The Top Speeds of the Irish Wolfhound

By Dondi Ratliff

The Irish wolfhound holds the record for being the tallest dog breed in the world. The wolfhound is a huge dog once used in warfare and for hunting gray wolves in Ireland. The history of this breed stretches back 2,000 years. They are impressive, and fast, canines.

Top Speeds of the Breed

An Irish wolfhound is a sighthound, related to the borzoi and greyhound. The greyhound is the fastest dog breed in the world at 45 mph. Other sighthounds fall somewhere between 30 and 40 mph.

As every dog within a breed is different, one Irish wolfhound may top out at 40 mph and another less than 30 mph. To find out the wolfhound's capabilities, consider one of the prey he was bred to hunt: the wolf. As mentioned, the gray wolf, when at his fastest, has a top speed of 40 mph over short distances. The wolfhound would, by necessity, have to keep up with his prey to kill it. This fact would place the Irish wolfhound's top speed close to 40 mph.

What Makes Them Fast?

What makes the wolfhound fast, despite his great size and weight, is the same thing that allows his lighter cousin, the greyhound, to fly around a track. It is all in the gait and structure of the dog.

Sighthounds have a particular gait when running that consists of:

  • A double-suspension rotary gallop
  • Two support phases and two flight phases

Their build is also important, as noted as far back as 1986. Mary Beth Arthur for the Pure-Bred Dogs/AKC Gazette writes that the sighthounds skeletal structure is not solid, but rather gives at many different points and in several directions to allow for the most motion. Both skeletal structure and muscles have to be resilient enough to handle several kinds of stresses while in full flight. In other words, they have to have more flexibility than heavier-muscled and heavier-boned dogs to achieve their great speeds.

The Irish wolfhound is more than just speed, however. He was bred for stamina and keeping up with prey over long distances. His size and weight may not make him the fastest breed of dog in the world, but what he was bred to do still comes through in his structure and speed today.