting, such as the Royal hunt after carted deer, or after wild deer in some of the still remaining sections of England where they were to be found. The Royal buckhounds were given up some years ago and the carted-deer hunts having fallen into disrepute as had the annual cockney Epping Hunt. Staghounds are not a breed of to-day nor, indeed, are harriers to the extent they were. The harrier is an intermediate dog between the foxhound and the beagle and has been interbred at each end, so that we have foxhound-harriers and beagle-harriers; and the old type of true harrier is confined to a very few English hunts and is not in any sense an American breed, though some small foxhounds in Canada are called harriers or "American foxhounds" as the owner pleases.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton Smith, whose researches into the origin of the dog and the individual breeds have never been properly recognised by modern writers, to whom his work seems to have been unknown, devoted much attention to the question of the early hounds. When he wrote regarding ancient dogs researches in Assyria had not progressed so far as they had in Egypt, and he was only aware of one representation of a long-eared dog, the others being erect-eared. He was therefore inclined to the opinion that the greyhound type was the older. Since his day, however, we have had the Layard researches and those of later times and the pendulous-eared dog was the prevailing one in Assyria, according to sculptures and tablets which have been discovered there. A large number of Egyptian hunting dogs were also drop-eared and any priority which may be claimed as between the greyhound or tracking hound will have to be based upon some other ground than description of ears.

In old Egyptian and Assyrian representations of dogs we have to take into consideration the conventional type, which differed very much. All Assyrian dogs are stout, strong, muscular dogs of what we should call mastiff type. The Egyptian artists, on the other hand depicted their dogs as leggy, light of build and running more to the greyhound type, "weeds" we would be likely to call them. We know that Assyrian dogs were taken to Egypt as gifts and also as tribute, yet these tribute dogs are painted on Egyptian conventional lines, while the same type of dogs by an Assyrian sculptor are made altogether different. We must therefore discard all of them as truly representative, except where we come across radical differences between Egyptian dogs or between dogs of Assyria.

It was Colonel Hamilton Smith's opinion that, although Greek and Roman authors gave tribal names to come sixteen or seventeen hunting dogs there were but two distinct races: one of greyhounds and one of dogs that hunted by scent. One of these tribal names was the Elymaean, which name was claimed by some to have come down through many generations in one form or another till it became the limer, the bloodhound led in leash or liam to track the quarry to its lair or harbour. There seems also to have been a dog of greyhound type that had a similar name, but with an added "m", its mission being to race at the game and pin it by the nose, whereas the bloodhound was not used further than to locate the game and was never off the lead. In the Assyrian sculptures we find hunting dogs on the lead and they are also represented in a similar manner in Egyptian paintings, both erect- and drop-eared, or, as we would characterise them, greyhounds and scenting hounds. There is nothing in which custom is more of an heirloom than in sporting practice and the leading of the greyhounds in slips, taking the brace of setters on lead, or coupling the hounds, might possibly have had its origin a long way farther back than the Assyrian dog on the leash which Layard considered was one of the oldest tablets he had found at Nineveh. It is only about two hundred years since foxhounds were hunted in couples, and all through the old prints and illustrations hounds are shown in couples when led afield, one man taking each couple.

There is no reason to question the statement that the hounds originated in the Far East and followed the western migration, or accompanied it along the Mediterranean to Spain and to Ireland, likewise across Europe, leaving the Russian wolfhound's ancestors a little farther west than they did those of the Persian greyhound; dropping the Molossian for Greeks to admire and taking more of the same breed as they spread over Europe, to give to Spain the alaunt and to Germany and Denmark the Great Dane. With them came also the tracking hound and the swift racing dog, developed by centuries of breeding for speed till it became what it is to-day: the perfection of lines with but one object in view.

In the very oldest Greek and Latin books, we find that fads of fancy then existed and certain colours were valued more than others, the highest esteemed being the fawn or red with black muzzle, the colour the late Robert Fulton always maintained was the true bulldog colour and known to us as the red smut, or the fallow smut, according to the shade.

Other colours referred to by Xenophon are white, blue, fawn, spotted or striped; and they ranked according to individual fancy, just as they did for many hundreds of years. It was not until about Markham's time that we find authors discrediting colour as a guide to excellence or defect.

