Learn about the Many Functions and History of Italian Dog Breeds

Many Italian dog breeds originate from a specific area of Italy, and some names reflect that particular region. The Neapolitan Mastiff, for example, comes from Naples and the Maltese from Malta. Several Italian dog breeds are recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC); however, many are not. The United Kingdom Kennel Club (UKC) recognized most of them.

Cane Corso
The Cane Corso is one of two native Italian mastiff type dogs; the other is the Napoleon Mastiff. The Cane’s ancestors date back to the days of the Roman Empire. This breed is new to both the AKC and UKC organizations, recognized by the AKC in 2010 and by the UKC in 2008. Prior to 1988, this breed was known only in southern Italy and was considered very rare.

A large-boned, muscular and powerful dog, the Cane was used as a guard dog and to hunt wild boar. Today, the breed not only protects property but also serves as a police and tracking dog.

A Cane’s coat is short, dense and thick and waterproof. Colors are usually black, gray, fawn or red; the coat can also be brindled or have a black or gray mask. A light shedder, grooming is simple for this breed, only needing an occasional brush.

The Cane Corso Known for its intelligence and deep dedication to its owner, bonds closely with its human family, including the household’s children. This dog is easy to train; however, its athleticism requires it to receive plenty of exercise.

Italian Greyhound
This small sighthound descends from those of ancient Egypt. The Romans further developed the breed after bringing it to Italy around the 5th century BC. Its strong popularity during Italy’s Middle Ages and Renaissance gave the breed its current name. Nobility throughout history greatly prized it. Though it may have been used to hunt small game, primarily the Italian Greyhound served as a loving companion, as it does today.

The AKC recognized the breed in 1886; it is part of the organization’s Toy Group. The UKC recognized it in 1948 as part of the Companion Dog Group.

Standing 13 to 15 inches (33 to 38 cm) tall at the shoulder, this slender dog exhibits grace and exudes sweetness. It is noted for its enjoyment of human attention as well as for giving affection. This breed is also intelligent, easy to train, and gentle with both adults and children. It is an active breed that likes to run and play and therefore, requires daily exercise. With its small size, this breed makes a great apartment dog.

The short, sleek coat makes this dog one of the easiest breeds to groom.

Italian SpinoneItalian Dog Breeds
Also known as the Italian Pointer or the Italian Wire-haired Pointing Dog this breed is considered Italy’s all-purpose hunting dog, serving as a pointer and retriever. The wiry, dense coat allows the Spinone to navigate underbrush as well as endure cold weather and cold water; it is an excellent swimmer in addition to being a great field dog.

Not much is known about this breed’s heritage, however, wire-haired hunting dogs existed during Renaissance Italy.

The Spinone is devoted to its owner and is easy-going with a pleasant disposition. Noted for its patience and love for children, the Italian Spinone makes an excellent family pet. This breed also gets along very well with other dogs. It is intelligent and wants to please; therefore, it responds well to obedience training.

The AKC recognized the Italian Spinone in 2000 as part of the Sporting Group, and the UKC recognized the breed in 1995 as part of that organization’s Gun Dog Group.

Muscular and deep-chested, Italian Spinones stand 22½ to 27½ inches (57 to 70 cm) tall at the shoulder and weigh between 60 and 85 pounds (27 to 38½ kg).

Coat color ranges from pure white to white and orange or white with brown markings. It can also be brown roan or orange roan with or without colored marking. This breed possesses wiry facial hair as well that drips water when wet. The Spinone’s coat doesn’t require much grooming, just the occasional brush, bath and stripping.

The energetic Spinone is noted for its endurance, and therefore, needs regular exercise.

The Maltese is one of the several Bichon breeds native to areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This breed is believed to be about 2,000 years old. It was prized for its beauty and companionship, especially by women, and is considered a gentle, affectionate dog that is also very playful. The Maltese is of spaniel origin, descending from the same stock that produced the Portuguese Water Dog and the Poodle.

