A handful of the world’s dogs can trace their origins back to Italy. Some have even been around for thousands of years, originally bred by the ancient Romans for various tasks and responsibilities. Take a look at seven adorable Italian breeds, some of which are the oldest in Europe. The list includes a range of guard, sheep, hunting, and companion dogs.
Considered to be a rare dog, the Bergamasco Sheepdog was originally used for herding and protecting livestock in the mountainous territory near Bergamo, in northern Italy. The Bergamasco Sheepdog has a unique, shaggy coat that keeps it well insulated against subzero temperatures, and extremely long eyelashes to keep snow and ice out of its eyes.
Thought to be one of Europe’s oldest pointing breeds, a kind of gundog used for finding game, the Bracco Italiano originates in northern Italy as far back as the 4th or 5th century BC. They’re large, athletic dogs, with long hanging ears that almost went extinct in the 18th century.
Average weight: 55 - 80 pounds
The cane corso has been around Italy for hundreds of years. With a large, muscular body similar to that of a mastiff, the dog was originally bred for guarding purposes, but have also been used for their herding and hunting capabilities.
Developed in the Romagna region in northeast Italy, the Lagotto Romagnolo is believed to be one of the oldest water breeds, a gun dog used to retrieve game from the water. In fact, in local dialect, lagotto means duck dog, and their wooly, curly hair is naturally water resistant.
Average weight: 24-35 pounds
With a beautiful snow-white coat, the Maremma Sheepdog is known for being loyal and calm. The breed is used to guard sheep against wolves in the southern Abruzzo and Molise regions, as well as the Maremma, a coastal area situated in Tuscany.
The Neapolitan Mastiff is believed to date back to the Roman Empire when large dogs were bred to be used in battle. Today, due to their large, muscular bodies they can be used as guard dogs, although they’re naturally inclined to a gentle and sweet temperament, and are considered to be good family dogs. How could anyone be afraid of their adorable wrinkly faces?
Meaning “little wolf” in English, the Volpino is believed to date to the 15th century, bred small for the pleasure of the ladies of the court. However, they’ve also been used as watchdogs and vermin catchers for the working class. Legend has it that the famous painter Michelangelo himself owned a little Volpino.
Average weight: 9-12 pounds
Asia London Palomba
Asia London Palomba is a trilingual freelance journalist from Rome, Italy. In the past, her work on culture, travel, and history has been published in The Boston Globe, Atlas Obscura, The Christian Science Monitor, and Grub Street, New York Magazine's food section. In her free time, Asia enjoys traveling home to Italy to spend time with family and friends, drinking Hugo Spritzes, and making her nonna's homemade cavatelli.