Owning an Italian Greyhound is probably one of the greatest joys in life. Their personality and mannerisms are unique in the canine world. They are endearing, comedic and sensitive little souls that can be so human-like you can often forget they are not human (or a cat).
A breed dating back around 2,000 years there is no doubt their makeup has evolved to appeal directly to our human need for emotional company, grace and beauty. Often referred to as Velcro dogs, because of their desire to be by your side all the time, there is no doubt their looks position them as the ‘supermodels’ of the canine world. This makes them highly appealing dogs to the general public who see beauty, style (they prance, they don’t walk), sensitive, snugly and comedic dogs. What they don’t see is the enormous amount of work and cost it takes to own one. And that is where the problems begin.
As I mentioned these attributes can often hide the fact that they are a ‘specialty’ breed and owning one is both demanding and rewarding, but they are not for everyone. This leads to a high proportion of these dogs ending up as rescues. To help reduce the number that end up in adoption programs or abandoned, the reality of ownership should be every current Iggy’s owners responsibility when discussing possible ownership with someone who comes up to pat your Iggy and proclaim they want one (we have lost count how many times this has happened to us), just because they look cute.
As a part of the Iggy community all over the world (thanks Facebook) we see way too many end up in adoption programs because owners simply cannot cope with the demands and costs of owning one. So every time someone approaches us to discuss owning an Iggy, we make a point to give that person a balanced and realistic view of one of the most unique and emotive breeds you’ll come across.
We believe this is our duty & responsibility to all Iggy’s around the world. Now, if you own an Iggy you already know the positives (and there are many) and the negatives (there are also many). However, if you are currently considering purchasing one here is a list of the things that we, and every other Iggy owner, probably already knows and stress about – every day. Oh, and this is also our response to those who tell us they want to own one because they are so cute!
Leg breaks are common & expensive
Iggy’s think they are super-canines and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but they forget they have these little delicate bones and jumping off anything taller than a cube of ice can result in broken limbs.
And it is expensive to get legs fixed with vet costs approaching as much as AUD $7,000 per leg. Facebook groups are littered with images of Iggy’s with leg breaks.
However, it is not all doom and gloom here, you can minimise the chances by ensuring there is no jumping off anything, but this is particularly difficult, even for very experienced owners. You must be constantly vigilant, to the point you’ll often find an Iggy tied (via a lead) to its owner around the house, literally.
It does not stop there though, this also means you have to jump proof your home if you leave them alone while you duck out to grab something. Cages can help here, but they need to be trained to sit in a cage and you cannot leave leave them in a cage too long.
There is another side to leg breaks. Many registered and longtime breeders will argue that buying your Iggy off an ethical registered breeder will minimise and almost eliminate the chance of leg breaks. Breeders will argue that if you choose a breeder who focuses on quality not quantity the chance of a leg break is minimal. Simply put breeders, choose bloodlines that have stronger bone density and structure and along with the way they are brought up and cared for makes a big difference.
Most Iggy owners will tell you the most time you can leave an Iggy unattended is around 4 hours. Any more than this and they can get stressed. This does vary by dog, however, to play it safe assume this is the maximum time you can leave them. You’ll know how long you can leave your particular dog because they’ll either create a disaster at your home and shred everything they can get their little teeth into or they may bark or howl constantly. This can be very annoying for neighbours, not to mention expensive if you have to replace furnishings. The first few times it can be cute, but when your leather couch or favourite pillow becomes the subject of those little teeth, it can be trying. Very trying.
Apart from the fragile legs, owners will tell you their teeth is their biggest and most expensive weakness. When you have teeth cleaned at the vet you will need to sedate your dog and this is where the costs start to mount.
It is not unusual to be out of pocket around AUD $500 to $700 for a standard clean. Every year.
You can invest in any of the contraptions that claim to self-clean your dog’s teeth, but the reality is that they seldom work effectively enough, if at all. The only effective option is to brush their teeth after every meal. Let me just say this is a challenge and can be confronting to those who do not like handling their dog’s sharp bits.
Clothing is essential
Obvious from their slender frame, you can see these dogs would get cold, even in moderate weather. You will need to cover them with suits to keep them warm during the cooler months and because they have short fur (single layer) and delicate skin they will also need clothing cover during summer to reduce the chances of skin cancer.
Oh and Yes – we supply clothing for sight-hounds, however, do not be mistaken, this is not a push for more sales.
