According to Smithsonian Magazine, between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, dogs and Gray wolves split off from a single species of wolf that subsequently went extinct. Around that same time, we started living alongside some of these ancient ancestors to our modern domesticated dogs, and that continues to this day.
Dogs have served an important role in the lives of humans for millennia. They serve as companions, protectors, hunters, rescuers, therapy dogs, and more. And people from all over the globe love and appreciate them as important members of our lives. But across the world, different breeds have developed to suit specific needs. These breeds have traits tailored to their geographical locations, the purposes they’re meant to serve, and the tastes of the people who bred them.
You might know a lot of the breeds in your home country, but there’s probably a breed or two on this list that you’ve never heard of before!
1. Bergamasco Shepherd
This dog looks like it’s covered in large dreadlocks from head to toe. They were originally bred in the Italian Alps as a herding dog, and that long coat of dreaded locks was vital for keeping these dogs warm as they worked. Interestingly, it turns out that the same breed of European herding dog that was used to create the German Shepherd was also one of the original ancestors of the Bergamasco Shepherd and four other Italian breeds.
The Bolognese is a tiny, toy dog that originated in Bologna, Italy. Despite their small stature, these dogs have big personalities and they’re always the social life of any party. They want to socialize with everyone, human or pup. These dogs are very clingy, wanting to spend every moment with their beloved person who they bond to very strongly.
3. Bracco Italiano (Italian Pointer)
In 1882, a Bracco Italiano became the very first dog registered by the Kennel Club Italiano, Italy’s national canine organization responsible for dog pedigrees and papers. These dogs are built rather square with a large head and long, floppy ears and lips, and covered in a very short, dense coat of white with orange or brown spots.
4. Cane Corso
The Cane Corso is a direct descendent of Ancient Rome’s giant molossoid dogs. This large, Italian Mastiff is closely related to the Neapolitan Mastiff, though the Cane Corso breed is much older. Cane Corsos are considered to be the last “coursing Mastiffs,” which means that they’re faster, more agile, and more athletic than other Mastiff breeds, endowed with incredible endurance, stamina, and energy. Though once spread throughout Italy, the Cane Corso of today was selectively bred from just a few remaining dogs in the 1980s.
5. Cane di Mannara (Sicilian Shepherd)
The Cane di Mannara has long been used for guarding livestock and plantations in Sicily, where the breed was created. Also known as Pastore Siciliano, this breed is strong and hardy, weighing just under 100 pounds on average. The breed has largely been kept in Sicily, so you’re not very likely to run into one or find a breeder for these rare dogs in the west.
6. Cane di Oropa
Cane di Oropas aren’t the largest of dogs, but they’re hardy and powerful; built for lives in the tough weather of the Western Italian Alps. These are herding dogs, used for driving sheep and cattle over the rugged mountainous terrain. They’re incredibly athletic and naturally bobtailed so that there’s no risk of losing the tail to frostbite or getting stepped on. The Cane di Oropa is one of the five Italian breeds that share a common ancestor with German Shepherds.
7. Cane Lupino del Gigante
This is an incredibly rare breed with a mere 200 living members remaining. They’re used specifically in the Apennine Mountains for herding sheep. Unfortunately, sheep raising has seen a sharp decline in the region, which is the cause for the dwindling numbers of Cane Lupino del Gigantes. From the name, you might expect this to be a very large breed, but ironically, they’re mid-sized dogs that generally weight just 45-65 pounds.
8. Cane Paratore
The Cane Paratore is a rather rare breed, mainly because they never became popular enough to expand from their homeland of Italy. This breed is to be found in Abruzzo, but you won’t have much luck finding them anywhere else. Along with Cane Corsos, the Cane Paratore is one of the few Italian breeds that’s actually related to German Shepherds by a common ancestor.
9. Cirneco dell’Etna
This lean, muscular, athletic canine was bred for hunting small game on the island of Sicily. On the island, there is the volcanic Mount Etna, which is where this breed gets their name. These dogs are quite rare and you’ll have a hard time finding them outside of Italy. Even in their homeland, only about 100-150 new registrations are filed for this breed each year.
10. Dogo Sardesco
This working breed is believed to be a Molosser or Mastiff and is most commonly employed as a guardian for livestock. But that’s far from the only job they’ve served. They’re also used pretty frequently as hunting dogs. Unfortunately, there was also a time when they were popular to use for dogfighting. Because they’re naturally very protective, the breed has been gaining ground recently in Italy as an effective guard dog.
11. Italian Greyhound
The Italian Greyhound is much smaller than the Greyhound that most people know. These dogs weight less than 11 pounds and stand no taller than 15 inches at the withers. The Federation Cynologique International recognizes the breed as part of the sighthound group, but the AKC has them registered as a toy breed. Like Greyhounds, these dogs are very slender with a deep chest and they can achieve impressive speeds for their small size.
12. Lagotto Romagnolo
This Italian breed comes from the marshlands of Delta del Po. These gundogs were specifically bred as water retrievers; perfect for the wetlands where they originated. Ironically, this breed that was once used for hunting small game is now used primarily for hunting a different type of prey; truffles.
13. Levriero Sardo
This incredibly rare breed of sighthound is used for hunting hares and is believed to have been brought to the island of Sardinia by ancient Phoenician traders. In their homeland of Italy, there are only about 100 of these dogs left with very few breeders dedicating their efforts to the continuation of the breed.
14. Lupo Italiano
The Lupo Italiano is known as the Italian Wolf. This breed is protected and managed and you have to follow very strict rules in order to own one. There are very few of these pups bred each year, and if you want one, you’d have to be on the waiting list. Moreover, you’d be required to comply with all rules or the dog would be removed from your possession.
