The Miniature Italian Greyhound: La Dolce Dog
by Marjorie Dorfman
Where did this little dog come from and is it related to the bigger varieties? Read on for some fascinating facts about one amazing little dog!
The Miniature Greyhound is believed to have originated 2,000 years ago in countries known today as Greece and Turkey and may date back even further. This theory is bolstered by the archaeological discovery of small greyhound-type skeletons in a 6,000-year-old Egyptian tomb. In all probability, the worlds first sailors, the Phoenicians, brought these dogs to Europe along with their larger cousins. Pictorials of small greyhounds have been discovered among the ruins of Pompeii along with a sign that has amusing overtones. Cave Canem (beware of dog) was a warning to ancient visitors with a slightly different meaning than that which would be rendered today. It meant not that the dogs might attack the visitors, but rather that the visitors should not attack (or damage) these small dogs!
It is believed that by the Middle Ages the miniature greyhound was well known throughout southern Europe. This is supported by the depiction of these dogs in the early decorative arts of these countries. The Miniature or Italian Greyhound (Piccolo Levriero Italiano) is not so named for a love of pasta or an appreciation of opera or fine art. It is rather a reference to the breeds popularity in renaissance Italy. Miniature dogs were in great demand in sixteenth-century Italy and became very popular with European nobility.
From the sixteenth century onward, the history of the miniature greyhound can be traced as it spread throughout Europe, arriving in the land of tea and crumpets in the seventeenth century. Catherine The Great of Russia, James I of England, Queen Anne of Denmark and Queen Victoria all had these dogs as pets. Frederick the Great of Prussia loved his little Italian Greyhound so much that he even took him to war with him. When the animal died, he buried him with his own hands on the palace grounds and lies beside the dog to this very day.
Although they have always been considered pets, miniature greyhounds were also used regularly for hunting especially in combination with falcons. The Italian Greyhound is the very smallest of the family of "gazehounds" (dogs that hunt by sight), typically weighing between 7 and 11 pounds. They are hardier than they appear, but their bones are very fragile until they reach about 18 months of age. Elegant, sleek and fine-boned, this breed has a long head that thins gradually into a pointed muzzle. Like their larger cousins, the brisket is deep, the abdomen tucked-in and the back is arched. The expressive eyes are large and dark and the tail is straight, ending in a slight curve. Known for its high stepping gait, this breed has an easy care coat in solid gray, slate gray, cream, red, fawn, black, flecked or blue.
Italian Greyhounds are affectionate and playful creatures, known for their strong attachment to their masters. Although they appear very fragile, their large and extremely powerful lungs enable a bark unexpected from such a small creature. Very intelligent, these dogs can be timid and high-strung and need a gentle, loving and reassuring hand when a stressful situation occurs. They thrive in households where children are quiet and well behaved. (Is there such a place?) They get along well with other greyhounds and cats, although they are not generally good companions for larger dogs because they like to play by running and bumping into each other. Having several Italian Greyhounds in a household usually works out fine.
These dogs, like their larger cousins are extremely fast. Inquisitive with a love of running and jumping, they can thrive in either country or city apartment life, and provided they are taken for long walks, can do without a yard as well. They are, however, very sensitive to cold temperatures, and should wear a sweater if out in cold weather. They often gravitate to warm places in the home cuddling and burrowing into blankets, cushions and any innocent passersby with warm laps. They hardly shed and their silky coats are easily maintained by a rubdown with a piece of toweling or chamois.
Italian Greyhounds are easily spooked and they do bark at unfamiliar sounds. As such, they bear some semblance to being reasonably good watchdogs. (Rin-Tin-Tin, dont worry. You wont have to give up your day job.) They are, however, easily spooked and will run away, leaving your house ajar and ready for intruders. They should be leashed at all times when not enclosed to avoid the risk of them taking off after some other creature they might perceive as prey.
In summation, these small, noble dogs are worth their weight in gold. Adorable and beloved, they play the heartstrings of their owners with a deft vitality and intelligence. One should be honored to own one of these creatures; if that is, there could ever be such a thing.
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