Italian dogs have become wildly popular for various reasons. In fact, Italy has been a hot breeding ground for a number of dog breeds. These Italian dogs are cheerful, talented and highly affectionate. So if you’re considering a best friend from this European country, then you’re in the right place.
Italian dog breeds come in different sizes, colors, with varied personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Each breed was developed to serve a specific function in society. From laid back companions to agile working dogs or energetic sporting hounds, there’s something for everyone.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the different varieties of Italian dogs. We’ll take a closer look at the origins, temperament, and interesting facts that make each breed unique. And while there are many more Italian breeds, we believe these are the most iconic dogs.
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Table of Contents
Native Italian Dog Breeds
Italy is home to nearly 30 distinct dog breeds, making it one of the most productive countries in the development of dog breeds. Many of which, have made its way all around the world. Many know the St Bernard, or the Maltese. However there’s many Italian dogs you’ve never heard of.
The most popular Italian dog breeds include: the Spinone Italiano, Cane Corso, Bolognese, Bracco Italiano, St Bernard, Neapolitan Mastiff, Italian Greyhound, Cirneco dell’ Etna, Maremma Sheepdog, Bergamasco, Segugio Italiano, Volpino Italiano, Lagotto Romagnolo, Maltese and the Cane di Oropa. However, there’s many more.
1. Spinone Italiano
Highlights: Sociable, Affectionate, Patient
Bred as a hunting dog in Italy’s Piedmont region, the Spinone Italiano has been a top companion to many Italian hunters. Some of its best qualities for this role include its intelligence, ability to retrieve on land or lake, and their unbelievable stamina.
The Spinoni Italiano is a versatile, powerful, and all-round hunter. They’re one of the only breeds that can work in the rough, hilly Alpine Italian vegetation. Whether through air scenting or ground tracking, a Spinoni knows how to track game better than any other.
And despite their goofy looks, the Spinone is built with a solid and squarely body. In fact, they’re much stronger and a lot more durable than they look. Plus, the impressive endurance of the Spinone will them ready for long battles on the field for hours at a time.
- The Spinone Club of America and the Club Italian Spinone, U.S.A. were both formed in the late 1980s.
- The Spinone has had different names throughout history. For example, Italian Wirehaired Pointer, Italian Griffon, and Bracco Spinoso.
- The highly adaptable Spinone is known for its superior nose that’s great for air scenting during hunting escapades and ultra-soft mouth.
Spinone Italiano Temperament
For a gun-dog, the Spinone Italiano is fairly gentle. And no surprisingly, this breed makes a loyal and loving family pet because they enjoy showing affection to their owners. You can always trust the Spinone with kids because they’ll form such a close bond.
The Spinone Italiano is very friendly too. Even with strangers, they will rarely show signs of aggression. Instead, the dog seems to always be on the lookout to make new friends. Because of these qualities, the Spinone Italiano would likely make a poor guard dog.
2. Cane Corso
Highlights: Intelligent, Loyal, Protective
The origin story of this Italian Mastiff can be traced back to ancient times during the Roman empire. As descendants of the Roman war dogs, the Cane Corso would often accompany soldiers into battle. With that said, the original Corso dog was both fierce and aggressive.
They weren’t just aggressive dogs, but also big dogs too. It’s not unusual for a Cane Corso to grow up to 28 inches tall and weigh over 100 pounds. After all, they are some of the most formidable and capable guard dogs the canine kingdom has to offer.
After the Roman wars, the Cane Corso served as a guard dog and hunter’s companion. As such, they would protect livestock, farms, and families. Unfortunately, the breed almost went extinction after World wars I and II. Though, some enthusiasts helped revive the Corso during the 1970s.
- Cane Corso’s name was derived from the Latin term “cohors,” meaning “protector” or “guardian.”
- Corsi was first introduced in the United States in 1988, and the American Kennel Club (A.K.C.) officially recognized the breed in 2010.
- The Cane Corso worked as a guard and hunting dog, mostly hunting the particularly big and dangerous game like wolves and wild boar.
