Volpino Standing Side View
Volpino Laying Down Looking at Camera
This small Spitz breed has charmed Italian royalty and peasants alike since at least the 15th century, if not earlier. He has the characteristic double coat, prick ears, wedge-shaped head and upturned tail of the Nordic breeds. While he tends to love people and is often playful and alert, be aware: He can be a barker.The Volpino Italiano is Italy’s contribution to the Spitz, or Nordic, family of dogs. Although he’s rarely seen in the United States, if you do spot one, he will most likely be adorned in white fur (which sets off his dark eyes). His coat may also come in fawn, red, black or champagne, but those colors are uncommon.

Generally alert and intelligent, the Volpino tends to be a good watchdog, barking to alert you of the presence of people on your property. He can be wary of strangers, sharply registering his alarm when he encounters new people or dogs on walks. Even so, this snowball of cuteness will draw the admiration of people wanting to get to know him.

If you are looking for a small but generally active dog that can potentially excel at dog sports such as agility, nose work and rally, this typical ball of energy is one to consider.

With early socialization, he can be easygoing enough to live in a family with older children (because of his small size, he could be easily dropped and injured by small children). Volpinos can get along well with other pets, including cats, especially if they are raised with them.

The Volpino’s double coat should be brushed at least weekly, and yes, it sheds.

Quick Facts

  • The Volpino is often mistaken for a Pomeranian or Miniature American Eskimo, but he is a distinct breed. Differences can be seen in the head shape and size, with Volpinos being slightly larger than Poms.
  • The Volpino is a rare breed with only 3,000 or so in the world. Most are found in Italy, but other countries where they’ve made their homes include the Scandinavian nations, Great Britain, the United States and Canada.
  • Queen Victoria is said to have brought home a pair of Volpinos from Florence, Italy, in 1888, but she contributed to the breed’s misidentification by referring to them as toy Pomeranians.

The History of the Volpino

The Volpino is an Italian Spitz breed and was once popular with nobles and farmers alike for his small size and alert personality. Court ladies loved him as a lap dog, and working folk appreciated his watchdog abilities — not to mention the fact that he didn’t eat as much as a big dog. Even the artist Michelangelo is said to have kept one of the little dogs.

Italian immigrants brought the little dogs with them to North America. At the time, however — the late 19th and early 20th century — the dogs remained family pets and were never recognized here as a distinct breed.

The ENCI (Italian Kennel Club) wrote the first standard for the breed in 1903. The Federation Cynologique Internationale recognized the Volpino in 1956, but by that time the breed’s numbers were dwindling in their homeland of Italy. By 1965 only a few remained, mostly in the hands of farmers. In 1984, the Italian Kennel Club made a successful effort, led by Enrico Franceschetti, to revive the breed, although it still remains few in number.

North American breeders are now working to establish the breed in the United States and Canada. The United Kennel Club recognized the Volpino in 2006. The Volpino does not yet have the numbers to achieve full recognition from the American Kennel Club.

Volpino Temperament and Personality

This typically lively and playful dog generally loves his family and can love other people too. Like most Spitz breeds, he is alert to the approach of people to his property and will bark to let you know of their presence. He can be noisy if you don’t teach him a “quiet” command early in his life.

Volpinos can be good with children, but it’s important for an adult to supervise to make sure everyone gets along and plays nice. He can also get along with other dogs and with cats, especially if raised with them.

The Volpino can be smart and takes well to training. Still, he often likes to do things his way, and some might even call him stubborn. He’s usually highly food-motivated, though, and may as well be carrying a sign that reads “Will work for food,” which is why treats may come in handy during training.

Because of his working-dog roots, the Volpino can be very energetic. Once your veterinarian has cleared him of any orthopedic problems or underlying health conditions that could preclude brisk exercise, you can channel his energy and intelligence into dog sports such as agility, nose work and rally.

