The Lagotto Romagnolo: Italy’s Truffle Hunting Dog

Learn 12 facts about this affectionate working breed with the powerful nose.

Apr 4, 2024By Jessica Montes
the lagotto romagnolo

Next time you indulge in a crispy plate of truffle fries, thank the hard-working dogs who located the fungi for your meal. One of these breeds is the Italian Lagotto Romagnolo. Although this ancient breed is renowned for their truffle-hunting abilities, this was not their first job. Discover this breed’s origins, grooming practices, and why they are a hunted breed.

The Lagotto Romagnolo Originates from Italy

Lagotto Romagnolo
Photo by: Ralf Ostermann

The Lagotto Romagnolo (pronounced Low-got-tow Ro-man-yow-low) breed originated in the Romagna region of Italy, particularly in the lowlands of the Comacchio marshes. The name "Lagotto" comes from the Italian word "lago," meaning lake, highlighting its water dog heritage. The breed's history dates back several centuries, with roots tracing back to the Middle Ages. Initially, Lagotti were primarily utilized as water retrievers, especially skilled in retrieving game from the marshy terrain and water bodies of the region.

As the landscape changed over time and marshes were drained for agricultural purposes, the Lagotto's role evolved. They were then employed as truffle hunters due to their exceptional sense of smell and ability to navigate through the dense forest undergrowth. They are the only canines bred to find fungi!

These Canines Are Working Dogs

Photo by: XTY78

Unlike other breeds whose working and hunting specialties are things of the past, Lagotti Romagnoli (the plural term for this breed) still have an important job that began in the late 1800s. Despite experiencing a decline in numbers during the 20th century, the breed has seen a revival. Truffle products have only increased in popularity over the years, and the demand for this fungus is high worldwide.

The dogs’ keen noses and determination make them crucial companions to truffle hunters seeking the culinary treasures that lie underground. Today, Lagotti Romagnoli are valued as both skilled truffle finders and beloved companions, with enthusiasts and breeders around the world dedicated to preserving and promoting the breed.

Curly, Small, and Mighty: the Lagotto Romagnolo

Truffle hunting dog
Photo by: Caronna

It’s hard not to say “aww” at the Lagotti’s curly coat that hugs close to their bodies. Similar to poodles, this breed developed their coils as a waterproof layer during their swims and hunts in the water. They are often compared to teddy bears for their fur texture and their small but mighty size. These are a few of their other physical traits:

  • Double, medium-length coat
  • 17-19 inches tall
  • 24-35 lbs (with males on the heavier side)
  • Fur colors include white, brown, orange, and sable
  • Sturdy body
  • Lifespan of 15-17 years

Grooming Needs of the Lagotto Romagnolo

Lagotto body
Photo by: Pleple2000

These dogs’ cute, curly coats come with pros and cons. On the one hand, they are minimal shedders, so your home won’t become littered with dog fur. However, their curls need extra attention. The fur of the Lagotti Romagnoli must be groomed with certain combs and brushes, and they also need regular baths to prevent matting and tangling as well. Mild dog-friendly shampoos will preserve their natural oils and keep their fur water-resistant and healthy.

Lagotti Romagnoli also have floppy ears that can trap moisture and debris, increasing the risk of ear infections. Regular ear cleaning and inspection are necessary to prevent issues. Use a vet-approved ear-cleaning solution and gently wipe the ears with a cotton ball or pad.

This Is a Rare Breed Outside of Italy

Photo by: Maegan White

Lagotti Romagnoli have been an Italian treasure for thousands of years but are rare outside the country. They were first recognized by the United Kennel Club in 2006 and received American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition in 2015. This doesn’t mean that breeders and registrations were nonexistent before then, but the demand and popularity weren’t there.

Before they received recognition and competed in the organizations’ dog shows, clubs, such as the Lagotto Romagnolo Club of America, needed to prove interest and population size. In addition, they had to demonstrate a breed standard that can take several puppy generations to achieve and perfect.

These Dogs Are Playful, Energetic, and Curious

Brown Lagotto
Photo by: XTY78

Owning a Lagotto means you have a playful, energetic, curious, and affectionate pup on your hands. As a sporting breed, they need daily walks or physical activity to tire themselves out and keep their minds stimulated. They might not demand hours of play and are fine fetching balls, hiking, and swimming. Because they have excellent scent skills, they need time to roam and explore the outdoors and chase wherever their nose takes them.

Lagotti are also known for being incredibly lovey-dovey with their owners or family and even getting along well with other dogs if socialized properly. Their friendliness extends to strangers, and they will only bark to alert their loved ones about danger.

These Dogs Are Eager to Learn

dog with ribbons
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Training a Lagotto Romagnolo is an adventure filled with fun and discovery! These curly-coated canines are as smart as they are adorable, making them eager students in any training session. From basic obedience to advanced tricks, Lagotti thrive on mental stimulation and positive reinforcement.

