Irish Wolfhound Standard

Wishful Thinking, by Mick Cawston

A discussion of

The Canadian Kennel Club Standard

for The Irish Wolfhound*

prepared by Shelley Camm

Yasashiikuma (Perm.) Reg’d

*A  seminar presented for  the Central Ontario Judges Study Group, April 8, 1999



Although I have felt drawn to Irish Wolfhounds for almost 30 years, I have only been involved as an active participant with these magnificent canines for about 10 years.

In that time I have, bred four litters of Irish Wolfhounds, representing four generations, and I have brought one or two representatives of each generation this evening for your inspection, to help you visualize the differences in breed type I hope to discuss this evening.

From my three litters that have already entered the ring I have eight finished champions, and five more pointed, and four of those within just a few points of finishing in Canada and/or the U.S.

I have had dogs in the top five Irish Wolfhounds in 1994 – #2, 1995 – #4 and I believe #3 for 1998. One puppy from my 1993 litter holds an undefeated record for puppy group and puppy in show wins for Irish Wolfhounds. I have had dogs of my breeding place in or win classes at both the Canadian and U.S. National Specialties, and in 1993 had a 13-month-old puppy make the cut from down to the final three males for BOB at the IWCC National, under Irish Breeder/Judge Tim Finney.

And yet despite this record, I still feel that I am very much a student of this breed and read voraciously to attempt to increase my knowledge of what makes a great Wolfhound. Tonight I hope to share some of the insights of those whose works have been my teachings as well as to add some insights of my own. I hope that you will find this evening informative and of benefit . . . and would appreciate any comments that you feel free to share with me afterwards, along with any suggestions for improvement of this presentation.

Shelley Camm

Yasashiikuma (Perm) Reg’d



The Standard for the Irish Wolfhound in Canada is almost verbatim identical to the Standard in the U.S.A. There are no disqualifying faults mentioned in the standard, and a great deal is, through omission, left to individual interpretation. It is interesting that in all of the books available on the breed there are much more definitive comments and yet no such requirements in the standard, e.g., the standard makes no mention of teeth at all, yet any breeder will tell you that the scissors bite is preferred with the level bite allowable, and the undershot or severely overshot dog are faults, even though there is no such statement in the standard.

It is up to you, the judges, to ensure that the breed quality does not suffer by failing to penalize that which is incorrect, which is what happens when the responsibility for withholding for lack of merit is passed down the line to the next judge.

The primary things to remember are that this breed should have the confidence to go after a wolf, the speed to run it down, and the strength to kill it.

In each of the following sections the standard will be printed in bold italics, comments from noted breeder/judge/authors in regular italics and my own commentary in regular text.


General Appearance

Of great size and commanding appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is remarkable in combining power and swiftness with keen sight. The largest and tallest of the galloping Hounds, in general type he is rough-coated, Greyhound-like breed; very muscular, strong 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 Irish Wolfhound is, by standard, the tallest breed. However, I think that any of us will admit that we are often seeing Great Danes taller than this breed. As much as the breed needs to be concerned with maintaining size and substance,but there is the other side of the coin that says the tallest dog in the ring should not necessarily be the winner on the day, if it is not sound and of proper type, or if its height is due to an incorrect front.

The Standard does not address temperament at all, however, commanding appearance has a direct correlation to temperament. A dog that is slouching to avoid being examined is not exhibiting commanding appearance, neither is a dog which gives a performance to rival a rodeo bronco on the approach of the judge, nor one held firmly by the jaw to keep it in place. This breed should be calm, and dignified with a gentle, kind and friendly nature as called for in the British Standard. It is hoped that with the change of judging procedures these dogs who refuse to submit to examination will be removed from the ring, and hopefully from future breeding programs.

The Wolfhound is also one of the Sighthounds capable of the double suspension gallop. Unlike working breeds who only have one point of suspension, during the collection phase of the gallop, the Irish Wolfhound is suspended at both the collection and extension phases of the gallop. In order to be able to perform this gait the dog must have sufficient body length to be able to gather all his legs under him in the collected phase of the gallop, without tangling them together. This requires the Irish Wolfhound to be longer than tall, which will be more thoroughly discussed in the section on the body. The Irish Wolfhound’s size and length combine to make it capable of covering large areas of ground at each stride.

