This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Non-Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland, Non-Sporting Division.
This graceful and fragile little creature, with the equally choice Maltese dog, may not survive long in this country. He has never been a particularly great favourite, owing doubtless to his delicate constitution and the great difficulty there has always been to produce perfect specimens of the ordinary English greyhound in miniature, which the so-called Italian variety undoubtedly ought to be, though in proportion the limbs of the latter are more slim, and were never ordained by nature for rougher work than playing on the lawn, or having a romp in the dining room.
Here is what a writer at the commencement of the century says of what he calls "a diminutive native breed, which seem only calculated to sooth vanity and indulge frivolities: these dogs are so deficient of the spirit, sagacity, fortitude, and self-defence of every other sort of the canine race as not to be able to officiate in the services of domestic alarm and protection; and in consequence are dedicated only to the comforts of the tea table, the fire-side carpet, the luxurious indulgences of the sofa, and the warm lap of the mistress. As a proof of the delicacy of this little animal, it is averred that if held up by its legs the texture of the skin is so exceedingly fine when interveningly opposed to the sun, or a strong light, that the distinct chain of the intestinal canal is truly perceptible to a nice observer." The fallacy of this must be apparent.
When the Italian greyhound became fashionable in this country there is nothing to tell us, but that it was a favourite at Court in the time of the Stuarts there is no doubt whatever, though I fancy at that time it was a bigger and stronger animal than it came to be at the early part of this century. In the picture gallery at Hampton Court there is a portrait of the Queen of James I. in the act of mounting a horse attended by a black servant. In the picture are included several Italian greyhounds, some of them fawn in colour, others blue and blue and white, and they are undoubtedly going to accompany their royal mistress on her equestrian excursion. These dogs, although much of the make and build of the Italian greyhounds of the present day, appear to be somewhat larger, going perhaps up to 161b. in weight; still they are unmistakably of the same stamp we have now, and their appearance in the picture is sufficient proof that such dogs were fashionable very early in the seventeenth century, for James came from Scotland to be King of England in 1603.
It has been said that the Italian greyhound was a native of the South of France as well as of the country from which it takes its name. Never particularly numerous in England, it was more so once than is the case now, and when it was utilised to cross with the terrier in the North of England for the purpose of providing dogs for "running races" and for "coursing rabbits," it was not difficult to procure specimens, especially in Lancashire and in parts of the Black Country. Many of these "running dogs" were not more than 12lb. or 141b. in weight, and I have seen such that must have contained at least three parts Italian greyhound blood. Some of the original crosses produced little dogs scarcely strong enough in the jaws to hold a rabbit, but such could go at a rare pace for from one hundred to a couple of hundred yards. These were again crossed with the terrier, and in due course the variety now acknowledged as the "whippet" was produced. 1 am alluding to the smaller-sized "whippet," for the larger specimens are undoubtedly the product of the ordinary greyhound and some other variety, bred z continually to the greyhound until little more than greyhound remains. However, the whippet is still known in many localities as an "Italian," which he assuredly is not, although, as I have said, the blood of the fragile race runs in his veins.
At our early shows classes were, as a rule, provided for Italian greyhounds, but even in those days of large entries, not more than a dozen or so-appeared on the benches, and these were mostly in the hands of the dealers. The first volume of the "Kennel Club Stud Book" had forty-one entries of Italian greyhounds, the last published, that of 1893, had but three new entries. Their delicacy is, of course, the cause of their rarity, and this, I fancy, has been emphasised by the mischievous custom prevalent thirty years or so ago of producing them as small as possible. Mere mites some of them were, not more than 41b. or 51b. weight, with legs thinner than the shank of a Broseley straw pipe, skull round or apple-headed, and a mouth or jaw very much overshot. Most of the smallest specimens were so, and even that extraordinary little creature Molly, so successfully shown by the late Mr. W. McDonald, was very much overshot. Still she was one of the choicest specimens ever produced, and, I believe, did not live to be beaten. She was just under 51b. in weight. But she, like all others of her race, was very delicate, which no doubt arose from continued in-breeding. Mr. McDonald's Duke was larger, but equally good in other respects, and for a time these two won first and second at all the shows where they competed; this was about twenty to twenty-three years ago.
"Stonehenge" alludes to one dog, Gowan's Billy, the best of his day, about 1857, where grandsire, great grandsire, gg. grandsire, ggg- grandsire, and gggg-, were all the same dog. He was a lovely specimen in appearance, but, as would certainly be the case under such circumstances, his stock was delicate in the extreme.
As a rule, the males of the Italian greyhounds do not approach the females in diminutiveness and elegance of form; thus the bitches beat the dogs when they meet, which they usually do in the same class, the entry in which is always so meagre as to preclude the possibility of two divisions being made.
The best classes of Italian greyhounds of recent years have, with slight exceptions been found at the Scottish shows, where Mr. Bruce, Dundee Court, Falkirk, was accustomed to exhibit some beautiful little dogs, which were certainly in advance of any we had this side of the border, his Wee Flower, Crucifix, Bankside Daisy, and others, being quite celebrities in their way. Mr. Bruce's entries have been missing of late, but in his place Miss H. M. Mackenzie, of New Cross, has come into prominence, and so far as I can make out, at the present time possesses the finest and most valuable kennel of Italian greyhounds in the country, and appears to be quite invincible in the show ring. Occasionally a smaller dog, as Mr. Turner's Larkfield Shrimp, has been placed at the top of the prize list, but the latter, to my mind, shows unmistakable signs of recent terrier cross. Miss Mackenzie's Juno, Sappho, Como, Dido, and Carlo, are undoubtedly very first-rate specimens, and I am told by their owner that her strains are quite as strong, hardy, and intelligent as other toy dogs, or even more so; the smallest of Miss Mackenzie's choice little creatures weighs 5˝1b. This is her beautiful bitch Dido, which, I need hardly say, has won several prizes, and is a grand-daughter of Jack, mentioned later on. Sappho and Carlo weigh 91b. each in good condition, Como 6˝lb., and Juno is 6^1b., which I take to be quite small enough for the purposes for which they are required.