This painting from the workshop of the famous italian painter, Guercino, from the Baroque period is around 400 years old and clearly shows a Lagotto Romagnolo very similar to those that we love today.
The following information is a snippet from the ANKC Extended Breed Standard of the Lagotto Romagnolo.
BRIEF HISTORICAL SUMMARY
Ancient breed of water retrieving dogs in the lowlands of Comacchio and the
marshlands of Ravenna. Over the centuries, the great marshlands were drained
and turned into arable land. Subsequently, the Lagotto Romagnolo changed
from being a water dog to an excellent dog for searching for truffles in the flat
open country and the hills of Romagna.
The Lagotto Romagnolo is probably one of the most ancient breeds of water dog
known as well as being an absolutely natural breed. Archaeological excavations in
the Etruscan burial ground of Spina [close to the Comacchio region] have found
hunting and fishing etchings on clay and terra-cotta pots dating to the fifth and sixth
centuries, showing a curly, shaggy-haired dog extremely similar to the present day
When water dogs arrived in Spain with the Moors, they had already been known
through the whole Italian peninsula for centuries, but in particular in the wet and
marshy areas of Northern Italy. The Barbet reached France after the Arab invasion of
Spain and most scholars agree that the Barbet was the ancestor of the Poodle.
The ‘Canis Aquaticus’ [Water Dog] was mentioned by Linneus, the great Swedish naturalist
of the eighteenth century, as having been ‘widespread for long’ in the Mediterranean area,
and especially that of the North. Linneus’ description of the dog corresponds
surprisingly with that of the curly haired dog of Romagna.
Eugenio Raimondi in his book ‘Delle Caccie’ [About Hunting] (Venice, 1630), when
discussing the water dogs that had always been popular in the Venetian lagoons
wrote: ‘They do not fear to bring ducks to steep rocky places and being used to their
noble duty, they do not fear to wet their backs and bottom, and bring their prey back
to their master to please him. They are bristly and curly-haired dogs of the same
colour as the reeds’.
Antonia Morri (Faenza 1840) in his ‘Household Technological Manual of Entries,
Expressions, Proverbs, Popular Sayings and Idioms of Romagna’ described the ‘Can
Lagott’ as a ‘thick-furred truffle or marsh dog’ or as ‘bristly-haired water or truffle
dog’. This indicates that even then, the Lagotto Romagnolo was being transformed
from a water dog to a truffle-hound.
There is unquestionable evidence that the Lagotto Romagnolo was present in the
lagoons of Comacchio and the marshy areas of the lowland plains of Romagna as
early as 1600. The inhabitants of the flat marshlands were known as ‘Lagotti’ and
they used small dogs with very curly hair. They also went searching for truffles with
their inseparable companion, the small Lagotto Romagnolo, who also guarded the
boat and house and retrieved ducks. He would dive and swim for hours at a time
even in very cold weather when he may have had to break the ice. This ‘amphibian’
behaviour was made possible by its truly waterproof thick coat, with very close curls
and abundant undercoat preventing the water from touching the skin; it was sufficient
just to shake itself and the dog was perfectly dry.
When the marshes were reclaimed the Lagotto Romagnolo progressively lost its function
as a water dog and gradually specialised as a truffle-hound. His great ability to
search, his keen sense of smell and trainability made him very suitable for the task.
Breeding in the early days was not controlled and had always been done to achieve
practical results. Consequently, it tended to be between dogs closely related by blood.
But in later years dogs were used that were not related, such as pointers, poodles,
etc. and this was not justified or in the interests of the breed. Therefore, in the late
1970’s, a group of distinguished dog fanciers from Romagna, decided it was time to
save the breed. Over twenty years seminars and meetings took place, dogs were
examined, measured, tattooed and entered onto a Register with the result that the
breed has evolved back again to a well defined, homogenous type.
The Italian Lagotto Romagnolo Club which now has over 400 members, was formed in 1988 and
paved the way for official recognition of the breed. On the 15th October 1991 the Lagotto
Romagnolo became the thirteenth Italian dog breed and its numbers are estimated
at between 3,000 to 3,500.