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The Standard of Excellence

New: 20 August 2003

I. History
II. First Impressions
III. What do you LIKE about that hound?
IV. Bulk vs Marathon Fitness
V. Subjectivity
VI. Mentor Form

I. History: The dog is the oldest domestic animal, traceable to the Paleolithic age, when dogs began to establish a peculiarly close relationship with humans, sharing their hearths at night and guarding the home, working during the day as sheepdogs or hunters. This close symbiotic relationship with people is reflected in the early literature and carvings where dogs seem to have clear connections. It is maintained that as early as the bronze age (1299-800 B.C.) there existed a coated Mastiff-like dog breed of medium size (25.5-27.5 inch), in Central Europe, more precisely in the area now known as Switzerland. This breed was favored by the Celts for hundreds of years and during their raids on Ireland, these dogs were the companion and warrior dog among those Celts who settled in Ireland after the conquest. Some of these Mastiff dogs were found to be particularly adept at killing the giant Irish Wolf which stood 30-36 inches at the withers and weighed over 210#; not so different to the Irish Wolf HOUND of today. The wolves often covered 30 miles in foraging a day with a territory of 500 miles. It became evident to the early Celts that with a predator this size, a hunter was needed to chase and kill them. Knowing this, now picture a pack of 5 to 7 hounds chasing a wolf of equal but heavier size over hill, dale, mountain and stream for hours on end. What does that hound look like in your mind’s eye? A mastiff? I think not. There would be no bulkiness and definitely depth of chest to provide lung space for this endurance chase. Most importantly KNOW your Standard to better identify what the constructors of that standard were looking for and meant.

Wood block print of the Celts in Gaul,
with ”barbarian” Mastiff War Dog.
(Approx. 86BC)

II. First Impressions. Open your mind’s eye and watch as the hounds enter the arena. Put in the forefront of that image an athlete; not just any athlete like a football player, but rather the well-conditioned marathon runner. Get your first impression of the ones that match your mental image. Go over all the connections based on the order The Standard places importance—i.e., great size and commanding appearance, as noted within the first line of The Standard. You have selected your first choices by first impression (height and overall balance). Now put the parts together. You have an image of the “perfect” ear and ear set. Does this hound have that? You have an image of the “perfect” movement for your hound. Do you see that when the hound moves? Now go back over each hound with a silhouette of your “perfect” hound and ascertain if there are areas that differ. In most cases, your first impression will be the more correct hound. And, we haven’t yet touched the hound. The Standard does not mention dentition, but it would seem necessary to note that a hound with a poor jaw structure and dentition would be hard-pressed to kill a wolf once it has been overtaken. The neck must be strong leading into very sound shoulders, especially as the Irish Wolfhound would grab the wolf before the shoulders and attempt to snap the neck by lifting and jerking which meant lifting the wolf. Would the jaw, neck and shoulders you are feeling be capable of this action? Traveling back along the hound’s body, chest depth, not breadth, is vital for breathing on long enduring chases. Is the front a hand-span; is the bottom line of the chest at or close to the elbow point? The ribs? Are they well-sprung…by that it is meant, having some curvature and flex, rather than barrel-like or slab-flat. The groin should show a good tuck up. Why? Imagine a hound trying to get his knees to pass a round, saggy belly during a chase. Always remember this is a coursing (chase) hound. Now for the tail set. Does it come straight off the end of the spine? Then it is too high. Does the rear appear to tuck under? Then the tail is set too low. It should be long, approximately to the hock. For simplicity’s sake, this is the croup area which should have good muscle coverage to support the tail and propulsion. The tail is both a balancing rudder and turn-signal-indicator for the following hounds. The thighs should be full not flat. The inner thighs are double—upper and lower, both should be moderately distinct. The curve of the knee/stifle should be noticeable but not bowed like a semi-circle, more like an oval. The hocks from heel to foot should be about the width of a hand-span, which would mean it is “well let down”. So now you check the gender—male or female—and there must be two testicles for the male. Return to the head for a final look. Examine ear position and rose set; eyes of darkest hue in keeping with the coat color; nose black as night. Step back. Overlay your silhouette once again.
What do you LIKE about this hound? You now have your mental image and your hands have confirmed many of those image points. Rate your chart with your First Impressions. Give yourself some clues on what you LIKE about the hound.
IV. Bulk vs Marathon Fitness: Your silhouette has given you some of the over-all points, now to movement. Again, bring out the image of the chase. View the hound as if he faced a long-distance, marathon run ahead of him, can he do it? Modern day hounds are not conditioned for the rigors that the ancient hound faced. We are fortunate if some come into the arena who have large wide-open spaces to run in and do, or who have the opportunities to do open field or lure coursing because it requires that the owner keep the hound fit and well-conditioned. You can feel the difference, especially in the upper shoulder and 2nd thigh, as they will be more firm and “puffy”. Consider the body builder human and their sinewy, bulging muscles, temper that with the leanness of the marathon runner and you’ll have a picture for your hands to identify. Unless the hound of your first impression has a glaring deficiency—no muscle tone, weak jaw upon examination, poor movement—then you can feel comfortable that you have made a good selection. The movement on your first impression hound will be free, floating, far reaching, rear driving and almost gay! If you let your “first impression” be your guide. The side movement on your hound will move at a ground-eating gait where the front toes fall on a line with the nose and the rear toes will fall on a line with the tail tip. This movement may be constricted by the size of the arena, so adaptation is necessary to accommodate. The going-coming should converge. I think of it as an Indian Walk—almost toeing in as the feet appear to move in an inward arc in front, and a straight line in the rear. A bit of closeness at the slow gait should not be faulted unless they touch or wobble side to side. The topline should hold steady with little up and down movement. Imagine how tiring the chase would be if the back “bounced”. Do the hounds in your First Impression have Bulk or the appearance of having Marathon Fitness?
V. Subjectivity: Judging is a subjective process at best, just as the selection process for those judges. In each case personal factors come into the formula. The Judge may be swayed by the mental view they have of their own breedings; the committee choosing the judge may have a mental view of what the judge will award to, especially if it is of the same style held by the committee in whole or part. Methods for the committee being less swayed include a vote by the whole membership on all eligible judges. This, too, can become a popularity vote since less than 10 percent of the voting block actually will be exhibiting to any judge, and those members are not privy to the capabilities for judging the breed. This process then could become a selection by default or by ballot stuffing, so to speak. Then, too, there is the debate of whether it is more subjective to have a breeder-judge or a sighthound-specific judge or an all-around hound judge or an all-breed judge.

