Meet the Lagotto Romagnolo: The Adorable Truffle Dog from Italy

| Updated: September 20, 2023
lagotto romagnolo dog side portrait

The Lagotto Romagnolo (pronounced Low-got-toe Ro-man-yo-low) is one of the oldest water dogs in the world. Originally used to hunt waterfowl, they have since discovered a new and unique job.  They are the only dog breed recognized as specialized truffle hunters. You know those rare but incredibly tasty fungis that are delicious on mac and cheese…among other things.

There is much more to this charming and versatile dog breed, and we’re going to get into everything you need to know about their history, temperament, appearance, health, and grooming needs.

But first, let’s answer a burning question: What are truffles, and why are Lagotto’s uniquely suited for finding them?

What Are Truffles and Why Are They Rare?

Most people think truffles are a type of edible mushroom, but while they are a fungus, they are not actually a mushroom. They grow underground, usually near or under tree roots, particularly oak, beech, birch, poplars, and pine trees. They have a distinctive aroma and are considered a delicacy that can fetch very high prices.

Man holding a basket of truffles showing off a large black truffle

This rare delicacy often commands hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for the privilege of eating it. Leading to them being considered the diamonds of the culinary world, truffles are considered (ounce for ounce) the most expensive food in the world.

But why are truffles so expensive?

  • Truffles are incredibly rare. They only grow in specific regions and seasons, and depend on a symbiotic relationship with certain trees and animals. They also have a short shelf life and lose their flavor rather quickly after being harvested.
  • Difficult to cultivate. Many attempts have been made to grow truffles artificially, but with very limited success. The natural conditions and factors that influence truffle growth are still not fully understood or replicated.
  • Highly sought after by chefs and foodies. They have a unique and complex flavor that can enhance any dish. They are also seen by some as a status symbol or luxury item that can impress anyone.

So how do people find them in the wild? Well, they need a special helper. For years people used pigs, or truffle hogs, to find this delicious fungi. Unsurprisingly the pigs had a tendency to eat a lot of the truffles, probably contributing to the rarity. So people turned to specially trained truffle hunting dogs.

But not just any truffle dog. The Lagotto Romagnolo.

This truffle-hunting dog could make you rich! | Love Nature
A truffle hunting lagotto romagnolo in action

The Canine with a Super Nose

It’s no secret that dogs see their world, in part, through their nose. But some breeds have a better sense of smell than others, which is why it’s not likely you’ll see a pug doing bomb detection. Lagottos are the exact opposite.

They love to dig, have an exceptional nose, and are easy to train, making them practically perfect for any kind of nose work. But why did breeders decide to train and breed them to hunt truffles? I suppose you can thank Mussolini for that, but to fully understand why, we’re going to have to get into some more history.

History of the Lagotto Romagnolo Breed

The Lagotto Romagnolo, also known as the Italian Water Dog, comes from the lowlands of Comacchio and marshlands of Ravenna in northern Italy, where it was once used as a water retriever. The name Lagotto comes from the Italian word “lago”, which means lake, and Romagnolo refers to the region of Romagna, Italy, where the breed originated.

Lagotto Romagnolo dog breed infographic

As far back as the 1400’s, according to literary references, Lagotti were highly valued for their ability to hunt and retrieve waterfowl in the wetlands, thanks to their athletic and agile bodies, waterproof and insulating coats, and their obedient and enthusiastic nature. The breed was also known for its keen nose, which made it a trusty tracker of wounded game.

In the late 19th century, much of the marshlands in the region were drained by Mussolini and his fascist regime to combat malaria. Afterward, the area was settled by families, turning into farmland, and Lagotto Romagnolos lost their jobs. But in an interesting turn of events, the breed found a new niche in the Italian countryside: truffle hunting.

Lagotti proved to be ideal truffle dogs since they could use their super-powered noses to sniff out the hidden tubers, and not damage them with their gentle mouths. The breed adpated well to the new terrain and climate conditions, and became the loyal and valuable companion for truffle hunters.

white lagotto romagnolo dog jumping off a dock into a lake

The original breed group, club italiano lagotto, was formed in 1988. But the Lagotto Romagnolo was officially recognized by the Italian Kennel Club in 1991, and by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2015 as part of the sporting dog group. Today they are used in many activities like obedience, agility, rally, tracking, scent work, therapy, and of course, truffle hunting. They are also growing in popularity as a loyal family companion, ranked as the 76th most popular breed in 2022, thanks to their affectionate and playful temperaments.


The Personality of the Lagotto Romagnolo

The lagotto romagnolo is a highly intelligent breed of dog that loves to work and please it’s family. Even when not working, these loyal and devoted dogs like to spend a lot of time with their family members, especially when playing. They are naturally friendly with strangers and great with kids, making them great family dogs. But they still need to be socialized as early as possible and some individuals can be timid depending on their upbringing. Having other animals around the home isn’t usually a concern, they get along well with other dogs and pets, especially if they grew up together.

