Italian Greyhound

Italian GreyhoundItalian Greyhound

Despite the Breed Standard of the Italian Greyhound stating he is 'a Greyhound in Miniature', he is not a dwarfed Greyhound or Whippet. However, he is the smallest of the Sight Hounds. With his small size and unique gait defining his breed type, today he is a distinctive, clean little dog that has adapted well to the demands of modern society.

History of the Italian Greyhound

Mosiac - Cave CanemMosiac - Cave Canem

The Italian Greyhound probably originated in Egypt as a breed in its own right, rather than being a miniaturized version of a Greyhound. From Egypt he then spread to Italy, along with the expansion of the Roman Empire. But it could be claimed that he originated in Southern Europe rather than Italy specifically. The Latin expression 'Cave Canem' which dates back to Pompeii in Roman times around the 2nd Century AD, is believed to mean 'Beware of the Dog'. But this expression does not refer to trespassers. Instead, it means 'Don't step on the little dog' referring to the small hounds that lived in Italian settlements at that time!

Sight Hounds c 1387 - 1389 ADSight Hounds c 1387 - 1389 AD

'The Book of the Hunt' by Gaston Phœbus published in 1387-9 AD contains some remarkable illuminated manuscripts depicting various hunting scenes. The Sight Hounds shown here appear to have similar construction but vary in size. Small hounds that were favourites of Royalty since these early times, were also the subject of early tapestries and other art forms, especially in Renaissance Art around 1500 AD. Historically this small hound was also used as a bed warmer before the days of more sophisticated household heating. The name we know him by today, 'The Italian Greyhound', reflects where he was first popularised.

The Italian Greyhound becomes a Pure Breed

Italian Greyhounds c 1875Italian Greyhounds c 1875

By the 1800's the Italian Greyhound was well known in both Italy and Britain. They were first shown in Birmingham, England in 1860 and registered in the English Stud Book from 1875. Unfortunately, in Britain miniaturisation led to skinny, frail, and shivery apple-headed specimens weighing only 4 lbs (2 Kilos), which made them lose their appeal to the general public.

In USA they first appeared in 1886, and were exhibited at the famous Westminster Kennel Club in 1877. There were just a few breeders of note on both sides of the Atlantic at this time that have been reliably recorded. But with the English Stud Book usually only recording single names like 'Flip' for each dog exhibited, accurate pedigree research is difficult.

Italian Greyhound with Yorkshire Terrier 1879Italian Greyhound with Yorkshire Terrier 1879

However, there were some wonderful breed descriptions written in this period. For example this word picture of the Italian Greyhound's unique gait penned by Stonehenge in 1886 describes this as a

'... remarkable 'prancing' action which is almost invariably exhibits with its forelegs. No other animal, as far as I know, possesses this action to the same extent. It is true that some horses lift their legs till, as the dealers say "are in danger of putting their feet through their curb chains;" but this is done in a comparatively heavy and lumbering style, without the true dance-like "prance" of the Italian Greyhound. Occasionally, but very rarely, an English Greyhound, or even a Deerhound, exhibits this action to some extent, but even then it is exceptional; whereas in the Italian it is the rule, and almost and invariable one[1].'

Painting c 1839Painting c 1839

Italian Greyhound numbers suffered badly as a result of the two World Wars. Registrations with the Kennel Club (UK) in their Stud Books hit single figures from 1914 - 1923 and again from 1940 - 1946. But they recovered so well that by 1958 there were 100 registered. By 1992, 147 individual dogs had been awarded Championship status since the end of the Second World War[4]. This enabled the remainder of the Western world to access correct type Italian Greyhounds.

Italian Greyhound c 1961Italian Greyhound c 1961

History of Italian Greyhounds in Australia

As Australia did not have a Stud Book until well into the 1900's, any Italian Greyhounds imported into Australia in these early days had no means to record them. In other words although some may have had English pedigrees, there was no means to authenticate them even if they were entered in the English Stud Books! Consequently forgeries were common. Several references that document Italian Greyhounds being exhibited here prior to 1900, have no reliable published names of the dogs or their owners or breeders, either in Melbourne or in Sydney.

