A Brief History
The IG is the smallest of the family of gazehounds (dogs that hunt by sight). The breed is an old one and 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 16th Century, among whom miniature dogs were in great demand. It is, in fact, due to its popularity in Italy at this time that that the breed became known as the “Italian Greyhound”. From this period onward the breed can be fairly easily traced as it spread through Europe, arriving in England in the 17th Century.
Although becoming popular only in recent years, the IG is one of the most decorative and attractive dogs. Many artists, especially those of the Renaissance, have portrayed them in their works. Among the painters in whose canvasses IGs may be found are Carpaccio, Memling, Van der Weyden, Gerard David and Heironymus Bosch. Dogs of this breed have been favorites of the royal families of Europe, and among their more famous owners may be listed Catherine The Great of Prussia, Frederick The Great, Princess Anne of Denmark (the consort of James I of England), and Queen Victoria.
The Breed in America
An IG was registered for the first time with the American Kennel Club in 1886. Records show that a few were being entered in dog shows around that time.
After World War I, when the breed was in danger of extinction in Great Britain, stock was imported from the United States, giving evidence of the high quality to be found in America by then.
The Italian Greyhound Club of America was founded in 1954, and 1963 marked the first year in which an IG was awarded a Best in Show. Since then a growing number of others have followed suit.
Characteristics of the Breed
The IG is a true sighthound. His small size is the result of selective breeding. There is some difference of opinion as to whether he was originally bred for hunting small game or was meant to be simply a pet and companion. It seems more likely that he filled both roles, and for this reason he is very adaptable to both city and country living. He is rather luxury loving and enjoys the comfort of an apartment. He also likes exercise and outdoor activities, and his activity level may be higher than expected.
The IG can weigh as little as five pounds or as much as 18 or 20 or more, but the average weight is about ten to twelve pounds. His coat is short and smooth and requires little grooming. He is odorless, sheds little, and is not yappy. When he does bark, his voice is quite deep for his size. Although giving the impression of fragility, the breed is hardy and thrives in such northern countries as Sweden and Scotland. The bitches are usually easy whelpers and very good mothers.
Perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of the IG is his affectionate disposition. He thrives best when this affection is returned and is happiest with his owner and immediate family. He may sometimes seem aloof with strangers. He is sensitive, alert and intelligent, remaining playful long past puppyhood. He adapts well to most households and gets along well with other similar sized pets and gentle children. He can learn quickly, and many have done well in obedience trials. The new agility competitions are an ideal outlet for the energy of a young IG.
The Italian Greyhound is very similar in appearance to the Greyhound but is considerably smaller and more slender in all proportions. He differs also from his larger relative in his characteristic and elegant gait, which is high stepping and free. The coat may be all shades of fawn, cream, red, blue or sometimes black; and it may be either solid or with various degrees of white markings. However, black or blue with tan markings as found in other breeds (i.e. Dobermans, Manchester Terriers, etc.) or brindle coloration are disqualifications. The coat is fine, smooth and glossy.
THE OFFICIAL STANDARD OF THE ITALIAN GREYHOUND
The American Kennel Club approved standard is the official description of the ideal adult Italian Greyhound. Judges at dog shows use this standard to evaluate entries, and conscientious breeders strive to produce specimens that closely fit this description.
- DESCRIPTION –The Italian Greyhound is very similar to the Greyhound, but much smaller and more slender in all proportions and of ideal elegance and grace.
- HEAD –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 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.
- NECK –Long, slender and gracefully arched.
- BODY –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.
- SHOULDERS –Long and sloping.
- CHEST –Deep and narrow.
- FORELEGS –Long, straight, set well under shoulder; strong pasterns, fine bone.
- HINDQUARTERS –Long, well muscled thigh; hind legs parallel when viewed from behind, hocks well let down, well bent stifle.
- FEET –Hare foot with well arched toes. Removal of dew claws optional.
- TAIL –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.
- COAT –Skin fine and supple, hair short, glossy like satin and soft to the touch.
- COLOR –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.
- ACTION –High stepping and free, front and hind legs to move forward in a straight line.
- SIZE –Height at withers, ideally 13 inches to 15 inches.
- DISQUALIFICATIONS –-A dog with brindle markings. A dog with the tan markings normally found on black-and-tan dogs of other breeds.
HOW TO BUY AN ITALIAN GREYHOUND
The best way to go about buying a good IG puppy is to contact the American Kennel Club, 260 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, requesting the name and address of the corresponding secretary of the Italian Greyhound Club of America, who can provide a list of reputable breeders in various areas of the country.