Cane Corso Temperament
The Cane Corso has an imposing appearance and confident attitude coupled with some aggressive tendencies towards strangers. All these qualities make them all the more effective as the guard dogs they were raised to be. So, a firm hand is needed with them.
But behind the intimidating looks is a loyal and affectionate dog that loves its humans and is always eager to please. The Corso is also good with kids and other dogs under strict supervision. Even so, a bit of socializing with people and other dogs is essential at an early age.
Highlights: Playful, Devoted, Smart
The Bolognese originated from Bologna in Italy, the city after which it was named. This easy-going breed is a part of the Bichon family group, with its closest relative being the Maltese. These dogs were raised to be royal companions, especially within Italian and Belgian nobility.
They come exclusively in their iconic white coats with the signature fluff and curls. As for physical looks, they tend to appear very similar to the Maltese or Bichon. The black beady eyes, bright smiles and long droopy ears are all similarities in these dogs.
The breed almost faced extinction after the nobility died down. But because of the enthusiasts like Gian Franco Giannelli (along with a few other European breeders), the lap dog breed was revived. And in 1990, Liz Stannard first brought this breed to England. The rest is history.
- Titian, the renowned painter, painted Duke Frederico Gonzaga with his Bolognese. Other painters like Goya, Watteau, and Gosse also painted this cute small dog breed.
- The Bolognese was indeed an aristocratic breed, and the noble families loved exchanging it as a gift between each other.
- In ancient times, many European V.I.P.s are said to have owned at least one of these loyal fluffy pups.
Bred to be companion dogs (and nothing else), the Bolognese is very close and loving to their human owners. The human-dog bond they develop is near unbreakable. These dogs love displaying their care or love to its people.
However, they tend to suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for long periods of time. That said, we do not recommend this breed for busy owners. Leaving your Bolognese at home for 8 hours a day will be a strain on their mental health.
This smart dog breed can identify strangers and alert the owners. It’s why they’re very capable of being a decent watchdog. Still, they’re not known to be aggressive and can easily befriend the newcomer. In addition, a Bolognese can also happily and easily interact with kids under supervision.
4. Saint Bernard
Highlights: Calm, Charming, Gentle
Originating in the French Alps, Saint Bernard was initially a farm dog. But after being acquired by monks of the hospice at the Great Saint Bernard Pass, they began serving as rescue dogs. This amazing dog is able to guide, sniff out, and rescue lost travelers in the Alps.
Despite the massive size of these dogs, they’re probably even more powerful and muscular than you think. And while they may seem intimidating, they are far from it. St Bernards are essentially giant teddy bears, giving them the title of nanny-dogs.
The St. Bernard was not always called so. The name was given to this breed in 1880. Before then, it had different names, including the Alpine Mastiff, Sacred Dogs, Barryhunden and Alpendogs. Today, this dog breed is mainly kept as a family pet.
- It’s estimated that the Saints saved over 200 lives during the three centuries of rescue work in the Alps.
- Saint Bernard was the first breed of dog the Swiss Stud Club registered after launching in the year 1884.
- The idea that the ancient St. Bernard wore a miniature barrel of booze
around the neck was a myth invented by Edwin Landseer, a 17-year-old painter in 1820s England.
Saint Bernard Temperament
St. Bernards are well known for their benevolent temperament and friendly nature. They enjoy the company of their owners and are gentle with kids. These big dogs are sweet, even to strangers. Their size alone is what may scare away anyone with a bad intention.
This breed is only moderately active; therefore, no need for a huge yard or a lot of exercises. Saints, however, enjoy taking walks like any other dog. Early training of St. Bernard is important before they become too big and harder to instruct.
5. Bracco Italiano
Highlights: Trainable, Docile, Loving
The Bracco Italiano is a gun-dog that originated in Northern Italy. They’re believed to be the cross of an Egyptian hound with the Mollosus or Asiatic Mastiff. Not surprisingly, these dogs were first bred by the wealthy Medici and the Gonzaga to be hunters.
The Bracchi Italiani was great at driving birds into nets, pointing and retrieving. But as hunting methods changed, they were trained to be premier gun-dogs. The breed was brought to the UK in the late 1980s and imported into the United States in 1994.
