BY PAMELA STACE
Many years ago, I fell in love with Italian Greyhounds when I saw them competing at a Racine Kennel Club dog show. I even picked out a name if I would ever be lucky enough to have one: Paolo. I was attracted to their elegant good looks, the fact that they were often depicted in Renaissance paintings (I was an Art History major) and that you could pick them up and hold them like cats.
Years later, after settling on the Afghan Hound as my breed, I learned that Italian Greyhounds (or IGs) are indeed cuddly but also every bit the athletic hunters that their other Sighthound cousins are.
As is the case for many of our dog breeds, the origins of the Italian Greyhound are sketchy, but we do know that they were not developed in Italy. It is widely believed that the breed came out of Turkey and Greece about 2000 years ago, where images of small Greyhound-like dogs have been found on ancient artifacts. From there, the Italian Greyhound spread throughout the Mediterranean and by the Middle Ages could be found throughout Southern Europe.
Bred for companionship and as a hunter of small game, the little dogs quickly became the darlings of the aristocracy. Royal owners included Charles I, Catherine the Great and later, Queen Victoria during whose reign the popularity of IGs peaked in England. Frederick II of Prussia especially liked the breed and owned more than 50 of the little dogs! IGs can be seen being held by their highborn owners in Renaissance art and portraits. They were especially beloved by wealthy Italians and soon became known as Italian Greyhounds. In the United States, the Italian Greyhound was recognized by the AKC in 1886 and this year was ranked 73rd out of 193 in popularity.
The Smallest Sighthound
IGs were bred down from the Greyhound and as such have all of the larger dogs hunting and speed capabilities. They are energetic and playful runners and jumpers, but because of their strong prey drive, cannot be relied upon to stay in place off-leash. They are sometimes referred to as Velcro dogs because they like to stick close to their humans and will follow them everywhere, even under bedcovers. IGs are affectionate and don’t like to be left alone for too long. They love attention, although they are not fond of roughhouse play. They are good with children who can respectfully and carefully interact with them.
IGs can be barkers, and for being small dogs, they make good watchdogs. Like cats, IGS love warmth and heights. They enjoy sunshine through a window and sitting on windowsills and chair backs. Because they are not always careful when running and jumping, IGs can injure themselves when they are in high gear.
It is advisable to keep them crated when unsupervised, especially when they are under a year old because their bones aren’t fully developed. They have been known to break them! IGs respond to positive, motivational training. They need it to be fun and seem as if it was all their idea! An Italian Greyhound is a wash-and-wear dog. They have short glossy coats that are easy to keep clean, although they are medium shedders. Because of their need for warmth, a nice warm winter coat is a must here in Wisconsin. As is the case with other small breeds, IGs are sometimes slow to become house trained but will eventually get it in response to gentle positive reinforcement training.
Because IGs are intelligent and athletic, they are perfect for many organized dog activities. They excel at obedience, rally, agility and lure coursing.Their distinctive high-stepping gait is impressive in the show ring.
Because they are generally adaptable to any environment that contains the humans they love, Italian Greyhounds can live almost anywhere. They make excellent apartment dogs but do need regular exercise. They love to run and can go as fast as 25mph! Again, they will take off if they spy something interesting to chase, so they can never be off-leash or outside a secure, fenced-in area. Like all of their Sighthound cousins, they are born thieves! And of course, they love being held!
Italian Greyhounds are generally healthy but can be prone to some health issues. These include epilepsy, thyroid problems, cataracts, periodontal disease and hip dysplasia. They are also sensitive to pesticides.
The Best of Both Worlds
The Italian Greyhound is a Sighthound/Toy combination. An IG combines the qualities of a cuddly, loving lap dog with the impressive speed and prey drive of a Sighthound. I’d say this is the best of two worlds found together in one beautiful, portable package!
Italian Greyhound Club of
Italian Greyhound Club of
America Rescue www.igrescue.com
Homeland: Turkey and Greece, later Europe.
Original Job: Hunter of small game and companion dog.
Size: 13-15 inches, 7-14 lbs.
Coat Colors: Solid black, blue sable, red sable, fawn and cream, sometimes with varying amounts of white coloring. Never brindle or classic black and tan pattern.
Grooming: Regular bathing, nail trimming and teeth brushing.
Exercise: Moderate exercise with regular good romps.
Lifespan: 12-15 years.