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 "cú", 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.