Laggotis are active, energetic dogs, that need a lot of exercise to stay happy and healthy. The breed naturally loves to run, jump, swim, fetch, dig, and explore new smells. Combined with their tendency to bark this often makes them ill suited for living in an apartment. 

Three cute lagotto romagnolo puppies standing on a fallen tree

They need a spacious yard to exercise freely and safely. Or many, frequent, trips to the park.

Having a job or a hobby, like dog sports, that offers physical and mental stimulation goes a long way to keep them happy. Like I mentioned, the Lagotto Romagnolo excels at hunting truffles, but if that’s not your cup of tea, they also enjoy other activities such as obedience, agility, rally, tracking, scent work, therapy, etc. Interactive dog toys can help meet lagotto needs as well when stuck at home. 

Lagottis tend to be easy to train, responding well to positive reinforcement training methods such as praise, treats, toys, and play. They are often eager to please their owners and will do anything for attention. But the breed is known to be stubborn or independent at times, so they will need a firm but fair leader with consistent rules and boundaries. 

Lagotto romagnolo puppies can be sensitive to harsh corrections or loud noises and this is a quick way to turn your dog off from training. For a first-time dog owner or an owner without time to train this is not the best breed to get.


What do Lagotti Romagnolis Look Like?

Lagotto Romagnolos are small to medium sized dogs with a rustic and robust appearance often resembling small poodles. They have a square-shaped body with well-proportioned limbs and a slightly rounded head. Their eyes are round and big, and range from dark yellow to dark brown in color. Their ears are triangular, hang down the sides of their head, and covered with curly hair. Their tail is carried high over the back when alert.

The most distinctive feature of the Lagotto Romagnolo is no doubt its thick double coat. They have a thick curly coat on top of a dense undercoat that covers the entire body, including their head, beard, eyebrows, and whiskers. This soft wooly coat is waterproof and insulating, protecting the dog from cold and wet conditions when diving into the cold marshes or searching for truffles. 

a brown lagotto romagnolo dog with an off-white lagotto romagnolo dog standing in a grassy field

They are also considered hypoallergenic and don’t shed much dog hair, making them ideal dogs for allergy sufferers. 

Fun Fact: Their coat more closely resembles human hair versus normal dog fur.

Breed Colors and Markings

Their coat comes in many colors and patterns, such as off-white, orange or brown patches, white markings, sable, roan, or any combination of these. The coat color can also change or fade with age, becoming a darker shade or a brown roan.

Grooming and Curly Coat Needs

Lagottos require regular grooming to keep their coat healthy. It should be brushed at least once a week to prevent mats and tangles, and trimmed every few months to maintain a natural and tidy look. On average their coat should be trimmed 5 times a year. This will also depend 

The coat does not need to be shaved or clipped short, and can actually damage the texture and function of the hair. They don’t shed much, but can sometimes shed more during seasonal changes.

Health Concerns

The Lagotto Romagnolo is a healthy breed with a lifespan of 11 to 14 years. Like any dog, they can be prone to certain health conditions that affect their quality of life. Some things to keep in mind are:

  • Hip dysplasia: A genetic condition that causes the hip joint to develop abnormally, leading to pain, arthritis, and lameness.
  • Benign familial juvenile epilepsy: A neurological disorder that causes seizures in young puppies, usually between 5 and 9 months of age. The seizures usually stop by 1 year of age and do not affect the dog’s health or behavior.
  • Lagotto storage disease: A rare neurological disorder that causes progressive deterioration of the brain and spinal cord, leading to symptoms such as tremors, ataxia, blindness, deafness, and behavioral changes. There is no cure or treatment for this condition.
  • Cerebellar abiotrophy: A rare neurological disorder that causes degeneration of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination. Symptoms include unsteady gait, head tremors, and difficulty performing complex movements.
  • Juvenile cataracts: A condition that causes cloudiness of the lens of the eye, impairing vision. It can be inherited or caused by trauma, infection, or inflammation. It can be treated surgically if necessary.

To reduce the risk of these health problems, it’s important to buy a Lagotto Romagnolo from a reputable breeder who performs health tests on their breeding dogs and provides health certificates for their puppies.

Where to buy a Lagotto Romagnolo

Lagotto Romagnolo dogs are still pretty rare in the united states but they are certainly possible to find. The average price for a purebred lagotto romagnolo puppy ranges from $3000 to $5000 depending on the breeder and location.

The Lagotto Romagnolo Club of America is a great place to start looking for a reputable breeder.


Article Sources

BuzzPetz uses high-quality sources like medical journals, peer-reviewed studies, and statements from veterinarians to support the facts in our articles.

Tomáš Čejka, Paul W. Thomas, Daniel Oliach, et. al. Understanding the performance of truffle dogs

Chase Roseberry Author Image
Chase Roseberry

Chase’s life has been a remarkable journey into the world of animals. From his time spent working with an equine Veterinarian, raising exotic snakes, and live coral aquaculture, his diverse background fuels his passion for the animal kingdom.

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