This longread article is the result of conduction of the information from vintage books, newspapers, articles and internet sources such as breed kennel clubs web sites and other. My passion is to find as much as possible intormation about the history of our beloved breed and it's development in different countries. Especially I value information about people, kennels and individual IGs that made great contribution to the breed development. This article will be updated as new information is found. If you have some interesting information or comments to this article - please feel free to e-mail me to the email you can see in the top of this site. I would be very appreciated.
5000 years BCE. Egypt and Greece - breed's origin
The Italian Greyhound is one of the most ancient breeds. Contrary to what its name indicates, the origins of the little Italian greyhound are more Egyptian than Italian since it descends from the Tesem, presented on the bas-reliefs of ancient Egypt. This greyhound of antiquity is also recognized as the ancestor of other breeds of greyhounds and primitive dogs including Basenji and Cirneco del Etna.
A dog morphologically similar to the Italian Greyhound already existed at the time of Egyptian pharaohs and dignitaries, 5000 years before our era, as evidenced by archaeological excavations carried out in Egypt. They have found a mummy of one of these little greyhounds. On a sheet of papyrus, placed beside him, were mentioned his name, his age, and the characteristics of the breed. The skeleton of a dog comparable to the Italian Greyhound, was also found in Saqqara, necropolis south of Cairo, near the tomb of Queen Herneith (who lived around 2950 BCE).
It is known from literary sources that greyhounds were highly valued in ancient Egypt: from a companion dog, a hunting partner, they actually became a cult, an idol dog endowed with some kind of power. The Egyptians revered these dogs so much that their birth was an event surpassing everything except the birth of a son. And when the greyhound was dying, the whole family was mourning: they mourned with screams, shaved their heads, held hunger strikes. Among the pharaohs buried with their greyhounds are Tutankhamen, Amenhotep II, Thutmos III and Queen Hatshebsut and Cleopatra.
So how this little greyhound attached to Egypt has become Italian over time?
According to the story, he would have arrived in Rome because Cleopatra (who had her own kennel with several hundreds of greyhounds, including small greyhounds), would have offered Caesar a dog of this breed during one of his visits to Rome. It is also said that when he returned to Rome, Caesar brought back one of these little dogs from Egypt.
What is more certain is that the Italian Greyhound left his homeland to conquer the Mediterranean basin thanks to the multiple trade exchanges that existed, since ancient times, in this part of Europe. It is through Greece, as evidenced by many representations pictorial of this dog on ancient vases, that the Italian Greyhound arrived in Rome in 500 BCE. The breed became very popular in Rome where it was named "piccolo levriero italiano". Italian Greyhounds were kept in the house, they were stifled by perfume and slept on silk pillows.
16-18th century. Favourite breed of nobles.
“This graceful and fragile little creature, with the equally choice Maltese dog, may not survive long in this country. He has never been a particularly great favourite, owing doubtless to his delicate constitution and the great difficulty there has always been to produce perfect specimens of the ordinary English greyhound in miniature, which the so called Italian variety undoubtedly ought to be, though in proportion the limbs of the latter are more slim, and were never ordained by nature for rougher work than playing on the lawn, or having a romp in the dining-room.” - Here is what a English writer at the commencement of the 16th century predicted about Italian Greyhounds. And now we know how much he was mistaken.
The Italian Greyhound arrived, little by little, all over Europe with the Roman military expeditions. The breed reached its peak during the Renaissance period. The Italian Greyhound entered the royal courts where he was the pampered palace resident. Francis I, Catherine de Medici, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Louis XIV and Catherine the Great of Russia enjoyed the company of this greyhound. Artists from different periods of history have magnified it through painting, tapestry or poetry. When the Italian greyhound became fashionable in England it was a favourite at Court in the time of the Stuarts (1603).
Italian Greyhound was valued for it's incredible grace, skill, playfulness, mobility, dedication and for a very persistent hunting instinct. In Europe, the Italian Greyhound has always been a hunter. It is believed that over time, the Italian Greyhound was used on the "female" hunt of royal persons and important courtyards of Europe. It was a hare hunt.
Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1712-1786) was the most famous admirer of Italian Greyhounds. He always had several of them around. His darling was allowed to sleep with him in bed and was fed by his hand. The others were playmates of the favorite. He was also an enthusiastic breeder, who had never less than 40, but sometimes also 70 to 80 Italian Greyhounds in the "Jägerhof" near Potsdam. The most famous of his dogs were Biche and Alcmene, who helped him with state decisions, caused political unrest and accompanied the king to war. The favorite was given the honor to be laid to rest in his personal tomb in Sanssouci.