These intelligent toy dogs are quick learners, especially if well-rewarded. They thrive on attention and are popular as pets both in America and Europe. The AKC recognized the breed in 1888 as part of the Toy Group and the UKC did so in 1948 as part of the Companion Dog Group.

This small dog, usually weighing less than 7 pounds (3 kg), is completely covered with long, silky white hair that needs to be brushed daily and receive regular grooming to avoid mats.

Neapolitan Mastiff
Opposite of the diminutive Maltese is the large and powerful Neapolitan Mastiff, with males weighing about 150 pounds (68 kg) and standing an average of 30 inches (76 cm) tall at the shoulder.

This breed directly descends from the giant war dogs of the ancient Middle East (including Phoenicia and Babylonia). It was and is a utilitarian working breed, serving as a farm helper and protector, a herding dog, cattle drover, cart dog, large game hunting dog, and personal protection dog.

These powerful dogs are known for their large heads, huge bones, and massive bodies. Despite their fierce appearance and serious demeanor, they are generally peaceful, steady dogs. The breed’s trademark is the loose skin that covers the body, the numerous wrinkles and folds on the head, and the dog’s lumbering gait. It has a short coat, which can by gray (bluish), black, reddish or light brown; some brindling or white markings may be present. The coat is easy to maintain.

This Italian mastiff breed was recognized by the UKC in 1995 and by the AKC in 2004.

Wary of strangers, these dogs are quite protective and loyal toward their owners. They make great watchdogs but are not recommended for people with small children due to their size and strength.

A Neapolitan should receive daily exercise, but beware that the dog’s doesn’t over-exert in hot weather. Be aware: these dogs are big droolers!

Bichon Frise
Though not necessarily considered a dog breed from Italy, Italian and Spanish sailors are credited with bringing these little dogs from the Canary Islands to mainland Europe. Traders who used the Phoenician trade route may have used them as barter. Most of the Bichon breeds were found in Italy and other Mediterranean areas. They were attractive to nobility and the newly growing middle class of merchants, and served as a companion dog for centuries, becoming a favorite of the French. The Bichon Frise also played roles in the circus.

This dog possesses a double coat, having both an under and outer coat, giving the breed its characteristic “powder puff” or “cotton ball” appearance. The hair grows constantly and rarely sheds, so extensive grooming is a must to prevent mats. This breed tends to be a good pet choice for allergy sufferers.

These active, playful dogs need daily exercise. They are considered happy, sociable and affectionate. They enjoy being with their people as well as sharing a home with other dogs and other pets. They are also fairly good with children. Overall, the Bichon Frise makes a wonderful companion for a single person or a family.
A small dog, though not as petite as the Maltese, the Bichon Frise stands 9 to 11 inches (23 to 28 cm) tall and weighs less than 12 pounds (5 kg). The breed was recognized by the UKC in 1981 and is listed in the Companion Dog Group. The AKC recognized the breed in 1972 in the Non-sporting Group.

Italian dog breeds not recognized by the AKC but recognized by the UKC include:

This is another ancient Bichon type dog that originated in Italy and was frequently given as a gift to noblemen and leaders. It also possesses a pure white, fluffy coat that requires regular maintenance. It is considered a docile, serious and responsive dog that does well in obedience training. The males are larger than the Bichon Frise, standing 10½ to 12 inches tall (27 to 30 cm). The UKC recognized the breed in 1995.

Also known as the Bergamese Shepherd Dog, this cord-coated shepherd breed hails from ancient northern Italy where it was used for guiding and guarding herds in the Alps during the summer and valley regions during winter. This breed is considered determined, intelligent and watchful as well as patient and faithful, making a fine guard and herding dog as well as a wonderful companion. The Bergamasco is part of the UKC’s Herding Dog Group and was recognized by the organization in 1995. This breed stands 22 to 24 inches (56 to 61 cm) tall and weighs 57 to 84 pounds (26 to 38 kg).

