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Book Review
The New Complete Irish Wolfhound
by Joel Samaha

Review by: Kate Connick, November 2003

Joel Samaha's The New Complete Irish Wolfhound is exactly what a breed-specific dog book strives to be. Well-researched, well written, informative and entertaining, it is hard to find fault with this book. It probably doesn't hurt that I like Irish Wolfhounds, either.

Samaha begins by tracing the breed's origin, near demise, and restoration by Captain George Graham. Throughout the book, Samaha continually references Graham as well as other breed authorities and historical observers. The result is that he creates a cogent historical perspective through which to understand what the breed was meant to do, how it must appear physically in order to perform its intended function, and how it can fall short in various, predictable regards.

A reader cannot walk away from this book without understanding and genuinely appreciating that an Irish Wolfhound must be both greyhoundy and powerful. Moreover, one comes to appreciate the difficulty of achieving this delicate balance. A little too far in one direction, and the result is weak and deerhoundy. A little too far the other way, and the result is a cumbersome, mastiffy/daney animal. Neither is correct for a wolfhound, as the author repeatedly explains.

The 1950 breed standard is provided and thoughtfully interpreted. Pencil sketches illustrate common conformational faults, but it is the text itself that shines in bringing the standard to life. The author clearly comes across as a devoted student of and expert on the breed, historically as well as personally. And yet his humility in the face of history and the opinions of other breed experts is refreshing.

Samaha's comments on character nicely capture the strengths and drawbacks of the breed. He is not afraid to address such concerns as shyness and aggression, and he honestly concedes "two sad but universal characteristics all owners must live with: Irish wolfhounds mature late and die young." He nicely points out,

"All puppies, whatever their breed, chew, dig, play rough, and get into what humans call mischief. Since Irish Wolfhounds are much bigger, and stay puppies much longer, they will dig much bigger holes, chew much more extensively, and make much bigger 'messes' than other puppies over an extended period of time."

To his credit, Samaha does not appear to be blindly obsessed with title-acquisition for its own sake. Although he admits, for example, that it is possible to humanely compete in obedience trials with wolfhounds, he is quite forthcoming in asserting that it is not in the breed's nature "to respond with the quick, precise, almost reflex action" of traditional obedience breeds. All he really expects from his own hounds are basic manners.

He's not even especially excited with the prospect of coursing titles, as too great an emphasis on that would favor ultra-refined, deerhoundy wolfhounds. Samaha doesn't want Irish Wolfhounds to excel in every area of dog activity; he simply wants to preserve them as true-to-type as possible.

The author's priority for appraising Irish Wolfhounds is conformation showing, something which ordinarily doesn't impress me much. Nonetheless, for two reasons I can respect the author's perspective. One, everything about the standard is tied into the breed's historical function and reason for existence, yet that purpose no longer exists. Therefore, the breed now exists essentially as a tribute to its ancestors, and what better way to evaluate a living replica of history than a conformation show? All a modern-day Irish Wolfhound needs to be capable of is giving the appearance of being able to hunt wolves, and appearance is what a dog show measures.

Secondly, but more importantly, the author does not focus on the breed's physical conformation at the expense (or omission) of temperament. Although the book is decidedly slanted towards conformation showing, the author repeatedly and explicitly emphasizes the need to produce animals that are not only physically correct but also mentally sound.

This book is illustrated with numerous black and white photos of good quality. Some of the author's ideas might be a bit questionable, like his advice on housetraining (leaving a puppy in one's car while at work so that it can be taken out frequently) but the book isn't intended to be a training manual. The content is entirely breed-specific, and as an exploration of breed character and physique as understood through a historical perspective, this book excels. There is information that can be appreciated by both the serious fancier as well as the regular pet owner. This is a book that belongs on every Irish Wolfhound lover's shelf.

The New Complete Irish Wolfhound, by Joel Samaha.
Published by Howell Book House, 1991. ISBN: 0876051719

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