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13 Most Popular Dog Breeds in Italy (With Pictures)

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By Nicole Cosgrove

A Maltese dog breed

Dogs have been bred for thousands of years, but the breeds native to Italy are particularly fascinating. Italian dog breeds are surprisingly diverse, ranging drastically in size, appearance, and temperament. You may recognize some of the breeds and have never heard of others.

In this article, we look at Italy’s 13 most popular dog breeds. They are divided into the following categories: herding dogs, toy dogs, pointing dogs, Spitz dogs, Mastiff dogs, and scenthounds. We also discuss Italy’s famous waterdog, the Lagotto Romagnolo. Let’s get started!

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Herding Dogs

These two Italian herding dogs were primarily used to guard livestock against predators and thieves. They are also known as sheepdogs or working dogs.

1. Bergamasco Sheepdog

Bergamasco Shepherd standing in the field
Image Credit: volofin, Shutterstock
Height: 22–23.5 inches
Weight: 57–84 pounds
Life Expectancy: 13–15 years

The Bergamasco can be traced back to Bergamo, Italy, where they lived as shepherd dogs for centuries. They have unique coats consisting of dreadlock mats. These thick mats were developed through breeding to act as protection from wolves while defending livestock. They also keep the dogs protected from the elements.

Even though they were bred to be protective dogs, they are naturally not aggressive. Today, the Bergamasco is a family dog. Known for their affection and friendliness toward people, including children, they are widely used as therapy dogs.

2. Maremma & Abruzzes Sheepdog

Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog
Image Credit: clarbner, Pixabay
Height: 26–27 inches
Weight: 66–100 pounds
Life Expectancy: 11–13 years

The Maremma & Abruzzes Sheepdog is still protecting herds of sheep in Italy today. They are named after the Maremma area of Tuscany. They are intelligent dogs that are highly protective of their territory.

As a family dog, the Maremma & Abruzzes Sheepdog is playful and loyal. Their protective instincts can be triggered around children. They will guard and herd them the same as any other charge. While affectionate with their families, they enjoy spending time alone and committing to their tasks.

Toy Dogs

Italy’s two most popular toy dog breeds are bred to be family companions. You may recognize one of them as being popular in the United States.

3. Maltese

tiny maltese
Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay
Height: 8–10 inches
Weight: 5–10 pounds
Life Expectancy: 12–15 years

The original name of this tiny dog was “Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta.” They make excellent companions because they are loyal, affectionate, and docile. They don’t shed much, but their silky white coats can grow long and require frequent grooming to stay tidy.

Maltese dogs grew in popularity because they made good lap dogs, which ladies of royalty in Italy loved. Today, these charming little dogs are family pets, forming close bonds with their owners. They may be small, but they can be good watchdogs. They quickly spring into action whenever they detect noises or strangers approaching.

4. Bolognese

Image Credit: islavicek, Shutterstock
Height: 10 – 12 inches
Weight: 5 – 14 pounds
Life Expectancy: 12 – 14 years

Bolognese dogs originated in the Italian city of Bologna. They are sometimes referred to as the Bichon Bolognese. They have long, fluffy, curly white hair covering their bodies. Noble families frequently exchanged the dogs as gifts. The Bolognese started to see a decline and nearly died out, but breeders and breed enthusiasts worked to revive their popularity in the 1980s.

These calm, affectionate dogs are not heavy shedders and do well with allergy sufferers. They’re playful, devoted to their owners, good with kids, and enjoy the company of people. Due to their love of company, this breed is prone to separation anxiety and shouldn’t be left alone for long periods.

Pointing Dogs

Pointing dogs are trained to pick up the scent of game during hunting and then to freeze once they’ve located it. The pointing position consists of the dog holding one paw in the air with a stiffened body and their nose pointing toward the scent. Here are Italy’s popular pointers.

