An Interpretation of the Italian Greyhound Standard


This is a doctored photo (painting the neck white) of Ditto to give an idea of
my "ideal" outline of an Italian Greyhound.  He's pretty close to my ideal.



Please be patient with us, we are adding pictures as we get them!

What was the original purpose of Italian Greyhounds? Were they hunting dogs or were they bred for no other reason than to keep a bed warm?

It is clear that during the 17th century Italian Greyhounds were intended to serve as dainty decorations complementing their aristocratic human counterparts. The original purpose, however, may have been for hunting small game - perhaps a bit smaller than a rabbit. This took place in ancient Egypt, according to one theory. These small dogs may have served as "ratters" in the Egyptian grain fields. That being the case, then movement would have been prized as maximum efficiency - no wasted movement. An added perk may have been keeping their Egyptian owners warm on those cold desert nights!

No one really knows for sure what their original purpose may have been. But we do know that Italian Greyhounds were thought to be fashionable "accessories" to the lords and ladies of the 17th century! (Also interesting to note is that the IG's of that time period were bred to be tiny...about 4 lbs in size!! Imagine, an IG the size of a Chihuahua!) Add to these facts the IG stylish gait so unique to this breed - and it’s easy to imagine a lord or lady decked out in high fashion, walking the manor grounds with an IG prancing nearby.

Proper gait

So how does one go about obtaining proper gait? Our breed standard gives us clues. It is easy to obtain lift or "high-step" by producing straight shoulders and forearms. Yet in doing so we miss out on the "free" part in the all important phrase - "High Stepping and Free". "High Stepping and Free” should be a part of our endeavors to produce quality IG’s.

When in motion the IG's legs should come up to the line of the elbow (or just below) then extended out past the nose (showing reach) and brought down. Any higher and the reach or "free" action would be restricted. No break in the pastern gives the appearance of a goose step (Hitler type march). A full break gives the appearance of a hackney type gait. The slight break in the pastern is what gives the appearance of a high step and is highly desirable.

Under the “Action” section of the Breed Standard it is stated that the "front and hind legs should move forward in a straight line." Many breeders believe that this calls for a slight convergence of the legs when moving at a trot. This breeder believes that the standard is calling for no crossing of the legs and, at a moderate trot, the legs should not converge. The faster the trot, the more the trot will begin to converge (and also too, the faster the trot, the less lift one will get). Legs which cross each other when moving display an undesirable trait. On the other hand, a dog should not look like he is walking a tightrope when moving down a straight line.

With only function in mind, one would think that the wasted motion of the high-step would not be called for in our standard... yet it is mentioned. A case could be made, however, that the high-step may actually serve a function. In Salukis their front-lift (not so much a high-step but a slight lift) is called-for because it is believed to help the Saluki not tire by dragging its feet in the sand. Perhaps this helped the early IGs in a similar way in ancient Egypt. Because the originators and founders of our wonderful breed felt that the high-step was a prize possession... modern breeders should never let that trait fall to the wayside.

Forelegs:

The standard calls for, “Long, straight, set well under shoulder, strong pasterns, fine bone.” Fine bone does not mean a round, heavily built leg. In running dogs, the lighter the bone, the less drag the dog will have."Short on leg" is not desirable and sometimes this is observed in small dogs. Legs were sacrificed in the attempt to produce small. Overall balance was then compromised Fine bone, does not mean weak or spindly legs. The bone should appear strong, yet not overly done. Long pasterns are not strong. Over time, long pasterns will break down giving a weak appearance to the front leg. Short upright pasterns are not desirable as the pasterns play a key role as “shock absorbers”. Leg breaks can be caused because the stress or pounding of the leg cannot be absorbed. The pasterns should have a slight angle to them and appear neither too long nor too short. In order for legs to be set under the shoulder, the forearm must be at an angle. Straight forearms cause the legs to be set forward on the dog. One way to judge foreleg quality is by viewing the dog from the front. If the forelegs create a “V” shape at the chest, this means the legs are not set over the ribs. If the forelegs and chest create a “U” shape, this means the legs are set correctly over the ribcage. From the side, a straight line from shoulder to legs should be seen.

