The Italian Greyhound, also known as the Piccolo Levriero Italiano, the IG and the "Iggy" to its admirers, is the smallest of all sighthounds (also called "gazehounds") and has been a beloved companion animal for thousands of years. They are perhaps best known for their remarkably affectionate disposition. The Italian Greyhound is truly a Greyhound in miniature in virtually all ways, just being smaller and more slender than its larger relative and having a more high-stepping gait. The IG is adaptable to rural or urban life, enjoying plush indoor accommodations as well as the outdoors. Italian Greyhounds are far less fragile than they appear. In general, they are hardy, healthy and largely unbreakable companions. The Italian Greyhound was approved by the American Kennel Club in 1886 as a member of the Toy Group.
The ideal Italian Greyhound stands 13 to 15 inches at the highest point of the shoulder. They can weigh from 5 to 14 pounds, with the average being about 8 pounds. Their short, glossy coat is easy to care for and only requires an occasional wiping-down with a soft cloth. The IG sheds infrequently and is odorless, making it an exceptional house or apartment dog. Italian Greyhounds come in every color. Those with brindle markings or with the tan markings normally found on black-and-tan dogs of other breeds are disqualified from the American show ring. This breed has thin skin and gets chilled easily.
An ancient breed, the Italian Greyhound is thought to have originated more than 2,000 years ago in the Mediterranean lands currently known as Turkey and Greece, based on skeletal remains and decorative depictions from that time. The small breed spread slowly throughout Europe and eventually became popular with Italian royalty in the 16th century, acquiring the name Italian Greyhound, which it carries today. The breed has survived virtually unchanged for centuries, prized for its diminutive stature, its sweet temperament and its elegance. Early owners prized it as a high-status adornment – particularly as a ladies' lapdog. By the start of the 19th century, the Italian Greyhound was vying with the King Charles Spaniel, the Maltese and other tiny dogs for the role of the most prized dog among nobility. Efforts to breed smaller and smaller dogs almost ruined the breed. Progressive miniaturization of the IG weakened the gene pool and led to unsoundness in structure and temperament. Towards the end of the 1800s, a group of breed fanciers implemented selective, well-managed breeding programs in an effort to restore the Italian Greyhound's soundness, strength and style.
The first volume of the Stud Book of The Kennel Club (England) contained forty Italian Greyhounds. The first Italian Greyhound recognized in the United States was registered in Volume III of the American Kennel Club's Stud Book, dated 1886. Never a highly popular breed in terms of numbers, it was not until 1950 that fifty IGs were registered with the AKC in a single year, and it was 1957 before fifty were registered in a single year in Great Britain. The World Wars interrupted development of the breed. After World War II, breed fanciers imported fresh stock from the United States into England, evidencing the quality that the Italian Greyhound had achieved in America.
It is not clear whether the IG was originally bred to hunt small game, or whether it always was primarily a companion animal. Most likely, it was bred to perform both roles. Italian Greyhounds have competed successfully in all parts of the United States in obedience trials, lure coursing and the conformation ring.
The average life span of the Italian Greyhound is 12 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include autoimmune disease, dental problems, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, patellar luxation, degenerative eye conditions, cataracts and von Willebrand disease. Due to their delicate bone structure, IGs are at an increased risk of bone fractures and injuries if playtime becomes too rough or if they are allowed to leap from extreme heights. Italian Greyhounds have a greatly increased (and adverse) susceptibility to thiopentone.
The Italian Greyhound was developed in Ancient Egypt, and many Pharaohs' tombs contain mummies of these highly esteemed dogs. IG's are well mannered most of the time, but are prone to fits of energy which cause them to suddenly leap up and tear around the house or yard, for no apparent reason. IG's are sensitive dogs who prefer a quiet house and a gentle touch. They do not like cold or wet weather, so coats and sweaters are a must in winter months and getting an IG to relieve himself in rain or snow can be impossible. They are quiet and clean housemates, so light on their feet that they can sneak up on you in a room with hardwood floors.
Though they are prone to unprompted fits of running, you don't need to be a runner yourself to raise this breed. Italian Greyhounds should be allowed to run several times a week, but they are not built for endurance activities. A few sprints and an Italian Greyhound is done for the day, happily retiring to his bed for some rest and relaxation. They are fine city dwellers, as long as they are allowed to get to a park for regular sprints. Other than that, regular walking will keep the IG happy and healthy. Their size makes them suitable for apartments, but there should be enough room to accommodate random fits of running.
Taking your Italian Greyhound to the agility track where he can use his mind and body also provides an excellent outlet for exercise.
Italian Greyhounds are docile animals who need to be treated gently at all times. They are hardly ever aggressive, and tend to freeze up when another dog postures towards them. Treating an IG harshly can cause them psychological harm, as they are incredibly sensitive dogs. Gentle consistency and lots of praise and treats are all you need to train a Italian Greyhound. Though they are independent, they pick up on tasks fairly quickly. They are naturally well-behaved so training is usually quite easy, even for first time dog owners.
Housetraining an Italian Greyhound can be a nightmare. They are clean animals and don't want to soil the house, but they absolutely refuse to go out in rain or snow. Having a covered area in the yard can help this situation, but if they have to cross the rain or snow to get to the covered area, you're going to have problems.
Early and frequent socialization is very important so that their natural tendency toward shyness does not become all out fearfulness.
Their chasing instinct is strong. Cats and small dogs an be in peril if your Italian Greyhound's hunting instinct is as strong as his need to chase moving objects. Running should always happen in an enclosed area, and IG's should never be trusted off-leash for both their safety and the safety of other animals.
IG's are prone to broken bones. Their running fits and propensity for jumping can lead to fractures and breaks. They shouldn't be allowed to climb onto tall furniture, as leaping from the backs of couches is what usually leads to injury. Play should be supervised, as well. If they get too rowdy with a large dog, they can get hurt.
The Italian Greyhound is very similar to the Greyhound, but much smaller and more slender in all proportions and of ideal elegance and grace.
Narrow and long, tapering to nose, with a slight suggestion of stop. Skull Rather long, almost flat. Muzzle Long and fine. Nose Dark. It may be black or brown or in keeping with the color of the dog. A light or partly pigmented nose is a fault. Teeth Scissors bite. A badly undershot or overshot mouth is a fault. Eyes Dark, bright, intelligent, medium in size. Very light eyes are a fault. Ears Small, fine in texture; thrown back and folded except when alerted, then carried folded at right angles to the head. Erect or button ears severely penalized.
Long, slender and gracefully arched.
Of medium length, short coupled; high at withers, back curved and drooping at hindquarters, the highest point of curve at start of loin, creating a definite tuck-up at flanks.
Long and sloping.
Deep and narrow.
Long, straight, set well under shoulder; strong pasterns, fine bone.
Long, well-muscled thigh; hind legs parallel when viewed from behind, hocks well let down, well-bent stifle.
Harefoot with well-arched toes. Removal of dewclaws optional.
Slender and tapering to a curved end, long enough to reach the hock; set low, carried low. Ring tail a serious fault, gay tail a fault.
Skin fine and supple, hair short, glossy like satin and soft to the touch.
Any color and markings are acceptable except that a dog with brindle markings and a dog with the tan markings normally found on black-and-tan dogs of other breeds must be disqualified.
High stepping and free, front and hind legs to move forward in a straight line.
Height at withers, ideally 13 inches to 15 inches.
A dog with brindle markings. A dog with the tan markings normally found on black-and-tan dogs of other breeds.
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Sources: American Kennel Club