Finding The Lagotto

From the November 2018 issue of ShowSight. Click To Subscribe.

This past October my friend, Laurin Howard, and I (both members of the LRCA’s judges education committee as well as the breed revision committee) had the opportunity to make a memorable trip to Italy, in order to clarify our thinking on the standard, and it was an historic time to do so. This past October marked the 30th anniversary show for the Club Italiano Lagotto (CIL). One of the most interesting things about our ancient breed is how modern their history is. In the 1970s, a group of dog fanciers, led by Quintino Toschi decided that something must be done to save the breed which had been bred solely for their ability to hunt truffles in the Italian hillside. The breed had been kept alive, but not necessarily “pure” by truffle hunters providing income for their families by hunting the valuable white and black truffles.

Joined by another Lagotto enthusiast, Kathy Hollinger, we decided to try to talk to as many Italian experts about the breed and about the breed standard as we could. We realized too, that for many of those original founders of the breed—some now in their 80s—that this might be the last chance we would have to answer questions, and clarify what we thought we knew. In all we attended two FCI shows (one which included a Lagotto specialty) on the first weekend and visited six kennels during the week, and then visited with many more breeders at the 30th Anniversary Show itself. One thing that became clear, was that all the founders believed that a true Lagotto must be worked, and worked on truffle finding.

Below – Truffle Hunters

One of our first visits was to the home of Mario and Piera Morara. The Moraras—now in their 80s are probably the most fit couple you’ll ever meet, lending credence to the idea that truffles are a magical fungus that imparts health and well being! We spent the morning seeing pictures and learning about their original dogs. “Arno” a beautiful white male whose photo hung in their living room, would be competitive in any show ring today. I had the chance to ask Sr. Morara what the most important characteristics of a working dog were. This was his priority list:

1) Strong.

2) Endurance—could work a long time.

3) Focused, not distracted.

4) Quick and methodical, but not fast.

When picking a Lagotto puppy, Sr. Morara was quick to point out that the most important feature was Character, followed by work ethic/potential, then intelligence and the physical presence of a large nose. He went on to say that the morphology of the head with correctly placed and sized eyes was of much importance, as were a pedigree that suggested intelligence and the potential to be a good worker. Laurin was able to show him our new Judges Education brochure and get his take on the accuracy of our drawings.

Our next visits were to Fabrizio Cairo (Monte della Dea Kennel) and Luca Rondinini (de Campo Leone Kennel) Both men have been breeding dogs that excel in the breed ring and in the woods for years. And both cooked up a a myriad of tasty courses featuring truffles! Did I mention we ate a lot of good food on this trip?!

Monte Della Dea Kennel is located high on a hillside during the summer months. There is an “infected” orchard of olive trees that will hopefully yield its first harvest of truffles in the coming years. Cairo is a full time “first responder,” not truffle hunter but truffle hunting is something that is given a high priority on days off! Most impressive here were the older dogs. To my surprise I was able to meet the grandfather of my foundation bitch, still going strong and looking good at 14 years of age.

At de Campo Leone, we were able to see a couple of the most famous dogs of the breed: Riki de Monte della Dea and Nutella, as well as seeing a litter of five week old puppies. Luca introduced us to all his dogs, went over puppies and their attributes as well as promising that we could follow his younger dogs on the weekend at the truffle hunt. More on that later!

No fact finding mission would be complete without a study visit with Gilberto Grandi. Sr. Grandi is another of the breed’s founders, originally a breeder of greyhounds, he was one of the people who was approached by Quintino Toschi with the famous words, “we must save the Lagotto Romagnolo.” As many know we are in the time period where the AKC will allow us our first tweak to the AKC standard. Club Italiano Lagotto (CIL) had a terrible surprise several years ago when the FCI standard was rewritten without their input and were horrified at the outcome. We wanted to make sure that they knew we still respected the original standard and that we wanted to take the spirit of that standard and make it clear for AKC judges. We spent considerable time working on the language of the standard with Sr. Grandi (who speaks impeccable English!) making sure that we were not working from any errors in translation and that we were being succinct without being vague. Sr. Grandi did us the ultimate honor of doing his entire breed presentation (in English!). Amongst other things, he is a master at photoshop….taking the same almost perfect dog through every alteration possible (too rectangular, too short in croup, too short in loin, ribcage, leg) it was a great visual learning tool. 

We hope to convince him to use some of those slides ourselves.

Amongst the stories we asked about was about the rumor that prior to FCI acceptance of the breed, the club had to prove a certain number of distinctly different bloodlines, not having enough, they “chopped off” the end of pedigrees to make the right number. “Yes,” he said with an impish grin, “that is true.” It’s one of many reasons that some countries are hesitant to line breed just yet….because you don’t really know what’s back there in the fourth and
fifth generation.

Of interest to American Lagotto owners is a description in the standard that says the breed is “undemanding”…no one who owns a Lagotto for five minutes would say such a thing! Sr. Grandi says that is partly an error in translation, it should actually be closer to “easy”, which during our conversation variously seemed to describe “easy going”, or “adaptable,” or “accepting” or even “not needing a lot.” The majority of dogs in Italy are kept as kennel dogs, so it may refer to their ability to cope with that level of contact. We’ll keep looking at a better word or phrase there, but I think everyone is glad to know that “undemanding” is just not apt, and our dogs are not somehow different from 
the norm.