Italian Hound
The origins of this dog date back to the ancient hounds of Egypt that were used for hunting. They have changed little through the centuries. It’s been used to hunt hares alone or in packs. This breed is considered intelligent, affectionate, and good with children and other dogs. It needs mental and physical stimulation; therefore, this dog requires daily activity.

This breed comes in two coat types: smooth or rough (wire-haired). Color is either black and tan or fawn. The coat is easily maintained with weekly brushing. It was recognized by the UKC in 2006 and is part of the Scenthound Group.

Bracco Italiano
Sometimes known as the Italian Pointer, this breed was developed as a pointing dog. It is rare, even in its native country. It was recognized by the UKC in 2006.

The Italian Pointer closely resembles a cross between a German Short-haired Pointer and a Bloodhound. The coat is short and the color is most often white with orange, brown or chestnut with colored patches on the face, ears and body. It has long ears and a somewhat wrinkled look to the face.

Easy to train, this intelligent dog excels at hunting and is considered a tremendous upland game bird dog. It thrives on human companionship and makes a good family dog.

Volpino Italiano
This breed, called the Italian Spitz, descended from the ancient European Spitz. The breed was cherished by both noblemen and commoners and was used for guarding.

This dog is rare, even in its homeland. The breed was recognized by the UKC in 2006 and is part of the Northern Breed Group.

It is considered playful and faithful. About 12 inches (30½ cm) tall, this dog possesses a dense, long coat that is either solid white or solid red and has curved tail over its backside.

Maremma Sheepdog
This Italian dog breed originates from the ancient shepherd dogs used in the Maremma region of Italy. Its ancestors include other large, white-coated sheep dogs, such as the Kuvasz and the Akbash.

A large breed, the Maremma Sheepdog’s head resembles a polar bear. It stands 23½ to 28½ inches (60 to 73 cm) and weighs 66 to 100 pounds (30 to 45 kg). Its solid white coat is long and straight, though some have a slight wave. The dense, all-weather coat requires regular brushing.

The Maremma is considered a faithful intelligent dog and a guardian of flocks and property. Its temperament is friendly and courageous and also somewhat strong-willed. The UKC recognized the breed in 2006 as part of the Guardian Dog Group.

Lagotta Romagnolo
Squarely built and muscular, this wooly-coated Italian dog breed originates from ancient water retrievers. As the marshlands were drained, the breed became an excellent truffle hunting dog in the open country and hills of Romagna. It is the only breed recognized for this purpose.

Its curly coat mats easily and requires regular care.

Considered loyal and affectionate, this breed is easy to train. It is a very active dog with a great sense of smell, therefore, the Lagotto Romagnolo needs daily exercise. It enjoys long walks with its human companion and the breed, also known as Romagna Water Dog, is an excellent swimmer. It is known as a digger, creating holes everywhere in which to stick its head!

The breed was recognized by the UKC in 2006 as part of the Gun Dog Group.

Cirneco Dell’Etna
Also called the Sicilian Hound, this breed was recognized by the UKC in 2006; it is part of the Sighthound and Pariah Group.

This dog has existed for many centuries and was used to pursue rabbits.

Similar to but smaller than a Pharaoh Hound, this breed stands 16 to 20 inches (41 to 51 cm) tall and weighs 18 to 30 pounds (8 to 13½ kg). It possesses a short, sleek coat and large, erect ears. Coat color is usually tan with occasional white on the chest.

Although friendly and affectionate with its special person, the Sicilian Hound is reserved with strangers, and it is not a breed that easily trainable. It possesses a high prey drive; therefore, other pets and small children are not recommended in a home with a Sicilian Hound. This is an energetic breed that does best with active people, however, make sure the dog is on a leash or in a secured area.

Many Italian dog breeds are not well-known; in fact, some are rare even in Italy. All, however, have long and fascinating historical connections to the country of Italy. The stories of these Italian breeds are as varied and interesting as the breeds themselves.

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