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The Italian Greyhound’s smooth S-curved silhouette looks delicate, but this small, hardy hound is a speedy hunter and a loving home companion. Delighting Italian Greyhound owners for over 2,000 years, the breed is not a scaled-down version of the Greyhound. While the Greyhound and Italian Greyhound share similar ancestors, the Italian Greyhound is a separate breed resulting from selective breeding. Abbreviated “IG” and affectionately called “Iggy,” the Italian Greyhound is a multi-purpose dog that enjoys participating in all performance events.

The Italian Greyhound’s Beginning Is a Mystery

The Italian Greyhound is the smallest of the Sighthounds — the breeds that hunt by sight rather than scent. Although Sighthounds originated in the Middle East in countries now known as Greece and Turkey, the exact development of the Italian Greyhound is unknown.

“Due to the antiquity of the breed, there is no documented evidence whether the IG was bred as a small game hunter or a companion,” says Kim Brinker, Judges’ Education Chair of the Italian Greyhound Club of America. “Most likely, it was a combination of both.”

Italian Greyhound standing on a stump in the forest in the fall.
©kwadrat70 -

Trade included dogs, and the Romans likely brought sighthounds into their homes 2,000 years ago. Small sighthound-type dogs appeared in Italy; later, their architectural remains from A.D. 79 were found in the ruins of Pompeii. Other evidence of playful IGs appeared in marble images of hunting scenes and family portraits.

“The breed’s name of these small sighthounds used for game coursing of hares and rabbits and as a companion comes from Italy,” Brinker says. “The IG was popular with Italian noblemen in the 16th century and known as the Italian Greyhound.”

During the Renaissance, famed artists such as Giotto, Carpaccio, Memling, Van der Weyden, David, and Bosch depicted the breed’s grace and balance in paintings and sculptures. The art spurred the IG’s popularity to spread throughout Southern Europe. Enjoying noble status, Italian Greyhounds enjoyed pampered lives with kings and queens. Favorite IGs of royalty included the consort of England’s James I, Anne of Denmark; Mary Beatrice d’Este of Modena, the Italian consort of James II; Frederick the Great of Prussia; Catherine the Great of Russia; and Queen Victoria.

The IG’s First Written Description

Francesco Birago, an Italian nobleman, provided one of the first descriptions of a 17-to-19-inch tall Greyhound of Italy in his Treatise of Hunting in 1626. Birago described how the IG’s form and function impacted its purpose as a companion and hunter.

Today, the ideal Italian Greyhound stands 13 to 15 inches at the shoulder and weighs 7 to 14 pounds. As a comparison, male Greyhounds are 28 to 30 inches tall and female Greyhounds 27 to 28 inches, with male Greyhounds weighing 65 to 70 pounds and females 60 to 65 pounds.

Three Italian Greyhound puppies sitting side by side for a portrait outdoors.
©CallallooAlexis -

“In the 1800s, the Italian Greyhound and other breeds helped create the Whippet,” Brinker says.

In 1859, showing dogs became a popular sport. At the same time, owning miniature versions of popular breeds was a status symbol, and breeding smaller and smaller dogs became a trend.

“In the early 1900s, IG breeders worldwide moved away from the fragile toy version that had become popular in the 1800s,” Brinker says. “They began breeding back to basics for a more physically sound and healthy dog.”

Coming to America

As collateral damage of World Wars I and II, many of Europe’s breeds, including the Italian Greyhound, were nearly decimated. In the early 1900s, multiple American breeders brought IGs from Europe to help restore their numbers.

In 1900, the British Italian Greyhound Club was formed, and their written breed standard used Stonehenge’s writings.

The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1896. In 1950, the Italian Greyhound Club of America was established. The breed is a member of the Toy Group.

Italian Greyhound running in lure coursing.
©krushelss -

“Today, the IG is a talented, multi-purpose dog and personal companion who can successfully compete in all performance events,” Brinker says.

Brinker became enamored with the breed in 1988 after a friend asked her to show her IGs. Brinker’s original breeds were Skipperkes and a German Shepherd Dog, so the IG toy breed was different.

“I fell in love with the IG’s S-curve silhouette, with all structural parts fitting cleanly and smoothly into each other. The breed’s elegant and graceful outline consists of everything in moderation with no extremes,” Brinker says.

A Lasting Love for the Breed

Brinker eventually started breeding the dogs, captivated by their beauty. “I felt like I was looking at a porcelain statue in a museum,” she said. “The dog was beautiful and had a sweet disposition and a touch of a prey drive.”

Part of her inspiration was the versitility of the breed. The breed was good in dog sports, like lure coursing, and Brinker says they were very easy dogs to live with.

CH Alura Warwick Thunder Down Under For Clovelly, Italian Greyhound; Toy Group judging for the National All-Breed Puppy and Junior Stakes at the 2017 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin, Orlando, FL.
David Woo / American Kennel Club

Karen Thayne, the IG Club of America’s historian, also breeds the dogs, starting in 1991. The reasons that Italian nobles loved this breed is still part of their appeal today. This breed is snuggly and warm, and truly love their people and show them affection. Thayne brings her dog to work with her often, and says she fits right in. “She’s very people-oriented and greets everyone,” Thayne says.

They’re not just a pretty dog – the breed is athletic and dynamic. Many also compete in AKC Rally, obedience, agility, conformation, lure coursing, agility, coursing ability, Fast CAT, scent work, barn hunt, trick dog, temperament, and farm dog.

“Many IGs have multiple performance titles, which shows how versatile this breed is today,” Thayne says.

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