In substance, a Wolfhound should not be as massive as a Great Dane, nor should it be as fine as a Scottish Deerhound, and one should immediately be able to identify an Irish Wolfhound as such, and not wonder if it is a slightly heavy Deerhound.



The minimum height and weight for of dogs should be 32 inches and 120 pounds; of bitches 30 inches and 105 pounds; these apply to Hounds over 18 months of age. Anything below this should be barred from competition. Great size, including height at the shoulder and proportionate length of body is the desideratum to be aimed at, and it desired to firmly establish a race that shall average from 32 to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry.

“Captain Graham considered 32-34 inches in dogs a great size and the ‘desideratum to be aimed at’. Great attention must be paid to the requirement which must accompany height; proportional length of body, requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry. Nowadays, 32 inches is considered quite small for a male We have achieved the desired height, let us concentrate on improving the other requirements” – Elizabeth C. Murphy, Raising, Showing and Breeding the Irish Wolfhound

“The tallest dog in competition is not necessarily the best, but if two or more Irish Wolfhounds are equal in other respects, the tallest dog should be declared the winner. It is possible that even if the tallest dog is not quite so good as the others, his size might suffice to tip the scale in his favor” – Brig. Gen. Alfred de Quoy, The Irish Wolfhound Guide

“To someone who sees a Wolfhound for the first time, any Wolfhound is incredibly tall, but people who have known Wolfhounds for longer are aware of the big range of height in the breed. However, it is very rare these days to find a Wolfhound bitch as small as the minimum 28 ins at the shoulder, more are 30 ins or more, and the tallest bitch that I have measured stood 35.5 ins using a stick and level. Male hounds are usually around 33 to 34.5 inches, and quite a few are around 33 taller…….There is no doubt that the breed now has great size, and has achieved Captain Graham’s goal for an average height range of 30-34 inches at the shoulder.” – Mary McBryde, The Irish Wolfhound, Symbol of Celtic Splendour

These three well known respected breeder/authors all agree that the breed has achieved the height desired by Captain Graham in his recreation of the breed and breeders should be concentrating on other areas, while maintaining height, not necessarily continuing to increase it, especially at the cost of soundness.


Coat and Colour

Hair rough and hard on body, legs and head; especially wiry and long over eyes and underjaw. The recognized colours are grey, brindle, ,red, black, pure white, fawn, or any other colour that appears in the Deerhound.

“Wolfhounds have a double layer coat. The under-layer is of fine, very dense, soft hair which varies in length from hound to hound, and with the time of year; it functions as insulation in extremes of temperature……The outer coat is made up of longish, rough, tough hair, again of a high density, which if the hound is in good condition, should have a distinct gloss to it. This is the hard-wearing protective layer that shed dirt and rain, and deflects thorns, and in most Wolfhounds it is moulted out once a year” – Mary McBryde, The Irish Wolfhound, Symbol of Celtic Splendour

Coat faults include coats that are too short and can be considered a smooth coat, and the opposite called a wooly which has a very long undercoat with almost no outer coat. A short coat should not be confused with a coat that has recently been stripped out.

Colours span a wide range and white markings are acceptable on the chest, tip of tail and feet. It is undesirable for white markings to extend above the pastern into a sock.

The lighter colours – wheaten and red – do tend to be softer than the brindle coats, but still should not be soft enough to be considered “wooly”.

Although furnishings do tend to be sparser on a shorter coated dog they still should not be entirely absent. The furnishings although called for to be “especially wiry” are usually softer than the dogs body coat as harsh furnishings would be brittle and break off.

Pigmentation should be dark, liver coloured lips or nose pigmentation are listed in the faults.



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  Greyhound-like in carriage.

“In the well-proportioned head, the stop is equidistant between the tip of the nose and the occipital point” – Elizabeth C. Murphy, Raising, Showing and Breeding the Irish Wolfhound

A well defined occiput is a requirement for a good head in the Irish Wolfhound. The cheeks should be flat and the lips should be tight. The stop should be a slightly rising slope between the eyes with little or no indentation.

The lower jaw should not be narrow.

Ears should be small and rosed at rest, and semi-erect when alert. Large ears hanging flat to the head are a fault.

The head should not be too broad, and should not be snipey. It is more massive than the Deerhound head in proportion to the size of the dog.