This year’s Raduno (literally gathering) pulled a record entry of 240 dogs in the conformation rings, and 140 in the truffle hunt. Sr. Grandi judged the females, and Giovanni Morsiani judged the males. Sr. Morsiani’s father is the author of the original Italian standard, and he, himself, is generally acknowledged as one of the important founders of our breed—though his own breed is St. Bernards. The two men together judged Best of Breed and the all important: Best Head, Best Coat, and Best Construction and Movement…..a triad of the most important morphological features in lagotto (and something we have adopted as part of our National Specialty as well). The depth of quality in dogs, was something that will be talked about for a very long time. Especially of interest was the quality of the dogs from Scandinavia. In all 14 countries participated in the event, which was eventually won by the very beautiful Swedish bitch, Blixtra Contessa.

Another interesting event was the presentation of non pedigree truffle dogs for evaluation. It was explained to me, that upon being measured and critiqued and found accpetable, if the dog could then prove itself earning a truffle certificate it could be accepted into the Italian stud book as a dog with a zero generation pedigree…which could then be bred from and enrich the gene pool.

The final day of the Raduno is the truffle hunt. As promised, we followed Luca Rondinini as he trialed two of his young dogs, Origano and Lucky. Truffle hunting “classes” (junior dog, puppy dogs, open males etc) are stationed over the mountain side with each class having a cordoned off area to search and 15 minutes to work. To get a rating, the dog must find at least two truffles (areas are “salted” with truffles to ensure there is something to find), and he must not eat the truffles he finds before the handler reaches him. Watching Rondinini warm up Origano was very similar to watching a top obedience competitor get ready to step in the ring. First, he took a piece of truffle from his vest and got the dog excited about it….then he had us hold the dog while he buried the piece of truffle and encouraged him to ‘find it.” All of the work was done in a “pure positive” manner. Luca explained that the dog had much more practice on black truffle and wanted him to make sure that he knew that he was looking for the scent of white truffle on this day. Though he was a young green dog, Origano went out and found his two truffles within the timeframe. Watching him weave his way in and out of the branches and cover, you can see why the dog must be both agile and strong in order to work effectively, and to not be too big to get through tough 
tight spots.

Watching the second dog, Lucky we were prepared for a stellar performance….as he found one truffle during his pre run “poop” and another while in the holding area. But then his young age and excitement got the better of him and he got some zoomies in the forest, we stepped way back to give him the space to collect himself, but it was not to be on this day. He hadn’t yet gained that focus that Sr. Morara had told us was an important characteristic for a truffle dog.

One of our final acts was to go over the Je handout with Sr. Morsiani, and leave him with the newly articulated standard, and ask for his blessing or 
his criticism.

And soon our 10 day odyssey was at an end. And yet, on our way to Bologna we made one more stop to the famous di Casa Cleo Kennel of Luciano Landi. Sr. Landi is another of the early founders of the breed. The loss of his wife almost caused him to stop breeding in the 1990s but other breeders, notably Antonio Morsiani, encouraged him to keep on—that the breed needed him. Just this year, one of his young dogs was Jr. Best of Breed at the World Dog Show so his legacy will continue on even after he retires. With the help of Sr. Grandi who came to translate, we put dogs on the table to go over, and he communicated to us that a dog that was too soft, was not one that he wanted in a breeding program. The walls lined with famous pictures of the past, we were able to put names to pictures we had all seen but never known the identity of the dogs! It was a perfect end to our trip, to be able to do an impromptu “hands on” discerning why one dog was better than another. However, Sr. Landi is constantly tweaking his breeding program and still bringing in new dogs, some with only one or two 
generation pedigrees. And unfortunately, for us, these dogs if imported could not be shown.

As you might imagine, getting the chance to see the dogs in action for the activity for which they were bred, getting to speak to the leading Italian breeders was the chance of a lifetime. The sheer number of quality dogs that we saw and got to put hands on was something that could only have been achieved during this special anniversary show. We hope that it will make us better at articulating to American judges why certain parts of the standard carry the emphasis they do, how the distinct Lagotto form is designed to carry out the function of the world’s foremost truffle hunter. Stay tuned for our new standard in the coming year. 

About the Author

Adrienne Perry is the Judges Education Coordinator for the Lagotto Romagnolo Club of America. She has served six terms on the board, including two as president. She has served on both Breed Standard committees, chairing the first and working hard on the second. She is an AKC provisional judge for Lagotto Romagnolo. After 25 years of breeding and exhibiting rottweilers in sports from tracking, obedience to conformation, she was looking for a fun new and smaller breed that still had the ability to participate in a variety of activities. Her first Lagotto, imported in 2009 from Switzerland is FCI Int’l Ch, Swiss, German, Puerto Rican and AKC GCH Terzo Kleo of Golden Comfort CM2 UD TD RE NA, and he is the LRCA’s first 
Versatility Champion.

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