How much original relationship existed between the smooth greyhound and the other racing dogs is something which has been taken for granted and not looked into very closely. The Persian and Russian are the same dog, undoubtedly. So also the Irish wolfhound and the Scottish deerhound, while the smooth greyhound differs from the others as they also differ between themselves. Because they are much alike in shape is not to our minds sufficient evidence upon which to say that they are the same dogs changed by climatic influences, as Buffon held. Buffon maintained that a dog taken to a cold country developed in one direction, while a similar dog sent to a warm climate produced something quite different. Size, conformation, and coat were all changed, according to that authority, and he gave the French matin credit for being the progenitor of a large number of breeds upon that supposition. Climate has influence beyond a doubt, but there are other things just as important, one of which is selection. As far back as men knew anything they must have known that the way to get fast dogs was to breed fast dogs together; and if in eight generations it is possible to complete breed out a bulldog cross on a greyhound, as we shall show later on was accomplished, what is to prevent men all over the world taking any kind of medium-sized dogs and breeding them into greyhounds in shape, and eventually approaching them in speed? We have an instance to hand in the Irish wolfhound, which was extinct, yet by crossing Danes and deerhunds a dog of the required type was produced in a very few years. Whippets are the production of aobut thirty years of breeding between terriers of various breeds, crossed with Italian greyhounds and small greyhounds - and what is more symmetrical than a whippet of class?

The very name of greyhound is to our mind proof that this dog was originally a much smaller and very ordinary dog. Efforts have been made to prove that the greyhound was the most highly valued of all the dogs, hence and in keeping therewith a high origin was necessary for the word grey. According to some it was a derivation from Grew or Greek hound; Jesse held that "originally it was most likely grehund and meant the noble, great, or prize hound." Caius held that the origin of the word was "Gradus in latine, in Englishe degree. Because amond all dogges these are the most principal, occupying the chieftest places and being absolutely the best of the gentle kinde of houndes." Mr. Baillie Grohman thinks the probable origin was grech or greg, the Celtic for dog, this having been the suggestion of Whitaker in his "History of Manchester". We can see but one solution of the name and that is from grey, a badger.

There was far more badger hunting than hare hunting when England was overrun with forests and uncultivated land, and a small dog for badgers would have earned his name as the badger hound or "grey" hound. Contemporaneous with this dog was the gazehound, which ran by sight, and, as terriers became a more pronounced breed and "grey" hounds found a more useful field of operations, the latter were improved in size and became classed with the gazehound as a sight hunter, eventually crowding out the older name of the coursing dog. That is our solution, and there is no wrenching a person's imagination with the supposition that Latin was the common language of Britain at the early period when this name was adopted.

We find a very similar substitution of name in the scenting hounds. The term harrier has for so long been associated with the sport of hare hunting that it is common belief that the dog got his name fromthe hare. A study of Caius would have caused some doubt as to that, for he only names the bloodhound and harrier as hounds of scent. The harrier was the universal hunting dog of his day, being used for the fox, hare, wolf, hart, buck, badger, otter, polecat, weasel, and rabbit. They were also used for the "lobster", a very old name for the stoat or martin; but this not being known to a French sporting author, he undertook to instruct his fellow countrymen how to catch rabbits by putting a crawfish into the burrows, having first netted all exits. The crawfish was supposed to crawl in till he got to the rabbits and then nip them till they made a bolt into one of the nets. If we did not have the French book with the instructions in we would feel inclined to doubt the truth of this story, to which, if we mistake not, we first saw reference in one of Colonel Thornton's books.

The meaning of harrier was originally to harry, to rouse the game, and had no reference to hares at all, it being more in regard to deer. In an Act of Parliament of one of the Georges this meaning is given to the name harrier, and was ridiculed in a sporting dictionary of about 1800. From the old spelling of the word, or the variety of methods of spelling it, there is ample evidence that the writers made no attempt to connect the dog with the hare. The Duke of York writes of "heirers", and other spellings are hayrers, hayreres, herettoir, heyrettars, herettor, hairetti. It will be noted that four of these spellings have "e" as the first vowel, while at that time the word hare was always spelt with an "a"; the spelling of harrier then began to change, and "a" replaced the "e" as the first vowel, and when harrier became thoroughly established the name eventually became more associated with the hounds specially kept for hare hunting until it was given to no other, and it finally became accepted that the harrier was a dog kept for hare hunting, and presumably always had been. That is something we can trace, but the probable transfer of the name of the badger dog to the hare courser is something that must have taken place years before writing was used to any extent in England.