Just as noted in the selection process, the Breeder-Judge has a very well-defined image in his mind’s eye and quite possibly it is so well-defined that it excludes all else. Even those hounds that may have more “perfections” in body structure than is noted in the Breeder-Judge’s own kennel. The all-sighthound Judge has a broader viewpoint and understanding of the functions of each and may not be so closed to updating his mental image. The all-around Hound Judge has so many variables to deal with from the Norwegian Elk Hound, the Dachshund and Beagle, that is seems likely that the nuances of the Irish Wolfhound would be less noticeable for him in his judging. Going to the all-breed Judge, we would face the same dilemma, unless he started from the Breeder-Judge position and has, over the years, continued to update his mental image of what was his primary breed. This, then, gives us the overview of “subjectivity” in judging and selection of judges. None of these methods are faulty, just different. Which, for you, would be the most effective for your style of hound?

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An Understanding of The Standard and Order of Merit

(Standard) General Appearance--Of great size and commanding appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is remarkable in combining power and swiftness with keen sign. The largest and tallest of the galloping hounds, in general type he is a rough-coated, Greyhoundlike 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 minimum height and weight of dogs should be 32 inches and 120 pounds; of bitches, 30 inches and 105 pounds; these to apply only to hounds over 18 months of age. Anything below this should be debarred from competition. 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 from 32 to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry.
(Order of Merit) 1. Typical—The Irish Wolfhound is a rough-coated Greyhoundlike breed, the tallest of the coursing hounds and remarkable in combining power and swiftness.
2. Great size and commanding appearance.
Movements easy and active.
4. Head, long and level, carried high.
            What are the main components strongly delineated in these first statements about the Irish Wolfhound? In the first line the phrase “great size and commanding appearance”; in the second line “largest and tallest of the galloping hounds; in the third line “Greyhoundlike breed, very muscular, strong though gracefully built”; and in the fourth line “head and neck carried high”. All else leads back to those four opening lines of the Standard with “great size, including height at shoulder” and “requisite power, activity, courage and SYMMETRY [Ed. Emphasis]”. The Order of Merit emphasizes those four attributes. There are shadow areas in interpretation of many phrases and statements, but the paramount image to be relayed is one of a very large dog, tall not bulky, well-proportioned and remarkable in graceful build and movement. Bulky and Greyhoundlike are simply a total contradiction, An Irish Wolfhound should NEVER be bulky.
            Commanding Appearance means the hound displays an obvious sense of being “royalty”, a sense of superiority, dignity, calm and pride. Commanding Appearance is a quality which comes from within the dog and has nothing to do with grooming. Only a dog with good temperament can have this quality. Aggression or shyness are in crass opposition to the traits mentioned above. The Wolfhound demeanor will be outgoing, confident and friendly, and may be reserved and aloof, never shy or aggressive. And, though there is no maximum height mentioned in the standard to denote “great size”, it does NOT mean bigger is better UNLESS there is balance and proportion as well.
            The continued reference to the Greyhound in the Standard should make the Judge aware of the outline desired in this breed. It does not say, Mastiff-like or Great Dane-like, it says: GREYHOUND-LIKE. Nor is the breed to resemble its lighter cousin, the Scottish Deerhound. While there was an original likeness in the Deerhound and the Wolfhound, those similarities have long since changed to accommodate the terrains and prey each eventually faced.
            In the description of “head, long and level, carried high” it is NOT intended that the neck and shoulder be so straight up that it resembles the Saluki or Afghan. A head carried up too high can indicate a poorly aligned shoulder assembly. This “carried high” reference is interpreted to mean above the topline at a goodly angle of about 135 degrees off the shoulder point, when at a stand. In movement, this angle becomes more pronounced and at the gallop, the head on the open suspension will be below the topline; at the collected suspension, the head will be again at the 135 degrees. Try to imagine a collected suspension gallop on a hound with his head upright at 90 degrees to the shoulder. If that hound didn’t fall over, it would be a miracle in compensation!

