Irish wolfhounds from all around the world descended upon Gray Summit, MO this week for the 2014 Irish Wolfhound Club of America National Specialty.

The five-day-long celebration of the massive, shaggy hunting breed kicked off on Sunday with a welcome reception and ends today with an awards dinner and announcements of the winners for Best of Breed and Best Gait, among other categories.

Irish wolfhounds, companions to the High Kings of Ireland, were especially prized in the Middle Ages and became so popular throughout Europe that Oliver Cromwell instated a ban on the export of wolfhounds. They typically stand 32 inches in height and weigh around 120 pounds. They are sight hunters, reliant on their keen eyes and great galloping speed rather than their snouts to track their quarry.

Irish wolfhounds are the mascot of the Irish Guards in the British Army, and also of the 69th New York regiment in the US Army. The "Fighting 69th's motto of “Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked” is inspired by the temperament of the wolfhound.

The hounds participating in the National Specialty, held just outside St. Louis at Purina Farms, were on their best behavior. Some owners traveled from as far as France and Canada with their canine companions to compete in trials ranging from obedience and conformation to best of breed.

There were also seminars and activities devoted to grooming, training and handling. The tallest breed in the American Kennel Club, wolfhounds have an average lifespan of just 6 – 8 years, making longevity and care another popular topic.

One of the proud owners, Eileen Flanagan, whose dog Bennie was number one in the country last year, told the local Fox News station “I’m the fourth generation in my family to have Irish wolfhounds and they’re part of you. They’re part of you like your other half.”