Italy is famous for many things, from pizza and pasta to iconic culture and ancient civilisations, and fashion and furry friends! Few countries can boast about being the birthplace to so many different doggos, and some Italian dog breeds are just as elegant as their couture!
Italian dog breeds are incredibly diverse. From hardy herding dogs roaming the alps, to powerful protectors, and even some handsome handbag-sized hounds whose only job is to look cute. We’ve rounded up some of the most iconic Italian dog breeds, showcasing the huge variety in shapes, sizes, and personalities that come from just one country!
The 16 Italian dog breeds recognised by the ENCI (Italian Kennel Club). These are:
Shorthaired Segugio Italiano
Wirehaired Segugio Italiano
Spino Degli Iblei
However, the number of Italian dog breeds varies according to who you ask. For instance, the UK Kennel Club doesn’t recognise the Segugio Italiano or the Volpino, but the American Kennel Club does.
There’s also a few breeds that aren’t recognised by any established kennel club, because they are small populations of dogs created within a very local area. Or in the case of the St Bernard, they’re sometimes credited as being Italian rather than Swiss. These other dogs would take the total number of Italian dog breeds up to 22 and they include:
Oropa Shepherd Dog
Pastore della Lessinia e del Lagorai
Sardinian Shepherd Dog
The Volpino or “Volpino Italiano” is a gorgeous spitz-type dog. It looks like a Pomeranian or a Japanese Spitz, but it’s sized somewhere between the two.
Although Volpinos look cute and cuddly, these determined doggies are packed full of energy and they will just as happily race around an agility course as they would snooze on your lap.
These foxy pups almost went extinct in the 20th century, but avid fanciers saved the breed and you can find small populations in its native Italy and the USA. Finding any pups in this country is difficult though, because they aren’t recognised by the Kennel Club and seem to be very few and far between.
Lifespan: 10-16 years
Temperament: Lively, loving, loyal
Although this little dog has historic links to Malta, their name actually comes from the word for “port”, where these little dogs would run around catching rodents. Nowadays it’s hard to consider this pampered pooch a pest control expert, especially with those flowing snow-white locks!
The Maltese is more well known for being the plaything of nobles, and these beautiful little dogs have been bred for centuries to be the companions and “comforters” for royal women. But you needn’t be an aristocrat to own one of these cute canines. Their adorable black button nose and eyes, and super affectionate temperament makes it hard to resist their appeal!
Weight: Under 3kg
Lifespan: 12-15 years
Temperament: Sweet, charming, playful
There’s no spaghetti in sight with this type of Bolognese! The Bolognese, sometimes nicknamed a “Bolo”, originated from the Bologna region of Italy. It’s related to the Bichon Frise and the Maltese. Just like their canine cousins, these pups sport fetching white coats and were also traded around the Mediterranean as valuable companions amongst high society.
Although the Bolognese did almost die out as other breeds, like Pugs started to become more fashionable.
Bolos aren’t as alert or active as other lapdogs and they’re pretty shy around strangers. However, they’re devoted and affectionate pets and many allergy sufferers can live with these wonderful white dogs because they don't shed. And after centuries of living in the lap of luxury, it’s no surprise this dog’s favourite place is snoozing on the sofa!
Lifespan: 12-14 years
Temperament: Calm, affectionate, gentle
Few dogs are as chic or sweet as an Italian Greyhound, and these popular pups are perhaps the most well-known of all the Italian dog breeds. (Not least because it’s in their name!) Humans have been keeping Greyhound-like dogs for thousands of years, and this regal breed has been accompanying painters and aristocrats for centuries.
Italian Greyhounds have a ton of appeal thanks to their adorable shy appearance, and their small size and adaptability means they can live anywhere.
Lifespan: 14-15 years
Temperament: Sensitive, sweet, alert
Depending on their colouring, you might mistake an Italian Spinone for a Labradoodle or a Wirehaired Pointer. However, the Italian Spinone is a class all of its own, making fabulous family pets and hard-working gundogs.