Three fronts (left to right)  
1.  To straight in upper arm and set forward (to straight in pasterns)
2.  Correct and set under shoulder
3.  Set to far back and not under shoulder

 

Shoulders:

The standard also gives us a clue in the statement: "Shoulders: Long and Sloping". Because incorrect build in the forequarters (straight shoulders) causes undue stress on ligaments, one would suspect that the higher number of incidences of broken legs could be attributed to the incorrect placement of shoulders and pastern (excluding genuine accidents). It is interesting to note that many standards (including the Whippet Standard) call for "well laid back" shoulders, yet our standard calls for just "sloping". So therefore, the shoulders should be between straight and well laid back. Well laid back shoulders would not be an IG breeder's goal since the standard does not call for them. In the AKC Greyhound Standard, the shoulders are supposed to be placed obliquely (slant/slope). The dictionary also defines "Sloping" as: "To incline upwards or downwards"... and "incline" is defined as "to lean, slant". In the endurance breeds, such as sled dogs and long distant movers, well laid back shoulders are a necessity in order to keep those breeds moving over long distances. Sighthounds are not meant for long distance marathons but are rather intended for high bursts of speed over short distances. It is interesting to note that the fastest animal on earth - the Cheetah - does not have well laid back shoulders and is built along the lines of a Greyhound (with differences of course!). Also worthy to note, the Cheetah is the ONLY cat which does NOT have retractable claws! Every part of the body would be needed to gain speed and with that in mind, the front would conceivably be used to "Pull" the body forward. It would be difficult to do this if the shoulders were well laid back as these type shoulders are built more for impact endurance.

In summation, building our breed like that of an endurance dog is incorrect. If anyone has ever watched a Greyhound vs. a Siberian one would notice that for pure speed the Siberian is no match for the Greyhound...yet at the same time, the Greyhound is no match for the Siberian in a long distance race.


Left to right:  1.  Crouch (notice upperthigh angles in).  2.  Correct (notice upper thigh parrallel with hock.  3.  Set to far back (notice hocks are angled inward).  4. No angles (straight almost from hip to ground).

 

The rear angles of an Italian Greyhound

While the front might pull the body forward, the rear is the powerhouse of the running dog. The standard calls for "long, well-muscled" thighs. Short thighs would be a major deviation from the breed standard. The thighs are the power of the running dog so those long bones would be needed to propel the dog forward. The standard also calls for hocks "well let down"... which means short hocks. The hocks are the pushing gear for the back legs... much like that of an athlete's foot and ankle. Power is derived from a powerful push from the hocks. As such, sickle or frozen hocks would be highly penalized because power would be lost. Long hocks would be much like a pipe. The longer the pipe, the weaker it is. On the other hand, the shorter the pipe, the stronger it is (everything else being equal, of course).

Also called for is the "well-bent stifle" (knee). Straight stifles would mean less speed and more restricted movement, both under the dog and for pushing strength. Straighter stifles also put more pressure on the knee, producing more blowouts of the stifles. Turns or pivoting would likely become more difficult (except perhaps at a standstill). Straighter stifles also seem to coincide with shorter thighs and knees seem to be brought straight up to the loin - giving the effect of a military march. Because of the shorter thigh it is difficult for such dogs to reach forward with the rear leg. Straight stifles can also cause illusions. When a straighter stifled dog is moving away, the dog’s movement appears to be clean. The side gait, however, will tell the truth... that the movement is restricted.

Over-done rears (excessive bend of the stifles) could also present a problem. Power would be lost as the delicate balance of a driving force would be lost. In studying mechanics one knows that in building something for power, the larger angle is not necessarily the better. Forward stride of the rear leg would also be not as far reaching, as the angle would not allow for the legs to push off for full maximum efficiency. Dogs with over-done rears, when moving, try to compensate for the lack of strength. Over-done rears also tend to have too much length, either to the upper thigh or lower thigh. The knees are brought up and outward - away from the body as the legs are brought under the dog. Bringing the legs under the body is the only way to "clear" the knees. Many times over-done rears also cause an overreach of the rear legs because of length of bones. As breeders, one should be careful not to misconstrue this as a proper rear! Many times over-done rears give the illusion of reach, when in fact it is just that, an illusion. So well bent would mean, that while there is a good bend, over-done is as undesirable as under-done.

The standard also calls for "Hind legs parallel when viewed from behind". This means that when viewing the rear legs from behind, the hocks should not point inward nor outward but give the appearance of a parallel line running from hip to foot. When moving, the rear legs (besides being neither cow-hocked nor open-hocked) should neither be too wide nor too narrow. When moving away the hind legs should fall directly under the hips. This is the correct movement.

A wide rear (which causes a dirty-diaper type walk) would, when running, cause a loss of power in the running (or trotting) stride. Part of this reason is aerodynamics. With the main thrust of the power outside the confines of the body some of the power will be lost due to having to over-compensate for maximum push. Consider lifting something... in humans most powerlifters set their legs directly under the shoulders. More power in the legs would be needed if the legs were set outside the shoulders (also too much strain is placed on the knee). Legs close together, while not as powerful, result in the power coming from the legs and reduce strain on the knees. Narrow rears, while less powerful, would have less power loss because the hind legs are under the body. The body is better able to push forward because the power is being exerted under the body not from the outside.

 

Feet

Another important feature of the IG is the feet. While one might think this may not be of primary importance - if the running animal is considered, a hare-like foot would be much more efficient than a cat-like foot. If one thinks about the foot fall of a running animal, the smaller, rounder foot would not give the traction that a hare foot would give.