Bracco Italiano. After all, they needed to be durable and strong to handle their hunting duties in the toughest terrain of Italy. The Bracco may seem slender and lean, but they’re deceivingly quick and athletic, especially on the field.
- The breeds coloring is either white, white and orange, or white and chestnut while some have roan markings.
- The Bracco Italiano is an ancient breed. It appears in texts and paintings since the 4th and 5th centuries B.C.
- Originally, the Bracco was classified into two: the Piedmontese Pointer and the Lombard Pointer. These were later merged in the 20th century by breed enthusiasts.
Bracco Italiano Temperament
The Bracco Italiano is affectionate, and enjoys human company, thus making them loyal dogs. The Bracco Italiano gets along with other pets and dogs as well. Plus, they love to play. As for activities, a Bracco requires regular exercise. You can take him for a walk or a swim every day.
This Italian Pointer is very trainable and responsive, but prefers positive reinforcement methods for best results. If you regularly scold the dog, this stubborn dog breed will likely not obey. All in all, the Bracco enjoys working the most since it was bred to hunt.
6. Neapolitan Mastiff
Highlights: Strong-willed, Loyal, Watchful
This Mastiff-type dog’s existence dates as far back as the 700 B.C. They were first bred in Southern Italy by farmers who wanted a breed that was hefty, but also had a nice smooth coat and saggy skin. But they also aimed for a more family-friendly breed.
Like all mastiff dogs, the Neapolitan is massive. It’s likely that these dogs may grow up to 150 lbs or more depending on genetics and gender. In addition, they’re long and compact dogs. In fact, the length of the body is roughly 15% longer than the height.
With their huge, intimidating appearance, the Neapolitan Mastiffs served the role of a guard dog and protector fairly well. In the 1970s, the breed spread throughout Europe and into America. Today, the Neapolitans are great family pets while still working as protectors.
- The Neapolitan Mastiff is a massive dog breed. A male can weigh over 150 lbs (68 kgs) and females 110 lbs (50 kgs).
- The Neapolitan Mastiff Club of America (NMCA) was formed in 1973. They kept a registry of all the American Neapolitan Mastiffs.
- The A.K.C. officially accepted this breed into the Working Group in 2004. It is the club’s 153rd dog breed.
Neapolitan Mastiff Temperament
Like most modern Mastiffs, the Neapolitan is primarily a guardian. One look at them and an intruder will think twice before entering your compound. But with the family members, the Neapolitan Mastiff is very kind, loving, and gentle. They’re great family dogs!
This breed can be trainable and should actually begin lessons at an early age before they get too big. In some cases, they’ll be strong-willed. In other words, you will need to be consistent and firm with them. Plus, always use positive reinforcement techniques.
7. Italian Greyhound
Highlights: Playful, Affectionate, Alert
The ancestors of Italian Greyhounds were first bred about 2,000 years ago in the region that’s now the border of Turkey and Greece. However, they were further developed and popularized in Italy as family companions and small-game hunters for the nobility.
As for sighthounds, the Italian Greyhound is the smallest purebred sighthound in existence. While this greyhound can sit 15 inches tall, they generally weigh no more than 11 pounds. This may be why they’re some of the fastest dogs (clocking 25 mph).
This mini Greyhound was almost extinct after both World wars – like many other European dog breeds. But thanks to the remaining American population, breeders were able to revive them in both the United States and in Europe.
- The Italian Greyhound is the smallest member of the sighthound family.
- An African king named Lobengula once swapped 200 cows for a single Italian Greyhound.
- The The Italian Greyhound was one of the most popular companions among aristocrats.
Italian Greyhound Temperament
Italian Greyhounds have the attentiveness of lapdogs and enjoy the company of their owners. They are a very affectionate breed that rely on human interaction. You can always count on them snuggling with you or just chilling near you the whole day.
Italian Greyhounds have moderate energy levels, despite their agile and athletic bodies. But when they are with strangers, they can be fairly quiet, shy, or fearful. You’ll do them justice by socializing them at an early age, so they can easily adjust to people and other pets.
