Judging the Irish Wolfhound


The dog is a conforming animal that has been able to adapt to a variety of natural and man-made conditions in order to survive. The adaptation is accomplished by selective breeding, natural and man-made, which has resulted in wide variety of breeds which are known today. The standard of each breed should reflect the structural differencies as they were developed in relationship to the function of the particular breed.

Interpretation of breed conformation differencies, not similarities, by dog show judges is the essence of their judgement. And it is this element of interpretation which often results in breeder’s confusion.

The judge should have a thorough familiarity with the function of each breed and it’s standard and make his judgement based on them. But too many judges work from a vision of an ideal type of generalized dog and inexpertly apply the general ideal to the specific breed. All round and group judges tend to make this faulty generalization more than breeder judges.

This article is an attempt to describe the specifics of the skeletal conformation of the Irish Wolfhound and how it should be judged. Included are a of topline, coupling, forequarters, rearquarters and their predictable consequence on the movement of the dog. It is routinely necessary to state that these are personal views based on available authority including the standard and Mc Dowell Lyon’s “The dog in action”.



Figure 1 illustrates a large dog of an non-existent breed. Reviewing the animal specifically will reveal that this conformation is a collection of inconsistent parts. The topline from the occiput to the protrusion of the withers gives the impression of a working breed’s stout and erect neck. The high withers which intrude into the topline are clearly suggestive of straight shoulders which are considered a fault in many breeds. The standards of some draft breeds allow for a relativly straight shoulder, which is detectable in the shape of the topline but not to the degree indicated. The back, loin and croup approximate the proper conformation of a running dog. The entire topline is a disorderly curve inconsistent with that of any breed.

The coupling would be considered long, which is appropriate for running animals. But again the conformation is not consistent with the overall picture of the dog. The rib cage lacks depth and ribs pring resulting in a slight herring gut,or reduced lung cavitiy. The lack of rib depth reinforces the appearances of long coupling and thus deceives understanding this type of conformation.

The forequarters have straight shoulders with the shortened shoulder blade and shortened upper arm, both of which are characteristically combined with straight shoulders. Another inconsistency is the longer forearm and the shorter upper arm, often seen on Terriers and other small breeds. Though the pastern breaks, the pastern assembly is eccentric to the line of proper balance. In other words, the dog is not in a static condition in the forequarters. The entire forequarters are in condition of tension.

The rearquarters appear to be and are less faulty. The pelvic angulation is good. The length of the upper and lower tighs is relatively short which result in straight stiffles not unlike those that are often seen on Great Danes.

The movement which would result from this conformation would generally be a short hesitating front action with a stronger rear push. This dog cannot comfortably trot and would have to be walked ( walk-trot? ) by its handler or the dog would move in a rocking-horse gallop. The mincing front action with a short stride cannot keep up with the rear push. A severe jerking action is observable at the withers, as the front feet land prematurely in the normal stride. A noticeable lack of smoothness results. A competent handler can minimize the expression of some of these faults by moving the dog slowly and by putting himself ahead of the dog to partially hide some of the front action.

The reason for including this conformation study of a non-existent dog is to convince the reader that serious faults are easily overlooked if the dog conforms to our general vision of what a dog looks like.

The following three figures attempt to illustrate an Irish Wolfhound’s conformation from the same dog as in figure 1, exaggerating as little as possible.


The topline has been changed so that from the occiput to the end of the tail is one continuous, undisturbed, blended curve. There is no interruption at the withers or pelvis. The neck gently curves into the backbone without making an abrupt angle change. This is important because so many exhibitors ” string up ” the neck so that the angle at the neck and withers is uncharacteristic of the Irish Wolfhound and, as the matter of fact, of most of the other gazehounds.

The coupling in figure 2 is the same length as in figure 1, although the impression is that it is longer. The silhouette of the neck carriage promotes this impression and gives the entire silhouette a more graceful and light appearance. The rib cage is deeper and attempts to illustrate proper rib spring, so that the characteristic long coupling, deep chest and long keel ( sternum ) are shown.

The forequarters have been extensively altered to show the proper shoulder blade set, 45 degrees. The shoulder blade is naturally lengthened, so are the upper and lower arms. The dog stands properly on his foot pad with its center of gravity on a line perpendicular to the center of the shoulder blade. This is a proper front for a running dog. Also, a continuous flowing line from the throat to the breastbone is naturally smooth and without interruption.

