SPITZ DOGS vs VOLPINO ITALIANO
EVOLUTION OF THE EARLY SPITZ
Michel (Mike) B. Rubini
Edited by Laura Fox
The Volpino Italiano is a member of the Spitz group of dogs and so shares the same characteristics as
most members of the Spitz Group.
The origins of the Spitz dogs are lost in unrecorded history, but there are several assumptions that
knowledgeable persons agree with. The Spitz group originated in the northern parts of Europe and
Asia and may have been introduced to the rest of Europe with migrating humans. (Remains of Spitz-like
dogs, along with human remains have been found in Northern European bogs dating back to 5000 BC.)
While the Spitz is believed to be the oldest domesticated dog with direct ancestry to the Wolf, this is not
totally certain. It may be that later humans from about 3000 BC or so, allowed their Spitz-like dogs to
mate with wolves. At any rate, genetic testing shows the Spitz with the shortest direct line to the wolf.
The Spitz dogs of Northern Europe also show the closest genetic similarity with the wolf.
This wolf’s association with Humans
probably began casually. Some
wolves having less fear of humans
remained close to the human tribes
for easily acquired scraps of food. It
might also be that food was given to
individual wolves that were preferred
by the human tribe and so this
relation progressed. Puppies born
close to humans lost fear in them.
Over time the wolves evolved by
natural selection into a semidomesticated
wolf simply by their
association and proximity to human
It has been shown that even the simple attempt to breed dogs for a particular non-physical trait (i.e.
tameness, viciousness etc.) will also change the dog physically. An experiment in Russia in breeding
foxes for domestication showed that as the animals became more docile and friendlier then physical
changes will also occurred in the animals. Lighter coloring and an upright tail are some of the physical
changes brought about by reinforcing behavioral traits and are shown in the Spitz Group.
Humans later would have realized that this evolved wolf-like dog could benefit the settlement with its
natural ability to herd animals and to warn the settlement of strangers or predators.
It would be this natural aggression towards non-members of its pact (in which the human tribe now was)
and its social behavior that has benefited the dog breeds and their human companions since. It also
would have become obvious to the human tribe that puppies born with sheep or other animals would
have a natural tendency to herd and protect them. In order to strengthen these natural traits, dogs
with a natural tendency to herd would have been bred with other dogs with the same ability to herd.
Likewise, those dogs that exhibited a natural aggressive (wariness) trait to protect their pact would have
been bred with other dogs that showed this trait. And so, breeding and the early formation of the
separate dog breeds from its wolf heritage began. It was likely the wolf evolved into the Spitz in this
fashion. The breeding of other dog breeds would have slowly evolved from the Spitz/wolf in this manner over thousands of years. It would not be until the 18th century though, that breeders would start to radically alter the Spitz/dogs into the many varieties of dog races shown today.
It should be noted that the color white is often found with individual Spitz races. It can be assumed that
during the early days of the association between humans and the early Spitz dogs that the color white
was preferred. Lighter dogs with an ability to protect and herd were bred with other lighter dogs and
this continued over the generations of dogs to produce a white or markedly lighter dog than a predator
naturally was. This would have had huge advantages for the human tribes because it made it easier to
distinguish their dogs from predators when attempting to kill the predator.
Unfortunately, the color white may also have been one of dog’s first inbred genetic defects.
THE SPITZ DOG
Most European registries and the America UKC list
the Spitz breed dogs in Group 5, or the Primitive or
Northern breed group. In this context, primitive
means there are fewer changes in these dogs when
compared to the Wolf than with other breeds. Other
‘national registries’ list the individual dog breeds in
other groups such as the working or companion
The Spitz group of dogs generally share the following characteristics
- A thick and harsh fur coat with a second soft downy-like undercoat.
- Triangular pointed ears set high on the head and perfectly erect.
- A tail that generally curves over their back but is held ‘up’ in some fashion.
- A rather ‘square’ and stocky body structure.
