A Unique Breed
The Italian Greyhound is registered with the American Kennel Club as a member of the toy group. This breed is believed to have originated over 2000 years ago.
Italian Greyhounds are very active, inquisitive little animals who enjoy giving and receiving love immensely. Being people oriented, they require the stimulation of quality human companionship. They do not make good pets for households with very young or rambunctious children, or very large active dogs. They do very will with gentle, considerate children, or mellow larger dogs.
Italian Greyhounds are beautiful and clean without expensive or time-consuming grooming. They are small enough to fit into any living situation and, although small in size, they bark rather than yap. Most of all, they have an extremely loving, devoted nature and a scintillating, sometimes unpredictable charm that never allows for a dull moment. They are sweet, gentle, affectionate, sprightly and imaginative. Most Italian Greyhounds are one person or one family dogs that want to be physically close to their humans. The Italian Greyhound is a unique breed that has the ability to completely entrance its devotees, although a few of its more whimsical attributes might charm some and be a turnoff for others.
How big do they get?
13″ to 15″ at the shoulders is ideal for the show ring. The average weight is 8 to 12 pounds. Larger Italian Greyhounds (17″ or 18″) are fairly common and make great pets.
How long do they live?
13 to 14 or 15 years is normal. 16 to 18 is not unusual.
Are there medical problems common in the breed?
Without question, the biggest health problems involving Italian greyhounds involve the teeth and gums. Most IGs will develop severe periodontal (gum) disease at a relatively early age, if their teeth do not receive proper care. Theories abound about why this occurs and the answer probably lies in a combination of factors. Regardless of the cause, the fact remains that it is not uncommon for IGs to begin losing incisor (front) teeth to periodontal disease at 1-3 years of age. All IG owners should begin a preventive dentistry program as soon as the permanent teeth erupt, and should plan on brushing the teeth as often as possible, preferably daily. Brushes and canine tooth paste are available from the veterinarian. In addition, the veterinarian should be recruited to help monitor the condition of the gums, and the dog should have professional cleanings as often as is necessary to keep the gums in good condition. This may require annual dentals, or in come cases, semiannual visits, just like your dentist insists on for your teeth. Teeth cleanings should include polishing the teeth as the final step, as smooth teeth will trap less calculus on the enamel.
Hypothyroidism and other autoimmune diseases, PRA, seizure disorders, luxating patellas, Legg-Perthes can also be found in IGs. None of these are rampant but all of these as well as some other genetic maladies have been diagnosed in some.
Can They Be Off-Leash?
Because Italian Greyhounds can run much faster than you do (and don’t stop to sniff like other breeds), are easily spooked, and have a prey drive that will send them chasing after a squirrel for miles, they should never be trusted off-leash unless in a securely fenced-in area. No amount of training can change what thousands of years of breeding has created in your Italian Greyhound. Care should be taken to not allow your Italian Greyhound to sneak through an open door. If you do not have a securely fenced-in yard, your Italian Greyhound will need to be leashed walked to relieve him or herself every time. Many Italian Greyhounds are lost and never found each year. An Italian Greyhound can easily be hit by a passing car without the driver ever seeing the quick small dog running out in front of him.
Italian Greyhounds require a special collar because their heads are sleek making it easy for them to slip backwards out of a regular collar. A martingale collar or limited choke collar will tighten as a dog pulls making the collar too small for the dog to slip out of. An Italian Greyhound should always be walked on leash with a martingale collar.
What is their energy level and attention span?
The energy level is quite high in healthy puppies and young dogs. Mature Italian Greyhounds are quite adaptive and responsive to the energy level of their owners. They are true sighthounds in miniature, and the attention span can be short if they’re bored.
At what age do Italian Greyhounds mature?
Although Italian Greyhounds reach physical maturity between eight months and a year and a half, depending on their bloodline and their size (larger ones tend to keep growing for a longer period) most of them retain their puppy energy and playfulness well beyond that age. Some do not attain mental maturity until they are three or four years old –another characteristic which many fanciers consider to be part of the charm of this breed. Some other owners might be impatiently waiting for their dog to “grow up.”
Tractability and Trainability?
Again, these are sighthounds and individuals vary greatly in these characteristics. If they were human they would do better in a liberal arts school than at a military academy. Some do superbly in obedience competition, and others don’t do well at all. Much depends on the trainer’s ability to keep the IG interested. Agility is a sport that could have been invented for the IG. Some are even adept at lure coursing, although the latter should be undertaken with a degree of caution.
Are they hard to housebreak?
Most owners say they are. It’s especially hard to persuade an Italian Greyhound to ask to go out in extreme weather. IGs are lovers of warmth and really despise going outside when the weather is cold, wet or windy. They also often don’t ask to go out. A routine and schedule along with a crate when not home are the best tools for training. Many have success with paper or litterbox type training especially in cold and/or wet climates.