Italian Greyhound c 1970'sItalian Greyhound c 1970's

As this website is written and published in Melbourne where we have an extensive Library, we can paint some sort of a picture from early show catalogues. We publish this information at the bottom of this page, hoping some interested party will go through the pre-1900 English Stud Books where this information is published. This would give Australian Italian Greyhound enthusiasts some reliable information about their beginnings here. But they died out until 1958 when Mrs Sapio of the Crutchfield prefix, imported a breeding pair into Queensland[3]. From these Barbara Skilton with her El Tazzi prefix was one of the early Italian Greyhound exhibitors[4a]. By the 1970's Lyn Watson (then Schelling) had produced Shaaltarah Cesare (pictured), who became a multiple Best Exhibit in Show winner and put Italian Greyhounds on the map in Australia.

Comparison between Italian Greyhound, Whippet and Greyhound

An excellent way to understand the Italian Greyhound is by comparing him to his closest relatives, the Whippet and the Greyhound. The obvious differences are their gait, size and length of leg. The Italian Greyhound has proportionately the longest length of leg of these three breeds, the Whippet is more 'square' and the Greyhound has a body longer than height at withers. There are also some minor differences which makes the following comparison table interesting.

Italian Greyhound Whippet Greyhound
Size Ideal height is 32-38 cms (12.5-15ins). Ideally weight is
3.6-4.5 kg (8-10 lbs) but overall type and elegance is essential.
Desirable height is dogs 47-51 cms (18.5 - 20 ins) with bitches 44-47 cms (17.5 - 18.5 ins).
Ideal Height is dogs 71-76 cms (28-30 ins) with bitches being 69-71 cms (27-28 ins)
Italian GreyhoundItalian Greyhound WhippetWhippet GreyhoundGreyhound
Gait The Italian Greyhound has a unique high stepping action as described above. Never-the-less it should be free with the front and hind legs moving forward in a straight line with great propulsion (but not high stepping) action from the rear. The Whippet should move with long, easy strides with great freedom, whilst holding its topline. Its forelegs should be thrown forward, low over the ground and not high stepping. The hind legs should come well under the body giving great propulsion from the rear. The Greyhound should have a straight, low reaching, free stride enabling it to cover the ground at great speed. The hind legs should come well under body giving it great propulsion from the rear.
Head The long, flat and narrow skull ends with a slight stop. The muzzle is also long and fine, with a dark nose. The long, flat, rather wide skull ends with with a slight stop. The muzzle is powerful with clean cut jaws. Nose is either black or corresponds to the coat colour. A butterfly nose is permissible in white or parti-coloured dogs. The long, flat, moderate width skull ends with a slight stop. The jaws are powerful and well chiselled.
The rather large eyes are bright and full of expression.
The oval eyes are bright and full of expression. The oval eyes are bright, intelligent, obliquely set and preferably dark.
Ears The ears are placed well back, rose-shaped, soft and fine, but not pricked.
The small ears are rose-shaped and fine in texture.