This is interesting case I found in the literature that fully desrcibes his love to these dogs.
"An Italian Greyhound was such a favourite of the late Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, that he used to carry it with him on nearly all occasions. During the Seven Years' War Frederick, being pursued by a party of Austrian dragoons, was compelled to take refuge under the dry arch of a bridge while the soldiers passed by. He bore his favourite in his arms, and had the little animal once growled or barked, the monarch would have been discovered and taken prisoner, and the fate of the campaign and of Prussia at once decided. But the dog lay quite still and quiet, clinging to its master in fear and trembling, as if conscious of the dangers to which they were exposed. Thus was the King saved from discovery the only instance, perhaps, in the world where the fate of an empire depended on the bark of a dog. When, years after, the little creature died, he was carefully buried in the Palace Gardens at Berlin the King placing him in the grave with his own hands. Over his remains there was, soon after, placed an inscription telling all the world of his devotion and faithfulness."
There is also case described in literarute that illustrates that not only European nobles adored Italian Greyhounds.
"Matabele monarch, Lobengula, quite fell in love with an Italian greyhound he saw at Johannesburg. For a long time its owner, Mr. Luscombe Searelle, refused part with his favourite, but in the end struck bargain, he receiving two hundred head of catl to for his little dog. The black king was very much pleased with the exchange, which he left in charge of two of his chiefs, with the orders, should any evil happen to the dog, the chiefs' lives would be forfeited. The latter came to pass soon after, as the men fell in battle, but what became of the dog we are not told."
In Russia Italian Greyhouds were brought by Peter the Great. It was a gift from the king of France to the Russian court. But Catherine the Great surpassed everyone with her love for the IGs. She considered them family members and from her house Italian Greyhounds were spread into other noble families in Russia. The most famous her Italian Greyhound - Zemira. Her ancestors were Italian Greyhounds from England - Sir Tom Anderson (d. 1784) and Duschess (d. 1782). They were sent as a gift to Catherine II by the English doctor Baron Dimsdale, who served in St. Petersburg in 1768–69. Sir Tom Anderson lived for 16 years, leaving many descendants ("young people"), whom the mistress gave to the Volkonsky, Orlovs, Naryshkin families, and even "two siblings settled in Versailles". The tiny puppy was almost the most desirable gift and sign of the empress's favour, having no less significance than a personal snuff box encrusted with diamonds.
For the "little zingers" watched a special man. Dogs slept in a pink satin basket cradle, which usually stood in the bedroom of Catherine. In Tsarskoe Selo, Catherine walked every morning along with all her Andersons who were running around her across the lawn. Dogs for contemporaries have become a constant attribute of the Queen. According to the memoirs of contemporaries, when Zemira died, Catherine did not leave her bedchamber for a few days, mourning her beloved. Favorite Dogs of the Great Queen were buried at the Pyramid in the Catherine Park located in the city of Pushkin near St. Petersburg.
Italian Greyhound in art
From rock art to modern photographs, the Italian Greyhound is one of the most portrayed dogs and competes strongly with horses. Very often, the Italian Greyhound is depicted in female portraits. Still, nothing more graceful in the world can be. Even in the Sumerian letter, you can find a symbol resembling an Italian greyhound. The earliest images of the Italian Greyhounds were found in the tombs of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The most frequent images of the IGs in painting begin from the 15th century. Interestingly, it was depicted not only in subject and portrait painting, but also on canvases written on biblical themes, as a symbol of virtue.
Italian Greyhounds can be seen in the paintings of Ambrogio Giotto 1267-1337, Rogier Van der Weyden 1399-1464, Hans Memling 1440-94, Hieronymus Bosch 1450-1516, Gerard David 1460-1523, Vittore Carpaccio 1472-1526, Sir AnthonyVan Dyck 1599-1641, Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-92, William Blake 1757-1827 and many other famous artists.
Pierre Jukes Menè 1810-77 made several bronze sculptures of Italian Greyhounds. The artist Theodor Kärner 1884-1966 who worked for Rosenthal of Germany created some beautifully detailed figures of Italian Greyhounds in porcelain. Also another German animalist Otto Pilz Meissen 1876-1934 made nice porcelain figures of Italian Greyhounds.
19th century. Difficult time for the breed.
In the nineteenth century, the destiny of the little Italian greyhound changed. The little elf, favorite of the great of this world, was no longer the fashionable dog. It almost disappeared in Italy at that time. The few Italian Geryhounds, which are still produced, changed their look. Because of crossing with toy terrier that was practiced by the dealers in England, the pretty little sportsmen were transformed into a lap dog. The Italian Greyhounds height was maximum 30 cm at the withers (it was considered as theideal size in that time) and weight was less than 3 kg. He is destined for the ladies' company and becomes a pleasure dog.