Are they protective?
Most Italian Greyhounds will bark an alert warning when someone or something strange approaches. They aren’t likely to do more than bark and behave in an agitated manner in the face of danger to their owner or property, although there are exceptions to this too.
Can they live outdoors?
DON’T TREAT AN ITALIAN GREYHOUND LIKE AN OUTDOOR DOG! THEY ARE MADE TO RUN OUTSIDE BUT THEIR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT IS IN THE HOME CURLED UP ON SOMETHING SOFT.
The lack of body fat on an Italian Greyhound leaves them with no insulation from the elements. Heat exhaustion in the summer and freezing in the winter can easily occur with an Italian Greyhound. They have less protection than an unclothed human so use that as an environment exposure rule of thumb.
* This information comes from the Retired Greyhounds as Pets (REGAP) website.
What about grooming?
This is minimal, but teeth and toenails need regular attention. The coat is so short and fine that a bath is rarely necessary. Teeth can be bad and need regular brushing.
Do they shed?
Yes, but the hair is so short and fine that it can hardly be seen.
Are they low maintenance pets?
The amount of time not used for bathing and grooming is required tenfold for attention and love. IGs can be almost needy in their desire for affection.
Are they good with children and other pets?
Italian Greyhounds have great rapport with gentle children who understand that this is a living creature and not a toy that can be manhandled. An Italian Greyhound could be injured by a thoughtless child. The same is true of interaction with other animals. Due to their fine bone structure and risk of leg breaks, they are not recommended for young children. They get along well with cats and other dogs of similar size but must be protected from rambunctious larger pets.
We have documented cases of Italian Greyhounds who have been killed by small animal safe full-sized Greyhounds. You might think the two breeds will look cute together, but please contact us for more information if you are considering owning both breeds.
Do they need any special care?
A sweater or jacket is in order in cold weather. Although the Italian Greyhound is not as delicate as he looks, care must be taken to avoid “booby traps” that might result in a broken leg. Not likely to run away simply to explore, many Italian Greyhounds would run into the street or even take an incredible leap from a balcony or open window in playful pursuit of a cat or other animal —or to follow their masters. This breed should NEVER be walked off lead, since another dog or something unusual might spook them, causing them to bolt.
Who should not own an Italian greyhound?
People who have too little time to devote, who have unruly children, who expect instant and unerring obedience, who expect their dog to stay in the back yard, or who are embarrassed to share love with an animal should not own this breed.
Are there any bad things about Italian Greyhounds?
They require and demand lots of love and attention. Denied this, they can become shy or hyper or both. They must be properly socialized as puppies. Those that are kennel raised under impersonal conditions can have difficulty adjusting. If expected to spend much time outdoors they are not suitable for cold climates. Italian Greyhounds are very athletic, and their jumping and climbing abilities can get them into trouble. Babygating does not always work as they can jump so high. They also have no traffic sense, and an IG that gets into the street is almost destined to be hit. Since they are hounds, they can be quite stubborn.
Should they be crate trained?
Certainly, but please don’t confuse crate training with house training. All dogs should learn to stay in a crate quietly for short periods of time, up to three or four hours; but a crate should not be used to confine an IG all day long every day while its owner is at work or play. Dogs are not intended to be caged animals like laboratory rats.
What about the history of the breed?
The Italian Greyhound goes back a long way in history as does the large Greyhound, probably originating as long as 2,000 years ago in the areas that are now the countries of Greece and Turkey. A small sighthound is depicted in the early art works of these nations, and bones indicating a dog of this type have been found in archeological sites. The breed became popular in Southern Europe during the Middle Ages and by the 16th Century many were depicted in Italian paintings and sculpture. It is for this reason, not because of its origin, that the little hound became known as the Italian Greyhound. Its larger cousin, the Whippet, originating in England in the 19th Century, is a relatively new breed that started as a mixture of large Greyhound and terrier and later incorporated some Italian Greyhound blood to add refinement. The IG has always been a favorite of royalty and aristocracy, and many paintings show historical figures such as Princess Anne of Denmark, Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great of Russia with their beloved IGs. It is a well known fact that Frederick the Great was a great fan of this breed and was almost always seen with one or more of them. There is some question whether the IG was originally intended to hunt small game or vermin or mainly to be a beloved companion. Most likely both of these theories are true. Many IGs have a strong instinct to hunt and chase. Others have none, since, at least during the past century or so, they have not been bred for this characteristic. It is also likely that they became a popular household pet during the days before central heating, because their warm little bodies can be very comforting in an otherwise cold bed. The first Italian Greyhound was registered by the American Kennel Club in 1886, but the breed remained quite rare in the United States until fairly recently.