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Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
This Greyhound in miniature has no idea that he’s not as big as a regular Greyhound and is known for injuring himself by leaping off furniture. In his favor: he’s simple to groom. On the negative side: he doesn’t always see the need for housetraining.
One of the true companion breeds -- dogs bred for the sole purpose of being your best friend -- the Italian Greyhound excels at his work. His dark eyes, sleek lines and affectionate nature will earn him a favored place in your lap.
One foot lifted from the ground, ears perked, eyes fixed on the horizon -- the Italian Greyhound neither knows nor cares that he's small enough to tuck under your arm. A Greyhound in miniature, he's nonetheless a somewhat fragile toy dog who needs to be protected from larger dogs, rough children, and his own impetuous nature.
He's a smart dog, but somehow didn't get the memo that he's very, very tiny and his legs are very slender. Broken bones seem to be a fact of life with some Italian Greyhounds, and while some dogs' bones are sturdier than others, it's something every IG owner needs to be prepared for, and prevent if possible.
The IG can live happily in an apartment, and while he needs to be given enough exercise to keep him tired out when he's young, he'll settle into a comfortable routine once the puppy years are behind him.
Grooming couldn't be easier: an occasional soft brushing to keep shedding from becoming a problem, along with keeping the nails trimmed and the ears clean, and you're done. Regular teeth brushing is a good idea, too.
Training is another story. While Iggys, as they’re nicknamed, are tractable and loving people-magnets, they're also stubborn and a bit defiant – and very creative at showing their displeasure. Unlike some very small dogs nipping and barking don't tend to be big problems, but housetraining can be. Use gentle, consistent training and establish acceptable routines from the very beginning, or you might find yourself with a problem.
Although the Italian Greyhound is extremely small and needs to be protected from rambunctious children and dogs larger than he is, he usually gets along well with other dogs and with cats.
The Italian Greyhound has been a companion for centuries, giving the breed plenty of time to hone its love of living in the lap of luxury. The smallest of the sighthounds -- dogs bred to hunt by sight — the IG is believed to have originated as long as 2,000 years ago in Greece and Turkey. The little sighthounds were especially popular in Italy in the 16th century, hence the name. Then as today, the breed was prized for its elegance and charisma. Representations of Italian Greyhounds can be seen in the artwork of Giotto, Memling and Bosch, to name just a few, and the dogs themselves were favorites in the royal courts of James I of England, Queen Anne of Denmark, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia and, of course, the dog-loving Queen Victoria.
The American Kennel Club began registering IGs in 1886, but few people kept the dogs until more recent times. The IG is currently ranked 67th among the breeds registered by AKC, down from 51st a decade ago.
The Italian Greyhound is both restful and zestful. He appreciates his comforts, but he is also a true hound, if a tiny one, and loves playing outdoors, especially if it involves running. If you don’t have a yard, the IG will run in the house, turning the floors and furniture into his own personal track. If you are expecting him to be nothing more than a living statue in your home, well, think again. The Italian Greyhound has a lot more energy than most people realize. He spends his day alternating play — tug of war with a soft toy is a favorite activity -- with naps. Outdoors, he enjoys stalking bugs, mice, birds, or other small game in the yard. The IG will chase anything he sees moving, so a securely fenced yard is essential to keep him from running in front of a car.
When he’s not out chasing prey or indoors “killing” his stuffed animals, the IG likes to be right up next to his person or in a lap, being petted. When no people are together, a group of IGs will snuggle together.
That doesn’t mean the IG will accept petting from just anyone. He can be aloof toward anyone who tries too hard to make friends with him and prefers to make the first advances when he meets someone new. Shyness is not unknown in the breed, so look for a puppy with more of an outgoing personality. The IG will never be buddy-buddy with everyone he meets, but you at least want one who won’t hide from everyone he meets.
The Italian Greyhound is highly intelligent, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to train him. Just as with your spouse, it usually works best to persuade the IG that doing a particular thing is his own idea. Work with his short attention span and keep lessons fun and brief. And never try to use force with an IG. It will backfire.
The perfect IG doesn’t come ready-made from the breeder. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, food stealing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at 10 to 12 weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. A young IG will test you to see what he can get away with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Italian Greyhound, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
In Italian Greyhounds, health problems that are known or suspected to be heritable include are a skin problem called color mutant alopecia; cryptorchidism or monorchidism — the retention of a testicle or the presence of only one testicle — deafness; hypothyroidism, a common hormonal disease in dogs in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone; epilepsy, a seizure disorder; juvenile cataracts; glaucoma; an eye problem called progressive retinal atrophy; and a bleeding disorder called von Willebrand’s disease. Not every IG will get all -- or any -- of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of the possibility.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Italian Greyhound Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual IGs can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). Thyroid testing and eye examinations are recommended for these patients.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every IG visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. The Italian Greyhound can also be affected by any of the health problems common to toy dogs, such as a collapsing trachea, which causes respiratory problems and makes wearing a collar difficult. They can also have dental problems caused by the size of their mouths, and their kneecaps sometimes slip out of place, a condition known as "luxating patellas." Ask your veterinarian to examine your dog's knees regularly, especially if you notice him limping or "hopping" while running.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can be a problem in toy breed dogs, especially in puppies. Broken legs are common in Italian Greyhounds, and can cost several hundred dollars to repair.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an IG at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
An Italian Greyhound has a short, smooth, fine coat that gleams when it has been cared for. Luckily, that is an easy task. The IG is one of the easiest breeds to groom. Brush him when he gets dusty, or once a week, whichever comes first. Bathe him when you are taking him to a dog show or on a therapy visit or whenever he has rolled in something stinky. He sheds very little.
The rest is just basic care. Trim his nails as needed, usually every week or two, and brush his teeth with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the IG and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Italian Greyhound Club of America (IGCA). Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the IGCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and recommends certain health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the IGCA and the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an IG puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult IG might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Italian Greyhound in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Italian Greyhounds available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an IG. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love IGs love all IGs. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Italian Greyhound Club of America’s Rescue Network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Italian Greyhound rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a IG home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Italian Greyhound, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your IG to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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