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Thread: Why Irish Wolfhounds are being crossed with other breeds

  1. #1
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    Default Why Irish Wolfhounds are being crossed with other breeds

    I'm posting this rather than hijacking the BYB thread... over there I mentioned that Irish Wolhounds are being crossed with Greyhounds (predominantly) to create a Lurcher type dog.

    A bit of history first; the great Irish dog of the Celts was originally bred to hunt and kill boar and wolves and fight alongside warriors in war. Wolves have by far the greatest PSI (pound per square inch) pressure in their jaws. This allows them to attack and hold prey to kill it. All dog breeds have a PSI "rating" but none come close to the native and wild wolf. The "cĂș", or original Celtic wolfdog as it was known, had massive size which allowed it to attack over the prey's head and seize the neck, allowing it to shake the prey to death. This was true for both wolves, and warriors on horseback!

    Unfortunately, with the almost complete culling of wolves in Ireland, the Irish Wolfhound's numbers dwindled to the point of almost extinction around the 18th century.

    Englishman Captain George Augustus Graham is responsible with a few other breeders for reaffirming the dogs' existence. In 1879 he wrote: "It has been ascertained beyond all question that there are few specimens of the breed still left in Ireland and England to be considered Irish wolfhounds, though falling short of the requisite dimensions. This blood is now in my possession." Captain Graham devoted his life to ensuring the survival of the Irish wolfdog. Owing to the small numbers of surviving specimens outcrossing was used in the breeding programme. It is believed that Great Dane, Deerhound and Mastiff dogs all played their part in Graham's creation of the dog we currently know as the Irish Wolfhound.

    Sooo, to come into modern times, many breeders, in their efforts to "recreate" the great Celtic wolfdog, focussed their breeding programmes on breeding Irish Wolfhounds of great size.

    The Irish Wolfhound is said to be one of the fastest, if not the fastest growing mammal on the planet. Wolfhound puppies when born are not significantly larger than most large breed puppies. By 18-20 months, these puppies have reached their adult height (which can be 37-39 inches at the shoulder for males and a bit smaller for females). Having seen firsthand numerous Wolfhound litters, I can tell you they progress from being able to be picked up to too big in a matter of days- not months! The extreme growth coupled with genetics pushing for greater and greater overall size has, in the last 3-5 years, I believe been a major factor in the incidence of many cancers- perticularly osteosarcomas (or bone cancers) which are felling wolfhounds in massive numbers and at ages as low as 2 years old. Right now we are in danger of losing the Irish Wolfhound breed altogether.

    Thus, many breeders have begun judicious outcrossing Wolfhounds with greyhounds to crate a Lurcher type dog which is showing far greater hybrid vigour, structural stability and lesser incidences of cancers. The dogs are a tad smaller, but this is probably the saving grace. Thus, the introduction of the Greyhound DNA to the Wolfhound DNA is allowing breeders to retain some Irish Wolfhound genes so the gene pool at least stays alive and we have a smaller, but still sight hound typed dog who retains the physical characteristics of the Wolfhound (the wire-like double coat, the facial furnishings, the trainability (true!!) and temperament of the IW breed without the immense growth pressure on young bodies.

    In my opinion, this seems to be a sensible use of outcrossing to stabilise a breed which is killing itself with instability brought on by unsustainable physical growth.

    Hope that was interesting- if you love romantic dog stories- check out the story of King Llewellyn's wolfhound "Gelert":