When viewed from the front, feet should point neither inward nor outward. Many sighthound experts believe that a slight toeing out is more desirable than toeing inward. Sighthounds must not only be able to have speed but the ability to take sharp, quick, turns. Toes that point inward mean turning would not be as easy to accomplish. A slight outward turn of foot makes it easier for the dog to handle turns. Excessive toeing - either in or out is undesirable.


Top pictures:  Left: Flat Topline  Right:  Correct topline
Bottom Pictures:  Left:  Roach   Right:  Extreme topline

Back

Another important feature is the sighthound's flexible back. Our standard states :”High at the withers, back curved and drooping at hindquarters, the highest point of the curve at start of loin, creating a definite tuck-up at flanks.” This means that the highest point of the back is at the shoulders. At the point of the loin where the curve begins the line should droop down to the hindquarters.  Thus the highest point of the curve would be the start of the loin.  It is easy to misinterpret this part of the standard. From an aerodynamic point of view, if the highest point of the back were in the middle, then this would mean low at the withers (not called for in the standard). This type curve also displays an obviously wrong type of back, a roached back (wheel back) appearance.

Withers must be higher than hips. The topline should be smooth and the drop-off of the topline (or curve) should appear at the beginning of the loin and continue downwards towards the tail. A slight "bump" in the topline where back ends and curve begins is not uncommon. If overly pronounced it is usually seen in dogs with low withers. Again, the whole back is not curved... just the point from loin to hindquarters. The Standard is saying that the curve should not start in the middle of the loin, but at the beginning. The tuck up in flanks (loin) means the underline of the dog. In studying the cheetah, it is easily seen that a lot of the power is derived from the back. With IGs, a "frozen" or inflexible back (such as a wheel or roached back) should be penalized heavily in a breeder's breeding plan. The spine, in a running dog is not only bending inwards but is bending back too. As they gather their legs underneath them, their back curves inward, as the stride lengthens out, so to does their back in an almost straight line. An overdone topline when standing indicates that they do not have the flexibility to straighten their backs in a full stride. Therefore running ability would be compromised.

Straight backs would also indicate loss of flexibility, although not to the same hard degree as an overdone topline. A dog with a straight back wouldn't have the maximum ability to curve inward, nor would it be able to derive power from its back. However, it would still be able to curve inward. The proper topline should be seen both standing and moving. Superlative movement requires involvement of the withers and back LIFT as the dog moves. Of course heat, cold, wet, fatigue, stress and fear - affect topline. The place to see a proper topline is when the dog is moving. It is easy to make a dog look overdone or flat when stacking, but usually you will see the true topline when moving


From left to right:  1.  Correct Depth but sharp upward curve.  2. Shallow without tuckup
3.  Down to Elbows, long rib cage.  4. Almost to elbows and nice underline.

Chest

In studying running dogs, Greyhounds in particular, the chest needs to be deep. The standard calls for "Deep and Narrow". Because of the angle of the shoulder blade, the chest must be deep and narrow to allow the proper movement of the elbow. Otherwise the elbow must come out away from the body to clear the chest. The depth of chest is required for lung capacity which is needed in a running dog. The brisket of an IG should be at least to the elbows. "Narrow" means that the ribs should not be barreled nor should they be slab-sided. Barreled ribs interfere with the running gear of the legs. Slab-sided would restrict the lung capacity The more oxygen we receive, the more the muscles are able to contract and move. Usually oxygen starved muscles will cramp. Short rib cages should also be considered a fault as they would provide inadequate protection to the vital organs inside the body.

 

Body

Italian Greyhounds should not be short bodied. The British standard calls “Body: Chest deep and narrow. Good length of rib and brisket." This would coincide with keeping a "Greyhound like" appearance. The AKC standard only says "Body: Of medium length." But even in those words it tells a lot. Medium does not mean "square". Most breeders agree that the easiest body types are either: A. Short ribs and short loins or B. Long ribs and long loins. It stands to reason that part of the IG's problem is that it calls for a longer rib cage and a shorter loin. As a breeder, obtaining that perfect balance of good length to ribs and short loin is a hard line to tow.

 

Heads

The standard calls for “Head: Narrow and long, tapering to nose, with a slight suggestion of stop.” Wide backskulls are not in keeping with the standard. The skull, as described by the standard is “rather long, almost flat.” Fill under the eyes is important. Without fill, the eyes tend to look like they are "bulging" and give the appearance of the head being round. The standard states “Muzzle: Long and Fine.” This is a miniature sighthound, it stands to reason that the jaws must be powerful for prey. Short muzzles lack the strength (or depth) to hold prey. The IG will appear cheeky when lacking fill and length to muzzle. Teeth should be strong and form a proper scissors bite. While the IG’s head should be elegant, the head should not resemble that of a "collie". When viewed from the side, a slight suggestion of a stop (or break in the line) should appear at the eyes. Dish faces, that is, nose pointing skyward and a dip in the muzzle is not keeping with the standard. The correct ears are “hooded” or sometimes called “rose ears”. The standard does not state where the ears should be placed, nor length of ear, nor height of “hood”. But it is good to remember that set of the ears can make or break the expression of the face. The eyes should neither be to large or small. This is a toy breed so expression should be pleasing to the eye. Eyes, nose should be in accordance to the standard and as breeders, we should watch for faults such as light eyes or partially pigmented noses.