The old name for running hounds in common use in Europe was brach in one of its many forms. Shakespeare uses the term several times, such as "I had rather hear Lady, my brach, howl in Irish." "Mastiff, greyhound, mongrel grim, hound or spaniel, brach or lym." Mr. Baillie Grohman gives the quotation from "Taming of the Shrew" as follows:- "Huntsman, I charge thee, tender well my hounds, brach Merriman - the poor cur is embossed," but it is now generally held that it should be "trash Merriman - the poor cur is embossed," otherwise, "take care of Merriman, the poor dog is tired out."

Nathaniel Cox, whose "Gentleman's Recreation" went through several editions from 1674 to 1721, gives "rache" as the latest rendering of the word. Cox is exceedingly unreliable as an authority, because he copied wholesale from old authors, with only a few alterations of his own. In the quotation referred to he says there were in England and Scotland but "two kinds of hunting dogs, and nowhere else in all the world." These are specified as the rache, with brache as feminine, and the sleuth hound. Here he differs from Caius who gives rache as the Scottish equivalent for the English brache.

Cox copied from some author the statement that the beagle was the gazehound, yet he describes the latter exactly as Caius did, stating that it ran entirely by sight and was "little beholden in hunting to its nose or smelling, but of sharpness of sight altogether, whereof it makes excellent sport with the fox and hare." That most assuredly does not fit the beagle yet a little further on he says, "After all these, the little beagle is attributed to our country; this is the hound which in Latin is called Canis Agaseus, or the Gaze-hound." This is not the agasseus which Oppian states was "crooked, slender, rugged and full-eyed" and the further description of which fits the Highland terrier much better than the beagle, as we have already set forth in the chapter on the Skye terrier.

Cox credits the greyhound as an introduction from Gaul, but if such was the case they must have been greatly improved in size, or the dogs of the continent must have greatly deteriorated. Quite a number of illustrations of continental greyhounds are available to show the size of the levrier of France and Western Europe, and they all show dogs of the same relative size as those so well drawn in the painting by Teniers of his own kitchen. A hundred years later we have Buffon giving us the height at the withers of the levrier as 15 inches, which is just whippet size.

We have said nothing as to the bloodhound, which is another of those breeds about which there has been a good deal of romance. Originally the bloodhound was the dog lead on leash or liam, variously spelled, to locate the game. An example of the method is shown in the illustration facing page 284, the head and neck of the deer which is being tracked showing very plainly in the thicket close by. The dog having tracked the game to the wood was then taken in a circle around the wood to find whether exist had been made on the other side. If no trace was found the game was then said to be harboured and to the point the huntsmen and hounds repaired later for the hunt. These limers were selected from the regular pack, not on account of any particular breeding, but for their ability to track the slot of the deer, boar, or wolf. This use as slot trackers resulted in the name of sleuth hounds being given them on the Scottish border. Naturally, in the case of wounded animals breaking away and trace of them being lost, these good-nosed dogs found further employment in tracking the quarry by the blood trail, and here we have the bloodhound name. It was ability, not breeding, that caused a dog to be drafted as a limer or bloodhound, and we cannot show this more conclusively, perhaps, than by jumping to the "Sporting Tour" of Colonel Thornton in France in 1802. In describing wild boar hunting he says: "A huntsman sets his bloodhound upon the scent and follows him till he has reared the game." He purchased one of these hounds, which had been bred at Trois Fontaines and illustrated it in his book and it proves to be a basset. Here we have the name applied, as it always had been, to the use the dog was put to and not to the specific breed of the dog. Colonel Thornton, in speaking more particularly of this special dog, said that the breed name was briquet.

The prevalent opinion is that the bloodhound is a descendant from what has been called the St. Hubert hound, and in support of this contention the favourite piece of evidence is Sir Walter Scott's lines:
"Two dogs of black St. Hubert's breed,
Unmatched for courage, breath, and speed."