The furnishings may create an illusion of squareness, however the true shape of the muzzle can be determined by touching the head and muzzle to feel what lies underneath.

The planes of the muzzle and the top of the skull should be parallel.

The expression should be regal, yet kind and gentle. The dark eye and good pigmentation contribute to this expression.

Not mentioned in the standard are the teeth.

“As with most other breed standards, no specific mention is made of teeth. That the hound should have a good bite is taken for granted. The ‘scissors’ bite, where the upper front teeth fit snugly against the lower front teeth , is generally considered correct as it is the most efficient for killing, and devouring meat. Many people accept the level or pincer bite, where the front teeth meet edge to edge. The over and undershot bites are hereditary faults” -Elizabeth C. Murphy, Raising, Showing and Breeding the Irish Wolfhound

Irish Wolfhounds should have 42 teeth, and the teeth should be large and strong. Missing premolars are becoming a current problem and it is believe this is due to decreasing size of the lower jaw. A number of European countries require full dentition in order to be eligible for competition in conformation shows.

The eyes are also not mentioned specifically in the standard until the Points in Order of Merit where it states “Eyes, dark.” Dark brown eyes are the desired colour and slightly almond shaped. A major part of the proper Wolfhound head is the soft expression which cannot be achieved with a lighter eye. The eye rims should be dark (well-pigmented) also.

Blue eyes are a major fault in the breed, and are usually associated with the blue dilution gene.



Rather long, very strong and muscular,, well arched, without dewlap or loose skin about the throat.

“The long neck and head of the Wolfhound are an essential part of the hound shape which is built for speed. In addition his long neck is utilized to sight his prey and a well-muscled neck adds to the power to kill. It is the shape of the second and third vertebrae which forms the arch of the neck.” – Elizabeth C. Murphy, Raising, Showing and Breeding the Irish Wolfhound

“The Irish Wolfhound in motion normally carries his head just about level with his back unless he has sighted something which has excited his interest, in which case he will raise it to a 45 angle. If greatly excited, he will raise it even more. Many handlers, anxious to impress the judge that their Irish Wolfhounds hold their heads high as prescribed in the Standard, pull up on the lead so t hat the collars are tightened on the Irish  Wolfhound’s necks and they are forced to gait with their heads held abnormally high.” – Brig. Gen. Alfred de Quoy, The Irish Wolfhound Guide

“The way that the neck attaches to the body is not mentioned in the Standard, perhaps because it seemed so obvious to breeders at the time, but it is important to mention it today. The base of the neck needs to be very wide from front to back and the neck muscles should appear to attach to the dorsal vertebrae level with the centre-point of the top of the scapulas, give a smooth, sloping blend of neck into back. The sides of the neck should gradually widen out to meet and blend smoothly into the shoulder” – Mary McBryde, The Irish Wolfhound, Symbol of Celtic Splendour

The neck of the Irish Wolfhound should be strong enough that the dog would be capable of shaking its prey if it was used for its original purpose of hunting. Ewe necks, or necks which are either overly long or short would not be capable of producing this whiplash action due to lack of strength or flexibility.



Shoulders, muscular giving breadth of chest, set sloping. Elbows well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards. Forearm muscular, and the whole leg strong and quite straight

Shoulders & Upper Arm

The shoulder and upper arm should ideally be of equal length and meet at a 90 angle. This is the ideal and more realistically angles of 110-115 are more common. If the humerus (upper arm) is not of sufficient length the requirement of “elbows well under” can not be met. The length of upper arm also determines the amount of front extension the hound is capable of attaining.

The top of the shoulder blade is a guide to the placement of the scapula, if the shoulder is too straight the withers will be too close to the neck, and the tops of the shoulder blade further apart than if they were correctly placed.

The diagram on the left below indicates the ideal front assembly, with the perfect 45 layback, and equal scapula and upper arm. General de Quoy took measurements of the class winners at an IWCA Specialty and found that the average angle of layback was more realistically 26, as indicate on the diagram on the right.

Drawings of the “Ideal” Wolfhound front (from M.
McBryde) and the “Average” Wolfhound Front (from Gen. De Quoy)



The long upper arm places the elbows below the brisket. The elbows should be close to the body and turned neither in nor out.


