A Brief History and Grooming Guide for the Lagotto Romagnolo

A Brief History and Grooming Guide for the Lagotto Romagnolo

The historic Lagotto Romagnolo has a rustic, curly coat that is distinctive and definitive.  Thought to be one of the oldest of all the water dogs, they get their name from the Romagna region of Northeast Italy. Lagotto translates from the local dialect as “Duck Dog” and Lago means “Lake” in Italian. Their hunting drive was suppressed over the centuries in favor of their extraordinary noses in pursuit of prized cuisine delicacy, a tuber fungus called a truffle. The Lagotto Romagnolo’s unique talent in finding and unearthing these precious treats has kept them a cherished breed of dog for approximately a thousand years. 

Most of the dog breeds around today are less than 150 years old, with only a handful of breeds able to be traced back more than 300 years ago. But the Lagotto predates most modern dog breeds and appears in many historic records far older than most purebred dogs of today. A medieval Italian painting dated 1456 AD by Mantegna clearly depicts a Lagotto Romagnolo amongst a group of people. And, a painting from the 1600’s by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri shows a Lagotto that still very much resembles the breed standard of today. 

The Lagotto Romagnolo Club of America’s website, www.lagottous.com/grooming, underscores the importance of preserving the rustic and wooly curls, and recommends the coat be kept at between one to one and a half inches long for the curls to form properly. That is the length that the curls form the best, and the length that most of them are shown in the ring. The thick, rustic nature of these ringlets actually prevent matting if kept intact. 

The only other AKC recognized breed that has a rustic, curly coat is the Spanish Water Dog. Many of the Spanish Water Dogs are now being shown corded, which is another grooming option for the rustic curly coat type.

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Unlike most of the dogs we groom, in the case of the Lagotto Romagnolo or the Spanish Water Dog, instruct your clients NOT to brush and comb them in between monthly grooms. Breaking up the ringlets allows for more rapid matting. There is a thick or harsh wooly undercoat that can mat if broken away from the protection of the rustic curls. 

Several of my Lagotto clients are on a three-week schedule to prevent matting, but the owners appreciate that they are virtually maintenance-free between professional grooms. Though the breed is now growing in popularity, until recently, it has been a relatively rare dog to see in a grooming shop. Lagotto websites warn owners away from grooming shops who tend to treat the coat no differently than a Poodle or Bichon.

It is better to hand-scissor down the length of the intact curls in between full grooms rather than to brush it out or clipper through the ringlets. If they are neglected and the mats form a pelt, breed experts recommend to shave them down, allowing the rustic, curly ringlets to re-form as they grow back. 

None of the Lagotti I groom are currently being shown, so I use a clipper with an attachment comb before the bath. Many pet owners may not prefer their Lagotti coat as long as the recommended length, so most are clippered with a ¾- to ⅞-inch attachment on the torso area prior to the bath. If the rustic curls are properly preserved and they are groomed monthly, they require little home maintenance. 

If they are matted, wait to de-mat or brush them out until they are wet in the tub and soaking in conditioner to prevent breakage of the coat. If the groomer cannot pass an attachment comb through the coat prior to the bath, it is best to brush and use the high velocity dryer to help de-mat them while soaking in conditioner to avoid excessive breakage. 

The hair on the Lagotto face is often more straight and wavy than the hair on their bodies. I have found that the heads are usually the only place that is often a little matted when they come in for the next grooming, most likely because the cheeks and beard area do not form the same kind of ringlets that prevent the matting. 

The one critical element in grooming the Lagotto is to let the dog air-dry to allow the curls to form and harden, thereby protecting the coat from matting and tangling.  

Begin by taking the Lagotto to the grooming table for a brush- and comb-out, and then a haircut.  Complete the entire cut before or during the bath. 

Fig 1) First, remove excess hair from the pads of the feet and sanitary areas. On all male dogs with hair-type coats, I leave a “wick” of hair at the tip of the penis area to help direct the urine flow downward. 

Fig 2) Then, brush and comb them out using a heavy “poodle-type” comb with wide teeth, pulling out dead wooly undercoat.

Fig 3) Where the hair on the head is the longest, line brush using a slicker.

Fig 4) Set the pattern using an attachment comb, trying to leave an inch if possible. The Lagotto pictured here was clippered with a ¾-inch attachment. 

Fig 5) Skim the tail safely with the same length attachment as the body, then scissor it parallel all the way around, lifting the hair away from the tail with a comb from all directions and scissor-tip off the entire tail into a long, tubular shape.

Fig 6) Using a small clipper, do a “lip line” in the front of the mouth, protecting the tongue with your fingers. Clean all the little hairs away from the inside of the mouth by flicking the clipper lightly outward from the lips.

Fig 7) Clip and scissor-finish the back outer edge of both ears. Leave the hair on the front half of the ear to blend into the fuller cheeks. 

Fig 8) Scissor the head, creating a round shape extending from the beard under the jaw around behind the ear line and up to the round top knot. The hair under the jaw should be much shorter than the hair on the top of the head and the sides of the cheeks.

Fig 9) This shows the correct shape of the head from the front view.

Fig 10) Trim only the outer half of the corner of the eye. The area between the eyes should stay wooly and curly. Only a slight trim is needed in the outer half of the eyes for visual needs. 

Fig 11) Next, scissor the back of the rounded head down into the shorter neck area. The Lagotto head is much fuller at the front of the head, when viewed in profile, than it is in the back where it blends into the neck.

Fig 12) After brushing, deep-combing and skimming an attachment comb, scissor-shape the legs in parallel lines, blending into the body. 

Fig 13) Scissor the feet round.

Once the entire comb-out and haircut is completed, bathe the Lagotto in shampoos and conditioners fit for a “long-type” rustic, curly coat: products rich in collagen, humectants and emollients. Then rinse all the conditioner out very thoroughly to avoid softening the coat. Some breed experts recommend only a light leave-in protein conditioner instead of a creamy conditioner.

Fig 14) After bathing, conditioning and rinsing your Lagotto, let them do that amazing dog shake thing that they do. Do NOT towel, shammy or blow-dry these coats in any way—such rubbing or blowing would break up the ringlets. They will leave the tub still fairly wet. This is important for the formation of the ringlets. Most importantly, allow your Lagotto to air-dry in order to protect the formation of the ringlets.

Fig 15) This shows the finished product! I usually send my Lagotti home damp or even pretty wet, depending on how long the owner is willing to wait for them to dry naturally.

It may feel counter-intuitive to many groomers when grooming a Lagotto Romagnolo that all the brush/comb-out, clipper work and scissoring into their distinctive breed pattern is all done before the bath and that they must be air-dried to protect their curls, but it is important to remember that although the Lagotto is an ancestor of the Poodle, it is not a curly coat as we are used to. Fluff-drying and straightening these curls would damage or even destroy the rustic, curly coat. ✂️

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Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, MA, ICMG, PGC, CCE

Jennifer is the owner of Love Fur Dogs in Glencoe, Illinois, and was named Best Groomer in Chicagoland by the Chicago Tribune in 2015. Jennifer is an award winning educator and has been a Master Groomer since 1985. Jennifer is a retired schoolteacher who has dabbled in the dog show world for forty years, where she learned to groom. Jennifer founded the Illinois Professional Pet Groomers Association and is part of the leadership team for NAGA, the National Alliance of Grooming Associations. She is the author of the acclaimed "Groomers Guide To The 15 Coat Types" seminars, and a poster and book of the same name. Her academically rich webinars can be found by visiting her website at www.groomersguide.com.

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