The Lagotto Romagnolo is a sporting group dog breed whose history can be traced back to the Middle Ages in Italy’s countryside. Bred originally as waterfowl retrievers, the Lagotta Romagnolo became the go-to dog breed for truffle hunting (truffles are a type of fungi that are sold as pricey delicacies)—a skill they still use today.
The Lagotto Romagnolo—also referred to as Lagotto or Lagotti for plural—is a rugged dog breed with an unmistakable curly coat. Lagotti are intelligent, energetic and affectionate and enjoy spending time with their family.
For pet parents willing to commit to socialization and obedience training, Lagotti can make loving additions to the family.
The Lagotto Romagnolo is a small to medium dog breed that’s a member of the AKC sporting group. Males weigh 28-35 pounds and stand 17-19 inches tall. Females are slightly smaller, weighing 24-31 pounds and standing 16-18 inches tall, says Liz Williams, president of the Lagotto Romagnolo Foundation, based in Skippack, Pennsylvania.
Lagotti are rugged, powerfully built dogs. They have “a muscular back, strong front and rear legs, and a well-developed chest that reaches to the elbows,” says Brandi Hunter, vice president of public relations and communications at the New York City-based American Kennel Club.
One of the breed’s trademark features is its coat, which is comprised of dense, wooly and curly hair. Williams says that the coat of the Lagotto dog breed is waterproof, especially the undercoat.
The front feet of the Lagotto Romagnolo are round and compact, while their hind feet are slightly more oval. They also have a tapered tail that rises when alert or working, says Hunter.
Coat colors on Lagotti vary, ranging from off-white, white with brown patches, white with orange patches, brown roan, shades of brown (with or without white) and orange (with or without white); and some dogs have a brown to dark-brown mask, says Williams. “The colors have a tendency to fade to a more diluted shade as the dog ages, sometimes to such an extent that the brown areas can appear as a silvery or gray roan.”
If you decide on adopting a Lagotto, be prepared to snuggle. They’re affectionate dogs who form close bonds with members of their family, says Williams. “It is a breed that needs to be an integral part of the family.”
The Lagotto Romagnolo is intelligent, active and eager to learn. They do well when they are given a job as well as consistent exercise, explains Williams.
Experts also say Lagotti are good watchdogs, which can be attributed to their alertness and sensitivity to their environment. “A survey conducted by the Lagotto Romagnolo Foundation Inc. of over 1,200 Lagotto owners worldwide revealed that over 80 percent bark frequently at unfamiliar sights inside or outside the house,” says Williams.
Williams strongly recommends that pet parents carefully research breeders before committing to a Lagotto Romagnolo. “Without proper evaluation of breeding dogs and care in raising of litters during the first weeks of life, people are finding themselves with difficult dogs and in need of professional behaviorists, trainers and safe management,” cautions Williams.
As with any other dog breed, early socialization and obedience training for Lagotto Romagnolo puppies is critical. “When bringing a puppy home, a plan for early positive socialization and training needs to be in place and continue through the first 12 months,” says Williams.
The Lagotto is an active dog breed who enjoys running and playing. They do best in environments where they are provided with lots of physical and mental exercise.
Their excellent sense of smell makes them ideal candidates for scent work, search-and-rescue and detection of medical conditions, says Hunter.
“A Lagotto would be very happy to have an outlet for its inherent scenting abilities; scent work also provides great mental and physical exercise for dogs. If you don’t live in an area with truffles, the dogs can be easily trained to seek out many other target scents either as a family game or one of many formal scent work performance sports,” says Williams.
Since Lagotti have hair instead of fur, their coats do not shed as much. This means that the coat requires consistent grooming, says Williams. “If the hair is allowed to grow without proper grooming, it will mat or felt and be very uncomfortable for the dog.”
Most Lagotto parents keep the hair trimmed short and schedule grooming every five to six weeks, she says. “A good length for the coat on the overall body is about 1 inch in length.”
It’s not necessary to bathe a Lagotto frequently—every four to six weeks is sufficient. “Bathing too frequently can affect the water- and dirt-resistant qualities of the hair. Between bathing, a wide comb or open brush weekly will help to avoid matting or felting,” says Williams.
The Lagotto Romagnolo is a relatively healthy breed that can live 14-17 years with optimal care.
They’re at risk, however, for serious health issues, including hip dysplasia, cataracts, dislocated kneecaps and several neurological disorders, says Williams. These include benign familial juvenile epilepsy; Lagotto storage disease, a progressive condition that leads to behavioral changes including restlessness, depression and aggression; and cerebellar abiotrophy, which causes difficulty with balance and motor control. “They become clumsy, have difficulty walking and can have consistent tremors,” she says.
Health testing is critical for all dog breeds, but especially for Lagotto Romagnolo. “The breed is fortunate to have genetic markers available for the more serious health issues, and testing is readily available worldwide,” says Williams. Breeders should be able to provide verifiable health testing papers.
The Lagotto Romagnolo originated during the Italian Renaissance period, bred as waterfowl retrievers and working in the marshlands of Ravenna, says Hunter. “From the 1500s on, the breed was widely used to retrieve game, and the dogs also worked closely with the Vallaroli, who were hunters and truffle collectors,” he says.
The breed was nearing extinction during the 1970s, but a group of Lagotto enthusiasts formed “The Club Italiano Lagotto” in 1988, says Williams.
After extensive research, the first standard for the breed was written in 1992 and approved by the Italian Kennel Club. Williams explains that in 1995, the breed was accepted into the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), which is an international organization of kennel groups. The AKC officially recognized the Lagotto Romagnolo as a new dog breed in 2015.
There has been a greater mainstream awareness of this dog breed in recent years, partly because of its truffle hunting abilities, says Williams. According to Hunter, Lagotti have been used for many years to sniff out truffles, and by the end of the nineteenth century, truffle finding became the Lagotto’s main function. “The Pacific Northwest has grown in the truffle world, and while all breeds of dogs have the ability to be ‘truffle dogs,’ the history of the Lagotti draws truffle hunters to the breed,” William says.
The Lagotti’s physical qualities and temperament have made it more endearing as a companion animal. However, breed experts say they aren’t a great fit for everyone, so care should be given before making a commitment.
“It is strongly advised that those interested in the breed take time to research and do their homework on the breed and any breeders they select for purchase of a puppy or dog. It can be difficult for some to look past the cute, curly photos of the dogs and fully understand the commitment to training and socializing the dog in order to have a great family companion for 13 or more years.”
By: Paula Fitzsimmons