With their innate curiosity and strong work ethic, they excel in various activities, whether it's agility, scent work, or even truffle hunting. Patience and consistency are key when training these furry friends, but the rewards are endless. A well-trained Lagotto is not only a joy to be around but also a furry companion ready for any adventure.

Targeted Pups in the Truffle-Hunting World

Lagotto hunting
Photo by: Lagotto Romagnolo Club of America

​​Unfortunately, the same truffle-hunting skills that Lagotto Romagnolo owners treasure them for have made this breed a target for competitors. In some regions where truffle hunting is a profitable business, rival hunters may resort to unethical tactics to decrease the competition. Poisoning dogs, including Lagotti, is a cruel practice aimed at eliminating the number of hunting companions.

These hunters may see poisoning as a quick and cruel way to gain an edge in the truffle market. However, poisoning and killing dogs not only harms innocent animals but also disrupts the delicate ecosystem. Responsible truffle hunters condemn such actions and advocate for ethical and sustainable practices to protect both the Lagotto Romagnolo breed and the truffle industry as a whole.

Lagotti Romagnoli in the Arts

Lagotto painting
Photo by: Guercino

Lagotti Romagnoli were also beloved by Italian artists and painters. Those with Lagotto companions often showed their appreciation by including these dogs in their artwork. Giovanni Francesco Barbieri painted his mother, himself, and a brown & white Lagotto standing on a table. In the piece, the artist made the Lagotto the center of attention by pointing at his dog and winking. This piece dates to the 1620s, showing us that they have been loved for hundreds of years.

The Lagotto Romagnolo: An Adaptable Breed

Lagotto dog
Photo by: Entheta

Some dogs love routines and the predictability of knowing what they’ll do next throughout the day. Lagotti Romagnoli don’t need as much structure. The AKC ranks them a 4/5 on the adaptability scale meaning that they go with the flow and welcome change. Their flexibility applies to everything from moving homes, calling a larger or smaller space home, and moving to a new location with different weather.

In addition, Lagotti Romagnoli aren’t as affected by varying noise levels or changes to the physical environment. Best of all, they are forgiving if their afternoon exercise and exploration walk is 30 minutes later than usual. As long as everything doesn't change too quickly, and they are still spending time with their loved ones, this breed is happy.

These Dogs Are Natural Athletes

Lagotto agility
Photo by: A. Buser

While truffle hunting is their bread and butter, these sporting pups make excellent athletes. They are superstars in agility training and can run over, through, under, and around obstacle courses. Their water-resistant double coat also means they feel comfortable with dock diving and water retrieving activities. In this sport, dogs run along a long platform and leap into a pool to fetch a toy and hope to have the longest jump.

Lagotti Romagnoli who live outside of truffle areas are still valued for their strong smelling abilities. These pups can work as scent dogs and be trained for search-and-rescue teams to locate missing people. First responders can also train these pups to detect certain diseases, bombs, or harmful substances to ensure public safety.

Extended Pup Family: Other Italian Dog Breeds

Italian flag
Photo by: ITookSomePhotos

Italy has its fair share of fascinating dog breeds other than the Lagotti Romagnoli. Other breeds from Italy include these dogs:

  • Neapolitan Mastiffs are known for their bearlike, sturdy bodies and distinctive facial wrinkles and have ancient roots tracing back to ancient Rome, where they were used as a guard and war dog.
  • The popular Italian Greyhound, a sleek and elegant breed, boasts a history dating back over 2,000 years and was favored by nobility for its graceful appearance and swift running ability.
  • The Spinone Italiano, a versatile hunting dog with a distinctive wiry coat, is renowned for its gentle temperament and exceptional tracking skills in rugged terrain.
  • The Cane Corso, a powerful and muscular breed, was historically employed as a guardian and protector of farms and estates, prized for its loyalty and courage.
  • The Bracco Italiano, characterized by its long ears and noble expression, is an ancient pointing breed known for its exceptional hunting abilities and loyalty to human companions.

These Italian dog breeds showcase the rich diversity and heritage of Italy's canines and their changes in purpose over the centuries.

Lagotti Romagnoli Are Treasures

Lagotto snow
Photo by: Hofec

These ancient water retrievers turned truffle hunters were adored in Italy for centuries before gaining global recognition. The adorably waterproof curly coat, pairs with their playfulness and trainability, making them versatile companions adaptable to changes in routines. Beyond their work ethic and loyalty, Lagotti are dog athletes, which makes them sought-after as both working dogs and cherished family pets.

Jessica Montes
By Jessica Montes

Jessica is a California-based writer, journalist, lover of animals, and vegan of 17 years. Growing up, she owned parakeets, fish, a rabbit, and a red-eared slider turtle. She currently has a black cat named Marty and a tabby named Jellybean. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, camping, and roller skating to funky tunes.