(The Standard)Head--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 and Greyhoundlike in carriage.
Neck--Rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap or loose skin about the throat.
(The Order of Merit) 10. Ears, small, with Greyhoundlike carriage.
            While there is no mention of dentition, faulty dentition should be “faulted” depending on the level of the problem. The Authors must have felt we would know that a dog whose prey was his own size would need good teeth, jaw and neck muscling. The long, well arched neck gives evidence of strength. No ewe necks or heavy dewlaps at the throat. The rose ear is very important to the expression of this hound. They should be small in comparison to the size of the head, set on high at the side of the skull and well back. A low set ear makes the skull look domed and gives a sleepy expression, while the high set gives a Terrier look. Big, thick and flat ears would give the impression of a Great Dane. This hound is neither of these. Viewed in profile the planes of the skull and muzzle should be parallel; there is very little stop and very little indentation between the eyes.. A scissor bit is preferred, but level is acceptable. Cheeks should be well muscled but not bulging with a well developed, strong lower jaw.

(Standard) Forequarters--Shoulders, muscular, giving breadth of chest, set sloping. Elbows well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards.
(Order of Merit) 5.
Forelegs, heavily boned, quite straight; elbows well set under.
Chest, very deep, moderately broad.
           What we have here is just a bit obscure. “Breadth of chest”, “elbows well under”, however if the chest is too broad at the breast bone it impinges on the free and easy movement of the forelegs. There is always a moderation when understanding just what the authors meant. And, as we get further into the Standard, the inclusion of the phrase in item 3 (3. Movements easy and active) of the Order of Merit becomes more important to that understanding. Why is it so strongly stated that the elbows must be well (set) under if the Standard also calls for “breadth of chest”? Again that mental image of the hound in full gallop needs to be examined. If the chest is broad at the breast bone, the angle of the shoulder is brought tightly together across the shoulders and restricts movement (like overloaded shoulders). If it is broad at the true chest, just at the underarm at the elbow, and tapers to the breast bone, the hound has full, easy swing of his limbs and the shoulders/withers are not restricted. So we must interpret chest to mean the area of the front assembly across from elbow line to elbow line. Check for breadth here, not at the breast bone. The reference to heavily boned is not to give the impression of the St. Bernard. Rather to indicate density of bone, which in appearance could be slender, never columnar. Remember that the length and lay-back of the upper arm will determine whether the elbows are well under, together with the spring of rib, for fluid movement.