Their sweet human-like expression and scruffy eyebrows and moustache make the Spinone a characterful canine companion. And despite their stamina and working background, they’re surprisingly laidback and a bit lazy! Luckily, these sweet, shaggy dogs are extremely loving and eager to please, so they’ll usually get up and go when you ask.
Lifespan: 10-12 years
Temperament: Docile, amiable, patient
The bouncy ball of fur that is the Lagotto Romagnolo looks like a Cockapoo, and these curly canines are just as cute and clownish.
They were originally bred to hunt ducks, which is why they have a thick, curly, waterproof coat to protect them from the cold water. But as marshes were drained, they were instead put to work using their fantastic noses to sniff out truffles!
Lagottos are hard working woofers, but their teddy-bear looks and playful personality are sure to win anyone over. They’re fast becoming popular pets thanks to their trainability, loving nature, cheeky character, and hypoallergenic coat. They’re a healthy and long-lived breed too, so you could have almost two decades of snuggles with your best bud.
Lifespan: 15-17 years
Temperament: Loving, active, biddable
The Bracco Italiano is a regal and refined gundog that has been coveted by hunters and nobles for centuries. But despite being one of the oldest pointing breeds in Europe, Braccos were only recognised in the UK in the 1990s!
Hardwired for hunting, these dogs need plenty of exercise and stimulation to stay happy and healthy. But as long as they get enough enrichment, these dogs have a very definite “off” switch and are calm and docile at home.
Like many working dogs, they have an affinity for people and are easy to train. Plus, Braccos are good with children and other dogs, so they have the potential to be the perfect pet for an active family.
Lifespan: 10-14 years
Temperament: Social, enthusiastic, intelligent
When asked about Italian dog breeds, few would be able to name a Bergamasco Shepherd, but this ancient sheepdog is unmistakable once you’ve seen one! Bergamascos have fur that naturally forms into dreadlocks, which helps to protect them from the harsh climates of the Italian Alps, where they would be used to herd and protect livestock.
Despite being bred to work in the cold climbs of the Alps with only sheep for company, these dogs are social and affectionate, and they’re happy around kids and other pups. That being said, this hardy and healthy pooch is happy to do their own thing too, and they’re pretty low-maintenance, but they do have an independent streak.
Luckily, Bergamascos are also eager to please and loving, so they can make a great companion as long as you give them plenty to do.
Lifespan: 13-15 years
Temperament: Independent, intelligent, patient, protective
The Cirneco dell’Etna (Pronounced: “Cheer-nay-ko”) is an elegant hound from Sicily, bred to hunt rabbits and hares around Mount Etna. Dogs that look like the Cirneco have appeared on Sicilian coins as far back as 500 BC, and they’re closely related to the larger Pharaoh Hound and look like a miniature version of them!
These pups are perfectly suited for working, with super senses of sight and smell, and keen hearing thanks to their pin-straight and moveable ears which work like little radar dishes. Not to mention, they’re super speedy!
But these sleek hounds are built for speed, not stamina, so once they’re home they love to lounge. Elegant, small, loyal and gentle, the Cirneco could give the Italian Greyhound a run for their money as the perfect companion!
Lifespan: 12-14 years
Temperament: Friendly, independent, alert
The imposing Neapolitan Mastiff is the modern descendant of the fearsome war dogs used by the Romans and Mesapotamians, powerful pooches as at home on the battlefield or fighting gladiators as they were hunting big game and guarding villas.
Although these mighty Mastiffs look fearsome, they’re actually big softies. Mastiffs are steady and loving amongst their family and very protective of them. Plus, they are covered in wrinkles and loose skin, and any dog that floppy and wrinkly can’t be too scary! If you’ve watched Harry Potter you’ll recognise that Hagrid’s huge but cowardly hound “Fang” is none other than a Neapolitan.
Lifespan: 7-9 years
Temperament: Quiet, watchful, loyal