 

Necks

Neck sets are also of equal importance... the "nag" appearance or "ewe" neck is undesirable. This type of neck has no power in it. If a dog is to catch and carry it's prey it needs to be able to hold that prey up and off the ground. Of equal importance, however, is that all important phrase of "ideal elegance and grace". An ewe neck or low set neck has neither having a proper arch nor as graceful or elegant. It is hard to display a high step and a low neck set (not impossible, but an incorrect look). Such a look would make the dog appear to be hitting itself in the head with it's front legs. The standard state: “Neck: Long, slender and gracefully arched.” You cannot have the correct arch in the neck if the neck is set down in the shoulders. A dog with this type neck set has GOT to drop his head to move, which follows that the shoulders will dip. Yanking the head up only worsens the fault and makes the front movement become restrictive This is a proud breed and, when standing or moving, the head should be held high (much like an Arabian stallion which holds its head up proudly). Of course, it should be remember that the faster an animal moves at a trot, the lower the head will be carried for maximum efficiency in moving out. Correct length of neck can be created by an illusion of improperly placed shoulders. When looking at neck set, make sure that it is correct, and not caused by an optical illusion. Thick, short necks are also undesirable. Short necks can also appear short created by incorrectly placed shoulder. This breed was intended to be an elegant companion to us, so this dog should have a classy appearance. The head carriage should be up, with no artificial help (i.e. a person stringing the head up).

 

Coat and coat color:

The AKC standard accepts any colors or markings except Brindle or tan markings. Those tan markings are tan marks above the eyebrow, tan “thumbprints” on the feet or tan marks on the chest like those found on a Black and tan dog. Tan markings can appear in any color and are a disqualification in our standard.

The coat should be short, glossy and soft. It is important to pay attention to coat as a longer, harsher coat can be found on Italian Greyhounds. The length of the hair should be extremely short.

 

Size

Last but certainly not least is size. The most important phrase to remember is that the standard calls for the size to be IDEALLY 13 - 15 inches. The standard does not say, MUST BE, nor does it say it is a fault to be oversize/undersize. For a breeder, certainly size should be of great concern. If we are breeding for the standard, then we should strive for all parts of the standard. Should a dog be excluded from showing/breeding if their size is slightly under or over the IDEAL? It is up to the individual breeder. Certainly, it is a deviation from the standard, but in general breeders should be working towards all parts of the standard and not just one.

A important part of our standard is faults. One should fault a partly pigmented nose more heavily than an oversize/undersize dog. The same with very light eyes... one should fault light eyes more heavily than perhaps a broad back skull.

 

Type:

The first phrase of the IG Standard says: "The Italian Greyhound is very similar to the Greyhound, but much smaller and more slender in all proportions and of ideal elegance and grace." This tells the breeder exactly what "type" should be.

If the Italian Greyhound is similar to the Greyhound (but more slender and smaller) then they should look like a miniature Greyhound. They should NOT look like a miniature Whippet. In studying the Italian Greyhound, Whippet and Greyhound Standards it becomes obvious that these breeds have some obvious differences. The Whippet Standard calls for length over the loin... not something wanted in the IG Standard. In comparing the Whippet Standard to the IG Standard it is easy to pinpoint the vast differences between the breeds. However, if you read the Greyhound Standard and the IG Standard there are many similarities.

Type also means "Of Ideal elegance and grace.” Those words should bring a picture of a slender, graceful, head held proudly, highstepping animal which looks like a Greyhound but, is in a word... elegant. From head to toe - a lean, elegant animal. Certainly it should not look like it will break apart if it has a slight accident. An Italian Greyhound should be a refined animal with beautiful proportions. The outline should be that of a miniature Greyhound.

 

In retrospect

Understanding the standard is the first step in breeding correct dogs, the second step is applying the standard in your breeding program. No dog will be perfect in all regards, but as breeders, we should strive for excellence.

 

The above is my own personal interpretation of the AKC Italian Greyhound Standard. It is not intended to say all breeders view it the same way. Personal thanks to the Italian Greyhound Club of America for their kind permission to copy some of the wording from the Standard. All breeders should familiarize themselves with the words written for our breed. A copy of the standard can be obtained through the AKC or through the Breed club.

Click here to go the AKC website