Lagotto Romagnolo: One of the Oldest Retriever Dog Breeds

Lagotto Romagnolo standing in grass
Anna Smith
Written by Anna Smith

Believe it or not, Labradors and Golden Retrievers are not the only retriever breeds out there. Yet, if you go to the dog park, it would seem that they are the only ones. If you are looking for a different and interesting retriever breed that will nevertheless be an excellent companion for you and your family, here’s an old Italian breed: the Lagotto Romagnolo.

In these dogs, you can find many of the characteristics typical of great retriever dogs. They are athletic and healthy, and they have amazing hearing, eyesight, and sense of smell, which make them great retrievers and gundogs. What’s more, they are also very social, people-friendly, and loyal, so they make for fantastic house pets as well.

Below, we’ll go over all the major characteristics of the Lagotto Romagnolo. We’ll take a look at their long and interesting history, as well as on their amazing and friendly characters. We’ll check out just how healthy they are and how much care they require, as well as whether or not they co-exist well with kids or other pets.

Breed Characteristics

Lagotto Romagnol running

  • Adaptability: Moderate; needs space to move around in

  • Trainability: Very Good

  • Health and Grooming: Below Average; sheds quite a lot

  • All Around Friendliness: Good

  • Exercise Needs: High Maintenance

Dog Breed GroupSporting dogs
HeightMale: 17 - 19 inches (43 – 48 cm)
Female: 16 - 18 inches (40 – 46 cm)
WeightMale: 28.5 - 35 pounds (13 – 16 kg)
Female: 24 - 31 pounds (11 – 14 kg)
Lifespan15 - 17 years

The Lagotto Romagnolo is an old European retriever breed that comes from Northern Italy.

Said to be the original retriever dog that all later European retriever breeds stem from, the Lagotto Romagnolo has everything you might want from both a gundog and a family companion.

They are athletic and healthy, loyal and intelligent, and they have great hunting and watch-dog instincts.

Main Highlights

Lagotto Romagnol puppies playing

  • The Lagotto Romagnolo is one of the oldest retriever dog breeds in Europe.

  • In the 20th century, these dogs were used exclusively for truffle sniffing.

  • The breed nearly went extinct in the 20th century but was restored after the 1970s.

  • Lagotto Romagnolo dogs are both healthy and people-friendly, which makes them great family dogs.

Breed History

agotto Romagnol lying on grass together

The Lagotto Romagnolo has a long and priced history. They are Italian water dogs, as is evident by their name once we translate it. In the Romagnol dialect that’s spoken in the northern Italian region of Romagna, “Càn Lagòt” is translated as “water dog” or “lake dog.” Simply put, the Lagotto Romagnolo is a water retriever breed from the Romagnolo area of Italy.

These dogs are the Italian equivalent of European water retriever breeds such as the Spanish Water Dog, the Portuguese Water Dog, the Irish Water Spaniel, and others.

In fact, a lot of breeders claim that the Lagotto Romagnolo is the oldest water retriever breed in the world and other similar European breeds are direct descendants of these dogs.

Whether that’s exactly true or not is hard to say, but one thing is certain: the Lagotto Romagnolo are old and purebred dogs, which makes them quite special in today’s canine scene.

For centuries, the Lagotto Romagnolo were used as hunting dogs, water dogs, and gundogs. They specialized in retrieving ducks and other fowl from the lowlands marshes in the coastal areas of Romagna.

In addition to that, Lagotto Romagnolo were also frequently offering their services as guard dogs for the people of Romagna and were generally great companions in multiple aspects.

Once the 20th century came along, however, the many marshes of the Romagna area were drained, and the Lagotto Romagnolo were left without work. Being the great and adaptable breed that they are, however, their skills soon found another purpose: truffle hunting.

Since these dogs have a very strong sense of smell, this made them ideal for the lucrative trade. In fact, the Lagotto Romagnolo were the only breed at the time to be recognized as specialized truffle hunters.

There was one key difference between duck hunting and truffle hunting, however; the latter, while lucrative, wasn’t as widespread among the people. This soon meant that fewer people were owning Lagotto Romagnol dogs, particularly since the truffle hunters were selecting the dogs mostly for their sense of smell and not with any other feature in mind.

The numbers of these dogs started to quickly decline throughout the 20th century until they almost disappeared by the 1970s.

