Modern Dog Training and Behaviour Advice
Breed: Italian Greyhound
Breed Group: Toy
Country of Origin and Original Function:
The Italian Greyhound is an old breed, and dogs like it may have been around for more than two millennia. Miniature greyhounds are seen in 2,000-year-old artifacts from what’s now modern-day Turkey and Greece, and archaeological digs have turned up small Greyhound skeletons. Although the breed’s original purpose has been lost to history, the Italian Greyhound may have served as a hunter of small game in addition to his duties as a companion.
By the Middle Ages, the breed had made its way to southern Europe and was very popular among the aristocracy, especially in Italy — hence its name. Many Italian Greyhounds were immortalized, along with their owners, in portraits by famous artists such as Pisanello and Giotto di Bondone.
In the 1600s the Italian Greyhound arrived in England, where, as in Italy, it found many fans among the nobility. Royal owners throughout the centuries include Mary, Queen of Scots, Princess Anne of Denmark, Charles I, Frederick the Great of Prussia, and Queen Victoria, during whose reign the breed’s popularity peaked.
The American Kennel Club registered its first Italian Greyhound in 1886, and American breeders began to establish the breed in the United States. Although the American population of Italian Greyhounds was small, they may have helped save the breed from extinction. During World Wars I and II, when dog breeding became an unaffordable luxury for most people, the numbers of Italian Greyhounds in England dwindled dangerously low. Each time the wars ended, British breeders used those American-bred Italian Greyhounds to restore the breed in Europe.
Today the Italian Greyhound is enjoying a second renaissance, as modern dog owners rediscover the elegant little hound who’s delighted his human companions for at least 2,000 years.
The Italian Greyhound is sensitive, alert, smart, and playful. He’s affectionate with his family, and loves to snuggle with you and stick close to your side all day. Strangers may see a more shy, reserved side of his personality.
Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who’s beating up his littermates or the one who’s hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who’s available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you’re comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Like every dog, the IG needs early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your IG puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
When treated harshly, the Italian Greyhound can become fearful or snappy. Like other hounds, he can have a “what’s in it for me?” attitude toward training, so you’ll do best with motivational methods that use play, treats, and praise to encourage the dog to get it right, rather than punishing him for getting it wrong.
Italian Greyhounds (also known as IGs) have short coats and get the shivers easily, so they’re not an outdoor breed. They need to be inside the house with their family, especially in bad weather. To keep your IG comfortable on chilly outdoor walks, give him a sweater or jacket. During warm weather, protect his thin skin with sunscreen made for dogs. Many Italian Greyhounds develop skin cancer, possibly because they love lying in the sun, so don’t let your dog bake for hours.
These little dogs have lots of energy, especially as puppies and young adults, but in their golden years they’ll often adapt to the activity level of their owners. A daily walk will help your Italian Greyhound get his ya-yas out, but make sure to keep him on a leash. Even though he’s small, he has the same instinct to chase as a larger sighthound and will take off after a squirrel, rabbit, or anything else that runs by. A leash is your only hope of hanging onto him.
His hunting drive also means you’ll need a secure fence in your yard. Italian Greyhounds are fabulous jumpers, so don’t assume that a little four-foot wall is enough to keep him in. And don’t use an underground electronic fence; the momentary shock won’t deter your Italian Greyhound if he sees something he wants to chase.
IGs are intelligent and easy to train if you have the right attitude. Like other hounds they usually approach training with a “What’s in it for me?” philosophy. Motivational training methods — those that use food, praise, and play to reward the dog for getting it right, rather than punishing him for getting it wrong — is the best way to persuade them that they want to do what you ask. And since they have the short attention spans common to sighthounds, it’s best to keep training sessions short and sweet.
Like many small dogs, there’s one aspect of training they don’t pick up as easily:housetraining. Even with patience and consistency, you may never be completely successful. The number one reason people give up their Italian Greyhound to rescue groups or animal shelters is because they couldn’t housetrain them.
Harsh punishment will backfire, often making the dog fearful or even snappy. Your best bet is to get a dog door, so he can go in and out at will. Italian Greyhounds can also learn to use a litter box, although this doesn’t always work well if you have more than one IG as you might end up cleaning it quite often.
Prevent accidents by taking your IG outside the moment he gives you any signs that he needs to go — no waiting “just a minute.” You can teach an Italian Greyhound that outdoors is the place to go potty, but if means going out in rain or snow, or if he doesn’t have immediate access to the yard, he’d just as soon go indoors.
The Italian Greyhound is good for apartment life. They are fairly active indoors and will do okay without a yard. They are sensitive to cold weather.
Coat, Colour and Grooming:
An Italian Greyhound’s short coat looks glossy like satin and feels soft to the touch. You’ll find it in all shades of fawn, cream, red, blue, or black, either solid or with white markings.
