Guidelines for Choosing, Owning and Caring for IWs

The purpose of this Guide is to assist breeders, owners, and prospective buyers in their effort to promote the health and welfare of all Irish Wolfhounds.

On Buying and Owning a Hound

Often it appears as if the most difficult task in purchasing an Irish Wolfhound puppy is finding one!

The IWCA maintains a current list of individuals located throughout the country who are willing to talk with prospective owners, especially with those who are looking for their first Irish Wolfhound. While not everyone on this list is an active breeder, they are knowledgeable about the breed and they can usually inform you of a litter in your area or of a breeder who may be planning a litter. It is important to know, however, that buying an Irish Wolfhound puppy is not like going to the supermarket one day to select a puppy of a certain age and specific color.

Irish Wolfhound breeders are often very selective with respect to where and with whom they place their puppies. Do not be surprised if you are asked a battery of questions about your accommodations and lifestyle. Do not take it personally; everyone gets the same treatment. Furthermore, breeders will often have waiting lists of interested potential buyers. But, it is not a bad thing to have to wait for some weeks or months for the right puppy. The waiting period will give you time to think about the responsibility you are taking on and whether or not an Irish Wolfhound is really for you.

Caution is Advised

Asking the prospective first-time buyer to think about the responsibility of owning an IW is not a throw-away issue. Despite the difficulties that may sometimes accompany the effort to obtain a puppy from a reputable breeder, there also is an abundance of unwanted Irish Wolfhounds, so much so that active rescue groups have become a necessity across the country. These groups help place unwanted IWs in new homes. Although some breeders advertise in national pet magazines, personal or puppy find webpages, facebook, etc., these are not the best sources of information about where to find Irish Wolfhounds. Caution should be taken in responding to internet and newspaper ads. Pet shops do not involve themselves in the responsible care and placement of dogs.

Every breed of dogs has its negative aspects and the Irish Wolfhound is no exception. He is an expensive dog to purchase and maintain, requiring more food, more space, more medicine ... more of everything. He requires more exercise than the average dog and he is very short-lived, with a lifespan averaging around six and one-half years. If you can give him the special attention he requires and can cater to the demands he places on you, he will reward you with his gentle nature, his beauty, and his loyal companionship.

No one purchasing an Irish Wolfhound for the first time should do so with the intention of breeding that hound. The successful breeding of any animal is a complex and demanding task. This is especially true of Irish Wolfhounds. In addition to the obvious demands of space, food, and time, the rearing of a litter of a giant breed - in which puppies grow from a pound or so at birth to 100 pounds at six months - requires special care and knowledge. This knowledge does not come overnight, but takes years, involving a diligent pursuit of information by researching the available literature, attending educational events such as the national specialty shows, and associating with people who have experience in the care of such dogs, as well as personal experience gained from caring for one’s own Irish Wolfhound for a number of years.

Successful breeding requires not only knowledge of the basic principles of genetics, but also of the different families and individual dogs in a pedigree. A prospective breeder must learn as much as possible about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed sire and dam, and of their ancestors. All this requires time and effort on the part of the breeder, but it is absolutely essential to producing healthy Irish Wolfhounds with the requisite conformation and disposition.

Furthermore, it is impossible to determine at the puppy stage if the animal will be suitable for breeding in terms of conformation, health and temperament. The carefully bred and cared for litter will be predominately pet quality. Pet quality animals should not be bred. It must be remembered that "pet quality" means the animal deviates in one or more significant areas from the Irish Wolfhound Standard of Excellence. These deviations will probably not interfere with the hound's being a wonderful pet and companion, and may not be noticed by most observers. Faults often develop at a later age, and if you will be unhappy with a pet quality hound, you should consider purchasing an adult Wolfhound rather than a puppy. It has been the experience of many owners, however, that the puppy that failed to grow into a show quality hound became a favorite companion.

The conscientious breeder is intensely concerned with the quality of the puppy's new home. The first-time buyer is often surprised by the number and depth of questions asked by the breeder. Do not be insulted by the extent of this inquiry. The breeder is simply trying to determine if you can provide what is necessary in a good home for an IW: veterinary care, good quality food and exercise, safety and personal time to spend with the dog, and if you are willing to learn about the breed's special requirements.

Breeders should insist that their Wolfhound puppies go to homes with secure, above-ground fencing, regardless of the size of the property. Irish Wolfhounds are sighthounds; they are keen-sighted and swift gallopers that can cover large distances very quickly. All members of the new family that will be involved in the care of a new dog should visit the breeder to get an understanding of the kind of attention and care an IW requires. Beware of the breeder who uses a "hard sell" approach, who offers unrealistic guarantees, or who doesn't ask questions at all but who just hands over a puppy in exchange for the asking price.