8. Cirneco dell’ Etna
Highlights: Athletic, Independent, Loving
The Cirneco is a dog that’s native to Sicily Island (off the southern coast of Italy). What’s more, images of dogs resembling the Cirneco were depicted on Sicilian coins as early as 500 BC. They were used to chase small game like rabbits, hares, and game birds.
According to recent DNA studies, this Italian dog has a lot of similarities with other Mediterranean island hounds. With further DNA analysis, scientists believed that the Kelb tal-Fenek and Cirneco were actually the same breed over 200 years ago.
Cirnecos narrowly escaped extinction in the early 1930s when Dr. Maurizio Migneco, an acclaimed vet, wrote about their declining numbers. An Italian aristocrat – Baroness Agata Paternó Castello – read the article and decided to revive the breed in Sicily.
- The Cirneco dell’ Etna was named after Mt. Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano.
- Legend has it that 1,000 Cirnecos guarded the temple of the god Adranos, located on the southwestern slope of the volcanic Mount Etna.
- Italy’s national kennel club recognized the Cirneco in 1939.
Cirneco dell’ Etna Temperament
This breed is one of the most affectionate canines to come from Italy. They make top house pets and love spending time with their owners. They are also believed to be good with children but need to be properly socialized when still young.
Cirneco dogs enjoy the company of other dogs, especially with their own kind. They were pack-hunting dogs after all. But when it comes to other animals, their prey drive tends to kick in. This calls for the early introduction of other house pets in order to socialize them.
9. Maremma Sheepdog
Highlights: Calm, Independent, Smart
This breed originated in Italy as a flock guardian for both sheep and goats. As such, they were some of the best guard dogs for rural farmers. But it wasn’t until 1898 that the Maremma was first registered in the Kennel Club Italiano. It took another 26 years for the breed standard.
For hundreds of years, the Maremma helped protect flocks from dangerous predators, such as wild wolves. Thanks to their 70 cm height and 100-pound frame, few predators dare messing with these massive guardian dogs. Plus, they’re sneaky fast and athletic.
Initially, the Maremma Sheepdog was considered as two separate breeds: the Maremmano and the Abruzzese. But in the late 1950s, due to inherent crossbreeding, the two were agreeably known and considered as one breed. They go by both names interchangeably, today.
- Maremma Sheepdog is named after the Maremma marshland.
- Traditionally, Maremma not only guards sheep but also protect range cattle.
- Maremmas are active shedders and require frequent brushing.
Maremma Sheepdog Temperament
Despite being bred as a guard dog, the Maremma Sheepdog is a calm and loyal family pet that’s very kind and sweet. The good news is that they’re not so needy as to develop separation anxiety. In fact, a Maremma can comfortably stay alone for a while if given a task.
Because of their dominant personalities, this breed requires firm and consistent training in order to submit to the owner’s authority. Maremmas also need constant mental stimulation to avoid negative behavior due to boredom. Typically, Maremmas are good for adults and kids.
Highlights: Independent, Smart, Patient
The Bergamasco’s history dates nearly 7,000 years back, giving them a truly “ancient” pedigree. They’re often associated with Bergamo, the Alpine town near Milan, Italy. Hence, the name. In Bergamo, they’ve peacefully lived for many centuries while working as livestock guardians.
But because of the long history of the Bergamasco, there have been debate on their true origins. In fact, French authorities believed that this breed actually originated from the French Briard. However, others claim that they’re actually from the Middle east.
This resilient dog breed was well suited to guard sheep along the rocky Italian Alps slopes. Their unique mop-looking locks of hair was actually bred to protect them from the blistering cold at high altitudes, all while acting as extra protection from being bitten by predators.
- The Bergamasco breed was not altered because of fears that they would lose their intelligence needed to guard and protect sheep.
- This breed has an exceptionally acute hearing and awareness of its environment.
- The coat of the Bergamasco was designed to act as armor during their battles with wolves.
The Bergamasco is a patient and a devoted family dog. They deeply care for their owner and will do all they can to ensure their safety. It’s why they make great guard dogs. Bergamascos are always eager to please and will get along well with kids or other pets.