It was after the 70s that a dedicated group of dog breeders started to work to preserve the rare breed and re-establish them as pet dogs. It was in 1993 that the Lagotto was finally officially recognized by the Italian Kennel Club as purebred pet dogs, and other countries soon followed.

Today, these wonderful dogs are becoming more popular around the globe as both gundogs and companion pets. In 2017 they ranked at #117 (out of 194) in worldwide popularity; that’s still a pretty good ranking, considering that they were almost extinct several decades ago.


Lagotto Romagnolo playing with a a human

The Lagotto Romagnolo is a medium-sized dog breed. They generally range between 16 and 19 inches (40 – 48 cm) in height, with the males being slightly larger than the females. In terms of weight, the breed falls in the 24 – 35 pounds range (11 – 16 kg).

The overall appearance of the Lagotto can vary, but they typically have floppy ears, which help them hunt as the ears stop the air around their muzzles, allowing them to better feel the different scents in the air. They also have large round eyes that can range from golden to dark brown in color.

Their bodies are quite well-balanced and athletic, which makes the breed quite quick on its feet and playful. Being medium-sized, however, they are not overly strong and muscular dogs, so they are not suitable for work tasks other than hunting, retrieving, and potentially as watchdogs.

Personality and Character

Lagotto Romagnolo puppy running

As a dog breed that has lived, worked, and hunted alongside humans for centuries, the Lagotto Romagnolo is a very people-friendly and loving dog breed. They are very devoted to their owners and are happy to live in households with big families. The Lagotto’s gentle nature and friendliness also make them great pets for children, be they teenagers or toddlers.

These dogs are far from just gentle lap dogs, however. Their hunting days are not far behind them, and they retain all of the physical and behavioral characteristics that made them great hunters and retrievers.

The Lagotto’s eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell are all excellent, which makes them very alert for their environment and possible dangers in it. That, in combination with their love for their human families, makes them great watchdogs and better than most breeds at alerting you about burglaries and other dangers.

The Lagotto’s strong hunting drive means that you should usually walk them on a leash unless the park and area you’re walking them allow for safe off-leash walking.

They are not just simple-minded and instinct-driven, however; the Lagotto Romagnolo is a highly intelligent dog breed that was bred to understand complex commands and perform specialized tasks. This means that you can train your Lagotto for a lot of interesting and useful commands, but it also means that your dog will need a lot of mental stimulation.

See Also: How to Teach a Dog to Speak

Smart breed such as the Lagotto are prone to boredom-caused destructive behaviors if they are left alone and without mental stimulation for too long. If you want to get such a dog, you’ll need to make sure that your pet is frequently challenged with games, work tasks, puzzle toys, and other methods for mental stimulation.

Another curious fact about the Lagotto Romagnolo is that they love digging—another habit that made them excellent truffle hunters. If you own a Lagotto, consider getting your dog a sandbox or a designated digging area in the yard; your pooch will certainly appreciate it.

Health and Potential Problems

Lagotto Romagnolo lying on floor

The Lagotto Romagnolo is a generally healthy breed and doesn’t have any breed-specific health concerns that can’t be found in other dogs. Despite being purebred, the Lagotto has never been extensively overbred like some of the more popular modern breeds out there.

Still, the Lagotto are dogs and are prone to some of the standard illnesses and problems you can find in canines. Things like hip or elbow dysplasia, as well as juvenile epilepsy or storage disease, can all befall your Lagotto Romagnolo dog.

To avoid this as best as possible, it’s advisable that you only get your puppies from reputable breeders. A good dog breeder will offer you health certificates for both the puppy and its parents. Such certificates can and should include DNA tests, hip evaluation, ophthalmologist evaluation, benign familial juvenile epilepsy DNA test, Lagotto storage disease DNA test, and others.

If you get a healthy puppy from a reputable dog breeder and if you take good care of your pooch, the Lagotto Romagnolo will most likely have a long and healthy life.

Care Features

Lagotto Romagnolo playing with a brush

Taking care of the physical and mental fitness of your Lagotto Romagnolo is the main task that you’ll need to cover. Lagottos are active and energetic dogs that have been bred for athleticism and excess energy. As a result, you’ll need to give your Lagotto pet a lot of daily exercise and not just brief walks.