“The greatest strength and power is applied through a straight line, thus some efficiency is lost if then the legs are crooked or knuckled-over. The hound goes down or back on his pasterns if the pastern joint is weak or faulty. Slack muscles, too, cause over-angulation at the pastern joint.

When viewed from the front the forelegs should be strong and quite straight. When viewed from the side they are a little out of perpendicular as the pasterns slope slightly forward.” – Elizabeth C. Murphy, Raising, Showing and Breeding the Irish Wolfhound

drawings from The Irish Wolfhound by Mary McBryde


Knuckling over is a serious problem as it causes undue stress as the dog is not able to place its foot flat on the floor.

Light or spindly bone is not desirable and should not be rewarded in the ring.


Feet are not specifically mentioned until the list of points in order of merit where it is stated they should be moderately large and round; toes, close, well arched. The cat foot is the ideal to be aimed for.



Back rather long than short. Chest very deep, Breast, wide. Loins arched. Belly well drawn up.


“The term back is loosely used when referring to the whole top-line from neck to tail. Hounds have long flexible spines with well developed loins for galloping. The impulse comes from the loins as well as from the hind-legs. Slack or narrow loins will lack endurance as will misshapen spines. The sway, or roach-backed hounds, will not have the strength of their sounder companions….The top-line showing too high behind is often caused by poor angulation of the stifle-joints in your hounds. This may improve with maturity, when the angle becomes more acute the over-all height drops” – Elizabeth C. Murphy, Raising, Showing and
Breeding the Irish Wolfhound

The Standard mentions the arch over the loin which should not be confused with a roached back. This arch should begin at the first lumbar vertebrae and make a smooth arc blending into the croup. The arch should not be severe enough to be immediately discernable to the eye, but should definitely be found by touch. To find the beginning of the arch follow the last rib to where it joins the spine. The next vertebrae is the first lumbar and you should be able to feel the rise behind this point. If the rise begins within the ribcage it is a roached back and should be penalized.

A flat or level topline, is a severe fault which tends to not be recognized by many novices and all-round judges.

Despite the standard specifically stating that the back should be rather long than short there is not a single mention in any of my reference books about what the proper ratios of length:height should be, therefore I took photographs of the Canadian National specialty Best of Breed and Best of Opposite winners for 1972-1993, and Best in Show dogs for the same period and made the following measurements.

This method did have its limitations in that the angle of some of the photographs could have thrown off measurements slightly, as could excess hair so that I may not have been measuring the point of the breastbone. However, for the 52 dogs I measured (26 dogs, 26 bitches) these are the results.





DOGS .98 1.28 1.13 .88 1.4 1.1
BITCHES 1.0 1.6 1.22 .85 1.42 1.1
COMBINED .98 1.6 1.18 .85 1.42 1.1


“Chest-capacity depends on the size and shape of the ribs which form the chest. Capacity is increased by: long ribs, giving a deep chest; the spacing between the ribs, and the curvature of the ribs wich can range from barrel-shaped to flat. Although barrel-shaped or rounded ribs give greatest capacity, this is not desirable as it would force out the elbow” – Elizabeth C. Murphy, Raising, Showing and Breeding the Irish Wolfhound

The point of the breastbone should be slightly in front of the shoulder joints (approximately 1/2″).The width of the forechest should accommodate the width of a hand (and a small hand with fingers spread).


“A shallow brisket is due to lack of depth in ribs. The brisket should be parallel to the ground for approximately two-thirds of the rib cage. If it curves upwards too soon, after the fourth rib or approximately one-third of the rib section, the hound will lack capacity for the heart and lung and is said to be ‘herring gutted’.”- Elizabeth C. Murphy, Raising, Showing and Breeding the Irish Wolfhound

“The bottom line of the ribcage (sometimes called the ‘brisket’) should remain parallel to the ground for about two thirds of its total length before curving upwards in a smooth arc. If the ribs start to shorten immediately after the sternum ends, it will produce a sharp diagonal upcut in the line of the ribcage, and the hound will have a greatly reduced lung capacity. This is considered a serious fault and is referred to as ‘herring gutted'” – Mary McBryde, The Irish Wolfhound, Symbol of Celtic Splendour

Tuck up

The tuck up is the area below the loins and is the result of the abdominal muscle. It should be quite distinct, therefore the quote “belly well drawn up”.



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.

The hindquarter are the driving force in the Irish Wolfhound. Each part of the hind quarters needs to be looked at individually and together as a unit.

