Volpino Italiano

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
Photo of adult Volpino Italiano

A rare, Italian Spitz type dog, the Volpino Italiano is thought to have descended from the ancient Spitz dogs that existed several thousand years ago. While once widely kept by both the royals and peasants of Italy, they are now a rare breed of dog, practically unheard of outside their homeland.

A small dog with a foxy face and a compact body covered in thick fur, the Volpino Italiano is often mistaken for the Pomeranian. Very loving with their family, they have a reputation for getting on well with any children or other pets in the household. Owners should be prepared for their high exercise demands as, despite their small size, Volpino Italianos are active dogs that need plenty of attention.

About & History

The Spitz ancestors of the Volpino Italiano date back many thousands of years. These Spitz dogs had pointed faces and ears, thick white fur and a tail that curved over their back. While records are lacking, it is likely that the Volpino Italiano itself was developed in roughly the 15th century within Italy.

The Volpino Italiano was traditionally used as a watch dog on farmyards and in their owners’ houses. Their high-pitched barks would alert the larger Mastiff type guard dogs of the property to any unusual behaviour or potential intruders, allowing for them to react quickly and fight off any threat.

When working on farms, they were valued for their ability to be the ‘look out’ and for the fact that their small stature meant that they didn’t take up too much space or require a lot of feeding. The breed was also loved by the upper classes who appreciated the companionship they offered, as well as their elegant appearance.

For unknown reasons, the Volpino Italiano neared extinction in the 1960s, when just a handful of dogs remained, forcing the breed’s supporters and the Italian Kennel Club to start an intensive breeding programme in an effort to ensure the breed lived on. Never achieving the recognition of their past, they are a rare find today, even in their native Italy, with their worldwide population size estimated at between three and four thousand.

The UKC recognised the Volpino Italiano in 2006 within the ‘Northern Breed Group’ and international breed fanciers are currently working hard to increase breed numbers around the world.


Volpino Italiano Large Photo

Similar in appearance to the Pomeranian, or even to a small American Eskimo Dog, the Volpino Italiano is a plush-furred, little Spitz breed. The word Volpino translates to mean 'fox-like', and this foxy resemblance is most obvious in their sharp, narrow face, pointed ears and wedge-shaped head. They have a prominent, black nose and round dark brown, endearing eyes. Their body is square and compact, while their limbs are fine-boned and neat. Their furry tail must be carried over their back at all times.

Perhaps best known for their long, luxurious coat, the fur of the Volpino Italiano should be straight and harsh, with feathering on the hind limbs and tail. Most breed members are white, though red coats are also accepted. A champagne-coloured coat is not desirable though may be seen and is officially accepted in the show ring. Weighing between 4 and 5.5kg, and measuring just 24-27cm, the Volpino Italiano is a small and chic dog.

Character & Temperament

A vivacious dog, the Volpino Italiano is full of character and loves to get into mischief. They are playful with children and will bond well with adults, very content to play the role of lap dog in the evening when they are tired out. They are devoted to those they love though often aloof with strangers, usually making their unease apparent with extensive vocalisation.

The Volpino Italiano tends to socialise well with other animals as long as they have been familiarised with them from puppyhood. They will gladly play with other dogs (and even cats!), keeping themselves entertained for hours on end. Incessant, high-pitched barking can be an issue as they will instinctively feel the urge to bark at new arrivals in the household or when announcing their displeasure with anything. If undesired, it is possible to train this trait out of them when young.

'Small Dog Syndrome' is not as commonly seen as with other small breeds but is something that owners should be aware of and actively preventing. Dogs with 'Small Dog Syndrome' will try to take control of the household, ignore rules and commands and act aggressively at inappropriate times. This undesirable scenario can be avoided by not pampering your Volpino Italiano and by not tolerating any bad behaviour.


While they are undeniably a smart breed, the Volpino Italiano can at times be stubborn and cheeky, so may take some time to train. Their trainer needs to be firm and should always reward them with positive reinforcement techniques, ensuring their willingness to participate in the sessions.

This dog responds well to both vocal praise and tasty food treats, both of which should be used liberally during training classes. Harsh methods must be avoided, as they can lead to resentment towards the trainer and disengagement with the training practice.


This is a long-lived, little dog that tends to experience very good health throughout its life. There are a small number of conditions that the Volpino Italiano can be predisposed to, however, including:

PLL (Primary Lens Luxation)

In this painful eye condition, the fibres that should keep the lens in place break down and fail to adequately support the lens in position. Glaucoma and retinal detachment are two possible consequences. Without early treatment, blindness is likely to ensue. An ophthalmologist will surgically remove the affected lens in some cases, which can preserve vision if done quickly enough. Importantly, both eyes tend to be affected, although not necessarily at the same time.


A blue, cloudy lens known as a cataract will prevent light from reaching the retina, resulting in impaired vision and even blindness. A veterinary ophthalmologist may suggest a procedure called ‘phacoemulsification’ whereby ultrasound is used to break up the cataract.

Patellar Luxation

Some dogs with a luxating patella (kneecap that pops out of place) will not show any symptoms, while others will be lame and in pain. There are four grades of luxation, with those that are grade two and higher being the most likely to need surgical correction. Various surgical techniques have been described, and often the prognosis is good.

Exercise and Activity Levels

While you might assume that the Volpino Italiano does not require a lot of exercise due to their small stature and history as a lap dog, this couldn’t be further from the truth. With quite high energy requirements, this dog needs plenty of daily workouts and enjoys having lots of space. Equally, they need sufficient mental stimulation, and will be grateful for any puzzles and games you provide them with. They take well to a variety of activities, keen to participate in agility, nose work and even small game hunting.

While it can be possible for the Volpino Italiano to be housed in an apartment, this will only work if they have a suitable outlet for their energy each day. As well as destroying furniture, the Volpino Italiano will also tend to bark non-stop if bored and frustrated from a lack of physical activity.


The thick coat of the Volpino Italiano benefits from twice weekly brushing, and some owners may choose to bring their dog to be professionally groomed a few times a year. Their double coat can become matted, particularly around the thick neck ruff, if neglected. Some owners perform monthly trimming of the longer fur on their hind limbs and under the tail for hygiene reasons. The fur under their eyes is prone to tear staining and should be wiped daily with warm water to remove excess build up.

Famous Volpino Italianos

Despite the winning looks of this breed, there are no celebrity Volpino Italiano dogs in existence today, however, in the past, they were in high demand. For example, it is widely believed that the famous artist Michelangelo owned a Volpino Italiano who would keep him company while he painted. It is also said that Queen Victoria of England owned several Volpino Italiano dogs.


There are no well-known Volpino Italiano cross-breeds.

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