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Breed Priorities: The Irish Wolfhound

Click here to read the full article in our digital edition.

by Nikki Riggsbee

The Irish Wolfhound standard (the main portion) isn’t long, just 412 words. It has a unique section that was the genesis of this series on breed priorities. Following the breed standard is a List of Points in Order of Merit, a list of 16 Wolfhound characteristics in priority sequence, from most important to least important. Only one other standard, for the Scottish Deerhound, also includes such a list.

I love these lists as a guide in evaluating these breeds. When I studied other breeds, I would ask mentors for their breeds’ priorities. Later, this series was born, querying the breed experts on what was important in their breeds. Thanks to the Wolfhound and Deerhound folks, and to Captain Graham who originally authored both standards, for the concept.

The Irish Wolfhound breed standard, including the List of Points, was last approved in March, 1935. For this article, we surveyed current Irish Wolfhound experts to see if they, as a group, still valued their breed’s characteristics in approximately the same sequence as presented in the List. This survey, however, took the breed characteristics directly from the standard, not from the List at the bottom.

Invitations were sent to twenty-six Irish Wolfhound experts to participate in the survey. Twenty-four accepted, and seventeen completed surveys were returned. Almost all the participants were breeder-judges, with a few added from the parent club judges education committee. More than two-thirds of the judges have judged the breed’s national specialty and other Wolfhound specialties.
Prioritizing Virtues

Below is a list of breed characteristics from the Irish Wolfhound standard in sequence by the average survey ranks of the experts.

1. Rough-coated, Greyhound-like breed
2. Of great size and commanding appearance
3. Movements easy and active
4. Back rather long, loins arched
5. Muscular thighs, second thigh long and strong
6. Elbows well under
7. Shoulders muscular, set sloping
8. Forearm muscular, strong, quite straight
9. Head long, muzzle long and moderately pointed
10. Neck rather long, very strong and muscular, well-arched
11. Chest very deep, breast wide
12. Belly well drawn up
13. Head and neck carried high
14. Feet moderately large and round
15. Ears small, Greyhound-like carriage
16. Tail long, slightly curved, well covered with hair

All but one of the experts placed “Rough-coated, Greyhound-like breed” (1st) first or second. Nearly the same consensus was on “Feet moderately large and round” (14th). Just behind, with fifteen surveys agreeing, were “Of great size and commanding appearance” (2nd) and “Belly well drawn up” (12th). Over eighty percent ranked “Movements easy and active” (3rd) first, second, or third.

Next with seventy-six percent concurring were “Muscular thighs, second thigh long and strong” (5th) and “Tail long, slightly curved, well covered with hair” last. Twelve of the group felt the same about “Ears small, Greyhound-like carriage” (15th) with almost as many on “Back rather long, loins arched” (4th).

Ten agreed on the importance of “Elbows well under” (6th), “Forearm muscular, strong, quite straight” (8th), and “Head and neck carried high” (13th). The smallest majority was on “Shoulders muscular, set sloping” (9th).

The three virtues without majorities had split opinions, with almost half having one opinion and a similar group having another. “Head long, muzzle long and moderately pointed” (9th) had eight that placed it low, and seven ranked it high. “Neck rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched” (10th) had seven put it above average but another seven considered it below average in value. “Chest very deep, breast wide” (11th) was ranked middling by almost half, but a similar group thought it of lesser importance.

Thirteen of the virtues had majority opinions, with only the three virtues with bi-polar results missing a majority, and only by one. The difference between the ranks of the third and fourth virtues was over two-and-a-half points, emphasizing the importance of the first three virtues.

Here is the official List of Points in Order of Merit from the AKC standard:

1. Typical. The Irish Wolfhound is a rough-coated Greyhound-like breed, the 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 long and muscular; second thighs, well muscled, stifles nicely bent
7. Coat, rough and hard, especially wiry and long over eyes and under jaw
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

You will see that this survey in many cases reflected the official list. But in some virtues, the current experts disagreed on the relative importance. The virtues listed weren’t identical or equivalent. The official List sometimes had more than one virtue per item.

Ranking Faults

The experts also prioritized a set of faults from the standard. The list of faults below is in order from most serious to least serious.

1. Back sunken or hollow or quite straight
2. Bent forelegs
3. Dogs less than 32”; bitches less than 30” (at 18 months)
4. Lacking proportionate length of body
5. Too short in body
6. Weak hindquarters
7. General want of muscle
8. Short neck
9. Chest too narrow or too broad
10. Spreading toes
11. Head too light
12. Head too heavy
13. Large ears hanging flat to face
14. Full dewlap
15. Lips or nose liver-colored or lacking pigmentation
16. Too curly a tail

The Wolfhound standard has a prioritized list of virtues, but not of faults. But it is good to know which faults are the most serious, even when we are not fault judging. The group had mostly majorities in ranking the faults, which is excellent, although the majorities were not as big as those in the virtues.
The largest majority landed on “Lips or nose liver-colored or lacking pigmentation” (15th). Thirteen surveys agreed on “Head too light” (tied for 10th) and “Head too heavy” (12th). Seventy percent valued “Chest too narrow or too broad” (9th) similarly.

