America Welcomes the Lagotto Romagnolo

From hunting coot to locating truffles, this versatile breed now graces our Sporting Group.

From hunting coot to locating truffles, this versatile breed now graces our Sporting Group.

The Lagotto Romagnolo (“Lago” means lake in Italian, and “Romagna” refers to the region in which they originate) entered the Sporting Group in July of 2015. Once a talented hunter of coot in the regions of Northern Italy, he is probably the only dog in the Group that has been purposefully bred away from game. Why? This adaptable dog was already in use as a truffle hunter when the area of Emilia Romagna was converted from swamp to farmland in the mid-19th century. As the dogs began to lose their job as retrievers, breeders started shaping them into the effective searchers of truffles we know today.

Truffles are fungi that develop on the roots of trees. A successful truffle dog is able to identify their distinctive scent even though the truffle itself may be located as much as 18 inches underground. As every “foodie” knows, they are a sought-after and expensive ingredient in fine cuisine. Several species of truffles fetch an amazing amount of money per ounce, and the rustic little dogs with their superior scenting and digging abilities began to provide the most efficient way of locating the ripe truffles. Truffle hunting takes place in both the forest and in some places, the truffiere, a specially cultivated orchard where trees are grown in soil infected with truffle spores. Truffle hunters will tell you that truffles grow in almost every part of the world, but only those grown in certain climates and conditions are sought after by chefs. And the chief advantage of using a dog is that they do not disturb truffles that should be harvested later but can hone in on just those that are ripe. This helps with the overall harvest, as those harvested before they are ripe have no value. Though some dogs are not above snacking on their finds, the breed is easily trained and tractable, and will happily trade their prize for a treat from the handler.

Interestingly, some of the same features that made the Lagotto a good water retriever also aid him in the forest. The rustic curly coat that once protected the dog from freezing water now keeps him safe from thorns and brambles as he searches the forest for truffles. His small size that once allowed hunters to scoop the dog from the water into the boat, now allows him to work his way under bushes and foliage to get to the right location for digging. His physical endurance and relatively light body allow him the ability to run up the hills. A few of the breed’s most important characteristics are discussed below.

 

The Coat

The Lagotto coat is one of the dog’s defining features. It looks better with a little dirt and oil in it — though of course this presents a problem when you have a white or mostly white dog. The curls are made up of both a top coat that is curly and wrapped by the curls of the undercoat; together they form complete rings that have a density or thickness to them. In older dogs, there may also be a sprinkling of wiry hair that does not quite “join up” with the curls; it has a little shine to it and usually appears white or very dark brown. The coat itself has a spring to it, and when you spread it with your hands, you should not easily see the skin. It does not cord (that is a disqualification) and is never “merely wavy,” but it does “felt” when left unattended for too long. White coats tend to be softer than other colors, but there are harsh and dense white-coated dogs as well.

Lagotto coat color runs from off-white, orange, white-with-brown and brown roan to brown-and-tan and brown (with or without markings — the markings themselves may be white or roan). Most of the breed has a fading gene, and it is the very unusual dog that remains dark orange or brown past 1 year of age. All colors and dilutes are equally acceptable. At maturity, brown and roan often appear identical, as do white and orange. The pigment around the eyes and nose should be harmonious with the coat color in shades from light to dark brown and should never be black or have partial pigmentation (both are disqualifying faults).

 

Grooming the Coat

One of the main concerns of the Lagotto Romagnolo Club of America is that the dog continue to be presented in a rustic manner. In show rings in Europe, the dog is presented in a rustic fashion, scissored back every few weeks, then washed and drip dried a day or so before the show. He should be trimmed in an unpretentious fashion that shows the dog’s silhouette, not sculpted into a shape. The hair must always be long enough to curl, but no longer than 1.5 inches (in a curled state), except for the head, where the hair itself is less curly and can be kept longer. A nice tip for checking length of coat is to insert your pinky finger into the coat. For most of us 1.5 inches is about the second joint of that finger. The genital area may be clipped short for hygiene.