    The spearman heard the bugle sound, And cheerily smiled the morn;
    And many a brach, and many a hound, Obeyed Llewellyn's horn.
    And still he blew a louder blast, And gave a louder cheer:
    "Come, Gelert, come, why are thou last Llewellyn's horn to hear!
    "Oh, where does faithful Gelert roam? The flower of all his race! So true, so brave -- a lamb at home,
    A lion in the chase!"
    'Twas only at Llewellyn's board The faithful Gelert fed;
    He watched, he served, he cheered his lord,
    And sentinel'd his bed.
    In sooth he was a peerless hound, The gift of Royal John - But now no Gelert could be found,
    And all the chase rode on.
    And now as over rocks and dells The gallant chidings rise, All Snowdon's craggy chaos yells
    With many mingled cries.
    That day Llewellyn little loved The chase of hart or hare;
    And scant and small the booty proved,
    For Gelert was not there.
    Unpleased Llewellyn homeward hied, When, near the portal-seat, His truant, Gelert, he espied,
    Bounding his lord to greet. But when he gained the castle-door, Aghast the chieftain stood;
    The hound all o'er was smeared with gore --
    His lips, his fangs ran blood!
    Llewellyn gazed with fierce surprise,
    Unused such looks to meet, His favorite checked his joyful guise,
    And crouched and licked his feet.
    Onward in haste Llewellyn passed -- And on went Gelert too -- And still, where'er his eyes were cast,
    Fresh blood-gouts shocked his view!
    O'erturned his infant's bed he found, The bloodstained covert rent,
    And all around, the walls and ground,
    With recent blood besprent.
    He called his child -- no voice replied; He searched -- with terror wild;
    Blood! blood! he found on every side,
    But nowhere found the child!
    "Hell-hound! my child's by thee devoured!" The frantic father cried;
    And, to the hilt, his vengeful sword He plunged in Gelert's side!
    His suppliant looks, as prone he fell, No pity could impart;
    But still his Gelert's dying yell, Passed heavy o'er his heart.
    Aroused by Gelert's dying yell, Some slumberer wakened nigh:
    What words the parent's joy can tell,
    To hear his infant cry?
    Concealed beneath a tumbled heap, His hurried search had missed,
    All glowing from his rosy sleep
    The cherub-boy he kissed.
    Nor scathe had he, nor harm, nor dread -- But the same couch beneath Lay a gaunt wolf, all torn and dead --
    Tremendous still in death!
    Ah! what was then Llewellyn's pain, For now the truth was clear;
    The gallant hound the wolf had slain,
    To save Llewellyn's heir.
    Vain, vain was all Llewellyn's woe; "Best of thy kind, adieu!
    The frantic deed which laid thee low This heart shall ever rue!"
    And now a gallant tomb they raise, With costly sculpture decked;
    And marbles, storied with his praise, Poor Gelert's bones protect.
    Here never could the spearman pass, Or forester, unmoved;
    Here oft the tear-besprinkled grass Llewellyn's sorrow proved.
    And here he hung his horn and spear, And there, as evening fell,
    In fancy's ear he oft would hear Poor Gelert's dying yell.

  2. #2
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    Very interesting especially as I come from an Irish background. I didnt know any of this!

    My friend had an Irish wolfhound some years ago, what a magnificent animal, died when he was 7, but apperently that is a good age to live to!. I am also partial to greyhounds. Lurchers are nice dogs too.

  3. #3
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    Show lines of Neapolitan Mastiffs are the same and many of those also get bone cancer as well as other types of cancer, their average age is not 8 as is said, it is more like 4 years, bringing the size down does help with them as does crossing them, it still takes a lot of time and you do still get faults but over all the health of the population does improve, records of progeny performance need to be kept.

    Some lines will have to be discontinued, so weather you keep to pure bred dogs and go for smaller size and maybe bring back in some lines no longer registered for more diversity, or weather you cross them it is a long road, but worth it to save the breed.

    Whenever you read that just a few breeders 'rescued' a breed you can bet they used very few dogs and inbred the hell out of them to set their desired traits in a hurry, down the track this causes problems for the breed which many will just not admit.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Villain & Flirtt View Post
    Thus, many breeders have begun judicious outcrossing Wolfhounds with greyhounds to crate a Lurcher type dog which is showing far greater hybrid vigour, structural stability and lesser incidences of cancers. The dogs are a tad smaller, but this is probably the saving grace.
    Registered andf reputable breeders are not involved in any outcrossing of Wolfhounds. The Wolfhound gene pool is large enough to breed carefully within it, and there is no official program established to outcross. Any outcross Wolfhound mix and it's progeny would be ineligble for inclusion in the Wolfhound regsitrations.

    I prsonally know several breeders of wolfhounds whose dogs are formidably fit and fast, and regularly engage in hunting and coursing. These hounds are not outcrossed.

    When the Deerhound was nearly lost it was brought back from extinction by judicious (and officially sanctioned) use of Borzoi blood. At a later time when the Wolfhound was nerly lost it was brought back with Deerhound and Dane breeding - again officially sanctioned.

    Anyone outcrossing now is doing so off theirown bat and is in no way officially sanctioned. Every breed requires careful and conciencious breeding to minimise health problems, outcrossing is not a part of careful breeding.

