Often we have been in a group of Italian Greyhound people, talking at a show, and someone will say something like, “I really like this dog but I wish it was a little more houndy.” As we engage in the conversation we begin to picture a spectrum of dogs along a line from Toyish to Houndy. This points to something that is both a tension and a gift to our breed. Succinctly stating the obvious, Italian Greyhounds can arguably belong in either the Toy group or the Hound group.
Maybe I need to rest more securely in my masculinity, but standing in the Toy Group alongside so much “fru fru” (as a friend calls the long coated fluffy toys) with my strong, athletic Italian Greyhound, I can find myself wishing we were in the ring with the bigger hounds. After all I get as much joy watching my dogs chase the squirrels away from our Burl Oak tree as I do anything else they do.
Usually when people evoke the “houndy” type argument they describe a dog with words like, “long, long-legged, wedge head, almond eyes, athletic, long neck, elegant.” These are all features that appeal to me. By contrast “toy” get described as, “short legged, stuffy necks, short nuzzle, round bulging eyes, apple head, fragile, straight front, poor mover.” If that is the choice, then there really is no choice; give me “houndy” every time. I love that Italian Greyhounds run and see their grace when they are in motion. I’m sure that one day we will give lure coursing a shot but these days we focus on the show ring.
While I think Italian Greyhounds should hold a “houndy” type I also remember the reason we bought our first Italian Greyhound, we wanted a house “companion” dog. We had working dogs and now we wanted a companion who we could invite into the house with us. This gets to the whole point of the breed, they were great companions to the aristocracy of Italy. There is a great value to having a dog that has no other value than how they make us feel loved and keep us warm. Italian Greyhounds (on the whole) are not great mousers and do not serve a functional, working, purpose other than the love they share with us. This is what they share in common with the other “Toys.”
Angie Leonard reminded me that in a time when life was hard, most dogs didn’t get fed unless they did their job. What is the job of the Italian Greyhound, to make us feel better at the end of the day. Even among the other Toys, Italian Greyhounds stand out in this way. Many other breeds are alert dogs, ratters or bred down versions of their larger cousins, but as we know the smaller Greyhound has been around for thousands of years. This loving purpose is what makes our Italian Greyhounds so special and gives them their place among the very best of the Toys. This in not to say that bigger dogs are not loving, but it carves out for us the special place that Italian Greyhounds hold in our lives.
As I find with most things in life, there are few real dichotomies. The Italian Greyhound is both Toy and Hound and our breed is best off when we remember to hold the two in tensions.