The rearquarters appear unchanged beween these two illustrations. The pelvis is still at a 30 degrees angle but now the upper and lower tighs have been lengthened which results in an increased stifle angulation. In truth, however, it is not as greatly increased as the appearance suggests. To prove this use a piece of tracing paper and superimpose a tracing of figure 1 on figure 2.

The resulting movement from this conformation is smooth and effortless with a long forward stride which occurs in unison with a strong rear kick. The topline in motion should not exhibit any jerky action, nor should there be any evidence of crabbing. The proper balance of the forequarters and the rearquarters, combined with a long back, wil give the dog the proper length of stride and propulsion, resulting in the greatest efficiency of movement.


The topline illustrated here is an observable indication that something is out of place. When the withers project into the topline as a hump and when the point of the withers appears higher than the point of the pelvis, the result is a very uncharacteristic and faulty topline. The neck carriage is automatically wrong.

The coupling illustrated is shorter than in figure 2. As the topline over the withers vertically increases, the coupling naturally shortens. In all four illustrations the hight of the dog is basically the same. As the length of the coupling decreases ( shortens ), the characteristic horizontal rectangle established by the extremity points, shoulders, pelvis, front feet, rear feet, approches a square. This causes the dog look leggy and deceptively tall.

The forequarters have three basic faults, indicated by the arrows:

(1 ) the straightening of the shoulder blade which results in a complementary shortening of the upper and lower arms,

( 2 ) the projection of the sternum into the silhouette of the the line from the throat to the brisket,

( 3 ) the straightening of the pasterns so that the angle of the foot to the leg becomes 90 degrees.

The distinctive shadow resulting from these small details is a clear indication that something more than straight pasterns is occuring. This shadow only occurs when the shoulders are eccentric to the center of gravity. Though the pasterns look static and at rest, they are really in tension and in strain on the entire forequarters.

Rearquarters are inchanged from figure 2.

Given this conformation, the resulting movement will be a fight between a hesitating front end and a normal rear end. The experienced animal would learn to accomodate a driving rear by pulling up the front feet in a hackney, paddle or delayed action. Presenting him at a show, the handler would walk-trot such a dog, otherwise the front end will reveal the faulty shoulder assembly. By ” stringing up ” the head, in an unnatural position, the handler can force the dog’s front to extend a little, but this results in a bulging at the withers and is keenly observable in the topline. It is unfortunate that some judges find this type of movement and presentation showy and reinforce it with ribbons.



Again the topline shows a host of faults, as the silhouette from the neck, withers and croup is a collection of angles. If this dog had more flesh, some of the acuteness of the angulation could be masked, but this would affect the total presentation of the dog in other ways. When this type of topline is seen, it immediately invites serious investigation of the underlying faults.

Figure 4 best expresses the idea of relativity of the coupling. Notice the decreasing length of the coupling; still this dog does not appear totally different from the others. But, the coupling has decreased significantly, and it will have a major effect on the movement of this dog.

The forequarters are the same as in figure 3.

The rearquarters have been changed by giving the pelvis a 45 degree slope, which results in a protrusion of the stifles. Some exhibitors think of this super angulation as desirable and breed for it. Whippets are often seen with such extension of the stifles under the body. But the breeder should be careful as the angulation of the stifle ( joint ) is not really changed. The silhouette suggests that it is changed, but more carefully review the joint. It remains approximately 120 degrees, similar to the dogs in the last two illustrations. The consequence of this conformation is seen in faulty movement.

The movement which results from this conformation is totally wrong. The hesitating front, described earlier now is complicated by a weak rear that can reach far under the body with no added efficiency. As the dog expends energy reaching foreward with his rear, he gains nothing in the ability to push off. The dog would lift vertically with a diminished component of forward motion. In effect, this pelvis angulation reduces the rear leg extension and is equatable to straight shoulders in the limited forward extension. Given these faulty front and rear, connected with a non-proportionnal coupling, the movement would generally be a painful crabbing with an unusual vertical component to the forward motion.

The differencies in conformation between breeds and between dogs of the same breed are significant and must be understood by judges. Although some of the conformation differences illustrated are clearly differences of degree, the resultant effect of these alterations is significant and of major importance. General knowledge of dogs is not adequate to judge dogs of different breeds, and it is hoped that it has been shown that judging dogs within the same breed with the same type of knowledge is also inadequate.

“The gazehound” november-december 1975.
Alixstowe Irish Wolfhound courtesy


FCI- Standard No 160 / 02. 04. 2001 / GB

UTILIZATION : Up to the end of the17th century, Irish Wolfhounds were used for hunting wolves and deer in Ireland. They were also used for hunting the wolves that infested large areas of Europe before the forests were cleared.