See the IWCA's Standards and Codes of Conduct for what constitutes a responsible breeder (as well as owner) - does the breeder you are considering buying from live up to these standards?

A visit to the breeder can tell a prospective buyer a great deal, even before he sees the puppies. You are looking for a nurturing environment where there are happy and healthy Irish Wolfhounds. Are the living quarters clean and dry? Are the other Wolfhounds well cared for and friendly? (Would you like to be a guest in this house or kennel?) Ask to see and spend some time with the mother of the litter. Is she healthy and friendly? Be suspicious of her absence and of excuses regarding why she is not there. If the sire of the litter is owned by the breeder, ask to see him and to spend some time with him as well. If he lives elsewhere, ask for information about him: pedigree, living situation, how often has he been used at stud (more often than less is not necessarily good), his disposition.

Visiting the sire can be a good idea if he lives within a reasonable distance. The sire and the dam of the puppies are the best clue you will have as to the future appearance and temperament of the puppies.

There is a range of ages at which breeders prefer to let puppies go to their new home. Circumstances may dictate differences regarding the age at which puppies are sold; for example, there may be a radical change in climate between the new home and the old and the breeder may be concerned to minimize the shock. A good breeder will try to keep the best puppy for himself and is unlikely to let a puppy go until he has made his own choice. Be patient with this attitude. The breeder of a litter of Wolfhounds has invested much time, money, and emotion into his puppies and thereby has earned the luxury of being able to choose his puppy in his own way at his own pace. Wolfhound puppies should not go to their new homes before the age of ten weeks and often are released much later.

Breeder's Obligations

The prospective owner should receive all important health information from the breeder. This information should include dates of inoculations and names of vaccines, worming regimen, date for next visit to the veterinarian, etc. Some breeders require a visit to the veterinarian within 48 hours of purchase, in which case the buyer should honor that requirement. If the transfer of ownership is without restriction, the buyer should receive a registration slip from the American Kennel Club signed by the breeder or a signed letter stating that such a registration is forthcoming.

The IWCA does not recommend selling Wolfhound puppies with a "puppy-back" arrangement. In these cases, the breeder agrees to sell a female puppy at a reduced rate on the condition that she be bred when old enough and a puppy from that litter returned to the breeder. This not only encourages the breeding of animals who may not be suitable for breeding by owners who may have no real interest, but also often leads to misunderstandings, even litigation. The best interests of the Irish Wolfhound are not served under such arrangements.

A responsible breeder will always inform the buyer that, should circumstances ever arise in which the new owner can no longer continue to care for the hound, they are to inform the breeder immediately. It is hard to imagine that one would ever give up a new puppy or an adult dog, but events do occur in peoples' lives which make such an act necessary, for example, a death in the family, divorce, serious illness, financial difficulties, etc. If such a situation should occur, the breeder should always offer to help place the dog in a new home or to take the dog himself on a temporary or even permanent basis. Irish Wolfhounds across the country are being rescued from undesirable circumstances, even from animal shelters and humane societies. Every possible step should be taken by breeders and owners to prevent these tragedies from occurring.

The new owner should learn as much as possible about the proper care of the Irish Wolfhound in all its stages of life, including diet, training, health care, exercise, etc. He should take home with his new puppy all information on food, feeding schedule and procedure, and a few days' supply of the puppy's normal food so that any necessary diet change can be a gradual one. There are many acceptable methods of feeding Wolfhounds and many brands of acceptable dog food. Listen to your breeder, since it is for his experience and knowledge, as well as the quality of his dogs, that you sought him out in the first place. The conscientious breeder will always be there for you if you have any questions, concerns or frustrations.

IWCA Membership

In addition to information about books and periodicals on the breed, the breeder should provide the new owner with the name and address of the current secretary or membership chairperson of the IWCA. These are the individuals who can be contacted for membership information and application forms. New and prospective owners are advised to apply for associate membership in the IWCA (and in your local all-breed club, if one is available). Included in membership is a subscription to the Harp and Hound, the official publication of the club which often contains informative articles on the care and maintenance of the Irish Wolfhound. Additionally, there are many regional Wolfhound associations throughout the country with members eager to help first-time owners at the grass-roots level. The breeder will be able to give the new owner information concerning the local club closest to his home. It is common for new owners to be surprised at just how many other wolfhounds there are in their area once they are able to get in touch with them. Many lifelong friendships have been made through mutual concern for the Irish Wolfhound.