The small ears are rose-shaped and fine in texture.
Mouth Jaws strong with a complete scissor bite Jaws strong with a complete scissor bite Jaws strong with a complete scissor bite,
Italian GreyhoundItalian Greyhound WhippetWhippet GreyhoundGreyhound
Neck The neck is long and gracefully arched. The neck is long, muscular and elegantly arched. The neck is long, muscular and elegantly arched. It is well let into shoulders.
Forequarters The shoulders are long and sloping. The forelegs, with their strong bone and pasterns should be straight and set well under the shoulders. The shoulders are well laid back with flat muscles. There is moderate space between the shoulder blades and the chest is not too wide. When viewed in profile, the upper arm is approximately of equal in length to the shoulder blade and placed so that the elbow falls in a line directly under the withers. The moderately boned forelegs are straight and upright but the strong pasterns have a slight spring. The shoulder blades are oblique and well set back. The shoulders are muscular without being loaded, and cleanly defined at the withers. The chest is narrow.The elbows are free and well set under shoulders. The forelegs are long and straight with good bone ending in moderately long and slightly sprung pasterns which should not incline either in or out.
Feet Hare feet Oval feet, well split between the toes Compact feet with toes of moderate length
Italian GreyhoundItalian Greyhound WhippetWhippet GreyhoundGreyhound
Body The deep chest is narrow but the ribcage and brisket are long. The back has a slight arch over the loin but there is much more arch and steeper croup than the Whippet or the Greyhound, causing the Italian Greyhound's high stepping front action. The chest or brisket is very deep with well sprung ribs. The somewhat long back is broad, firm and well muscled, showing a graceful arch over the loin, but not humped. Instead, the loin should give the impression of strength and power. The underline has a definite tuck up. The chest is deep and capacious, providing adequate heart room. The ribcage is deep, with well sprung ribs carried well back. The rather long back is broad and square with a powerful, slightly arched loin. In profile the flanks well cut up.
Hindquarters The well muscled first and second thighs make the hind legs parallel when viewed from behind. The stifles should be well bent with the hocks well let down. The well developed hindquarters are broad and strong across the first and second thighs. The stifles well bent without exaggeration, with hocks well let down, enabling the dog to stand naturally over a lot of ground. The first and second thighs are wide and muscular, showing great propelling power. The stifles well bent and the hocks short, inclining neither in nor out. The body and hindquarters are well coupled together, enabling the dog to cover adequate ground when standing.
Tail The long, fine tail is low set and carried low. The long, tapering tail should reach at least to the hock. When moving it should be carried in a delicate curve not higher then the back. The long tail is set and carried rather low. It is strong at root tapering to point and slightly curved.
Coat The skin of an Italian Greyhound should be fine and supple while the hair is short, fine and glossy. The coat of a Whippet should be fine, short and close in texture. The coat of a Greyhound should be fine and close.
Colour The Italian Greyhound can be black, blue, cream, fawn, red, white, or any of these colours broken with white. White dogs may be broken with one of these colours. The only unacceptable colours are black or blue with tan markings, or brindle. The Whippet may be any colour or mixture of colours.
The Greyhound may be black, white, red, blue, fawn, fallow, brindle or any of these colours broken with white.

References and Further Reading

[1] J.H.Walsh, under the name 'Stonehenge', 'The Dogs of the British Islands' (Fifth Edition) Published by 'The Field' Office, 346 Strand, W.C.London 1886. Part lll Non-Sporting Dogs, Book lV Toy Dogs, Chapter 11, 'Smooth Toy Dogs', Italian Greyhounds Page 275

[2] T.W.Tyzack and C.S. Turner "Tyzack's Annual", published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club 1912, printed by Bellmaine Bros., Printers 66 - 70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Australia Imported Dogs. Italian Greyhounds P. 101

[3] Lyn Watson, 'The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia', published by OzDog Newspaper 1997, the Italian Greyhound Page 193

[4] Annette Oliver, 'Italian Greyhounds Today', published by Howell Book House, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York NY 10022. ISBN 0-87605-191-3 Chapter 7, The Italian Greyhound in Britain Pages 55 and 73

[4a] Ibid., The Italian Greyhound Worldwide, Australia Pages 100 - 104

Pre-1900 History of the Italian Greyhound in Australia

At the first dog show held at the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne in 1864, there were 17 Italian Greyhounds listed. But there were only three listed at the second dog show also held at the Exhibition Buildings the following year in 1865. Of these, only 'Jessie' owned by Mr Kong Meng of Albert St, presumably what is now North Melbourne, was only one of which was listed in both 1864 and 1865 shows. Then in 1872 at 'Second Grand Exhibition' held by the 'National Society of Victoria' which preceded the 'Royal Melbourne Show', there were 4 Italian Greyhounds listed, none of which have either dogs or people's names which correspond to any of the other catalogues.

'Tyzack's Annual', in his 'Imported Dogs' section states that Italian Greyhounds were exhibited at an 1868 Dog Show at the Duke of Edinburgh Theatre (now Eastern Arcade), but there is no mention of the dogs or owners names. But Tyzacks does state Mr Julian Thomas imported 'The Vagabond' with no further information except it was before Quarantine Regulations were introduced here in 1882[2]. The Victorian Poultry & Dog Society catalogue 1892 lists one Italian Greyhound 'Peter' number 2724 belonging to E Pinder. The same dog also appeared in the Victorian Poultry & Dog Society 1893 catalogue, together with two other exhibitors which do not relate to any of the others. After 1900, Italian Greyhounds disappeared here until 1958.