Lagotto Romagnolo

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS)
 
Photo of adult Lagotto Romagnolo

In its native Romagna, the Lagotto Romagnolo was used for centuries as a retriever, eagerly launching themselves from punts into the water to retrieve ducks. With the draining of the marshes came a change in profession for the Lagotto whose keen sense of smell made them excellent truffle hunters. However, out-breeding was common among truffle hunters who valued a keen nose over the Lagotto’s other features. The breed was in danger of extinction by the time action was taken in the 1970s and 80s to conserve the Lagotto as a distinct breed. Since then, the Lagotto Romagnolo has begun to spread outside of Italy.

An active and friendly breed, a Lagotto loves to spend time playing with their owners, exploring new surroundings and keeping themselves occupied. If socialised early, they enjoy spending time with children and other dogs who can satisfy their yearning for entertainment and activity. Although they’re still a rare breed, the Lagotto’s attractive features and playful character may increase their popularity in the future. They are small to medium sized dogs who can live for between 15 and 17 years.

About & History

In the Romagnol dialect, spoken in the northern Italian region of Romagna, Càn Lagòt can be translated as “water dog” or “lake dog”. With this in mind, it will come as no surprise that the Lagotto Romagnolo is a water retriever from Romagna. They are the Italian equivalent of other European water retrievers, such as the Spanish Water Dog or Irish Water Spaniel. In fact, it’s often claimed that the Lagotto Romagnolo is the oldest of the water retrievers and that other similar breeds are descended from them.

Traditionally, Lagotti were used as gundogs to retrieve ducks from the lowland marshes in the coastal areas of Romagna. For centuries the Lagotto accompanied the people of Romagna on duck hunting expeditions, as well as acting as a guard dog and companion. In the early 20th century, many of the marshes that supplied the Lagotto with work were drained. So, they turned their exceptional scenting ability to another task: truffle hunting. They have proved so good at their new trade that they are the only pure bred dog recognised as specialised truffle hunters.

Truffle hunters prized a good nose over other characteristics. As a result, the Lagotto Romagnolo began to decline and had almost disappeared by the 1970s. However, the Lagotto was saved by a dedicated group who worked to preserve and re-establish the breed. The Lagotto was officially recognised by the Italian Kennel Club in 1993 and has since spread to other countries where truffles are not so abundant. As such, these hardy little dogs have been adopted as companions and gundogs in their new countries.

Appearance

Lagotto Romagnolo Large Photo

The Lagotto is a sturdy, small to medium sized dog. They are squarely built and the height at the withers is equal to their length. They are well-muscled and have webbing between their toes to give them an edge in the water. The muzzle is wide and slightly shorter than the rest of the skull. Their ears are triangular and hang down to the jawline. There is a lot of colour variation in the breed, for example, the nose can vary from a light, flesh tone to black or dark brown while the eyes can be amber to dark brown. Equally, the coat comes in a variety of different colours including:

  • Off-white
  • Brown roan
  • Brown in different shades
  • Orange
  • White with brown or orange markings

The most distinctive feature of the Lagotto is their woolly, waterproof coat that offers them protection from cold water and thorns. Both the undercoat and overcoat are very thick and curly - although some examples of the breed have flat coats. The curls tend to be more open and wavy on the ears with the inside of the ear covered in hair. The tail hair is more bristly than that of the body. As a puppy, the coat is flat and soft. Curls gradually appear and take on the characteristics of an adult coat by 2 to 3 years old.

Lagotti are medium sized dogs with males reaching 43-48cm tall and weighing 13-16kg. Females are slightly smaller at 41-46cm tall and weigh 11-14kg.

Character & Temperament

Although the Lagotto is a working breed they have also shown potential as a companion pet. As a working breed recently adapted for domestic life, they may not be suitable for first time dog owners. They can be wary of strangers, but to their family, Lagotti are loyal and loving dogs who, if properly socialised, will happily spend time with children and other dogs. They are highly social dogs who thrive on attention. However, this also predisposes them to separation anxiety when left alone for long periods of time.