5. Bracco Italiano (Italian Pointer)

a Bracco Italiano standing in grass fowling
Image Credit: olgagorovenko, Shutterstock
Height: 21–27 inches
Weight: 55–90 pounds
Life Expectancy: 10–14 years

The Bracco Italiano is considered one of the oldest breeds, with roots as far back as the 4th century B.C.E. in northern Italy. Originally bred as a hunting dog, they gained popularity during the Renaissance because bird hunting was a favorite sport among aristocrats.

Bracco Italianos resemble Bloodhounds with their droopy ears and faces. They have white bodies spotted with brown, amber, and orange markings. They are still used today as hunting dogs in Italy but are also content to lounge around the house and nap. They are low-maintenance dogs but require daily physical activity to be healthy and content.

6. Spinone Italiano (Italian Griffon)

spinone italiano dog outdoor
Image Credit: MarinaGreen, Shutterstock
Height: 22–27 inches
Weight: 65–85 pounds
Life Expectancy: 10–12 years

The wiry-coated Spinone Italiano was initially bred for hunting. They are not naturally aggressive and friendly with people and other dogs. However, they still have a large prey drive and may not do well with cats or other small prey-like animals.

This is one of the oldest hunting dogs in Italy. They are primarily used to hunt waterfowl, but they make wonderful companions, too. Their name is derived from the thorny bushes they would run through to find game birds.

Spitz Dogs

Spitz dogs have working backgrounds. They’ve been known to assist hunters, haul sleds, and herd animals. They have dense coats, pointed ears, and curved tails. Here are Italy’s Spitzes.

7. Cirneco of Etna

Cirneco dell'Etna
Image Credit: tkach-artvitae, Shutterstock
Height: 16 – 20 inches
Weight: 17 – 26 pounds
Life Expectancy: 12 – 14 years

The Cirneco of Etna resembles a Greyhound. They are small, slender hunting dogs with short, tan coats. Sometimes, they have white markings and are known for their oversized ears. The breed is named for Mount Etna, Sicily’s active volcano.

While they were originally bred to hunt small game, the Cirnecos of Etna are companions today. They still have high prey drives and the desire to hunt, so they should be watched around small animals. They are gentle, affectionate, and intelligent, making great family dogs that are easily trainable.

8. Volpino Italiano

Volpino Italiano
Image Credit: Olga Aniven, Shutterstock
Height: 10 – 12 inches
Weight: 8 – 16 pounds
Life Expectancy: 10 – 16 years

Volpino is Italian for “little fox,” giving the Volpino Italiano a fitting name. They are clever, lively, and affectionate dogs that form strong bonds with their caregivers. They originated in the 1600s, quickly becoming popular with the nobles of Tuscany. They were used as watchdogs, rodent catchers, and companions for the ladies.

These playful little dogs can be feisty if they don’t get enough exercise, so make sure they have plenty of playtime each day. Their puffy coats require brushing a few times weekly since they are heavy shedders.

Mastiff Dogs

Mastiffs have been used throughout history as guard dogs, war dogs, and fighting dogs. They appear repeatedly in legends and recorded history. While they are still used today for protection, they are also beloved family companions. Here are the two most popular Mastiffs in Italy.

9. Cane Corso (Courser)

cane corso resting at the beach
Image Credit: Sbolotova, Shutterstock
Height: 23.5–27.5 inches
Weight: 99–110 pounds
Life Expectancy: 9–12 years

The Cane Corso dog has been used as a guard dog, hunting dog, and warfighter. Corso comes from the Latin “Cohors,” meaning “protector.” These dogs are brave, tough, and headstrong. As family pets, they do best with proper training and socialization.

The Cane Corso requires frequent exercise, so they’ll need space to run. This muscular dog is athletic, so active families are a good fit. They can look intimidating, but they are mild-mannered dogs that love attention from their owners.

10. Neapolitan Mastiff

Neapolitan Mastiff standing in the meadow
Image Credit: Christian Mueller, Shutterstock
Height: 24–31 inches
Weight: 110–150 pounds
Life Expectancy: 7–9 years

As an ancient breed once used in combat, the Neapolitan Mastiff is a loyal family pet today. Their size and personalities make them best suited for seasoned dog owners. They are voracious guard dogs and devoted to their families.