Italian Greyhounds were first shown in England at the Birmingham Dog Show in 1860. The Italian Greyhound Club in England was founded in 1900.
Here is what English author writes about the problems of Italian Greyhounds of that time:
"The practice of professional dealers and breeders in crossing the Italian greyhound with the toy terrier, in order to get diminut specimens for ladies, spoilt, for generations, some of the best points, and introduced button- or prick-ears, short, thick necks, fore-action (but a straight-leg advance, after the manner of a running terrier), curly tails and bad hocks, with wide action behind. Gracefulness was fast vanishing, but, as the greyhound type always asserts itself strongly, a pretty little dog was no doubt produced, only at the expense of the most typical points in the true old breed. Bad colour too was brought in. Of course there were occasionally very small dogs bred in a legitimate way but always from larger parents. I had one of 5t lbs. bred from a sire and dam that weighed respectively 8 and 91ł lbs. The breed in England is now much smaller than abroad, as they have not resorted to the terrier cross there; hence imported blood gives large dogs, but of excellent type and points. In its own country the Italian greyhound is not a "toy dog". I never saw one abroad that weighed under 8 lbs., and there are many ranging to 12 Ibs. and over. In England it takes six years of careful inbreeding from true type to accomplish in size the diminution that can be achieved by a single cross with a toy terrier; but the fatal defects introduced by that cross take years to breed out."
Very important person for the breed in that time in England was Miss H.M. Mackenzie. It the time when breed was in bad hands, when dealers made crosses with terriers to get only as smalest speciments as possible (because they were easily winning prizes even been not good in other points except the size) - Miss Mackenzie focused on breeding true, typical Italian Greyhounds and made all possible to keep her lines clear from terrier blood. Her kennel was the most valuable kennel of Italian Greyhounds in the country and appeared to be almost invincible in the show ring. Miss Mackenzie's Juno, Sappho, Como, Dido, Carlo, Hero, Nemo, Mario, Stello, Vino and some others are undoubtedly very first-rate specimens, and were quite as strong, hardy, and intelligent as other dogs, or even more so; the smallest of Miss Mackenzie's dogs was her beautiful bitch Dido of 5 ½ lb. The others in her kennel varied from 9 lb. to about 6 ½ lb. in weight.
Italian greyhounds in Miss Mackenzie's kennels were strong and hardy, full of life and play, are never sheeted, and can stand a shower of rain as well as any other dog. Moreover, they were remarkably free from illness or disease, and had nice temperament.
It may be interesting to note that the parent of Miss Mackenzie's kennel was a dog called Jack, purchased in 1879 in Smithfield Market from a labouring man for ten shillings. He was a beautiful dog, about 11 lb. in weight, strong, symmetrical, active, thoroughly healthy, and pretty well on to eighteen years of age when he died; he never sired a badly coloured puppy. From the butcher purchaser in the market, Jack went to Miss Mackenzie, with whom he died. Of course there was no pedigree. However, ten years or more after at one of the Birmingham shows, a visitor introduced himself to Miss Mackenzie, admired her tiny dogs which were sired by Jack. Now comes the curious fact of the matter. The man, who came from the neighbourhood of Rugby, said his late master had, about the time that Jack was purchased, lost a dog in London similar to him in every way. The dog had been his constant companion both in the country and in town, and on the night when he was lost, had slipped out of the carriage whilst a purchase was being made, much to the regret of the master, who quite failed to trace his dog. From certain marks and peculiarities, no doubt the Smithfield ten shilling purchase was the missing animal; indeed, so convinced was Miss Mackenzie that such was the case, that an offer was made to restore the dog to his former owner. Unfortunately, the gentleman in question had then been dead two or three years. The parents of this dog Jack had both been brought from Italy, his sire being about 12 ½ lb. in weight, and said to be so strong and swift as to gain successes as a rabbit courser in Warwickshire.
Here is what English author writes about showing and breeding Italian Greyhounds in that time.