Grooming on the day of the show may be nothing more than checking that the dog is clean and his face is combed out. Please remember that according to the standard, an excessively groomed dog is to “be so severely penalized as to be removed from competition.” No blow drying or removing of undercoat. While we might use both methods to help maintain the length of coat and discourage felting during the show season, this must be kept to a minimum — a coat lacking curl or lacking undercoat on the day of the show is an extreme fault. Judges who have seen the breed in Australia have seen a grooming style practiced by a few that is not endorsed by the rest of the world. Though there is a concerted effort on the part of some Australian exhibitors to return to the accepted presentation, the trend toward overgrooming is being rewarded and making it harder to correct. The coat should never be treated like a Poodle’s or Bichon’s. Please do not reward this, as an overgroomed coat cannot be assessed for the very traits it is required to possess.

 

The Head

One of the biggest changes in the breed arises from its change in careers. No longer charged with carrying birds, the dog has three acceptable bites: scissor, reverse scissor and level. The most important features of the head give precedence to a wide, short muzzle with wide nasal passages, a strong underjaw and a nose prominently set off the muzzle with wide nostrils. The shape of the head is like a triangle with a cut corner, making it trapezoidal.

In her Illustrated Breed Compendium for Lagotto Romagnolo, FCI breed expert Rene Spores-Willes of Sweden comments that “the broad, slightly arched skull together with eyes set well apart and the strong, rather blunt muzzle is what makes a typical head.

“Examining the head needs ‘hands on,’ as a skillful clip could visually give the appearance of a correct head, which might be an illusion … a narrow skull and long narrow muzzle are quite common in the breed.”

The width of the muzzle and its blunt profile are key features, for they contain wide-open nasal passages so important when scenting for truffles. Spores-Willes continues: “This type of muzzle often has a pincer bite or a reversed scissor bite … an overshot bite is completely untypical and consequently is a disqualifying fault” as is an undershot bite with a gap more than one-fourth of an inch between the top and bottom incisors. The dog can be missing only one tooth and it can be missing only between P1-P4.

 

Size and Proportions

The Lagotto is a medium to small rustic dog, square in silhouette. The dog has more leg than depth of body (he is not 50/50 body/leg). With the rib swing coming at the sixth rib, he appears slightly narrow from the front. In developing the breed, many efficient truffle hunting dogs were used encompassing a variety of breeds. One of the many breeds that may have played a part in its development is the Spinone Italiano. As a result, the breed does not necessarily breed consistently in terms of both length of leg (a common fault is not enough leg, making the dog appear rectangular), and dogs are often quite tall. There is a DQ for both undersize and oversize. Dogs should be 17 to 19 inches (with a half-inch allowance on either end of the spectrum), while females should be 16 to 18 inches with the same allowance.

 

Movement and Rear Assembly

The Lagotto has a long second thigh and well-let-down hocks. His croup should have a slight slope, as well as being long, wide and muscular. The tail is set on slightly below the line of the back following the line of the croup. A common fault is a gay tail and one that is too short and flat through the croup. Two types of tail carriage are acceptable, one that remains straight and another that, when excited, raises up scimitar-like. As long as the base of the tail is not raised (gay), either tail is fine. Another common fault is lack of rear angulation.

Being an energetic worker that puts in long hours foraging in the woods with his handler, the Lagotto’s movement should be efficient and lively with good reach and drive.

 

New and Old

Although the Lagotto is an ancient breed, it is also, relatively speaking, a modern one. The breed began its development into the dog we know today in the 1970s. According to Dr. Giovanni Morsiani in his Lagotto Romagnolo: A short history of the breed and current situation, “toward the mid-1970s a group of Romagna-based dog lovers decided to save the breed, which was risking extinction as a result of the incompetence, ignorance and negligence of owners … They were to set a genetic reconstruction program in motion that would save the Lagotto Romagnolo from the one-way tunnel to extinction. The reunification of the two parallel stories of the Lagotto Romagnolo — the one that took place in the wetlands and the one that took place on the Apennine hills — were to lay the basis for the renewed purity of the breed.”

We are very excited to begin showing our wonderful little truffle dogs in the AKC show rings. With his wide variety of talents, the Lagotto is likely to be a favorite of judges in the breed ring and at companion events, as well as much loved by spectators. For more information, please visit our website at lagottous.com.

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