Page 2 - ShowSight Presents - The Lagotto Romagnolo
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                   The Lagotto Romagnolo
The Lagotto Romagnolo is a dog that has been specially bred to find truffles on all kinds of terrain; it is the only breed in the world specialized in tracking down this precious tuber. A typical water dog of small-medium
size, it is a light mesomorph with a rather stocky trunk. Its general appearance is rustic, strong and well-proportioned and its utility as a working dog is immediately obvious. The expression is one of attentiveness, intelligence and vivacity. The Lagotto Romagnolo works enthusiastically and efficiently, making the most of its inher- ent search-and-find skills and excellent sense of smell. The hunting instinct has been suppressed so that it is not distracted by game. An affectionate animal, it forms a close bond with its owner and also makes a fine, easy-to-train companion.
The Lagotto Romagnolo has the restrained character of the true country dog, the typical appearance of a dog which has its roots in history and the gentle, attentive expression common to all dogs of Italian breed. A first glance gives an impression of something historic and archaic that has miraculously survived to the present day—a living challenge to time and history.
Many centuries ago the people of Italy developed a thriving trade with the Orient. This system of commerce involved continuous con- tact at every level, thus allowing the different populations to learn much about each others’ cultures and customs—and a knowledge of dogs was no exception to that rule. This explains why so manyar- chaeological sites, especially in north-west Italy, have revealed the presence of various canine breeds, especially a small water dog with a bristly, crimped coat. The Etruscan necropolis of Spina (near Fer- rara) contains updated representations of hunting and fishing which consistently include a dog like the current Lagotto Romagnolo. The Etruscans reached the northern Adriatic between the sixth and fifth centuries BC and maintained commercial relationships with many Eastern nations; this favored the introduction of this group of dogs into the northern Adriatic region.
While it is true that the expansionism of many eastern popula- tions was responsible for introducing these breeds as far afield as the British Isles, it should be noted that this happened centuries after the initial contact with Italian populations. When water dogs reached Spain via North Africa at the time of the Moorish con- quests, giving rise to the present-day Perro de Agua Español, they had already been on the Italian peninsula for centuries, especially in the wetlands and marshes of Romagna. It is thus quite probable that the Canis acquaticus of which Linneo spoke, defining it as having “been around for some time” in the Mediterranean Basin, is none other than our Lagotto Romagnolo. In its morphology, the drawing made by Linneo bears a striking resemblance to the curl-coated dog of Romagna.
Another painting from the 1600s shows an almost perfectly conformed Lagotto Romagnolo as the subject of a painting by il Guercino" Giovanni Francesco Barbieri.
Following the disappearance of the Etruscan civilization water dogs continued to flourish, remaining a common sight through- out Roman and medieval times, especially along the tract of coast that runs from Ravenna, through the Comacchio and Veneto lowlands to Friuli and the Istrian peninsula. In the frescoes of the Bridal Suite of Palazzo Ducale dei Gonzaga di Mantova, created by Andrea Mantegna in 1456 there is, in the scene representing the “meeting”, at the feet of the marquis Ludovico III Gonzaga, a dog which is apparently the same as today’s Lagotto Romagnolo. From the 16th century onwards books on folklore, local culture, customs and hunting are full of citations that mention the utilization of a small curly-coated dog used to retrieve water game.
These dogs carried out a number of activities, providing support for the vallaroli (or “lagotti”), picturesque folk who, prior to the sweeping land reclamation of the late 19th century, were the real soul of those game-rich lagoons. The vallaroli, who were granted use of the famous “tinelle” or “botti” (marshland hides made from bar- rels) for lowland hunting, generally accompanied the local gentry in the fascinating, yet difficult practice of hunting.
The vallaroli were also trained to find truffles: back then far less was known about truffles and they were far more abundant. The inseparable companions of the vallaroli were the small Lagotto Romagnolos, guardians of boat and house, and excellent retrievers (especially of coots) way back when hundreds of small boats would “beat” the hunting ground and surround and kill flocks numbering thousands. The Lagotto Romagnolo would, often for hours on end, dive into the water whatever the season, even breaking through ice to swim under it and drag the fallen birds back onto the shore (an activity made possible by the animal’s compactly crimped coat and thick undercoat which forms a water-repellent layer that keeps the water off the skin.
The name Lagotto Romagnolo derives, then, from its original “career” as a water dog. In the local dialect of the Romagna “Càn Lagòt” is synonymous with “water dog” or “wetland hunting dog with crimped, curly coat”. A sharp aptitude for searching, a steep learning curve and an unbeatable sense of smell, would, in time, make the Lagotto Romagnolo an efficient truffle-finder. Following the cleansings which, during several decades, constantly reduced the immense marsh of Comacchio and of Romagna, while mak- ing disappear almost completely the “Vallaroli”, Lagotto Romagno- lo also gradually lost its function of water dog andspecialized gradu- ally as a truffle dog. The transition between these two functions ranges between 1840 and 1890. One can even affirm that during >

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