You might assume that the Volpino is a good apartment dog because of his small size. He can be, but only if he gets plenty of daily exercise and isn’t allowed to become a nuisance barker. It’s also nice if there’s a deck or patio where he can bask in the sun like the Italian that he is.

Start training a Volpino the day you bring him home, or before you know it, he will have you trained to do his bidding. 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.

The Volpino thrives with extensive and early socialization. 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 their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.

The perfect Volpino puppy doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Look for a puppy whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from an early age.

What You Need to Know About Volpino Health

The Volpino is a generally healthy breed with an expected life span of 14 to 16 years. Health problems seen in the breed include a genetic eye disease called primary lens luxation (PLL) and a common orthopedic problem in small breeds called patellar luxation, in which the knee can pop out of place. A DNA test is available for PLL.

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 her puppies, who claims 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.

Health certifications your pup’s parents should have: an up-to-date eye exam by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist and an exam for patellar luxation with results registered with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA).

Careful breeders screen their 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 many cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.

If a breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been vet checked or gives any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of dogs, walk away immediately.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common canine health problems: obesity. Keeping a Volpino at an appropriate weight is one of the easier ways to help extend his life.

The Basics of Volpino Grooming

The Volpino has a double coat — a soft, dense undercoat and a topcoat of rough, protective guard hairs. A ruff around the neck and a furry tail add to his beauty.

The Volpino sheds, so brush him once or twice a week, with plenty of petting in between, to remove dead hair and help keep it off your clothing and furniture.

You may also want to trim the hair on the feet between the pads and toes to give the dog a neat appearance. Of course, it’s important to keep the eyes and ears clean, too.

How often you bathe a Volpino depends on personal preference. If he spends a lot of time on your furniture, you can bathe him weekly if you use a mild veterinary shampoo or you can give him a bath only as needed. Be sure you comb out any mats or tangles before bathing him.

The rest is basic care. Trim the nails every couple of weeks or as needed. Brush the teeth often — with a vet-approved pet toothpaste — for good overall health and fresh breath.

Finding a Volpino

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 possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.

Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and will 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 to avoid those problems.

Start your search with the North American Volpino Club or the Volpino Club of America. The clubs may be able to direct you to breeders in North America or help you contact foreign breeders. This is a rare breed, so you may have to wait a while before a puppy is available.

Look for a breeder who is active in her national breed club and a local club, too, if possible. She should regularly participate with her dogs in some form of organized canine activity, such as conformation showing, obedience or other dog sports or therapy-dog programs. She should sell her puppies with written contracts guaranteeing she will take the dogs back if at any time during their lives the owners cannot keep them.

Ask the breeder to provide you with documentation that your prospective puppy’s parents were cleared for health problems in the breed and have results registered with the OFA.

Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers 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.

Lots of 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. Quickie online purchases 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 the 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-percent 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.

And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Volpino 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 Volpino, if one is available, 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. If you are interested in acquiring an adult 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.

Adopting a Dog From a Rescue Group or Shelter

Bear in mind that the Volpino is a rare breed. It is unlikely that you will find one in a shelter or through a rescue group. If you want to search, though, here’s how to get started.

1. Use the Web

Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Volpino in your area in no time flat. The sites allow you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Volpinos available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal-rescue groups in your area.

You can also check local newspapers for “pets looking for homes” sections you can review. Keep in mind, however, that when you acquire a dog this way, he hasn’t been evaluated by a person experienced in the breed who is affiliated with a rescue group. If you happen to know someone who is familiar with the breed, ask him or her to go with you to meet the dog.

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 a Volpino. 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 Volpinos love all Volpinos. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Volpino is an uncommon breed in North America so few dogs are available through rescue, but breeders and breed clubs work to place dogs when they are in need of a new home.

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 may also offer opportunities to foster a dog if you are an experienced dog owner.

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 pup. 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 Volpino, make sure you have a good contract with the breeder, 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, breeder purchase or adoption, take your Volpino to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive care program.