A true Greyhound in miniature, the elegant Italian Greyhound is an alert, playful, and highly affectionate toy companion. IGs make decorative couch dogs, but at heart they are flash-and-dash coursing hounds with an instinct for pursuit.
IGs are Greyhounds in miniature more slender, but a greyhound is equal in grace and elegance. Standing ideally 13 to 15 inches at the shoulder, they present the sleek, curving lines common to all coursing hounds. Distinguishing features are the long, fine-boned legs. IGs combine the attentiveness of lapdogs with the complexity of ancient, aristocratic hounds. Bred for centuries to be doting companions and jesters, these high-stepping charmers refuse to be ignored. ‘On the whole,’ writes an IG expert, ‘the breed would much rather be in your lap or bed than on the floor.’ They are, though, true sighthounds and will bolt after quick-moving prey at the drop of a cat. A short-coat, low-fat breed, IGs require extra care in cold weather
Despite a delicate appearance, Italian Greyhounds are swift, hardy hounds who have survived the upheavals of two millennia. Archaeological evidence suggests that IGs were bred as noble companions some 2,000 years ago in the region that is now Greece and Turkey, when the mighty Roman Empire held sway in the Mediterranean.
The miniature Greyhound was a popular companion, and perhaps a small-game hunter, throughout southern Europe in the days of the Empire, but the breed came into its own in Renaissance Italy, where owning miniature versions of popular breeds was a status symbol among aristocrats and wealthy strivers. IGs can be seen in the paintings of various Renaissance masters, embodying the grace and balance so important to the era’s aesthetics. IGs found their way onto many of the noblest laps in Europe. James I, Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, Anne of Denmark, and Queen Victoria were among the royals who augmented their majesty with an IG or two by their side. An African king named Lobengula once swapped 200 head of cattle for a single Italian Greyhound.
The AKC registered its first IG in 1886. The depredations of the two world wars nearly wiped out many of Europe’s breeds, including the IG. After both conflicts, American breeders, an ocean away from the ravages of war, kept the breed alive and helped repopulate its numbers in peacetime Europe. In modern times IGs do their share of winning in the show ring, and lure coursing gives them a chance to rev up their small but powerful engines.
Italian Greyhounds are generally long-lived, with a normal lifespan of 13 to 15 years. Responsible breeders screen for health conditions such as PRA, autoimmune problems, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, and hypothyroidism. Although the IG is not as delicate as he looks, care must be taken to avoid hazardous situations that might result in a broken leg. Extensive information about breed health can be found on the website of the Italian Greyhound Club of America.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Hip Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- Thyroid Evaluation
- Patella Evaluation
The most important grooming tip for the Italian Greyhound is that the teeth must be brushed on a regular basis, preferably daily. Dental cleaning by a veterinarian should be done yearly or as needed. Baths are rarely necessary unless the dog has gotten into something that can’t be removed from the very short, smooth coat by gentle brushing. The nails need regular attention, preferably with a grinding tool. They should not be shortened all the way to the quick. This breed has a hare foot, and the two middle nails can be left slightly longer than the other two.
IGs are an active breed and need regular exercise. For the most part, playtime will be sufficient for this, especially if there is more than one dog. Walks on lead are appreciated. Dog parks can be a hazard unless well supervised and having separate areas for small dogs. Even obedience-trained IGs should not be allowed off lead outdoors in unfenced areas, since small, moving animals are a huge incentive to run, possibly into danger.
This breed responds best to reward-based training methods rather than punishment. The trainer should be firm with commands and lavish with praise. Treats used as a reward should be small but immediate when the command is learned and followed. Professional dog trainers should be chosen carefully. Harsh methods just don’t work with these intelligent, sensitive little dogs, even though they can be stubborn.
The Italian Greyhound should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior).It’s easy to allow these dogs to become overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. On an IG in proper weight, the hip bones should just be seen. Ribs should not be visible but should be able to be felt under a thin covering of flesh. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.