The Bergamasco is generally a robust breed with very little health issues. They’re independent and, as a result, not overly needy of attention. Another great quality of the Bergamasco is that they don’t easily get aggressive unless circumstances really force them.
11. Segugio Italiano
Highlights: Friendly, Gentle, Intelligent
Descending from Egyptian Hounds of the Middle East, the Segugio Italiano belongs to the scenthound group. According to historians, the Romans invaded the country, adopted the Segugios, and moved the dogs to Italy, where they were further refined to work.
Segugios were originally bred to be hunting dogs. In fact, they hunted in large packs that consisted of a few hundreds of dogs. However, later they were trained to work in smaller packs or even by themselves. Today, the Segugio is still one of the most popular breeds in Italy.
But even so, being extremely popular wasn’t always the case. Because of a huge decline in wild boar, these dogs consequently saw a large drop in popularity. Unfortunately, a lack of necessity almost led them to their extinction.
- The Segugio Italiano has a Roman nose, that is, a nose with a prominent bridge.
- A Segugio Italiano comes in two coat types: wirehaired or short-haired.
- TIn Italian, Segugio Italiano means “Italian Hound,” which perfectly describes the breed.
Segugio Italiano Temperament
Based on their history of hunting in parks of up to hundreds of dogs, Segugios are quite friendly with other dogs. The only concern in a home is if you have other pets like cats. The Segugios’ prey drive and hunting instincts may spell disaster for these other critters.
But despite being so great at hunting, this breed is surprisingly an excellent and loving family dog. They are loyal to their owners and love to be around familiar people. They also make dependable watch dogs as they will always bark to alert you of strangers or intruders.
12. Volpino Italiano
Highlights: Playful, Devoted, Intelligent
The Volpini Italianos are descendants of the Spitz-type dogs, whose existence can be dated to 5,000 years back. During these ancient days, this breed was extremely popular among both Italian royalty as well as common peasant farmers. Being versatile dogs, it’s easy to see why.
You can call them the “Italian Pomeranian,” as they are very similar in looks and in temperament. And in old Italian artwork, these dogs often were depicted among all social classes. This explains why they were such popular dogs of the past.
The Volpini was traditionally used as watchdogs. They would work in tandem with much larger Mastiff-type guard dogs by barking and alerting them of potential intruders. But like many others, they declined in numbers in the 1960s. Breeders revived the breed, but its popularity was lost.
- It is believed that Michelangelo had several Volpini throughout his life since he really enjoyed their company.
- Volpino Italiano was recognized by the Italian Kennel Club (ENCI) in 1903, the Federation Cynologique International in 1956, and the United Kennel Club in 2006.
- Although the Volpino Italiano resembles the Pomeranian, the two breeds have distinct bloodlines.
Volpino Italiano Temperament
This Volpino is very energetic and friendly. They enjoy playing with kids, bonding with owners, and of course, hanging out with other pets. This makes them an adorable family dog, while their protective instincts also make them quite devoted pets.
Volpini are great watchdogs, but their tendency to bark at strangers can sometimes be a nuisance. So you may want to train this trait out of them in puppyhood. However, Volpinos are highly intelligent dogs. Training them can take time due to their stubborn and cheeky personality.
13. Lagotto Romagnolo
Highlights: Keen, Clever, Dependable
The Lagotto origin dates back to ancient years, roughly around 1474 A.D. during the “Pre-Roman” era. They originated from Romagna, Italy, in the marshland of Ravenna, where they were bred as waterfowl retrievers. In fact, they’re viewed as the ancestor of all the water dogs.
During the late 1800s, the marshlands were drained and converted into farmlands. This meant that there were no more waterfowl, hence no work for the Lagotto Romagnolo. But soon after, the Lagotto was re-purposed for truffle hunting, a job their highly tuned nose does efficiently.
The appearance of the Lagotto looks very similar to that of a Poodle or Bichon. While they may seem like lap dogs, they’re actually tough working dogs. The Lagotto is much stronger than they seem, with an impressive amount of endurance.