Lagotti still retain many of the behaviours, which made them suitable as water retrievers. They are active dogs who love to swim, hunt and dig. Their digging instinct can be so strong that some owners prefer to provide them with a sandbox or designated digging area where they can happily fulfil their urges without ruining the flower beds. It’s not wise to leave a Lagotto unoccupied for long, as they can quickly become bored and decide to make their own entertainment.

Trainability

Photo of Lagotto Romagnolo puppy

Lagotti are intelligent dogs who love to please their owners. This makes them particularly amenable to training as they revel in the attention. As with all dogs, training and socialisation should start as early as possible. Socialising puppies helps them to react in the correct way to different people and animals in the future.

A training session with a Lagotto should be diverse and interesting with plenty of opportunities for them to express their retrieving instinct. Long, repetitive sessions will often prove too much for the attention span of a Lagotto puppy.

Health

Some health issues, particularly neurological disorders, have been reported in the Lagotto. Most of these have a genetic basis so breeding from unaffected dogs should produce healthy puppies. Reported issues include:

  • Hip dysplasia – Hip dysplasia is a condition with a genetic basis but can also be affected by environmental factors. It’s caused by an abnormal conformation of the hip joint which can lead to the development of arthritis and other degenerative joint conditions. Some cases are mild and cause few symptoms while others can be so severe that a hip replacement is the only option to alleviate pain.
  • Benign Juvenile Epilepsy – As the name would suggest, this disease is characterised by seizures and usually manifests at 5 to 9 weeks old. Seizures are not generalised but cause body tremors, uncoordinated movement and stiffness. Symptoms usually resolve by 4 months of age although some carriers of the disease will have occasional episodes into adulthood. The disease is genetic and caused by an autosomal recessive gene meaning that some dogs can carry the gene without being affected. A genetic test has been developed and two carriers should not be bred together. The latest data shows that 3% of Lagotti are affected by the condition while 46% are carriers.
  • Lysosomal Storage Disease (LSD) – This is a progressive neurological disorder so affected individuals will get worse culminating in euthanasia. LSD causes uncoordinated movement and loss of balance in affected individuals. Roughly 10% of Lagottos are affected by the disease but a genetic test is now available to breeders with the aim of reducing the incidence.
  • Juvenile Cataracts – There have been a few reported cases of juvenile cataracts in Lagotti. Cataracts are white opacities that form in the eye’s lens. They are progressive and can eventually lead to blindness. Whilst there are many causes of cataracts, juvenile cataracts tend to have a genetic basis. As such, it’s recommended that affected individuals should not be used for breeding.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Lagotto Romagmolo are not only an active breed, but they thrive on stimulating activity. Often the quality of their exercise is more important than the quantity. A walk with a Lagotto is more about interacting with them rather than just mindlessly strolling the streets for 45-minutes. They love to play, explore and spend time outside.

It would also be best to have a variety of places to walk to avoid repeating the same routine. Whilst they don’t require a garden, if you’re planning on keeping a Lagotto in an apartment, bear in mind that they will need regular attention, stimulation and exercise, as the devil makes work for idle paws.

Grooming

Different owners prefer different grooming regimes for the Lagotto. Some regularly brush and others prefer to let the coat grow naturally. The coat is prone to matting, so whichever camp you fall into a Lagotto owner should always spend time carefully pulling matts apart. If you decide to bath your Lagotto, it’s important to keep the frequency to monthly and never blow dry or brush a wet Lagotto as this can uncurl their curly coat.

Lagotto Romagnolo don’t shed their coat often. Whilst this makes them generally low maintenance, their coat should be trimmed by a professional groomer at least once a year. You may have to trim their fringe as needed to keep their eyes clear of hair which can obscure their view. It’s also important to check their ears regularly. Hair often grows within the ear canal and predisposes to a build-up of dirt and earwax. These hairs can be gently removed regularly and you may feel more comfortable leaving this job to a professional groomer.

Famous Lagotti

Whilst there are no famous individuals, a Lagotto Romagnolo can be seen in the lower left corner of The Meeting, a 1474 fresco painted by Andrea Mantegna.

Cross-Breeds

There are no recognised Lagotto cross breeds.

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