(The Standard) Back--Rather long than short. Loins arched.
Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair.
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.
(Order of Merit) 6.
Thighs long and muscular; second thighs, well muscled, stifles nicely bent.
Body, long, well-ribbed up, with ribs well sprung, and great breadth across hips.
Loins arched, belly well drawn up.
Feet, moderately large and round; toes, close, well arched.
FAULTS--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-colored or lacking pigmentation.
           Unique to the Irish Wolfhound is its topline, which should have a slight arch over the loins, curving into well muscled hips and thighs with a gentle rounding to the croup. To accurately assess the arch, feel upwards along the last rib to the spine, then move forward two vertebrae; this is where the rise should start. The length of back should be from withers to last rib. Ribs must be nicely sprung to give an oval appearance, never barrel shaped (round) or flat (slab). Nothing exaggerated; just a gentle rise. If the hound is stacked incorrectly (too wide in the rear), then the topline will appear level. On the move, there should be no bounce to detract from the efficiency of movement.
           Again we have the Greyhound reference in Hindquarters. Imagine the structure of the Greyhound (even as we know it today), double its size and add a rough coat. It should appear as a great running hound with a coat that does not catch in the brambles and thickets during the chase. The Greyhound coat and skin would be too thin and sensitive to course in the areas for which the Irish Wolfhound was developed. Even the original mastiff-like breed used in this development had a short, harsh coat. Over the generations, the coat became more pronounced and useful; and the structure more lean. Greyhound feet are well-arched and CLOSED [Ed. Emphasis]. Feet are the foundation of the hound and when standing they should point slightly out, be well-arched, and have strong, flexible pasterns for good balance. Do not confuse this SLIGHT toeing out with the East-West front. If we look again at the faults, “spreading toes” are listed. How could a coursing hound gallop through the thickets, over hill and dale, if it could not grip the ground as it ran? What would happen to the endurance level of a flat footed hound? Why the reference in the Order of Merit to “body, long, well-ribbed up”, and in The Standard “back rather long than short”? Does the rather long give the hound more maneuverability? Of course. A short back would have the long legs over-running themselves. Why would the Authors ask for “great breadth across the hips”? For the hind legs to clear the front legs at the gallop; for drive and propulsion; for support in an endurance run, to name a few reasons. This is a galloping hound and there is no space for fat or rotund bellies. Does it really matter that the tail is long and slightly curved, and well covered with hair? Yes, of course. We could make a debate on the rudder vs turn signal indicator premises, but why not both? The need for balance in quick turns is facilitated by the tail AND it alerts the following hounds of the direction of the upcoming turn. The hair covering protects the tail from serious damage as it swings out and about during a run. A properly set-on tail enhances the balance of the hound during the hunt and chase.

(The Standard) Color and Markings--The recognized colors are gray, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, or any other color that appears in the Deerhound.
(Order of Merit) 16.
Eyes, dark.
           For this discussion, coat color is so inconsequential that it will not be covered here, other than to say, the Standard is very clear on this point. Even the list of Faults does not mention coat color. However, the blue mentioned in the Deerhound standard is not the blue of the Great Dane. Remember, there are NO FAULTS in coat color. The texture of a coat is desired to be coarse and harsh, there is no list in the Faults about silky or wooly or lack of furnishings. There is a preference for wiry and long coat over the eyes and along the under jaw. All else being equal, a lack of these should not be counted as a fault. Pigmentation and eye color are mentioned in passing, so to speak. The former (pigmentation) is noted in Faults; the latter, eye color (dark) is noted in the Order of Merit as the last item (16). Some faults are more obvious, which does not necessarily make them more serious. Yellow eyes, for instance, are easy to spot, yet is it a serious fault? Not according to the list of points in the Order of Merit. Eye color that blends well with the coat color is acceptable—whether light or dark.
           The eyes of the Irish Wolfhound are set well apart and preferably dark, almond shaped and never sunken or bulging. They should have a gentle, mischievous, confident, or even aloof, expression, but never frightened, dull or aggressive.

           A major omission by the Authors of our Standard is Temperament. In its original form, this breed was a warrior who fought alongside the foot soldier as his constant companion, guardian, protector during war and provider during a hunt. Temperament was of the one-man level. Though the Standard says “commanding appearance”, it does not define what that is. Yet, the keyword for temperament stated in General Appearance is: COURAGE. Suffice it to say, a hound that pulls away or is shy, cannot project a commanding appearance except from a distance. This breed is staunch, courageous, powerful yet has evolved into a gentle protector of family, but not hearth. Any evidence of fear even in a small puppy is to be discouraged and never rewarded by a judge. How to identify shyness over puppy playfulness is easy. The shy and fearful will roll their eyes and pull away making it difficult to stack them for examination; the playful will fall to the ground and roll belly up licking your hands, also making it difficult to stack them for examination. You discount and withhold from the former, but consider the latter for sometime in the future. Handing a ribbon to an owner/handler is the encouragement to continue, but the shy puppy should be home and not stressed by a show career. If that puppy continues and is in the adult arena with the same temperament, it should be excused or totally discounted because part of Irish Wolfhound TYPE is their temperament.

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