Each individual dog breed will also have its own standard for definition. In most cases, even a cross
breed from another breed that exhibits most of the above characteristics can be assumed to be a ‘Spitz’
A Spitz is usually a very intelligent animal with his own strong will! Because of this they can be stubborn
and sometimes hard to train. Socializing is usually very important for the animal’s interaction with other
humans and the immediate family. They will, in most cases bond tightly with the individuals of the
immediate family and may be wary of other people and animals. They are very loyal but can be
‘morbidly’ bonded to a family or a particular individual. This can make interaction with other people
entering the home or acceptance of a second owner difficult. This trait is strong in the Spitz breeds but
it can vary and is dependent not only on the individual breed but also on the individual animal.
These dogs are also considered to be ‘Working Dogs’ and so can also be highly energetic. Exercise is
often required for them to spend energy.
Because of their ancestry, many races of the Spitz breed can be very vocal, for play, warning, and
perhaps just communications.
These dogs also can suffer from ‘separation anxiety’ and may become destructive when left alone.
Therefor a Spitz dog may not be suitable or acceptable for many families. The Volpino Italiano shares
many of these temperaments.
THE VOLPINO ITALIANO
At some point in history, the migrating humans brought their Spitz-like dogs in the more southern areas
of Europe, including the Italian peninsula. It is also possible that the Volpino Italiano was bred down
from the larger Spitz-like dogs which were present from the Roman Era. At any rate, there is
Archaeological evidence of Spitz dogs on the Italian Peninsula from before 1000 BC. The actual method
of introduction is lost to history, but it is unlikely that the Spitz dogs crossed the Alps on their own.
Evidence of a small whitish Volpino-like Spitz dog in Italy starts about the 16th century. Vittorio
Carpaccio in his 1502-5108 ‘Vision of St Augustine’ painting depicts a Volpino-like dog with a short
muzzle, erect ears and black nose (The painting’s dog is usually referred to as a Pomeranian (see note
below). Michelangelo also kept with him a small Volpino-like Spitz dog (Also often referred to as a
Pomeranian) as he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508 – 1512). It is about this time period
when these dogs are being referred to as ‘Volpino’. The name Volpino translates into English meaning
‘little fox’ or ‘foxy’. The obvious reason being the resemblance to the fox because of the Volpino’s Foxy
head. However, the fox is not related to the Volpino (or any dog) because of their extensive genetic
The Volpino may also be known by other names given to them from the local areas in which they were
found. They may have been referred to with other names such ‘Florentine Spitz’, ‘Italian Spitz’ and
‘Cane del Quirinale’.
The Volpino was a favorite pet of the Italian royal families and were often found in houses of the Italian Lords. Because of their vocal disposition, they were also often used by cart owning salesman to ‘announce’ the approach of strangers and summon the cart owner. In local farms, they were kept for centuries by farmers as watch dogs, again because of their sensitive hearing and piercing bark. The Volpino could sense the approach of a predator and with their barking awake the Mastiffs, which would rally and attack or chase the predator away. Indeed, they are still kept in isolated Italian farms often for the same reason.
Note - It should be noted that in the 18th, and 19th centuries The British, and later the established Kennel Club referred to all Spitz- like dogs as ‘Pomeranians’, including the white Italian Spitz dogs.
However, we are not interested at this point with the white Italian Spitz dogs that were sent to England or the use of them in other breeds. Although these were definitely Italian Spitz dogs, they may or may not have been the same as the present day Volpino Italiano. Remember, the Volpino standard did not exist at that time. And while there is a similar, but different Italian Pomeranian, the focus here is on the Italian Volpino Spitz dogs found on the Italian peninsula and defined by the 1902 standard (and the recovered Nov 29 1989 standard).
The popularity of the Volpino in Italy increased during the last couple of centuries, but we cannot say how popular the animal was among the peasant population. But by the 19th century, it was a common enough pet, if not among the town folk, at least among the mid- and upper classes and at rural farms and livestock operations.
