Breed Standard of Excellence

1.   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 firmly to establish a race that shall average from 32 to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry.
 2.  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.
 3.  Neck: Rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap or loose skin about the throat.
 4.  Chest: Very deep, breast, wide.
 5.  Back: Rather long than short. Loins arched.
 6.  Tail: Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair.
 7.  Belly: Well drawn up; the male with apparently two normal testicles descended into the scrotum.
 8.  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.
 9.  Hindquarters: Muscular thighs and second thigh long and strong as in the Greyhound, and hocks well let down and turning neither in nor out.
 10.  Feet: Moderately large and round, neither turned inwards nor outwards. Toes, well arched and close. Nails, very strong and curved.
 11.  Hair: Rough and hard on body, legs and head; especially wiry and long over eyes and under jaw.
 12.  Colour and Markings: The recognised colours are grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, or any colour that appears in the Deerhound.
 13.  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 tail; weak hind-quarters and a general want of muscle; too short a body; pink or liver-coloured eyelids; lips and nose any colour than black; very light eyes.

The above is, more or less, the original Standard of Excellence formulated by the Irish Wolfhound Club, with the addition of a few small points - such as the light eyes as a fault - at later dates. The Irish Wolfhound Club has since deleted mention of the Great Dane.

List of Points in Order of Merit

1.   Typical. 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.
 2.  Great size and commanding appearance.
 3.  Movements easy and active
 4.  Head long and level, carried high.
 5. Forelegs heavily boned, quite straight; elbows well set under. 
6.   Thighs long and muscular; second thighs, well muscled, stifles nicely bent.
 7.  Coat, rough and hard, specially wiry and long over eyes and under jaw.
 8.  Body long, well ribbed up, with ribs well sprung, and great breadth across the hips
 9.  Loin arched, belly well drawn up.
 10.  Ears small, with Greyhound-like carriage
 11.  Feet moderately large and round; toes close, well arched.
 12.  Neck long, well arched and very strong
13.   Chest very deep, moderately broad
 14.  Shoulders muscular, set sloping
 15.  Tail long and slightly curved
 16.  Eyes dark
Note:   The above in no way alters the "Standard of Excellence", which must in all cases be rigidly adhered to; they simply give the various points in order of merit. If in any case they appear at variance with the Standard of Excellence, it is the latter which is correct


Capt. Graham said of the wolfhound's appearance:

Form: That of a very tall, heavy, Scotch Deerhound, much more massive, and very majestic-looking; active and fast, perhaps somewhat less so than the present breed of Deerhound; neck thick in comparison to his form and very muscular; body and frame lengthy.

Head: Long, but not narrow, coming to a comparative point towards the nose; nose rather large, and head gradually getting broader from the same, evenly up to the back of the skull - not sharp up to the eyes, and then suddenly broad and lumpy, as is often the case with dogs bred between Greyhound and Mastiff.

Coat: There can be little doubt that from the very nature of the work the dog was called upon to do this would be of a rough, and probably somewhat shaggy nature, and to this end points the evidence gained from Arrian - second century - who leaves no doubt in our mind that the great Greyhound of his day was rough in coat; also from the ancient Irish harp, now preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, which is ornamented with a figure of the Irish Wolfhound, rough-coated.........So it is with justice concluded that the coat was thoroughlyrough; hard and long all over body, head, legs, and tail; hair on head long, and rather softer than that on body, standing out boldly over eyes; beard under jaws being also very marked and wiry.

Colour: Black, grey, brindle, red, and fawn, though white dogs were esteemed in former times, as is several times shown us - indeed they were often preferred - but for beauty the dark colours should be cultivated.

Ears: Small in proportion to size of head, and half erect as in the smooth Greyhound. If dark in colour it is to be preferred.

The Tail should be carried with an upward curve only, and not be curled, as is the case with many Greyhounds.

Size: It will be seen that the Deerhound dog had considerable trouble in despatching the she-wolf, as narrated before, she being inferior in size; so putting the matter on the grounds of simple necessity, we cannot but conclude that the dog should be not less than from 2 to 3 inches taller than the wolf. Now, the usual height of the wolf would range about 30 inches, therefore, we get the height of from 32 to 33 inches in the dog. Also arguing from the skulls, the dog would have stood 32 to 34 inches. We may, therefore, safely deduce that the height of these dogs varied from 32 to 34 inches, and even 35 inches in the dogs, probably from 29 to 31 inches in the bitches. The other dimensions would naturally be about as follows for well-shaped and true-formed dogs. Girth of chest - Dogs, 38 to 44 inches; bitches 32 to 34 inches. Weight in lbs. - Dogs 115 to 140; bitches, 90 to 115. Girth of fore-arm - Dogs, 10 to12 inches; bitches 8½ to 10 inches. Length of head - Dogs, 12½ to 14 inches; bitches, 11 to 12 inches. Most modern authors and all practical lovers of the canine race whom the writer has consulted are agreed that the foregoing is the correct type of dog beyond question; and although some differ slightly as to the comparative bulk and power of the dog, the difference is small when dispassionately looked at. (Taken from "The Irish Wolfhound" by Capt. Graham (1879))

It can be seen that the Breed Standard differed somewhat from Capt. Graham's views and that he made no mention of the Great Dane. His version of the desired neck is much more descriptive than is that in the Standard, but very seldom seen. The British Kennel Club changed all the Breed Standards in the 1980s and removed all mention of other breeds. It also standardised the descriptions, thereby removing much of the individuality and making it even harder to understand what an Irish wolfhound should look like.



This is the skeleton of a hound. Note that there is quite a lot of angulation at the shoulder. This is the "elbows well under" of the Standard - the Greyhound, for example, will have a much steeper upper arm, as can be seen below:-

greyhound wolfhound bitch 

The wolfhound pictured on the right is very much like the Greyhound but with hair. However, this is not what I would be looking for in a wolfhound, as her upper arm is too short and steep, bringing her forelegs too far forward, so there is no forechest. It needs to be borne in mind that the wolfhound is not a coursing breed. It needed to be reasonably fast but over long distances, not brief spurts, and it also needed to be powerful enough to deal with a large prey. Remember that the hounds were hunting alone or in pairs, not in packs.

Deerhound bitch

The Deerhound (above) also has a steepish upper arm, which can be seen by the way the foreleg is forward on the body, like the Greyhound and the wolfhound beside it.

The dog that has come closest to my ideal of what a wolfhound should be is Sulhamstead Major. He was a very powerfully built hound, with a particularly strong, arched neck. Sadly he was a unilateral cryptorchid but there were two judges who thought his manifest attributes outweighed this fault and awarded him a CC. The first was Susanne Hudson (Brabyns). I first saw him at three months of age, when he looked just like a lion cub. The photograph I have of him is a poor one (not just photographically but he looked much better than this):

hound at show

This is Sulhamstead Major (with Mrs. Nagle and judge Mrs. Dorothy Whitwell)
at Crufts, 1973 where he won his second CC and BoB

I could certainly fault him, but overall he comes the closest I have seen to my interpretation of what the wolfhound should be. Since the Standard's description is hardly detailed, all anyone can do is interpret it in their own way, bearing in mind the role the original dog was intended to fulfill.

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Updated 1/4/2016