"At our early shows classes were, as a rule, provided for Italian greyhounds, but even in those days of large entries, not more than a dozen or so appeared on the benches, and these were mostly in the hands of the dealers. The first volume of the " Kennel Club Stud Book," had forty-one entries of Italian greyhounds, the last published, that of 1898, had but a dozen entries. Their delicacy is, of course, the cause of their rarity, and this, I fancy, has been emphasised by the mischievous custom prevalent thirty years or so ago of producing them as small as possible. Mere mites some of them were, not more than 4lb. or 5lb. weight, with legs thinner than the shank of a Broseley straw pipe, skull round or apple-headed, and a mouth or jaw very much overshot. Most of the smallest specimens were so, and even that extraordinary little creature Molly, so successfully shown by the Mr. W. McDonald in 1871, was very much overshot. Still she was one of the choicest specimens ever produced, and, I believe, did not live to be beaten. She was just under 5lb. in weight. But she, like all others of he race, was very delicate, which no doubt arose from continued in-breeding. Mr McDonald's Duke was larger, but equally good in other respects, and for a time these two won first and second at all the shows where they competed."
Other authors describe another famous dog - Mr. Gowan's Billy, the best of his day, "He is of a black colour, is very handsome, and is considered by breed experts to be perfect in all his points. He won the silver collar in 1856. The engraving (see below) gives his proportions most exactly, but represents him as altogether too large, being in reality 14 ¼ inches high, and 8 ¾ lbs. in weight. He won won the silver collar in 1856."
Billy was extremely indbred - "in his pedigree grandsire, great grandsire, gg. grandsire, ggg. grandsire, and gggg, were all the same dog (see pedigree below). He was a lovely specimen in appearance, but, as would certainly be the case under such circumstances, his stock was delicate in the extreme."
20th century. Breed rebirth in Italy.
In the 1920s, Italian breed-passionate breeders remembered the proud rabbit hunter he was once. They worked to give him a template more appropriate to his hunting activity and gave him back his nobility. The Marquise Montecuccoli degli Erri (kennel Peltrengo) and the count Emilio Cavallini (kennel di Solcio), restarted the breeding in order to create more solid Italian lines and bring this breed back to its original type.
In Italy the Italian Greyhound Club was founded in Rome in 1956. The first President of the Club was Prof. Roberto Papini. The first breed standard was submitted by members and still today it has very few modifications. The main author of the standard was the Marquessa Lotteringhi della Stufa - the greatest expert of the breed at all times. In 1926-27 only 45 Little Greyhounds were registered in the Stud Book of the Italian Kennel Club, of which 17 imported and 28 born in Italy. It is perhaps difficult for us today to even imagine the very difficult conditions in which the enthusiasts of that time were forced to work. The second World War was almost fatal for the breed.
The dawn of modern history of the Italian Greyhound begin with impotring a female Komtesse von Gastuna from Austria in 1951 to the "Calcione" kennel. That first female marks the start of perhaps the most famous breeding in the world in the history of the breed. And when, in 1958, the Marchesa Lotteringhi della Stufa was appointed President of the Club, the fate and fame of the Italian Greyhounds of the "Calcione" kennel and of the Italian Breed Club itself began to bind inextricably to each other, for about thirty years.
Due to the intransigent firmness, sometimes unpopular, of Marchesa Lotteringhi della Stufa, her great battles over structure, gait and the colour, her rigor and her determination it made possible to transfer of the breed from the 9th Group of Companion dogs to the 10th group of Greyhounds. With the makings of an authentic leader and the constant pertinacity of those who pursue a dream, that thin woman of unparalleled competence, with vehement energy, signed the victory of the athletic greyhound over the fragile and trembling dwarf!
With her death, in 1990, a great chapter of Italian Greyhound history in Italy was closed, but thanks to the generous commitment and the efforts of those who followed her, the club continued its journey keeping pace with the times. The most famous breeders on that time in Italy were: Giulia Ajò Montecuccoli degli Erri (kennel “Peltrengo” 1930), Paola Cotta Ramusino (kennel “Rocca Petrella” 1955), Elena e Maria Davico di Fruttengo (kennel “Salabò” 1950), Irmgard Bianchi Muller (kennel “San Siro” 1950), Antonio de’ Buzzaccarini (kennel “Selvazzano” 1951), Celestino Frigerio (kennel “Solcio”1950) and Maria Luisa Incontri Lotteringhi della Stufa (kennel "Calcione” 1953).
Breed development in other countries
In the year 1932 the first Italian Greyhound was registered in the Austrian dog breeding book by Mrs. Pia Pfleger (kennel "Springinsfeld"). It was the litter 7 puppies from two German breed dogs Rittersporn Vom Westerberg and Helge Von Der Ostsee. Both had the whippet blood flowing from their ancestors in their veins. Therefore, litter of this size was possible.