    People in Australia outcross Wolfhounds with all sorts of things, often bull breed mixes for pig hunting not for the betterment of any breed. Lurchers are lovely but they don't play any role in breed development, there is an existing sighthound breed that can fulfill any function that they have.

  5. #5
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    There have been several threads on DOL a year or so ago about a mongrel breeder, now in jail, who was once a registered breeder, IW's he bred and registered which were said to have been proven through DNA testing to be crossed were being shown by their buyers in VIC.

    The ANKC refused to do anything about it, to the disgust of the other reputable IW breeders, if the ANKC will turn a blind eye to proven lies about parentage when it suits them, I don't see why, if a breed were in trouble they would not sanction a proper proposal to outcross, it has all been done before, I do agree it ought to be done under the watchful eye of a proper body and only if it must be.

    Such a project would hardly stop at one cross but continue, bringing the IW (or whatever breed is in trouble) back in until purity was again established plus the extra diversity of the breed(s) bought in.

  6. #6

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    I don't doubt it can be done if needed, my point being that the gene pool for IW is not struggling, and the health issues are being overblown by people who want to justify outcrossing. There is no need for it in this breed. It's no different to puppy farmers claiming they are cross breeding to improve the health of Cavaliers etc.

    If a breed is able to be recovered from any apparent health problems by breeding within it (ie there is sufficient healthy stock to avoid breeding with affected animals), outcrossing is a moot point.

    I know plenty of Australian Irish Wolfhound lines with no health problems, that are imposing, fit and active representatives of their breed. Lines recently imported to Australia from Sweden are also healthy and active dogs.

    Backyard bred ones are another story, and poor health and soundness can abound. Crossing already poor specimens of a breed with another breed doesn't radically improve things, you still continue those poor lines.

  7. #7
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    Backyard bred ones are another story, and poor health and soundness can abound. Crossing already poor specimens of a breed with another breed doesn't radically improve things, you still continue those poor lines.


    That is most certainly true NL

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    Nattylou, you are right, there are a number of finer points I did not include in the original post. I should have given it the title: Why some Irish Wolfhounds are being crossed with other breeds, it may have been less misleading. That wasn't my intention, but I do see in hindsight....

    I need to make clear it is 'many' not 'all' Irish Wolfhound breeders and the ones who are are actually not running a sanctioned program, nor are they looking to register the progeny as IW. The ones I am familiar with, however, are registered breeders not byb'ers who have line bred for many years and are now more interested in having a wolfhound type with hybrid vigor rather than purebreds who die at age 4-6 and break your bloody heart!

    Here is where there are two distinct factions in the IW club- those who continue to breed big, and do believe the gene pool wide enough and who occasionally bring in overseas blood versus the breeders outcrossing. I wish I could figure out where my IW photos are- my guys were HUGE, robust, healthy and had come from a line with great vigor, until suddenly they were dying of bone cancers. My guys titled at shows, hunted, coursed... In my opinion, the group choosing to leave the IW club have it right, but I'm well aware that there are others who oppose. We may just have to agree to disagree, but if the gene pool is big enough now, it won't be soon.

    All that aside, I DO NOT condone breeding just willy nilly. Records are being kept, for what they might be worth in time. When I had my big boy out in public I would invariably get requests to breed him to all manner of bitches because idiots were trying to create massive dogs. Needless to say, I always rudely refused.

    And you're right in a way about the Lurcher- yes, there is a breed to do any job needed in modern times, the Lurcher was created for purpose in a much different social climate. I used the term Lurcher type to be descriptive not to assign an appellative. Of course, the vast minority now use dogs for purpose the majority of pet owners don't select a breed based on historical purpose ( I exclude, obviously our working born and bred here and the few that do have their dogs work in some way ).

    As for the ba***rd breeder now in prison- may he rot there. The IW Club was appalled when the info came to light and worked alongside authorities to help get him out of society. His breeding program caused a world of hurt to the dogs, breeders, owners, and the breed.
    Last edited by Villain & Flirtt; 12-04-2010 at 02:28 PM. Reason: Typos

  9. #9
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    Forgot to mention: these same breeders are also line breeding with the smaller IW's but are running into other unexpected health issues; liver shunt, deafness, blindness, heart problems leading to culling.

  10. #10
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    sounds good

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