One of the benefits of living with an Italian Greyhound is that his coat doesn’t shed much and is easy to care for. All you really need to do is brush it when it gets dusty, and bathe the dog when he’s rolled in anything smelly — a favorite activity.
IGs are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all IGs will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed.
If you’re buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy’s parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In IGs, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Cataracts: A cataract is an opacity on the lens of the eye that causes difficulty in seeing. The eye(s) of the dog will have a cloudy appearance. Cataracts usually occur in old age and sometimes can be surgically removed to improve the dog’s vision.
- Von Willebrand’s Disease: This is a blood disorder that can be found in both humans and dogs. It affects the clotting process due to the reduction of von Willebrand factor in the blood. A dog affected by von Willebrand’s disease will have signs such as nose bleeds, bleeding gums, prolonged bleeding from surgery, and prolonged bleeding during heat cycles or after whelping. Occasionally blood is found in the stool. This disorder is usually diagnosed in your dog between the ages of 3 and 5 and cannot be cured. However, it can be managed with treatments that include cauterizing or suturing injuries, transfusions of the von Willebrand factor before surgery, and avoiding certain medications.
- Vitreous Degeneration: The vitreous is a clear jelly that is the single largest structure of the eye. A healthy vitreous is essential for normal vision. If the vitreous becomes cloudy, liquefies, or moves from its position, vision may become impaired or lost. The condition is believed to be inherited, but the exact method of inheritance is unknown.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Fortunately, dogs can use their other senses to compensate for blindness, and a blind dog can live a full and happy life. Just don’t make it a habit to move the furniture around. Reputable breeders have their dogs’ eyes certified annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist and do not breed dogs with this disease.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is an abnormally low level of the hormone produced by the thyroid gland. A mild sign of the disease may be infertility. More obvious signs include obesity, mental dullness, lethargy, drooping of the eyelids, low energy levels, and irregular heat cycles. The dog’s fur becomes coarse and brittle and begins to fall out, while the skin becomes tough and dark. Hypothyroidism can be treated with daily medication, which must continue throughout the dog’s life. A dog receiving daily thyroid treatment can live a full and happy life.
- Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: Generally a disease of small breeds, this condition — a deformity of the ball of the hip joint — can be confused with hip dysplasia. It causes wearing and arthritis. It can be repaired surgically, and the prognosis is good with the help of rehabilitation therapy afterward.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as “slipped stifles,” this is a common problem in small dogs. It is caused when the patella, which has three parts — the femur (thigh bone), patella (knee cap), and tibia (calf) — is not properly lined up. This causes a lameness in the leg or an abnormal gait in the dog. It is a disease that is present at birth although the actual misalignment or luxation does not always occur until much later. The rubbing caused by patellar luxation can lead to arthritis, a degenerative joint disease. There are four grades of patellar luxation, ranging from grade I, an occasional luxation causing temporary lameness in the joint, to grade IV, in which the turning of the tibia is severe and the patella cannot be realigned manually. This gives the dog a bowlegged appearance. Severe grades of patellar luxation may require surgical repair.
- Hip Dysplasia: Hip dyplasia is a heritable condition in which the femur doesn’t fit snugly into the pelvic socket of the hip joint. Hip dysplasia can exist with or without clinical signs. Some dogs exhibit pain and lameness on one or both rear legs. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program. Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. Ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and found to be free of problems.
- Allergies: Allergies are a common ailment in dogs. Allergies to certain foods are identified and treated by eliminating certain foods from the dog’s diet until the culprit is discovered. Contact allergies are caused by a reaction to something that touches the dog, such as bedding, flea powders, dog shampoos, or other chemicals. They are treated by identifying and removing the cause of the allergy. Inhalant allergies are caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, dust, and mildew. The appropriate medication for inhalant allergies depends on the severity of the allergy. Ear infections are a common side effect of inhalant allergies.
- Epilepsy: The Italian Greyhound can suffer from epilepsy, a disorder that causes seizures in the dog. Epilepsy can be treated with medication, but it cannot be cured. A dog can live a full and healthy life with proper management of this hereditary disorder.
- Cryptorchidism: Cryptorchidism is a condition in which one or both testicles on the dog fail to descend and is common in small dogs. Testicles should descend fully by the time the puppy is 2 months old. If a testicle is retained, it is usually nonfunctional and can become cancerous if it is not removed. The treatment that is suggested is to neuter your dog. When the neutering takes place, a small incision is made to remove the undescended testicle(s); the normal testicle, if any, is removed in the regular manner.
- Portosystemic Shunt (PSS): This is an abnormal flow of blood between the liver and the body. That’s a problem, because the liver is responsible for detoxifying the body, metabolizing nutrients, and eliminating drugs. Signs can include but are not limited to neurobehavioral abnormalities, lack of appetite, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), intermittent gastrointestinal issues, urinary tract problems, drug intolerance, and stunted growth. Signs usually appear before two years of age. Corrective surgery can be helpful in long-term management, as can a special diet.