The legend is that in the sixth century, St. Hubert brough black hounds from the South of France to the Ardennes, and it is supposed that these hounds came from the East. It was also said that some white hounds were brought from Constantinople, by pilgrims who had visited Palestine, and on their return they offered these dogs at the shrine of St. Roch, the protecting saint from hydrophobia. These dogs were also called St. Hubert hounds and it is stated that the white dogs were the larger and more prized of the two. The Abbots of St. Hubert gave six hounds annually to the king and it was from these hounds that the best limers were said to be obtained.

If we are to accept later-day poetical descriptions as conclusive evidence, then the St. Hubert hounds were magnificent animals with all the characteristics of the modern show bloodhound, and with a deep, resounding voice. Records are not made in that fanciful way and what evidence we have is to the effect that the St. Hubert was a heavy, low, short-legged dog, running almost mute and particularly slow in movements. In fact, we are very much of the opinion that the basset is the descendant of the St. Hubert breed. As evidence in that direction, we present an extract from that exceedingly scarce work, the "Sportsman's Annual" for 1839. Who the editor was we have not been able to ascertain, but it contains a dozen beautifully executed and coloured dogs' heads drawn specially for this number, seemingly the first of what was to be an annual but which was only issued the one year. We reproduce a number of the heads of the hounds, by Landseer, Hancock, and Cooper; that of the harrier by the latter being, in our opinion, the most beautifully executed head of any dog we have ever seen.

Deerhound by Sir Edwin Landseer   Foxhound by Charles Hancock
By Sir Edwin Landseer 
By Charles Hancock
 Greyhound by A. Cooper  Harrier by A. Cooper
By A. Cooper 
By A. Cooper
 Bloodhound by Charles Hancock  Beagle by A. Cooper
By Charles Hancock 
By A. Cooper
From the "Sportsman's Annual", 1836

In the letterpress regarding the bloodhound we find the following extract credited to "a small quarto volume of fifteen pages, printed in 1611, and very scarce":

"The hounds which we call St. Hubert's hounds are commonly all blacke, yet neuertheless, their race is so mingled in these days that we find them of all colours. These are the hounds which the Abbots of St. Hubert have always kept, or some of their race or kind, in honour or remembrance of the saint, which was a hunter with St. Eustace. Whereupon we may conceiue that (by the Grace of God) all good huntsmen shall follow them into paradise. To returne unto my former purpose, this kind of dogges hath been dispersed through the countries of Henault, Lorayne, Flaunders, and Burgoyne. They are mighty of body, neuertheless their legges are low and short, likewise they are not swift, although they be very good of scent, hunting chaces which are farre stranggled, fearing neither water nor cold and doe more couet the chaces that smell, as foxes, bore, and like, than other, because they find themselues neither of swiftnes nor courage to hunt and kill the chaces that are lighter and swifter. The bloudhounds of this colour proue good, especially those that are cole-blacke, but I make no great account to breede on them or to keepe the kind, and yet I found a booke which a hunter did dedicate to a Prince of Lorayne, which seemed to loue hunting much, wherein was a blason which the same hunter gaue to his bloudhound, called Soullard, which was white, whereupon we may presume that some of the kind proue white sometimes, but they are not of the kind of the Greffiers, or Bouxes, which we haue at these days." The hound Soullyard was a white hound and was a son of a distinguished dog of the same name:
"My name came first from holy Hubert's race,
Soullyard, my sire, a hound of singular grace."

The name of the author of the fifteen-page book is, unfortunately, not mentioned, but he was in error regarding the colour of the St. Huberts in the Royal kennels and that of the Greffiers, as he spells the name.

Another importation of hounds was made by St. Louis toward the middle of the thirteenth century, which are described as taller than the usual run of French hounds, and were faster and bolder than the St. Huberts. These were described as gris de lievre, which may interpreted as a red roan. These hounds seem to have been extensively used as a cross on the low French hounds, but no importation seems to have had so much effect as that of the bracco, or bitch, brought from Italy by some scrivener or clerk in the employ of Louis XII. This Italian bitch was crossed with the white St. Huberts and her descendants were known as chiens griffiers. So much improvement did these dogs show that special kennels were built for them at St. Germains and they became the popular breed.