Facts speak for themselves here, you will need some form of protection almost all year round. But do not think that avoiding the outside will solve this problem either, even the sun that streams through your home windows can cause damage. Reality here, you’ll need some form of protection and that includes a dog sunscreen or UV protective shades in your house. It is important to remember these dogs are heat seekers, so wherever the sun shines you’ll find one of these little bodies lying right in the sunny spot.
Toilet training is a major challenge
You’ll get a wide range of stories in regards to toilet training. Some people have Iggy’s that never catch on or simply forget after a short time period. While others will tell you they have no issue.
Reality is these dogs are small and therefore they have small bladders. You should plan for the fact that they will only be partially toilet trained. And if it is super cold where you live or it rains a lot, you can almost be guaranteed you’ll need to plan for an indoor or covered potty room for you to have any chance of training them.
We have been lucky in that our little one goes outside, rain, wind or shine. However, it took an amazing family effort of 4 family members standing outside every hour form the time he was a pup for the first 12 months while also ensuring we all used a common trigger word. For those mathematically challenged that means we went outside 0f 1,400 times in the first 12 months. Even so, we know families who have repeated what we did and they still find small ‘presents’ located around their houses.
Natural V’s commercial food
What you feed your Iggy is always going to strike debate among enthusiasts, breeders, vets and lovers of Italian Greyhounds. That said there are two options; a good commercial kibble will be okay, but it is not ideal and in our opinion, you do not get the best out of your Iggy. The other option is a natural raw diet which will give you a healthier more energetic Iggy. By way of example, when we changed to a raw diet we saw a completely different dog, more energetic, calm and we believe more resistant to diseases.
A raw diet can be time-consuming to prepare and requires a lot of pre-planning. You can’t simply throw something in the bowl from a packet and walk away. You need to balance the ingredients and get some supplements to ensure a full range of nutrients are delivered.
Something not a lot of people think about when adding any dog to their family is what to do with them when you go away on holidays. Most holiday planning does not accommodate for our canine friends, particularly if you are travelling overseas.
It is important to know that an Iggy does not do well in standard ‘holiday dog kennels’ and you will often get back a different dog to one that you sent to the kennel before you left. Your best option is to have your Iggy cared for by an Iggy knowledgeable family member or another experienced person. The same applies to when leaving you Iggy with friends or family, they need experience with Iggy’s.
Most importantly they need to understand the breed intrinsically to make sure they do not jump off high furniture or play rough with larger breeds etc.
Off-leash can be a privilege
If you like letting your dog roam free in parks so you can relax and go for a calm walk, think again. Italian Greyhounds, like all sight-hounds, will chase anything moving that catches their eye. And when they run, there is not much you can do about it. Given the poor road sense, most dogs have this is a recipe for disaster. So you can only really let them off-leash in completely fenced parks. There are only a few of these around and often you need to travel to find them.
We often see dogs walking next to their owners in our local area (side streets) without a leash, there is no way we would risk this, even with a non-Iggy breed, however, there is ZERO chance we would do this with a sight-hound like an Iggy.
Timid and easily startled nature can mean danger
One of the most endearing qualities of an Iggy is its timid nature. However, this is also their downfall. If they are startled they can easily slip their harness or collars and run in any direction. This is a recipe for disaster as in most cases this can be into a busy road or dangerous surroundings.
More so than any other dog, you need the dedication and persistence to socialize them and get them use to sudden sounds. This will reduce the chance of them being startled, but it will not eliminate it. We are still cautious and we have worked hard to socialize our little one.
The right equipment is required
Like most specialist breeds you need to have the right equipment. For example, a normal collar and lead is not ideal. First thing to note is their narrow heads and small bodies make things like harnesses and standard collars highly risky. You need something better. Collars like Martingale Collars that slip to tighten when pulled without hurting their necks are essential items. These are not always sold at your local pet store, so often you will need to order from specialist online stores. They can be more expensive than normal collars.
Skin tears (cuts) need medical attention
The skin of an Iggy is very very thin. This can mean it can tear easily and healing will often require a medical emergency visit that entails stitches and/or staples. This can rule out rough play with other bigger breeds that can get carried away with their smaller delicate playmates. This has the knock-on effect of making sure you only visit dog parks where you can be confident large dogs are excluded. And while I cannot speak for the rest of the world, in Melbourne Australia they can be as rare as hens teeth.
High risk of skin cancer
Short fur and delicate skin can mean they are easily affected by excessive UV. The lighter coloured fur, in particular, can be very prone to UV damage. You must be very vigilant when it comes to the sun and ensure they are well covered during summer and well away from UV rays, even in your house where it can come streaming through your house windows.
