The Italian Greyhound dog breed was a favorite companion of noblewomen in the Middle Ages, especially in Italy. But this small hound was more than a lap dog, having the speed, endurance, and determination to hunt small game. These days, he’s a family dog whose beauty and athleticism is admired in the show ring and in obedience, agility, and rally competitions.
One foot lifted from the ground, ears perked, eyes fixed on the horizon — the Italian Greyhound neither knows nor cares that he’s small enough to tuck under your arm. A Greyhound in miniature, he’s nonetheless a somewhat fragile toy dog who needs to be protected from larger dogs, rough children, and his own impetuous nature.
He’s a smart dog, but somehow didn’t get the memo that he’s very, very tiny and his legs are very slender. Broken bones seem to be a fact of life with some Italian Greyhounds, and while some dogs’ bones are sturdier than others, it’s something every IG owner needs to be prepared for, and prevent if possible.
The IG can live happily in an apartment, and while he needs to be given enough exercise to keep him tired out when he’s young, he’ll settle into a comfortable routine once the puppy years are behind him.
Grooming couldn’t be easier: an occasional soft brushing to keep shedding from becoming a problem, along with keeping the nails trimmed and the ears clean, and you’re done. Regular teeth brushing is a good idea, too.
Training is another story. While Iggys, as they’re nicknamed, are tractable and loving people-magnets, they’re also stubborn and a bit defiant – and very creative at showing their displeasure. Unlike some very small dogs nipping and barking don’t tend to be big problems, but housetraining can be. Use gentle, consistent training and establish acceptable routines from the very beginning, or you might find yourself with a problem.
Although the Italian Greyhound is extremely small and needs to be protected from rambunctious children and dogs larger than he is, he usually gets along well with other dogs and with cats.
- Italian Greyhounds were bred to hunt and still have the hunting instinct. They’ll chase anything that moves, including cars, so when you’re outside keep them on leash or in a fenced area.
- This breed is sensitive to drugs such as anesthetics of the barbiturate class and organophosphate insecticides. Make sure your veterinarian is aware of these sensitivities, and avoid using organophosphate products to treat your home and yard for fleas.
- Italian Greyhound puppies are fearless and believe they can fly. Broken bones are common in pups between four and 12 months old, particularly the radius and ulna.
- Although they’re clever, Italian Greyhounds have a short attention span and a “what’s in it for me?” attitude toward training. Keep training sessions short and positive, using play, treats, and praise to motivate your Italian Greyhound to learn.
- This breed can be extremely difficult to housetrain. Even if you follow a housetraining program religiously, your Italian Greyhound may never be totally trustworthy in the house. It helps to have a dog door, so your dog can come and go as he wishes. And if your dog gives you the signs that he needs to go outside, take him out that instant — they’re not good at holding it.
- Italian Greyhounds need lots of love and attention, and if they don’t get it, they’ll become shy or hyper.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
Other Quick Facts
- The IG is a true hound and enjoys outdoor activity as well as the luxuries of home.
- The Italian Greyhound can be difficult to housetrain, which means he is not always a perfect candidate for apartment living unless you can stay on top of his need to go out or teach him to use a litter box or papers.
- The Italian Greyhound has fine, short coat that is simple to groom and comes in most colors and patterns. The coat sheds very little.
- The IG is highly athletic and is capable of jumping onto tables and countertops.
- Italian Greyhounds enjoy dog sports such as lure coursing, agility, rally and even weight pulling.
AKC group: Toy
UKC group: Companion Dog
Average lifespan: 12 – 15 years
Average size: 6 – 10 pounds
Coat appearance: Short, smooth, fine
Other identifiers: Slender, delicate bone structure; elegant and graceful demeanor
The name of the breed is a reference to the breed’s popularity in Renaissance Italy. Mummified dogs very similar to the Italian Greyhound have been found in Egypt, and pictorials of small Greyhounds have been found in Pompeii, and they were probably the only accepted companion-dog there. Dogs similar to Italian Greyhounds are recorded as having been seen around Emperor Nero’s court in Rome in the first century AD.
The breed is believed to have originated more than 2,000 years ago in the countries now known as Greece and Turkey. This belief is based on the depiction of miniature greyhounds in the early decorative arts of these countries and on the archaeological discovery of small greyhound skeletons. By the Middle Ages, the breed had become distributed throughout Southern Europe and was later a favorite of the Italians of the sixteenth century, among whom miniature dogs were in great demand. Sadly, though, ‘designer’ breeders tried, and failed, to make the breed even smaller by crossbreeding it with other breeds of dogs. This only led to mutations with deformed skulls, bulging eyes and dental problems. The original Italian Greyhound had almost disappeared when groups of breeders got together and managed to return the breed to normal. From this period onward the history of the breed can be fairly well traced as it spread through Europe, arriving in England in the seventeenth century.