Specimens of all of these hounds undoubtedly went to England and we may also assume that English pilgrims and crusaders brough back dogs from the East as they did to France, the progeny of which were drafted as they showed adaptability or were most suited for the various branches of sport, but it is more than doubtful whether any hunting establishments in England approached the greater ones of France. The Duke of Burgundy had in his emply no less than 430 men to care for the dogs and attend to the hunts, hawking and fisheries. There was one grand huntsman, 24 attendant huntsmen, a clerk to the chief, 24 valets, 120 liverymen, 6 pages of the hounds, 6 pages of the greyhounds, 12 under pages, 6 superintendents of the kennels, 6 valets of limers, 6 of greyhounds, 12 of running hounds, 6 of spaniels, 6 of small dogs, 6 of English dogs (probably bulldogs), 6 of Artois dogs, 12 bakers of dogs' bread; 5 wolf hunters, 25 falconers, 1 net-setter for birds, 3 masters of hunting science, 120 liverymen to carry hawks, 12 valets fishermen and 6 trimmers of birds' feathers.

It will be seen, however, that only three varieties of hounds are named, and these were the lines of distinction set by Buffon, who named them levrier, chien courant and basset as the successors of what are named in the foregoing list as greyhounds, running hounds and limers. It is therefore to England we owe the perfection of the greyhound, the preservation of the deerhound, and the improvement and subdivision of the running hounds into foxhounds, harriers and beagles, together with the establishment of type in each variety.

The Irish Wolfhound

The resuscitated wolfhound of Ireland has been made a stouter edition of the Scottish deerhound, but there is no absolute proof that that was the sole type of dog that went by the name of wolfdog or was used for wolf-hunting in Ireland. That there was a smooth dog in Ireland is beyond a question, indeed the burden of proof may almost be said to be upon the supporters of the rough dog, because all the pictures and most of the information on the breed from 1750 to 1830 runs in favour of a dog of Great Dane type. To claim positively that the rough is the only original is more than the facts warrant, and the doubts which must occur to all who have gone into the subject with an unbiased mind have left us with anything but a decided opinion upon the subject. We seem to have got about as far as to have a theory, and we do not know but that is a better position than the man who starts in to prove what he wants to prove and sifts his information to secure only facts in accordance with his wishes. Those who hold to the rough dog as having been the only wolfhound in Ireland have to ignore the fact that Bewick in 1790, Reinagle in 1800 and Captain Brown in 1839 all depicted the Irish wolfhound as not a rough dog. Reinagle gave his dog a little indication of not being entirely smooth, but the other two illustrations are perfectly smooth dogs. Buffon also said that the large one he saw was like a Great Dane. Colonel Hamilton Smith, writing before 1840, said that there seemed to be various types of these wolfhounds, rough dogs and smooth dogs, besides other differences. We also have the reference to Irish greyhounds in the "Pennilesse Pilgrimage" quoted in the deerhound chapter. (click here to view this chapter)

Captain Graham, who has for years been an enthusiast on the subject of the Irish wolfhound, collected a great deal of information regarding the wolfhound, and if it were not for the illustrations mentioned his many references would be well-nigh conclusive that it was a rough dog of greyhound variety, but in none of the books he quotes from that we have had access to is there any mention of the Dane or, what was the same thing, the alaunt, yet there must surely have been some of these in existence.

No-one seems to have seen the references to the wolfhound in Nicholas Cox's "Gentleman's Recreation". What he says was probably original with him and referred to conditions about 1675. His first mention of the wolfhound is in the description of the greyhound: "the best greyhound hath a long body, strong and reasonably great, not so big as the wolfdog in Ireland." A little further on in his chapter on foreign methods of hunting he says:
"Although we have no wolves in England at this present, yet it is certain that heretofore we had routs of them, as they have to this very day in Ireland; and in that country are bred a race of greyhounds which are commonly called wolfdogs, which are strong, fleet and bear a natural enmity to the wolf. Now in these greyhounds of that nation there is an incredible force and boldness, so that they are in great estimation, and much sought after in foreign parts, so that the King of Poland makes use of them in his hunting of great beasts by force."

