Wolfhounds belong to a group of dogs known as sight hounds – canines that were bred for hunting prey using sight and speed instead of scent. Sight hounds include the Afghan, Greyhounds, Whippets, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Scottish Deerhounds, and the Irish and Russian Wolfhounds. Most of these dog breeds have existed for centuries; they were used primarily to hunt deer and hare. However, the Wolfhounds were bred to hunt and protect against wolves and other large predators as well as for companion animals and guard dogs.
The Borzoi was known as the Russian Wolfhound in America until 1936. Built for speed and endurance, it is a popular breed on the lure coursing field. This event involves dogs chasing a mechanized lure (ie, plastic bags) that is operated by a pulley system. Sight hounds are the most common type of dog on the course, but some courses are open to any dog breed. Borzoi are also seen in show rings. Russian aristocracy bred them for centuries. They were used for hunting wolves, foxes and hares in that country, sometimes in hunting parties that involved 100 dogs. The large Borzoi can stand 2 ½ feet (76cm) tall at the shoulder. They are considered affectionate with their people but also have an independent nature. They need daily exercise but should be kept on a leash during walks as they will chase anything. They also need large, fenced yards for running. Their long, silky coats need frequent bathing and brushing.
The muscular, rough-coated Irish Wolfhound is another large, greyhound-like dog; in fact, this is the largest of the dog breeds in height, standing up to 3 feet (91cm) tall at the shoulder and weighing more than 100 pounds (45kg). Irish Wolfhounds date back centuries, some dog enthusiasts say as far back as several hundred years before Christ. Irish Wolfhounds hunted with their humans as well as fought beside them in battle. Extremely loyal, these canines also guarded houses and castles and protected family members. They were used not only to hunt wolves, but also to hunt large deer and elk. Their skills were so adept that the prey they hunted disappeared from Ireland, and this dignified breed of dog almost did as well. Additionally, after the conquest of Ireland by England, only nobility could own these dogs. Today, they are popular as family pets and in the show ring. Easy-going in nature though intimidating in size, these wolfhounds are considered gentle giants, and they make great family pets. Its course coat requires frequent brushing. Like its cousins, the Irish Wolfhound’s instinct is to chase prey. Therefore, it needs to be leashed when walked and to have a fenced yard for running. Interestingly, Ireland’s national rugby league team is known as the Wolfhounds.
The Scottish Deerhound
The Scottish Deerhound was once known as the Scottish Wolfhound, the Highland Deerhound, and the Scotch Greyhound. This breed resembles the greyhound, but is larger and has much longer fur. Like the Borzoi, Scottish Deerhounds are used in lure coursing, as family pets, and entered in dog shows. This breed of sight hound also has ancient roots, as far back as the 16th century when it was used for hunting deer. Like its cousin, the Irish Wolfhound, the Scottish Deerhound at one time could only be owned by the wealthy, usually no lower in status than an earl. Such exclusivity brought the breed to near extinction; however, it was revived during the early 1800s. The Scottish Deerhound’s hair on its body and neck is coarse and wiry while the fur on its head, chest and stomach is much softer. Its coat is easy to keep. The breed is known for its quiet demeanor and, though large in size, the Scottish Deerhound makes a wonderful family pet. However, like all sight hounds, the Scottish Deerhound is a runner and a chaser, therefore, walks should only be done on leash and runs allowed in a fenced backyard.
Although Wolfhounds are large in stature, they are also large in heart, possessing wonderful, quiet temperaments and devotion to their owners. Therefore, though intimidating in size and historically used for hunting large game, Wolfhounds of today are family pets most often seen in show rings and dog competitions such as lure coursing. An owner of such dogs needs to keep a keen eye on them. Wolfhounds should only be walked on a leash and allowed to run in enclosed areas under supervision. A dedicated owner will reap great rewards of loyalty and camaraderie from these big breeds.