The KKI (Italian Kennel Club now the ENCI) organized the first registration of the Volpino Italiano in 1901. In 1903 the K.K.I. established the first standard, written by Giuseppe Solaro, for the Volpino Italiano.
After the Second World War, the popularity of the Volpino Italiano decreased dramatically. This loss in popularity was probably due to the vast number of other breeds now available. It may also have been due to the Volpino’s link to the houses of royalty and government, which were now out of favor. The Italian countryside and towns were now a much quieter place, (which may have been another reason for the Volpino’s demise).
Between 1952 and 1962 only nine Volpino births were registered. After that no Volpino Italiano births were registered until 1972 when Enrico Franceschetti attended the dog exhibition in Monza (MI) with two Volpino Italiano dogs (Jojo and Jaja) and successfully obtained registration numbers (LIR) for them.
In 1968 Enrico Franceschetti, along with Tonino Casadei, the president of the Kennel Club of Forli, began searching for Volpino-like dogs around the country. In 1984 the ENCI launched a recovery effort for the Volpino Italiano. Unfortunately, probably because of individual preferences, it seems only the white race of Volpino Italiano was selected. Nearly all the Volpino Italiano dogs registered to this day are dueto the efforts of these two people.
The recovery of the Volpino Italiano continued successfully as Enrico Franceschetti established the Kennel ‘Allevamento della Genzianella’ and was helped greatly by Francesco Giuntini. They cooperated with Ezia Valentini and her kennel ‘Allevamento della Volpe Candida’ to re-establish the various Volpino Italiano Bloodlines.
In the original 1903 standard, the Volpino Italiano was defined as a small Spitz dog in three colors, white, sable and black. The 1989 standard, unfortunately defines the animal in only two colors, white and sable. Although many breeders claimed that the ‘sable’ race was extinct, red individuals are still being recovered in the countryside and its recovery appears to be well! The situation with the black Volpino may be dire. If no standard exists for it, then interest will be lost in the race. That would be unfortunate. The black Volpino will be lost unless a concerted effort is made to save it.
The similarity of the Volpino Italiano with the German Mittel and Klein Spitz is apparent and expected, considering they share the same ancestry (and probable cross breeding). Note that the colors of the German Spitz are also black, white, sable, and almost everything in-between. But most German Spitz are usually black, black/sable, or a lighter color. Black Volpino’s may not have been desirable because of their resemblance to the Klein Spitz. Since there is no recognized black Volpino, it does make separating the two breeds easier.
Certifying a particular individual as a true member of the Volpino Italiano line involves entering the particular animal in a dog show (exhibition) and having the judges’ rule that it is a true representative of the Volpino Italiano line. If the judges agree that it ‘looks’ like a typical Volpino as defined by the breed standard, then the individual animal is awarded a registration number (LIR). There does not appear to be any oversight or appeal on the final judgment. Of course this process will have a few faults; e.g., competency of the judges, politics between the judges and the breeders; even the relationship between them all.
A controversy was generated in the late 80s when a breeder, Mr. Panciroli, knowingly entered ‘Bianca’ a
white female that was not a Volpino but a separate Kleinspitz breed into an exhibition and obtained a Volpino Italiano registration number. That animal was mated with Italian champion Dario della Genzianella and produced a son Iuri (also an Italian Champion). They produced sons of William di San Tommaso and Willy di San Tommaso. This particular bloodline (in which Billj and Geo are members) produced many, many champions with other blood lines. It seems most of the champions produced shared Iuri’s genes. This particular bloodline seems to have a strong stockier body and head and a
heftier, blockier muzzle. Some of these are amazingly beautiful animals. Are members of this bloodline ‘True Volpino’ ?? Of course they are. It would be silly and unbelievable that others that obtained registration numbers in the same manner were all ‘pure Volpino’s. By definition obtaining a registration number shows that the animal appears to be a typical Volpino. This is how all present day Volpino’s were obtained. The only difference with Bianca is that her history was known. At any rate, so many generations have passed through the gene pool, the genes she passed on to her offspring have been diluted to the point they are dominated by other Volpino genes. Personality The Volpino, if nothing else, certainly has its own distinct personality. Depending on the individual animal
a) They are gregarious and totally devoted to their master(s). They absolutely do not care for being alone. A family member that remains at home or a second pet is advisable.