Accepting the situation which seems to point to wolfdogs in Ireland being in part rough dogs of greyhound formation and that there were also smooth dogs there, we have a similar condition to what was the case in the south of France at the time of Gaston Phoebus, with his alauntes and mastins. Then we have these mastins illustrated in the paintings of Snyders and others as rough dogs of greyhound formation, dogs which bear a striking resemblance to the dog we show in the portrait of the Earl and Countess of Arundel. This is not a dog put in to fill up the canvas but must have been a favourite dog, as the painting is in every way a portrait. Whether it is possible to get the history of this dog we cannot say, but we have not been able to find out anything regarding it. All we know is that Rubens was in England in 1630, and presumably this was painted then. The size of the dog is much greater than the greyhounds of that period and we infer that it is an Irish wolfdog. If it is accepted as such by the reader, let him turn to the chapter on the Great Dane and compare this dog with the mastins in Snyders' wild boar hunt. None of these mastins are portrait dogs, but represent the type of the wolfdogs kept for their courage, while the Arundel dog was a pet, well fed and well groomed. Yet the similarity between them is too marked to be overlooked or captiously discarded.

We know very well that the wolfhound did not originate in Ireland and our opinion is that some of the parent stock of the mastins and the alauntes went also to Ireland and were kept there for the same uses that they were in Southern France. If this is a tenable conclusion then we can account for both smooth dogs of Dane type and rough dogs of greyhound conformation being kept and bred in Ireland according to the fancy of various owners, with the possibilities of their being inter bred and adding still further to the varieties of dogs which went by the uniform name of wolfdogs or wolfhounds.

In this breed also we meet with the exaggerations of height common to all large dogs, spoken of comparatively. Goldsmith said that they were the largest of the dog kind to be seen in the world. "The largest of those I have seen - and I have seen about a dozen - was about four feet high and as tall as a calf of a year old. He was made extremely like a greyhound, but more robust and inclining to the figure of the French matin (Buffon's) or the Great Dane." This certainly suggests a smooth coated dog. Richardson wrote very fully regarding the wolfhound and also credited the dog with excessive height. One of his arguments was that from the fact that some skulls found at Dunshauglin were 11 inches long, he took it that 3 inches could be added as the length of the head in life, but that is far too much allowance, and Captain Graham in referring to this said that 1½ or 2 inches at the most was all that should be allowed. Richardson then assumed that with a deerhound of 11 inches head standing 29 inches, a dog of 14 inches head would be 40 inches in height, and that is how he figured wolfhounds as giants. Captain Graham's formula was that the head should be accepted as 13 inches at the outside, and that a deerhound of 29 inches should have an 11 inch head, and one of 13 inches in head could not therefore exceed 34 inches, a reduction of 6 inches from Richardson's figures.

The calculations of Captain Graham would not be far out if all dogs preserved the same uniformity of measurements, but length of head is not a safe basis to take for height at shoulder. Dalziel gives the measurements of nine deerhounds, two of which were 12½ inches in head and both were exactly 31 inches at the shoulder. Of two dogs which had 11½ inch heads one measured 28 inches at the shoulder and the other 30¼. The whole business looks very much like a house of cards and when we come to actual tape measurements of dogs we find that while the various breeds all maintain their relative proportions the giants have dwindled to very ordinary specimens. We have already quoted Mr. Lambert's measurements of the Marquis of Sligo's dogs, one of which had a 10-inch head and from point of toe to top of shoulder was 28½ inches, equal to not over 27 inches standard measure.

 The Earl and Countess of Arundel
 The Earl and Countess of Arundel, by Rubens (1629)

It need occasion no surprise that these gross exaggerations have been accepted to such a large extent; for even at the present day owners whose misinformation is not only easily detected, but is also very well known, add a number of inches to the actual height of such dogs as Great Danes. Mr. Lee in his "Modern Dogs" states that when he and Captain Graham measured the Great Danes at Ranelagh show in 1885 "it was extraordinary how the thirty-five and thirty-six inch animals dwindled down, some of them nearly half a foot at a time." If that was the case such a short time ago, when owners knew that the dogs might be taped at any time, we cannot wonder at Goldsmith judging height by the size of a calf and saying the dog stood four feet high, or that Buffon said a wolfhound he saw seemed to him to be five feet high when seated. The latter was of course height to the top of the head and Goldsmith might have meant the same - in fact the great probability is that he did mean that. Estimating by the size of a calf is on a par with the elastic measurements such as "large as a potato", "large as a baby's head", and conveys no accurate meaning. So also when we read in books of 1600 to 1700 that the wolfdogs, as they were called then were larger than mastiffs and larger than greyhounds, we must not think of the largest greyhound or heaviest mastiff we have ever seen and at once conclude that these old writers had similar dogs in mind when they made the comparison. Mastiffs in their days were very ordinary sized dogs and so, we imagine, were greyhounds, though there was doubtless more latitude in their size than is now the case with the coursing dogs which even yet sometimes vary in a marked degree, such as that great bitch Coomassie, 44 lbs., and Fullerton, 60 lbs.