- This breed’s name is coined from the local dialect of Romagna, “Càn Lagòt,” which translates to “water dog.”
- Several paintings from the Renaissance era, e.g., by Pittore Lombardo, Andrea Mantegna, and Guercino, depict the Lagotto Romagnolo.
- The Lagotto Romagnolo is the only dog breed in the world recognized for specializing in truffle hunting.
Lagotto Romagnolo Temperament
The Lagotto, while a cute petite dog, is a hard worker and dependable companion. They are loving pets who enjoy being the center of attention when they’re not on the field. This breed is also great with kids provided they are well socialized in puppyhood.
Their high intelligence and people-loving nature makes them an easy dog to train. They take their work or task very seriously, especially if it means being good watchdogs. But Lagottos are non-aggressive pups, so they aren’t suitable as guard dogs.
Highlights: Playful, Adaptable, Charming
Believe it or not, the Maltese is an ancient dog, but it’s not clear exactly where it originated from. In most cases, historians seem to agree that they were bred in Malta – off the coast of Italy. Others believe that the Phoenicians brought them to Malta as they traded.
The history of the Maltese is long and diverse. At one point, they were popularized by the Greeks, who were fascinated with their geometric beauty. Eventually, they gained traction among the Roman Empire, in addition to the Chinese.
Nonetheless, Maltese were bred to be companions and “comforters.” The ladies of royalty especially loved this breed and carried them in their sleeves or sat with them on their laps. To date, the Maltese are still a popular show dog, companion and lap dog.
- Other names given to the Maltese include Roman ladies’ dog, comforter dog, Maltese terrier, Maltese lion dog, shock dog, Melitaie dog, and the Spaniel gentle.
- Even though they have a thick coat of hair, the Malteses do not shed. They only require occasional haircuts to keep their mops in check.
- The Maltese can be used as a therapy dog, e.g., since 2009, Riley the Maltese has been a therapy dog and has taken part in over 400 therapy sessions.
This solid-white toy dog is all about elegance and balance. The Maltese is a lively pup that’s people-loving, but also enjoys the attention of others. It’s what they thrive on. Their upbringing as a companion dog makes them a lovely family pet, especially for families that want a small dog.
Malteses are one of the most trainable dogs, and they respond especially well to positive training – like these. This breed is excellent with older, well-behaved kids that know how to handle small dogs carefully. As for the owner, Maltese can spend the whole day on their laps.
15. Cane di Oropa
Highlights: Obedient, Athletic, Diligent
Originating from the Italian Alps from Northern Italy, the Cane di Oropa is a herding dog that’s been used for centuries to herd indigenous cattle and sheep. They come in a variety of coat colors, coat types, ear carriages, weights, and heights.
The Oropa was bred to be an efficient herding dog that’s well adapted to the harsh environment of the Alps. They’re a hard-working breed with great stamina and a willingness to work. But in the 1950s, this breed nearly went extinction. Luckily a group was formed to stabilize the breed.
Despite their friendly nature, the Oropa is not a popular dog. They’re even rare in their home country of Italy. Still, they can be found in the rural regions of Italy. Unfortunately, there is very little information on this breed, though they seem to retain an aura of mystery.
- This breed is known by several other names, i.e., Shepherd Dog of Oropa, Cane da Pastore d’Oropa, Cane Pastore Biellese, and Biella Shepherd.
- The Cane di Oropa has a coat color of merle with black and tan markings, black or shades of brown.
- Friends of the Oropa Dog is a group that was formed in the year 2004 to promote and stabilize the Oropa breed after its near extinction.
Cane di Oropa Temperament
The Cane di Oropa is a working dog. They’re very athletic and can easily run up and down the hilltops to round up sheep while herding. A bright spot is their obedience, which makes it easier for the shepherd to coordinate with them and manage the flocks.
On the other hand, these dogs have a lot of energy that needs to be dealt with. The most ideal situation is a large backyard in which they can run freely. Otherwise, expect to take them out multiple times a day to get their needed exercise in. After all, they’re meant to run.
Let us know in the comments section below, which was your favorite Italian dog? Also, let us know if we missed any that deserves to be on here!
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