b) They are inquisitive, intelligent and lively. They should be socialized as a puppy.
c) They can be fearless and they make an excellent watchdog. Because of their keen hearing (and smell) they will often alert the household of visitors well before they approach the door. On the street they can be fearless and vocal at approaching animals (often from behind their Master’s leg).
d) They are vocal on many levels. They tend to have different barks, growls, moans and groans for all different reasons. They will/could announce their presence when entering a room, warn of passing squirrels at the window, growl at the fire alarm or a newly acquired piece of furniture, and moan for attention or a belly rub etc. Vocal training is required or your home will no longer be the quiet place it may once have been.
e) They are friendly and very playful!!!! They will demand your attention! The Volpino Italiano is absolutely a wonderful dog!! While they may warn of strangers and other animals, they will also demand their attention. This may well be the one dog you will never forget!!
f) Some individuals, probably because of inbreeding, may be very timid.
Choosing a Volpino Puppy
Choosing a Volpino Italiano puppy can be a wonderful and rewarding experience for yourself and your family.
There are several suggestions and advice I would like to give you!
- Research the breed you are interested in and know what you are buying. Puppies grow up!
- Consider rescue and adoption instead of buying a puppy. Although finding a smaller size puppy like a Volpino is sometimes difficult keep trying and keep searching.
- Never buy a Volpino puppy from a pet store. Indeed; if a pet supply store sells puppies or kittens go elsewhere.
- Do not take a puppy, Volpino or otherwise, away from their mother before 8 weeks of age. They need this time after weaning at 6 weeks then to socialize with mother and siblings and humans. Find another breeder if they suggest 5 or 6 weeks is OK!
- Try to find the actual breeder and see how the parents are housed and treated. Is the breeder humane? Do they care for their dogs properly? If it looks like a puppy mill, walk away. Puppy mills are a great source of suffering for dogs.
- Always demand a pedigree with your Volpino puppy. Obtain a warranty from the breeder to guard against at least the following conditions Primary Lens Luxation (PLL), Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Luxating Patella.
- Do the parents look good??? Were they both healthy. What is the history of diseases or satisfaction of other purchases with their puppies? Try to find out!!
- See how the Volpino puppy behaves when they first meet you. Does he come straight to you and wants your attention, do they shy away and hide, or does he/she unleash a chorus of howls? Choose one that is fairly calm even though they will all be excited by the attention they get. Pick the one that either wants attention or simply looks and ignores you but is not frightened by you. Ensure that the puppy is healthy and active! Small runts may have underlying problems. If the parents are present gauge how they react to you. Though not always the case it is often that the puppies take after their parents. If the parents are both timid or both hyper and overly aggressive then expect that trait in the puppy!
- If you intend to breed a male puppy then insure it is not Cryptorchidism, which is a genetically inherited condition in which one or both testicles have failed to descend into the scrotum. While it is usually OK to buy a puppy in this condition, if you are going to get it fixed and not breed, the puppy should have its undescended testicle removed as soon as possible to avoid the possibility of developing testicular cancer. (In some Volpino’s the testicles drop at 6 months old, some only drop one in the sack the other can be found along side the penis under the skin, Terralea Collins)
- Finally, and importantly, be sure you can afford to support your Volpino over its lifetime. Buying a puppy on impulse is ill advised and leads to a situation where the puppy is no longer wanted. Injuries and diseases of old age can be expensive.
Enjoy your Volpino Italiano
Please send any comments or suggestion to
Michel (Mike) B. Rubini
Karen T. Brennan
Edited by Laura Fox
Website - Terralea Collins