The thighs must be muscular to propel the dog forward for the extended suspension phase of the double suspension gallop.

The second thigh is required to be both LONG and STRONG. It is far more common to see strong, short second thighs, or weak long ones, than ones that fulfill both of these requirements. The length of the second thigh, should cause the rear toes to fall behind an imaginary vertical line dropped from the point of the buttocks, while the hocks are perpendicular to the ground.

Note that toes fall behind the point of the buttocks when the hocks are perpendicular to the ground
Drawings of the “Ideal” Wolfhound Rear (from M. McBryde)
and the “Average” Wolfhound Rear (from Gen. De Quoy)

Hocks should be well let down, i.e. close to the ground, the result of relatively short metatarsal bone. This gives the dog increased endurance, at the cost of some initial speed.



Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair.

The correct length of tail can be measured by drawing the tail up between the hind legs – and up towards the back. The tail should at least reach the spine.

On the move the tail should hang low. A whip tail – carried level with the back or a gay tail carried over the back are both faults.

If the tail hangs dead straight down it should be checked for life by lifting and dropping it to ensure the nerves have not been severed.

The drawings below show how the angle of the pelvis (which should be about 30) affects the tail set.

One further note is that the tail also indicates temperament, and a tucked tail is an indication of a nervous or shy dog.



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; lips or nose liver-coloured or lacking in pigmentation.


List of Points in Order of Merit

1. Typical. The Irish Wolfhound is a rough-coated Greyhound-like breed, tallest of the coursing Hounds and remarkable in combining power and swiftness.

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 longs and muscular; second thighs, well muscled, stifles nicely bent.

7. Coat, rough and hard, specially wiry and long over eyes and under jaws.

8. Body, long, well ribbed up, with ribs well sprung, and great breadth across hips.

9. Loins 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.


Historic Point Scores

Although no longer in use, the following point scores were assigned at various times in the breeds history to the various parts of the Irish Wolfhound. They demonstrate the importance placed on certain characteristics by fanciers of the breed.

Captain Graham, 1903

from the Kennel club (Britain), The Kennel Gazette – January 1909

  Hugh Dalziel

British Dogs, 1879

  Vero Shaw

The Illustrated Book of the Dog, 1881

Head 25   Head-skull,jaw 15   Skull 10
            Jaw 5
Height 12   Size, symmetry 25   Size 5
Length, symmetry 6         Body 5
Substance 7         Appearance 5
      Shoulders,Neck, Chest 15   Shoulders 5
Neck 7            
Forelegs 9   Legs,feet 10   Legs 5
Feet 7            
Loins, hocks 9            
      Back, loin, ribs 15      
Coat 10   Colour, coat 10   Coat 10
Tail 5            
Teeth 2            
Nails 1   Hindquarters 10      
Total 100   Total 100   Total 50



Although not displayed in the conformation ring the Irish Wolfhound is one of the Sighthounds capable of the double suspension gallop. The diagrams and photos below illustrate the two phases of the gait where the dog has no contact with the ground (photos are an instant earlier).

At the trot the Irish Wolfhound should converge towards the centre, and almost, but not quite single track. Viewed from the front or rear the dog should appear to only have 2 legs as the front and rear legs move in line with each other and block the others from view. Other than that the dog should move cleanly, as in any other breed without paddling, weaving, moving too wide or too close.

The side gait should display good extension in both the front and the rear. Lack of extension is usually due to lack of angulation fore and aft. The only caution that I can give in judgement of this extension is to be sure that the
short stride is actually due to the physical limitations of the dog, and not the limitations of the size of the ring. Hackneyed movement is also not correct in this breed, the side gait should be powerful and display the tremendous ability to cover ground that is characteristic of the breed.



1. Raising, Showing and Breeding the Irish Wolfhound, Elizabeth C. Murphy, Carokeel Kennel, Ireland, Richview Press, 1976

2. The Irish Wolfhound Guide, Brig. Gen. Alfred de Quoy, Keltic Kennel, VA, 1987

3. The Irish Wolfhound, Symbol of Celtic Splendor, Mary McBryde, Marumac Kennel, U.K Howell Book House 1998

4. The New Complete Irish Wolfhound, Joel Samaha, Meadowbrook Kennel, Howell Book House, 1990


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