Outdoors are for other dogs
Italian Greyhounds are not outdoor dogs. It is not recommended that you leave them outdoors for long periods of time. They cannot tolerate cold weather and would prefer to be with their owner even on the warmest of days. While they are independent dogs and they will often follow you everywhere. They crave attention and do not do well when left alone or ignored for many hours a day. Most importantly they are prime targets for dog snatchers who are after a quick sale of a popular in demand breed.
Small children and Iggy’s don’t mix
This is one breed that a family with small children are not recommended to purchase. Small children can be heavy-handed and Iggy’s have delicate and sensitive skin and bones. This breed also does not like loud unexpected noises which can easily startle them. Like the gentle souls they are known to be, they prefer calming environments that don’t carry any major surprises.
The independent temperament
Italian Greyhounds belong to the sight-hound family of dogs, and sight-hounds are very different from other kinds of dogs. Sight-hounds are independent thinkers who don’t particularly care about pleasing you. They may display passive resistance by bracing their legs and refusing to move. You must show them, through patient persistence and absolute consistency, that you mean what you say. This can be hard to implement consistently, particularly if your frustration builds quickly.
The ‘they all look the same’ syndrome
Not an issue as much as an annoyance, however you will need to get used to saying these words;
“…no it is an Italian Greyhound, actually!”
Their whippet cousins are more well known of sight-hounds, outside the standard greyhound. So you’ll spend almost all your time explaining the difference and telling adoring passerby’s that they are fully grown and not a whippet.
Celebrity dog syndrome
We love that Italian Greyhounds and Whippets are loved by some celebrity’s, however that has meant that an increasing number of people buy them because they want to share a little of the celebrity lifestyle. What these people do not consider is that much of the time these celebrity’s have large budgets and can be home, or can afford dog minders when they are not around. If, like us, you live a non-celebrity life (are normal) then owning this breed could be a big mistake if you are working all day, 5 days a week with no home support. It could be costly to keep them occupied or have a dog walker come past daily to take your little one for much needed socialisation.
You only have to look at an Italian Greyhound to see that its physiology is different than a standard family dog, in that they have deep chest cavities and reduced waistlines. This shape resulted from a need to be super fast to when pursuing prey on a hunt.
With this physiology comes some peculiarities that mean dealing with a Vet that has specialised knowledge is generally recommended. It is not essential, however, our personal experience has shown that you come to resolutions of issues faster and this means less expense and a happier dog.
An example unless your Vet knows the breed intrinsically it is unlikely that they will understand that an Iggy’s evolution to be fast and go from 0 to 60 in a few seconds can mean that they generally have a larger left ventricle. This can result in some vets diagnosing your dog with a heart murmur.
Their blood makeup can also be different, including having a lower thyroid count. Something that if you are not aware of could see your Iggy on Thyroid medication for no good reason.
If you want the best for your Iggy, choosing a specialised Vet is, in our opinion, a sensible move and this can mean having to travel to find the right one. If you want to use your local Vet, that is fine, however, make sure you have done your research, keep up to date of all developments and be prepared to seek a second opinion on a regular basis from an expert in sighthounds.
Iggy death scream
If you have never heard it when you do it will take you by complete surprise. An Iggy, more so than any other breed of dog we have experienced when injured or having treatment, such as vaccinations will behave like an 1920’s silent picture actress. The drama will be over the top and the scream that accompanies it goes straight through to your bones. We have experienced it on several occasions, one for a vaccination and one for a strained neck muscle (a minor strain).
If you don’t like dealing with drama queens, high pitched screams and have an inability to understand when something is serious or overacting then maybe this is not the breed for you. In some ways, we find this part of their personality endearing and it makes us love them even more. If that is at all possible.
Why you should own and Italian Greyhound
There is no doubt owning an Iggy requires work and extra effort, but you will seldom find a better companion to spend your time with. They are loyal and loving beyond description. They can seem aloof, just like a supermodel, but unlike a supermodel when you get to know them they are the best friend you can imagine. If I had to give you a reason to own an Iggy it would come down to a sentence that all owners will understand;
They are sensitive and loyal comedians that think they are cats but have a heart and personality that can melt the antarctic with one glance.
So if you own an Iggy and someone approaches you, remember it might not be in the dogs best interest to only talk about the beauty, personality and comedic nature of these little guys and gals. Give them a balanced view of the Italian Greyhound and you may just be saving the most personable little animal souls on this planet.