As a breeder, Mrs.Pfleger was modern and exceptionally skillful. She recognized the importance of exchanging bloodlines with "foreign" blood, but she also mastered line-breeding. She had the capacity and the patience to breed her bitches with all sorts of males and kept in her eyes the most valuable Italian Greyhounds for her own breeding. She was in close contact with kennels "Wergei" (Germany), "di Solcio" (Italy) and "de la Coterel" (France). She also acquired breeding dogs and bitches from England kennels "Harrington" and "of Khepat". Mrs. Pia Pfleger breed about 400 Italian Greyhounds and they are spread all over the Europe. Springfield Italian Greyhounds can be found in pedigrees of many European dogs.
In 1957 the "Sobers" kennel was founded in Sweden by the late Mrs Astrid Jonsson. Except Italian Greyhouinds they also breed Whippets and Greyhounds. Sobers dogs of any breed are famous for their exellence both in the showring as well as at lure coursing and coursing. They always had recognizable type. Thanks to the fact that Mrs Jonson's grand daughter, Mrs Bitte Ahrens Primavera and her husband Mr Pierluigi Primavera, continued breeding activities of the Sobers kennel - it did't become a history like most of the other famous kennels (that stopped breeding with the death of the owners). And now we are able to enjoy their stylish dogs on the most prestigious dog shows all over the world.
2001 the kennel was transfered to Italy and today is located outside Rome. The kennel is responsible for more than 300 Show Champions all around the world as well as several Field Champions. Bitte Ahrens-Primavera is also an FCI judge. She is an author of the most detailed description of the breed - "Comments to Italian Sighthound FCI Standard" published in 2018.
Italian Greyhounds in USA
The Italian greyhound was first registered at The American Kennel Club in 1886 and is part of the Toy breed category. The breed started with the introduction of a small number of dogs from Europe and expanded from that initial population with limited introgressions from Europe. 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 Europe dwindled dangerously low. Each time the wars ended, British breeders used those American-bred Italian Greyhounds to restore the breed in Europe.
The Italian Greyhound Club of America was established in 1954.
There have been several noteworthy popular sire influences on the breed in the USA during the last 6 decades.
Ch. Ulisse di Peltrengo of Winterlea came to the USA via Italy and Scotland as an Italian and English champion. He proved to be a most potent and welcome size-reducer. He had an impeccable front, exceptionally deep brisket, and most of all-he gave to his puppies an exciting elegance and dazzling showmanship. He became a United States Champion in 1958 and sired 10 champions out of 9 different bitches. Four of his champion sons sired a total of 40 champions. Five of his great-grandsons, in a direct male-to-male lineage, accounted for 24 champions, and one great-great-grandson sired 8 champions. The show-winning form of Ulisse and his progeny were the most likely explanation for the sharp increase in IG registrations that occurred after 1960.
The next, and possibly greatest, sire among IG from the USA was Ch. Dasa King Of The Mountain, born April 9, 1978. The subsequent impact of this sire on IG in the USA was best described in a publication called "Born to Win, Breed to Succeed" - “Ebony Queen was in good company, for her favorite mate [and half-brother] King of the Mountain sired 78 champions for the breed’s siring record and his son Ch. Mira Hill N’Dale D’Dasa’s sired 46 champions. If ever a producing line was a testimony to the idea of family importance in breeding of outstanding animals, it is this exceptional line of Italian Greyhound. Their collective ability to harmonize with the pedigrees throughout the breed makes their contribution one still strongly appreciated decades later.” The rise of King and his progeny was also associated with a second rise in IG registrations that occurred in 1982–2004. Pedigree studies confirm the rapidity with which King blood was incorporated into the breed and virtually all contemporary IG from the USA have the King in their 10 generation pedigrees and share around 18 % of his genome.
The last of the popular sires for the breed in the USA was Ch. Tekoneva’s Dario. He was not of King’s heritage and was actively bred in the 1990s, probably in an attempt to reduce the genetic contributions of King blood-lines. However, show winners from his line came mainly from pairings with bitches heavy in King’s genes. One example was Ch. Windriver Ruby Tuesday, a popular bitch that was bred seven times to Ch. Tekoneva’s Dario.
1. "The Italian Greyhound. Dog Antology" Vintage Books 2007.
2. "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Non-Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee.
3. "The dog in health and disease" by Walsh, J. H. (John Henry), 1810-1888.
4. "A search for genetic diversity among Italian Greyhounds from Continental Europe and the USA and the effect of inbreeding on susceptibility to autoimmune disease", Niels C. Pedersen,corresponding author Hongwei Liu, Angela Leonard, and Layle Griffioen.
Kennel "Sunnymoon Place"