The Maltese is an iconic dog, a popular companion and show dog across the world. These dogs are tiny, generally around 7 inches in height and weighing about 7 pounds as well. This breed is ancient, and they’ve been living pampered high-class lives as long-time favorites among the aristocrats of many societies. Today, they’re often the beloved carry-around pups of wealthy urbanites or illustrious show dogs ready to win awards.
16. Maremma Sheepdog
Maremma is the American name for this dog, which is actually called the Maremmano-Abruzzese in Italian. These dogs have been around for centuries, guarding flocks of livestock in the mountains of Italy. They have white coats to help them blend in with the sheep in the flocks they protected from such predators as wolves and human thieves.
17. Neapolitan Mastiff
This breed is ancient and massive. They can top 31 inches at the shoulder and weigh as much as 150 pounds. With such a large stature, it’s not surprising that these dogs were used guard dogs, protecting people since back in ancient Rome. Though they are large and powerful with the ability to take down large enemies, these dogs are gentle giants at heart who make loving, affectionate companions, which is a major reason for their international popularity.
18. Pastore della Lessinia e del Lagorai
This breed comes from the northeastern region of Italy; Triveneto. They’ve been used for centuries for herding cattle and driving them across the plains. Today, they’re still used for the same purpose, though ironically, the breed isn’t recognized by any major kennel club or organization. Luckily, there is an ongoing project to get this breed officially recognized and protect them from the risk of extinction.
19. Saint Bernard
Massive but gentle, the Saint Bernard is a canine that has served many purposes. They’re a very popular breed; ranked 48th out of the AKC’s 196 registered breeds. At 30 inches in height and weighing up to 180 pounds, these are some sizable creatures. But thanks to their calm demeanor and gentle temperament, they’ve been used as rescue dogs for centuries in the Italian & Swiss Alps where they originate.
20. Sardinian Shepherd Dog
Though only recognized by the Italian Kennel Club as recently as 2013, the Sardinian Shepherd Dog is an ancient breed that has served a lot of purposes over the years. This landrace breed was originally used for herding and guarding livestock. They were also longtime companions of Sardinian bandits that made their lives in the woods. Later, the breed was even used as fighting dogs in the Libyan military campaign.
21. Segugio dell’Appennino
This small breed of Italian scenthound was purpose-bred for hunting hares. They’re small and slight but still muscular; perfectly built for being fast and agile. These dogs weigh about 20-40 pounds and generally stand 15-20 inches tall. Though the breed has been used for centuries, they were just recognized as an official breed by the Italian Kennel Club in 2010.
22. Segugio Italiano
Smart and calm, the Segugio Italiano is an even-tempered dog with a real knack for hunting. Though these scent hounds are just 40-60 pounds, they’ve been used for hunting boar for at least the last 2,000 years. Though they’re quite popular in their homeland of Italy, the breed is relatively unknown in other parts of the world. They are recognized as part of the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service but are not a registered breed yet. In the past 10 years, not a single one has been registered in the United Kingdom.
23. Segugio Maremmano (Maremma Scenthound)
This Italian scent hound hails from the plains of Maremma, Tuscany. They’re exceptional hunters, primarily used for hunting boar, though they’ve also been used to hunt hare and other game. This breed was officially recognized by the Italian Kennel Club in 2009. That year, more than 6,600 members of this breed were registered, making them the most popular of any Italian breed.
24. Spinone Italiano
This breed is ancient and very adaptable. They’re known for their calm demeanors that make them easy to work with. These dogs are strong and muscular with near-endless endurance that comes in handy when they’re on the hunt. Spinone Italianos have been successful with all aspects of hunting, including retrieving, flushing, pointing, and setting. But despite their impressive hunting skills, these are very gentle and friendly dogs that get along with just about everyone.
25. Volpino Italiano
The Volpino is a Spitz-type dog, and they were very popular in Tuscany back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Queen Victoria herself purchased several dogs like this in 1888, showing how popular they were. The official breed standard was drawn up in 1913 and Volpinos started seeing some success in dog shows. However, by the 1960s, the breed had all but disappeared. Thankfully, a few years later, several specimens of the breed were used to revitalize them and new registrations began again shortly after in 1972.
From Bergamasco Shepherds to Volpino Italianos, the canine offerings from Italy are diverse and interesting. Some of these breeds are incredibly rare outside of their homeland, though others have achieved international popularity. Ranging from toy breeds of just a few pounds like the Maltese to giant Mastiffs and Saint Bernards that weigh more than 150 pounds, there’s an Italian dog breed to fit each person and personality.
Featured Image Credit: Vitaly Titov, Shutterstock
- 1. Bergamasco Shepherd
- 2. Bolognese
- 3. Bracco Italiano (Italian Pointer)
- 4. Cane Corso
- 5. Cane di Mannara (Sicilian Shepherd)
- 6. Cane di Oropa
- 7. Cane Lupino del Gigante
- 8. Cane Paratore
- 9. Cirneco dell’Etna
- 10. Dogo Sardesco
- 11. Italian Greyhound
- 12. Lagotto Romagnolo
- 13. Levriero Sardo
- 14. Lupo Italiano
- 15. Maltese
- 16. Maremma Sheepdog
- 17. Neapolitan Mastiff
- 18. Pastore della Lessinia e del Lagorai
- 19. Saint Bernard
- 20. Sardinian Shepherd Dog
- 21. Segugio dell’Appennino
- 22. Segugio Italiano
- 23. Segugio Maremmano (Maremma Scenthound)
- 24. Spinone Italiano
- 25. Volpino Italiano