CLASSIFICATIONS FCI : Group 10 Sighthounds. Section 2 Rough-haired Sighthounds. Without working trial.

BRIEF HISTORICAL SUMMARY: We know the continental Celts kept a greyhound probably descended from the greyhound first depicted in Egyptian paintings. Like their continental cousins, the Irish Celts were interested in breeding large hounds. These large Irish hounds could have had smooth or rough coats, but in later times, the rough coat predominated possibly because of the Irish climate. The first written account of these dogs was by a Roman Consul 391 A.D. but they were already established in Ireland in the first century A.D. when Setanta changed his name to Cu-Chulainn (the hound of Culann). Mention is made of the Uisneach (1st century) taking 150 hounds with them in their flight to Scotland. Irish hounds undoubtedly formed the basis of the Scottish Deerhound. Pairs of Irish hounds were prized as gifts by the Royal houses of Europe, Scandinavia and elsewhere from the Middle ages to the 17th century. They were sent to England, Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, Persia, India and Poland. In the15th century each county in Ireland was required to keep 24 wolfdogs to protect farmers’ flocks from the ravages of wolves. The Cromwellian prohibition (1652) on the export of Wolfhounds helped preserve their number for a time but the gradual disappearance of the wolf and continued demand abroad reduced their numbers almost to the point of extinction by the end of the 17th century. The revival of interest in the breed accompanied the growth of Irish nationalism in the late 19th century. The Irish Wolfhound became a living symbol of Irish culture and of the Celtic past. At this time, one determined enthusiast, Capt. G A Graham, set about obtaining some of the few remaining hounds of the Wolfhound type that could still be found in Ireland, and with the use of Deerhound blood and the occasional outcross of Borzoi and Great Dane, he eventually achieved a type of dog that bred true in every generation. The results were ultimately accepted as a legitimate revival of the breed. The Irish Kennel Club scheduled a class for Irish Wolfhounds at their show in April 1879, and a club was formed in 1885. The Irish Wolfhound now enjoys once again something of the reputation that it had in the Middle Ages. Wolfhounds are now owned and bred in fairly large numbers outside of Ireland.

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. 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 32 inches (81cm) to 34 inches (86cm) in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry.

“Lambs at home, lions in the chase”.
HEAD : Long and level, carried high; 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.
Teeth : Scissor bite ideal, level acceptable.
Eyes : Dark.
Ears : Small, rose ears (Greyhound like in carriage).
Rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap or loose skin about the throat.
Long, well ribbed up.
Back : Rather long than short.
Loins : Slightly arched Croup : Great breadth across hips
Chest : Very deep, moderately broad, breast wide.
Ribs : Well sprung
Belly : Well drawn up.
TAIL: Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair.
Shoulders : Muscular, giving breadth of chest, set sloping.
Elbows : Well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards.
Forearm : Muscular, heavily boned, quite straight
HINDQUARTERS : Thighs : Long and muscular.
Stifle : Nicely bent. Second thigh : Well muscled, long and strong.
Hocks : Well let down and turning neither in nor out.
FEET : Moderately large and round, neither turned inward nor outwards. Toes, well arched and closed. Nails, very strong and curved.
GAIT / MOVEMENT : Movements easy and active.
COAT HAIR : Rough and hard on body, legs and head; especially wiry. Hair over eyes and beard especially wiry.
COLOUR AND MARKINGS : The recognised colours are grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn or any colour that appears in the Deerhound
SIZE AND WEIGHT : Desired height : averaging 32 inches (81cm) to 34 inches (86cm) in dogs. Minimum height : Dogs 31 inches (79 cm). Minimum weight : Dogs 120 pounds (54.5kg). Minimum height : Bitches 28 inches (71 cm).
Minimum weight : Bitches 90 pounds (40.5 kg).
FAULTS : Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog. Too light or too heavy a head. Too highly arched frontal bone. Crooked forelegs; weak pasterns. Weak hindquarters and a general want of muscle. Too short in body. Back sunken or hollow or quite straight. Large ears and hanging flat to the face. Twisted feet. Spreading toes. Short neck; full dewlap. Chest too narrow or too broad. Tail excessively curled. Nose of any colour other than black. Lips of any colour other than black. Very light eyes. Pink or liver coloured eyelids. Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.
NOTE : Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.



Judging IW – A Guide –
By Joel Samaha

Visions of the Breed by Breeder-Judges

Published and Distributed by The Irish Wolfhound Club of America, Inc.