The grace of the breed has prompted several artists to include the dogs in paintings, among others Velázquez, Pisanello, and Giotto.
The breed has been popular with royalty. Among the royal aficionados are Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Anne, Queen Victoria, Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great and Maud, Queen of Norway.
The breed is also represented in the film Good Boy!. Nelly is an Italian Greyhound played by “Motif” and “Imp”.
The Italian Greyhound is sensitive, alert, smart, and playful. He’s affectionate with his family, and loves to snuggle with you and stick close to your side all day. Strangers may see a more shy, reserved side of his personality.
Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who’s beating up his littermates or the one who’s hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who’s available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you’re comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Like every dog, needs early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your IG puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
When treated harshly, the Italian Greyhound can become fearful or snappy. Like other hounds, he can have a “what’s in it for me?” attitude toward training, so you’ll do best with motivational methods that use play, treats, and praise to encourage the dog to get it right, rather than punishing him for getting it wrong.
The Italian Greyhound, which has an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years, is prone to minor health conditions such as patellar luxation, leg and tail fractures, epilepsy, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), or major ones like periodontal disease. This breed is sensitive to barbiturate anesthesia and susceptible to portacaval shunt, Legg-Perthes, color dilution alopecia, cataract, and hypothyroidism on occasion. Regular knee and eye tests are advised for this breed of dog.
Italian Greyhounds are active little dogs who need a good, daily walk. In addition, they love to run free and play. Be sure to make them heel on the lead. Dogs not only have an instinct to migrate daily, but to have a leader leading the way. Humans should enter and exit all door and gateways before the dog. In order for your dog to fully respect your authority you need to be their leader rather than the other way around.
Even though the Italian Greyhound hates the cold and is not suited to outdoor living, it likes daily romps outdoors. Its exercise needs are perfectly met with a nice on-leash walk or a fun-filled indoor game. It likes a sprint and stretching out in an enclosed area. It is very important to brush this dog’s teeth regularly. Minimal coat care is required for the fine, short coat, comprising primarily of occasional brushing to get rid of dead hair.
The Italian Greyhound is good for apartment life. They are fairly active indoors and will do okay without a yard. They are sensitive to cold weather. Owners will often put a shirt on them.
This breed learns quickly. It may wish to have its own way and occasionally will be naughty, so consistency is necessary.
An Italian Greyhound has a short, smooth, fine coat that gleams when it has been cared for. Luckily, that is an easy task. The IG is one of the easiest breeds to groom. Brush him when he gets dusty, or once a week, whichever comes first. Bathe him when you are taking him to a dog show or on a therapy visit or whenever he has rolled in something stinky. He sheds very little.
The rest is just basic care. Trim his nails as needed, usually every week or two, and brush his teeth with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Children And Other Pets
Italian Greyhounds can do well with children, but because they’re small and delicate, it’s especially important to teach kids that the dog is living animal, not a toy, who must be treated with love and respect. Many breeders will not sell a puppy to a household with children younger than ten years old.
As with every breed, you should always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or sleeping or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog, no matter how friendly, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Italian Greyhounds usually get along well with other pets, although you may need to keep an eye on them when they’re cavorting about with bigger dogs, who could accidentally hurt them while playing.
Is this breed right for you?
Due to their small body structure and fragile bone density, it’s best to keep this breed away from young children. Also, Italian Greyhounds only thrive with mounds of attention and therefore do better in a quiet environment where one-on-one time is spent cuddling and napping. Not a fan of cold weather, this breed must be provided with ample winter coats and booties if you live in a cold environment. This breed can be skittish and aloof; owners are encouraged to begin socialization and training early on.
Did You Know?
One of the true companion breeds – dogs bred for the sole purpose of being your best friend – the Italian Greyhound excels at his work. His dark eyes, sleek lines and affectionate nature will earn him a favored place in your lap.
A dream day in the life of an Italian Greyhound
Whether out in the country or in the city, this breed loves to be alongside a loving human counterpart. They’re incredibly fast runners and a day that includes light exercise would suit this breed’s activity needs. On a cold day, an Italian Greyhound would prefer a warm coat and booties to stay comfortable but would rather be indoors, quietly enjoying a nap on a loving owner’s lap.