Their temperaments are calmer now than their ancestors, which were used in battle. Their uniquely wrinkled skin gives them an identifying characteristic. This look was achieved through specific breeding in southern Italy in recent centuries. While their wrinkles give them an adorable appearance, the folds of the skin must be properly cleaned to avoid infections.


Scenthounds are dogs that hunt by scent rather than sight. They specialize in tracking scents, and many have long, floppy ears. One theory for this trait is that the ears help keep the scent in the air around the dog’s nose. Italy has a few scenthounds.

11. Italian Greyhound

Italian Greyhound
Image Credit: Alexandra Morrison Photo, Shutterstock
Height: 13–15 inches
Weight: 7–14 pounds
Life Expectancy: 14–15 years

The Italian Greyhound’s Italian name is “Piccolo Leviero Italiano.” They are believed to have originated in the Middle East as descendants of Egyptian Greyhounds of the Pharoah Court. Their image is depicted on vases and dishes in Greece dating back to the 5th century. The Italian Greyhound was loved by the Romans and considered a luxury dog during the Renaissance.

These small dogs will chase anything that moves. They have high prey drives and can reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. They have plenty of energy and like to exercise, so a secure area is necessary for these muscular hunters. If they get loose, they can be gone in a flash.

Italian Greyhounds are small dogs with huge personalities. Today, they are loving, affectionate companion dogs that crave attention. While they can be stubborn during training, they’re food-motivated and will learn what they need to as long as there’s a reward.

While Italian Greyhounds love people, they can become snappy if they’re scared. They aren’t suitable for very young children because they’re fragile dogs that can easily be accidentally injured.

12. Segugio Maremmano (Maremma Scenthound)

Segugio Maremmano
Image Credit: Ricantimages, Shutterstock
Height: 19 – 23 inches
Weight: 40 – 60 pounds
Life Expectancy: 11 – 13 years

The Segugio Maremmano, or Maremma Scenthound, comes from Maremma in Tuscany. This breed was initially used to hunt boar, and they have the remarkable ability to bark while keeping still. They can have either smooth or rough coats. Their impressive sense of smell made them invaluable hunting companions.

In addition to boar, they are efficient hunters of foxes, hares, and other small mammals. As family dogs, they require exercise and activity every day. They do best with fenced-in areas to run and play. They are stubborn, proud dogs but still can be trained using the proper methods.

Once these dogs bond with their owner, they don’t want to be separated for very long. The Segugio Marmmano is prone to separation anxiety and shouldn’t be left alone longer than necessary.


Waterdogs are bred to flush out and retrieve game from the water. Their waterproof coats and strong desire to swim are their defining characteristics. They’re usually medium-sized, active dogs that are thought to be the ancestors of many modern retriever breeds. Italy’s famous waterdog is the Romagna Water Dog, better known as the Lagotto Romagnolo.

13. Lagotto Romagnolo

Lagotto Romagnolo dog standing in the yard on a sunny day
Image Credit: Jne Valokuvaus, Shutterstock
Height: 16–19 inches
Weight: 24–35 pounds
Life Expectancy: 15–17 years

The Lagotto Romagnolo dates back to the 1800s. They are medium-sized, strong, rustic dogs with curly coats. Their name means “lake dog from Romagna,” and they were initially bred to hunt waterfowl.

This breed has a keen sense of smell and a penchant for digging. Due to these characteristics, they are often used to hunt truffles. They are avid truffle hunters, not giving up easily. The Lagotto Romagnolo is considered to be the top truffle-hunting dog breed.

These dogs are affectionate, active, and eager to please as house pets.

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Italy is home to quite a few breeds that all have different characteristics. From large, protective dogs to small lap dogs, these canines are all beautiful and special in their own ways. We hope you’ve learned more about these unique dogs and maybe have even decided on the one you’d like to add to your household!

  • Reader’s Digest
  • Wiley Online Library
  • Agraria
  • Chewy
  • Italy Magazine
  • AKC

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

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