If you have a dog park nearby, prepare to spend a lot of time there; simply letting your Lagotto loose in the yard won’t be enough. If there is a lake or other dog-friendly water bodies nearby, remember that Lagottos love to swim as well.

See Also: DIY Dog Pool

In terms of mental stimulation, Lagotto dogs are highly intelligent and need lots of it. Food puzzles, puzzle toys, mental tasks, tricks, and commands, as well as general play are all necessary to make sure that your Lagotto is happy and engaged.

Aside from that, Lagotto Romagnolo dogs don’t require too much specific care. As with all dogs, you’ll need to make sure that they are physically healthy. Check your dog’s ears and eyes regularly and clean them with a damp cloth if necessary.

Dental hygiene is also important, as it is with other dogs. Canines tend to hide their toothaches, so even if your dog isn’t whining, don’t take this as a guarantee that his/her teeth don’t hurt. Daily or at least weekly brushing is needed if you want your dog to be healthy and happy.

Feeding Schedule

Feeding a Lagotto Romagnolo dog doesn’t involve anything too specific. Make sure you feed your dog high-quality and healthy food, as well as that you diversify your dog’s diet. A mix of dry and wet food is preferable. Also, if you are giving your dog that extensive exercise he/she needs, feed your Lagotto with energy-rich dog food.

As far as the feeding schedule is concerned, if possible, feed your dog 3 or 4 times per day and not just twice or once. Most dog owners feed their dogs on a 12/12-hour schedule, as this is easier due to them working away from home. However, feeding your dog three times per day isn’t that difficult, even if you can’t manage an 8/8/8-hour schedule.

You can just as well set up a 10/7/7-hour or an 11/7/6-hour feeding schedule. Even just the latter will be much better for your dog than the standard 12/12-hour schedule. As it will allow you to feed him/her smaller portions, it won’t lead to overeating, your dog won’t need to stay hungry throughout the day, he/she will eat slower, and be generally happier.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

Lagotto Romagnol of different colors

In terms of colors, Lagotto Romagnolo dogs can come in various different types—solid colors such as off-white, golden and brown, as well as white or brown spotting patterns, orange patches or roan.

Lagotto Romagnolo dogs have a water-friendly thick and curly coats, even though some Lagottos can have flat (i.e., not curly) coats. As you’d expect, this makes the breed highly shedding, so be prepared for a lot of coat maintenance and fur cleaning.

Keeping your Lagotto’s coat clean, especially after a walk outside, is important and a bit time-consuming. Overall, taking care of your Lagotto’s coat is the next most important care feature you’ll have to deal with, next to the physical and mental care.

See Also: How to Groom a Dog

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

Lagotto Romagnolo with her puppy

Being very social, friendly, and loyal, Lagotto Romagnolo dogs make excellent pets for families with children. From teenagers to toddlers, all kids will love to have a Lagotto dog in their home, and the Romagnolo pooch will love them in return. As long as the dog is well-socialized and the kids are thought how to play with him/her, you should expect no trouble whatsoever.

Lagottos are not only social with people; as most retriever breeds, Lagottos are used to doing their work together with other dogs. This makes them quite adaptable at living together with other canines, as long as they’ve been properly introduced and socialized.

The breed’s strong hunting instinct sometimes makes these dogs unsuitable for life with other pets, however, as they might view them as prey. Cats can co-exist with Logattos if they are introduced and socialized well enough, but other small animals or birds are ill-advised.

Wrap Up

Lagotto Romagnolo standing in group

All in all, the Lagotto Romagnolo is a very old breed with a curious and rich history. As retriever dogs they are very social and people-friendly, making them not just great gundogs and hunting dogs, but amazing pets and companions as well.

They are generally healthy too, and aside from their coat and exercise needs, they are quite easy to take care of.

Are you interested in adopting a Lagotto Romagnolo? Or are you already living with a Lagotto Romagnolo? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below! Also, check out our list of hunting dog names for these capable dogs.

About the author
Anna Smith
Anna Smith

Anna Smith resides in beautiful Santa Monica, CA, where she works as a Pet Nutrition Expert in a leading retail pet store. She is responsible for nutritional strategies for different breeds and development of new products on the market in compliance with Association of American Feed Control Officials. Anna's passions are education about proven methods and best practices in the industry and her dog Max, who is always well-fed.