When contacting the breeders a prospective purchaser should describe what he is looking for, stating his preferences in the dog’s age and sex and whether he is interested in a show prospect or a companion. He should then visit the breeders and, if possible, see the sire and dam or any close relatives of the puppies. One must keep in mind that a very young puppy will not look much like a greyhound. Rapid changes take place between two and five months of age, when the legs and muzzle lengthen, the carriage of ears and tail alters, and the puppy becomes more elegant and houndy. By seeing as many relatives as possible, the purchaser can get some idea of how the puppy will look when full grown.
IG puppies are, unfortunately, sometimes found in pet shops. There are some disadvantages to buying from commercial dealers and pet shops. One cannot see the sire or dam or learn much about the background of the puppy. A pet dealer handles a large variety of animals and cannot be an expert in all of them. It is unlikely that he can provide the excellent help and advice the specialist breeder can give the purchaser of one of his puppies. The IG is not a fast selling, popular breed, and therefore a puppy may remain confined in the shop for some time, not receiving enough exercise to develop physically nor sufficient individual attention to bring out the best in its personality. This is a breed that thrives in a home environment, and young puppies must be socialized and exposed to some of the conditions they will encounter as adults or they may become shy and/or hyper.
When choosing a puppy, a purchaser can make certain observations. The puppy’s eyes should be clear, with no discharge. His coat should have a sheen. He should be neither thin nor pot-bellied. He and his environment should be clean. He should be full of vitality and should not be excessively fearful of strangers.
If the purchaser wants a dog for show or breeding, the animal should not exhibit disqualifications nor serious faults described in the standard. A male should be checked for cryptorchidism (one or both testicles undescended), which is a disqualification in all breeds. The purchase of a show prospect is best done with the help of someone experienced in the breed.
CARE OF THE ITALIAN GREYHOUND
The reputable breeder specializing in IGs has given his dogs the best possible care. Much planning, time and money have gone into the production of each litter, and he is often as selective about the home to which the puppy is going as the purchaser is about the qualities of his new puppy. The breeder wants the puppy to fit happily into his new life and to continue to receive the good care necessary for growth and development. The purchaser should, therefore, follow the breeder’s advice as exactly as possible.
The breeder will tell the purchaser which inoculations the puppy has had and when the next ones are due. he will supply a copy of the pedigree and the AKC registration application form. He will give instructions on feeding, grooming, training, exercise and veterinary requirements.
Most breeders recommend a crate in which the puppy can sleep. This is also useful while traveling, a major aid to house training and is a safe place to keep the youngster when he is not under supervision. All this should be discussed in advance, and the necessary equipment should be purchased and ready before the puppy is brought to its new home. IGs can be stubborn about house training and may have a higher activity level than a new owner anticipates.
In general, the IG requires the same care as does any other toy dog. Although his coat needs little grooming, his nails should be periodically trimmed and his teeth cleaned at least weekly. He has an inherent dislike of cold and rain, and when going outside in winter he will be more comfortable wearing a well fitting coat or sweater. No toy dog, especially a puppy, should be subjected to rough play, since accidents can occur.
The average life span of this breed is from twelve to fourteen years. Fifteen or sixteen is not unusual. An initial investment in the best possible care and training, during the first year in particular, will prove well worthwhile.
The Italian Greyhound, 21st Century, by Lilian Barber. 334pp. Hardcover. Over 400 photos. All about IGs as show dogs and as companions. Out of print but often available from eBay or Amazon.com
The Italian Greyhound Magazine, bi-monthly magazine founded in 1959 by Helen Longshore and Ann L. Hyres, later edited and published by Joan & Bill Cooper. Currently edited and published by Lynne & David Ezzell. Contains articles, photos and ads. $30 per year. 337 Roslyn Rd., Troy, NC 27371.
Italian Greyhounds Today, by Annette Oliver. 160pp. Hardcover, photos. History and sidelights on the breed in various parts of the world, concentrating on England and the Continent. Howell Book House, approx. $25.00.
AKC Gazette, monthly online magazine published by the American Kennel Club. Articles, photos, future show dates, etc. www.AKC.org
Sighthound Review, bi-monthly magazine devoted to all Sighthound breeds. Sighthound Review, P.O. Box 30430, Santa Barbara, CA 93130.
Top Notch Toys (TNT), is published monthly, featuring all the breeds in the Toy Group. Joe McGinnis, Editor, 8848 Beverly Hills, Lakeland, FL 33805.
(Note that these are 2015 prices. Prices and availability of publications are subject to change.)