This hybrid is a combination of two giant breeds from ancient history, the massive and powerful English Mastiff and the giant, galloping Sighthound known as the Irish Wolfhound. Mastiff-like dogs have been depicted in ancient artwork from Asia dating as far back as 2500 BC, and these substantial canines were even recorded as marching alongside Hannibal and his armies as they crossed the Alps. Because they are consummate guard dogs and hunting companions, they became favored by landholders and peasants alike for their easy-going and steadfast nature when they reached England.
Unfortunately, World Wars I and II had an extremely negative impact on the canine population of Europe’s particularly in regards to larger sized dogs like English Mastiffs. They were often placed in double jeopardy during the wars because they were too big to easily keep fed during rationing and they were also considered useful on the front lines, pulling munitions carts and most likely resulting in many deaths. By the time both of the wars had ended the English Mastiff was nearly extinct, at one point down to just fifteen dogs known dogs worldwide that were able to contribute to the gene pool. Mastiff puppies were imported to England from scant populations in both the United States and Canada to help revive the breed, and they have since seen a resurgence in popularity, becoming the 28th most popular breed according to the AKC.
The Irish Wolfhound is also an ancient breed, noted as far back in history as 391 AD, when several of them were gifted to the Royal Consul from Ireland. They were used to hunt down very large prey such as elk, boar, and, of course, the now extinct Irish Wolf that they were named for. Once the last of the wolves was killed in 1786, the population of Irish Wolfhounds also began to dwindle and by the middle of the 1800s, there were very few left. If it hadn’t been for the work of a Captain George Augustus Graham, a Scotsman enlisted in the British army, they may have gone extinct altogether. In 1862 he gathered all of the Irish Wolfhounds he could find and attempted to resurrect the breed. In order to do so, outcrosses with Scottish Deerhounds, Great Danes, Russian Wolfhounds, and other dogs were utilized to bring back the breed’s health and vitality. The Irish Wolfhound was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1897 and by the Kennel Club of England in 1925.