The Italian Greyhound is a small breed of dog, specifically a member of the sight hound family and member of the toy group.
The Italian Greyhound is the smallest of the sight hounds, typically weighing 3 to 5 kg. They look like miniature Greyhounds. The Italian Greyhound is considered a good companion dog, as they are very affectionate.
The name of the breed is a reference to the breed's popularity in renaissance Italy. Mummified dogs very similar to the Italian Greyhound (or small Greyhounds) have been found in Egypt, and pictorials of small Greyhounds have been found in Pompeii, and they were probably the only accepted companion-dog there. As an amusing aside the expression 'Cave Canem' (Beware of the dog) was a warning to visitors, not that the dogs would attack but to beware of damaging the small dogs.
Although the small dogs are mainly companionship dogs they have in fact been used for hunting purposes, often in combination with hunting falcons. The grace of the breed has prompted several artists to include the dogs in paintings, among others Velasquez, Pisanello and Giotto. The breed has been popular with royalty throughout, among the best known royal aficionados were Mary Stuart, Queen Anne, Queen Victoria, Catherine The Great, Fredrick the Great and the Norwegian Queen Maud.
The modern Italian Greyhound's appearance is a result of breeders throughout Europe, particularly Austrian, German, Italian and French breeders who have made great contributions to the forming of this breed. The appearance of an Italian Greyhound should resemble a small Greyhound, or rather a Sloughi. It is important that the dogs are significantly more elegant and graceful than these breeds, though. The Italian Greyhound's apparent lack of wide appeal is possibly because of their fragile appearance, with their spindly legs. The reality of the breed is quite contrary to the appearance, though, as they are frequently described as a 'big' dog in a small package. In fact the breed will be equally at home in a city and in the country, and it does not require as much exercise as larger breeds. The Italian Greyhound is hardy, rarely ill, intelligent and easy to teach.
A dog of this breed has an almost odour-free, easily managed coat. It simply loves the company of people, and will promptly occupy your lap if you let it. In fact, many owners of this breed have them sleeping with them in their beds. The breed will probably never be one of the most popular, as they are simply too dainty for most owners.
The young dog will often be particularly active, and this high level of activity will sometimes lead them to try to 'fly' from furniture or stairs. It is important to keep a close eye on the dogs in this initial phase as their young bones are still fragile. The first year of life is the most accident-prone, although the graceful legs often seem to withstand incredible punishment they are not invulnerable.
The colour of the coat is a subject of much discussion. In England, the USA and Australia white spotted Italians are accepted, while the FCI standards adhered to in Europe only allows white spots on the chest and paws. The breed is relatively free of disease, but the following ailments do occur: Epilepsy, Legg-Perthe's disease (degeneration of the hip), Patellar Luxation (slipped stifles) and Osteoporosis.
Like most smaller breeds the Italian Greyhound can be difficult to housebreak. This will normally come along, but at a slower pace than other breeds. Patience is the only way to help the training along, and remember that the breed is small and as such the dog will have a small bladder.
Agility is an activity that could have been created with the Italian Greyhound specifically in mind. The breed can really shine at this, with its lithe body and its love of action. Lure Coursing is another activity well fitted to the Italian Greyhound, and they seem to enjoy it tremendously. Although the Italian Greyhound is a very fast dog it is not as well suited to racing as its larger cousin, though.