The Italian Greyhound's chest is deep, with a tucked up abdomen, long slender legs and a long neck that tapers down to a small head. The face is long and pointed, like a full sized greyhound. Overall, they look like "miniature" Greyhounds, though many Italian Greyhound owners dispute the use of the term "miniature Greyhound", in reference to the breed itself. By definition of the American Kennel Club - they are true genetic greyhounds, with a bloodline extending back over 2000 years. Their current small stature is a function of selective breeding. Their gait is distinctive and should be high stepping and free, rather like that of a horse. They are able to run at top speed with a double suspension gallop, and can achieve a top speed of up to 25mph (40km/h).
The color of the coat is a subject of much discussion. For The Kennel Club (UK), the American Kennel Club, and the Australian National Kennel Council , parti colored Italian Greyhounds are accepted, while the Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard for international shows allows white only on the chest and feet.
The modern Italian Greyhound's appearance is a result of breeders throughout Europe, particularly Austrian, German, Italian, French and British breeders, making great contributions to the forming of this breed. The Italian Greyhound should resemble a small Greyhound, or rather a Sloughi, though they are in appearance more elegant and graceful.
Although the Italian Greyhound appears fragile, they have some characteristics of larger dogs. Their large, strong lungs enables a bark that is deeper than one might expect from a small dog.
The breed is equally at home in the city or the country and does not require as much exercise as larger breeds, although they are fast, agile and athletic. The young dog is often particularly active, and this high level of activity may lead them to attempt ill-advised feats of athleticism that can result in injury. They enjoy running as fast as they possibly can, typically faster than other larger dogs.
In general the Italian Greyhound is intelligent, but they often have a "what's in it for me" attitude and do not exactly throw themselves into training with great excitement, so patience, firmness, gentleness and reward in training seem to work best. They are also known for their mischievous ingenuity; despite a high center of gravity, they can easily walk upright on their hind legs to reach items up on tables. They may also use their 'hidden talent' of jumping to unusual heights to reach high-up items of interest or desire to them.
Italian Greyhounds make reasonably good watchdogs, as they bark at unfamiliar sounds. They may also bark at passers-by and other animals. However, they often get along well with other dogs and cats they are raised with. They are not good guard dogs as they are often aloof with strangers and easily spooked to run.
Due to their slim build and extremely short coat, Italian Greyhounds are at times reluctant to go outside in cold or wet weather, so some owners lay old newspaper on the floor near an exit so their pets can relieve themselves. Some respond well to dog-litter training as well. This breed tends to gravitate to warm places, curl up with other dogs or humans, or burrow into blankets and under cushions for warmth. As gazehounds, Italian Greyhounds instinctively hunt by sight and have an extremely high predator drive. Owners of Italian Greyhounds typically keep their dogs leashed at all times when not in an enclosed area to avoid the risk of even a well-behaved pet breaking away at high speed after a small animal. Also, a short leash is highly suggested to owners due to reports of animals breaking their own necks when running a full lead mounted to the ground or a wall. Sometimes a dog harness is a good option; since the IG has a tapering neck and small head, they can often "slip" their collar and leash. This can also be used to avoid the above mentioned neck injury if your dog is prone to bolting. This also gives the dog the freedom of a long leash.
Owners of Italian Greyhounds should be extremely mindful of any unknown dogs, no matter what size, because Italian Greyhounds can be extremely territorial, and may even "have a go" at any larger unknown dogs on their property.
Like most small breeds, Italian Greyhounds have small bladders. Housebreaking progresses with training and patience, but still at a slower pace than with larger breeds.
Italian Greyhounds are known for their lack of bladder control in comparison to other dogs. This is thought to be due to the bladder muscle in the dog being far too weak and due to many generations of breeding without removing the undesirable genetic traits.
Italian Greyhounds eating habits are different than that of most dogs. The quantity of food and timing of when they eat is sporadic. They generally eat when they want to as opposed to at a fixed feeding time and they only consume needed portions. Unlike many other dogs and except in rare cases, overfilling an Italian Greyhound's food bowl will not result in overeating.
The teeth of an Italian Greyhound should be brushed regularly. Their scissor-bite and thin jaw bones make them susceptible to periodontal disease, which can be avoided with good dental care. Weekly brushing has been shown to be very beneficial.
Responsible breeders will routinely check their dogs for the onset of various inherited disorders, these commonly include (but are not limited to): CERF examinations on eyes, OFA patellar examinations, OFA thyroid function panels, von Willebrand's factor, OFA hip and Legg-Perthes disease x-rays, and others.
The Italian Greyhound is the smallest of the family of gaze hounds (dogs that hunt by sight). The breed is an old one and is believed to have originated more than 4,000 years ago in the countries now known as Greece and Turkey. This belief is based on the depiction of miniature greyhounds in the early decorative arts of these countries and on the archaeological discovery of small greyhound skeletons. By the Middle Ages, the breed had become distributed throughout Southern Europe and was later a favorite of the Italians of the sixteenth century, among whom miniature dogs were in great demand. Sadly, though, 'designer' breeders tried, and failed, to make the breed even smaller by crossbreeding it with other breeds of dogs. This only lead to mutations with deformed skulls, bulging eyes and dental problems. The original Italian Greyhound had almost disappeared when groups of breeders got together and managed to return the breed to normal. From this period onward the history of the breed can be fairly well traced as it spread through Europe, arriving in England in the seventeenth century.
The breed has been popular with royalty throughout, among the best known royal aficionados were Mary Stuart, Queen Anne, Queen Victoria, Catherine The Great, Frederick the Great and the Norwegian Queen Maud.
Lure coursing is another activity well-fitted to the Italian Greyhound, and they seem to enjoy it tremendously. Although the Italian Greyhound is a very fast dog, it is not as well suited to racing as its larger cousin. Regardless, many Italian Greyhounds participate in amateur straight-track and oval-track racing.