On Breeding Irish Wolfhounds

The only defensible purpose for breeding Irish Wolfhounds is to bring their natural qualities to perfection.

It is a difficult venture and should not be taken on by those without the knowledge, the emotional, financial and space resources and the energy to do everything possible to ensure the health, safety and continued quality of the dogs and the breed. A prospective breeder should ask what will be done with these puppies if no suitable homes are available. Even a small litter of wolfhounds can make enormous demands, and when they reach three or four months of age, their insatiable appetites and normal puppy activities, such as chewing and digging, can pressure people into placing them in less than desirable homes. For these reasons, no one should contemplate breeding unless he or she is prepared to keep every puppy through its normal lifetime, if necessary.

Breeding should not be done to amuse us, to demonstrate to the children the "miracle of birth", because someone has suggested that one litter will make the bitch a better companion (a claim for which there is no basis), or because people want "another Molly", or to perpetrate some feature of her disposition. Never should a breeding be done solely to make money. In fact, new breeders quickly learn that breeding Irish Wolfhounds involves spending more money than it makes.

Although knowledge of the principals of genetics is essential, one must also know how to apply those principles to the breeding of Irish Wolfhounds. A breeder should be able to honestly and keenly assess his own dogs, measuring their strengths and weaknesses and to have them assessed by more detached individuals with knowledge, such as be experienced wolfhound breeders and other qualified breeders, in and out of the show ring. Most veterinarians are not qualified to assess your wolfhounds for breeding or show quality unless they have personal experience and knowledge of the standard of the breed.

The Value of the Show Ring

Concerning the show ring, a championship award is not a guarantee of quality. Many unqualified wolfhounds, just as in any other breed of dogs, receive championship titles and even higher wins by expensive ad campaigns and rigorous showing, often in areas of little competition. A conscientious breeder realizes that show wins are not synonymous with quality. He assesses his dogs as to their innate quality and their specific potential contribution to the breed as a whole. Furthermore, the conscientious breeder will evaluate and choose stud dogs based on their quality and suitability for his bitches and breeding plans, not on their reputation or their records of show wins. It might be true that a top-winning sire may allow a breeder to command a high price for his puppies, but if that dog is not compatible with the bitch, the breeding is not in the best interests of the Irish Wolfhound and the offspring can be a disappointment.

There is only one blueprint to be used in breeding Irish Wolfhounds and that is the Standard of Excellence approved by the Irish Wolfhound Club of America. A thorough knowledge of the standard and its application to living dogs is essential before undertaking the breeding of Irish Wolfhounds. Temperament is as important as structure in selecting specimens for breeding and should be a primary consideration before breeding is contemplated.

The Brood Bitch

The bitch normally should not be bred before the age of two or after six years of age and should not have more than one litter in any 12 month period. Most bitches should be bred once or twice, at most, in their lives. Only bitches in good health should be bred, both for reasons of humaneness and for the well-being of the puppies.

The Stud Dog

The owners of stud dogs share equally in all considerations of breeding and should approve of the bitch, the practices of her owners and the conditions and circumstances under which the puppies will be raised and placed in new homes. However flattering it might be to an owner of a male dog to be asked, it is wrong to allow his stud dog to be used for breeding by unscrupulous breeders, on inferior bitches, or if there is a probability that the resulting puppies will be deficient in any way. The owner of the stud dog is as responsible for the breeding decisions as is the owner of the bitch.

It is the responsibility of the breeder to find suitable homes for the puppies. Once the breeder is convinced that the puppy will have proper care and affection, he or she must give the new owner as much information as possible about that care. In fact, the breeder should never completely relinquish his responsibility to the puppies, but should encourage the new owners to call on him with any problems or questions.

The American Kennel Club is specific about its record-keeping requirements and those rules must be followed in all cases. The AKC has the power to deny or rescind registration if it suspects any infraction or lapse in record keeping.


Much has been learned over the years about the best way to care for and breed Irish Wolfhounds and there is much yet to be learned. But those with experience and knowledge should be, and usually are, generous with what they have learned if it will help an individual dog or the breed. We should never hesitate to call on another person if we have a problem or question. Likewise, we should never turn away anyone to whom we might be of help. There is always something new to learn about Irish Wolfhounds, no matter how long we have loved and lived with them.

This page was last updated 07/11/2021.