Perhaps we have given too much space to old lore, considering that we have little or no connection with the past in the wolfhounds now being shown. About twenty years ago the extinction of this old breed was very well acknowledged and the few enthusiasts who were endeavouring to build it up were then discussing the question as to how to manufacture a breed which would be an exaggeration of the Scottish deerhound is size, bone and substance. The consensus of opinion was that the Great Dane and deerhound promised to be the most advantageous cross. Captain Graham had at least one dog which had some claims to Irish ancestry and he was also used and so was the borzoi, or Russian wolfhound. In fact anything which promised to assist in producing a dog of the desired type was impressed into service. Mr. Lee mentions a dog shown in 1895, named Goth II, which stood 34 inches and weighed 134 pounds, that impressed him very much and on inquiry he found that Goth II was a combination of Russian wolfhound, through his sire the well-known Korotai, bred on a bitch of Irish and Scottish hounds strain, with a dash of what was given as Siberian wolf or sheep dog coming through one of his maternal grandsires. While all of them were no such an olla podrida of blood lines as that winning Irish dog, yet the connection with the past was so slight and so many more were produced without a drop of Irish blood in their veins that it is quite a stretch of the imagination to give them the name they have.

Still there is much credit due to the gentlemen who have attempted to reproduce what they held was the correct type of the best lines. They did not breed some dogs and then fit them with a standard, but drew up a description of what they considered must have been a typical dog of the old breed and then set to work to produce that ideal. That they have succeeded to a marked extent is beyond contradiction and with the facile material at their command and their good judgement in using it to the best advantage, the Irish wolfhound as shown to-day in England and Ireland is as typical of what one would imagine the dog that was lost must have been as is possible to conceive. It combines size, strength, speed and a quiet dignity of carriage which all go to make up a dog of quite impressive appearance. After one has read so much about this wonderful dog as described by fanciful writers there may be some disappointment that even the show specimens do not look so very large, nor are they so large as the Great Danes and St. Bernards, but one must dismiss the old visionary tales and prepare himself to see a substantially built deerhound and he will not then be disappointed; for he may see a larger dog than he really anticipated if the specimen is a good one, for they do run up to 33 inches and some times a little over that.

The breed has never attained to the popularity that it should have among Irishmen, indeed were it not for a Scotchman, Captain Graham, and some half dozen Englishmen the breed would never have become what it is to-day. The larger English shows offer classes for Irish wolfhounds, but the entries are never large and in this country there has never been a class provided for them. Indeed we know of but one in the country and that is a bitch owned by Mr. Ballantyne at Empire, Colorado.

Bewick's Irish greyhound 
 The Irish Greyhound By Bewick, 1790
 Jesse's Irish Wolf Hound
 Irish Wolf Hound from Jesse's "Anecdotes", 1845
 Reinagle's Irish Greyhound
 Irish Greyhound by Reinagle in "Sportsman's Cabinet", 1803
Brown's Irish Greyhound 
 The Irish Greyhound from Brown's "Anecdotes", 1829

The Irish Wolfhound Club Standard is the only one that has ever been published and it 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 towards 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 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 greyhound-like 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 let under, neither turned inwards nor outwards.

Leg - Fore-arm 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 under jaws.

Colour and Markings - The recognised colours are grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn or any colour that appears in the deerhound.

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 level back; bent forelegs; overbent fetlocks; twisted tail; weak hindquarters; cow-hocks; a general want of muscle or too short a body.

The Wolfhound Club adopted no scale of points and as this is a speed dog those of the greyhound or deerhound will give a guide as to what properties are the more important.

 Champion Leinster
 Champion Leinster
Considered one of the best Irish wolfhounds of the present day.
Owned by Mr. R.T. Martin, Artane, Co. Dublin, Ireland

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June 15th, 2005