The most common majority, eleven of the group, agreed on “Back sunken or hollow or quite straight” (1st), “Dogs less than 32”; bitches less than 30” (at 18 months)” (3rd), “Too short in body” (5th), “Weak hindquarters” (6th), “Short neck” (8th), “Full dewlap” (14th), and “Too curly a tail” (16th).
Nearly sixty percent had similar opinions on “Bent forelegs” (2nd) and “Spreading toes” (tied for 10th). The smallest majorities ranked “Lacking proportionate length of body” (4th) and “Large ears hanging flat to face” (13th).

The only fault without a majority was “General want of muscle” (7th), with more than forty percent considering it very important, but the others were all over.

Where the same feature was on both lists, the group was fairly consistent. “Great size” was second, where “Lack of size” third. “Back length” was fourth as was “Lack of body length” and “Body too short” fifth. “Neck long” was tenth, while “Short neck” was eighth. “Ears” were fifteenth as a virtue, but thirteenth as a fault. “Tail” was last on both lists.

Essential Characteristics

The survey asked the participants to identify the most important features that an Irish Wolfhound must have to be a good one.

Most often named was Greyhound shape followed by movement. Also frequently mentioned were power, great size, proportion and balance, and angulation. These were quite consistent with the virtues listed above and the List of Points from the standard.


The experts were asked to evaluate the outlines of six dogs and six bitches and place the outlines in each group first through fourth based on quality. Note that they could see only the outlines. If they could see more, with hands on and including movement, the placements might well change.

The favorite dog was Irish Wolfhound “E.” Those who selected him first said he had “sighthound shape, length of neck, neck flow into withers,” “lovely curves and balance, lovely profile with head held high on strong neck,” “good topline, rectangular shape, covers ground well, commanding appearance,” “as close to type of a rough-coated greyhound-like dog, “clearly masculine,” and “plenty of leg underneath, stands over a lot of ground, strong well-constructed hindquarters, well drawn up belly, overall balance and symmetry, the best placed rose ear.”

Next favorite male was dog “D.” Surveys that named him first commented that he had “better balance, topline, and underline,” “proportion, width of stifle,” and “correct length of leg and depth of chest.”

The bitch placed first most often and with most first placements among the bitches was Wolfhound “U.” Comments on her included “overall best balanced, matching angulation, body length, smooth correct outline,” “excellent overall athletic make and shape, beautiful shoulders, lovely head planes and ears, topline strong, elbows well under, stifle broad, hocks low, good feet,” “lovely sweep of stifle,” “typical shape, good curves, slightly longer than tall,” and “strong underjaw.”

Runner-up bitch was Wolfhound “X.” Surveys that placed her first said “the most acceptable length of leg with overall balance,” “best balance including topline, leg length, depth of chest, beautiful curves, not overdone,” “better balance, topline, underline,” and “proportions, balance, and substance.”
Dog “E” is probably Best of Breed because his placement average was best of the twelve, he was placed first more often than any other, and four surveys named him Best of Breed. Wolfhounds “U” and “X” were also named BOB four times.

All twelve of the outlines were placed first by at least one expert, and all were left out of the ribbons on at least one survey. Dog “F” was unplaced most often. Among the bitches, “Z” and then “V” were unplaced more often.

Comments from Irish Wolfhound Experts

• When judging an Irish Wolfhound, always ask yourself, “Can it catch and kill a wolf?”
• They are not draft horses, but should be athletic, galloping hounds with a greyhound-like outline moving active and easy.
• Think Greyhound. These are hounds first and foremost, and great size and commanding appearance does not mean mass and substance.
• The essence of a Wolfhound should be shapely and athletic.
• Ask the age of the dogs. The young dogs shouldn’t carry an abundance of body or angulation, and an older dog shouldn’t lack a mature body.
• It is always better to put up correct type with less than perfect parts as opposed to a hound with perfect parts that lacks type.
• Remember the word “long.” It is in our standard several times.
• Evaluate how the hound looks and holds himself on the move. Owner-handlers often don’t stack their dogs well.
• He must be an athlete, with balance, muscle, brains, strength, and endurance to course and bring down large game easily.
• Avoid exaggerations.
• Don’t overestimate size. While the standard wants “great size,” balance and type should not be sacrificed.
• IW’s should be slightly longer than tall with plenty of daylight under the hound.
• Recognize typical hounds that move well and are shown in good, hard condition.
• Functionality is foremost, followed by temperament. Tall, lean, and athletic describe the IW.
• Weak, flat loins are the antithesis of this sighthound breed; do not forgive it.
• Galloping hounds typically have a more open shoulder than breeds that call for 45 degree angulation.
• A short-ribbed back Wolfhound is unforgivable.
• The Wolfhound’s strength lies in the perfect balance of speed and agility, and his speed from the perfect balance of power and strength.
• Moderation is the key.

Thanks to the Irish Wolfhound experts for being so generous with their comments and sharing their expertise.

About The Author

Nikki Riggsbee is approved to judge all Sporting, Hound, and Working breeds and eleven breeds in other groups. She has been active in both all-breed and specialty clubs. She is an award-winning author of four books and multiple articles, including the Breed Priorities series.

She began showing dogs in 1980 with Norwegian Elkhounds and Great Danes. Under the affix McEmn, she has owned and bred over thirty champions, with many more produced from her dogs. In addition to conformation, Nikki has also exhibited and titled Great Danes in obedience. Her website is

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