Lupo Italiano

The Lupo Italiano, also known as the Italian Wolfdog, was a dog created by Mario Messi in 1966 by crossing a wolf from Northern Lazio raised as a puppy with a German Shepherd.[1] Its female ancestor is described as a German Shepherd[1] and, confusingly, a wild wolf.[2] Although the breed is claimed to be a hybrid of the German shepherd with an Italian wolf, a genetic study conducted in 2018 could find no connection between this dog and the Italian wolf.[3]

Lupo Italiano
Lupo Italiano
Other namesItalian Wolfdog
Height Male 60–70 cm (24–28 in)
Female 58–65 cm (23–26 in)
Coat semi-long
Colour grey, cream; with a saddle
Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)


Unlike most wolf-dog hybrids, this canine displayed a propensity to be used as a working dog, and its breeding was taken over by the Italian government. A breeding facility was created in Cumiana (Piedmont) and the number of dogs gradually increased to about 700 specimens. The breed was officially recognized by the Italian government and laws were passed to provide financial resources for its breeding.

Nowadays numerous Alpine rescue teams utilize these dogs to search for avalanche victims. Over time, it has proven superior to the German Shepherd in locating people buried under snow. It has also been used as a rescue dog to locate people trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings in the aftermath of an earthquake. It has performed exceptionally well in this role.


The Lupo Italiano's height ranges between 60 to 70 centimetres (24–28 in) for males, and 58 to 65 centimetres (23–26 in) for females. The head and its expression define the sex of the animal. It has black lips and a strong jaw, with a full complement of 42 teeth: the bite is scissors-shaped. The body is sturdy, not too elongated. The abdomen is strong and tucked in. The spine is straight and very well built. The rump is slightly lower set than the shoulders. The Lupo Italiano moves quickly and gracefully, despite its size. Its trot should give the impression of "elegant force", reminiscent of the wild wolf. Its limbs are long, muscular, and slightly angled. Its coat is of medium length and hardness, shorter and finer on the thighs, head and limbs. The colour ranges from gray, with various markings, to cream, with a dark saddleback. The tail, without exaggeration, hangs low up to the hackles, and, like the Siberian Husky, does not show any excessive curve.


"For the last 15 years the Italian State Forestry Corps have worked mainly with this dog, in Italy and abroad. The Lupo Italiano, when working with the forest patrol, is always competent and reliable. Its attitude to tasks such as avalanche and earthquake resque [sic] is formidable and it is extremely well suited for searching people or other animals lost in the mountains and woods. The Lupo Italiano was chosen to serve in Turin 2006 Olympic Games."[2]

The Lupo Italiano is a loyal, fearless dog.


The Lupo Italiano is well adapted for work in a mountain environment, as an avalanche dog and as a rescue dog. It is resistant to adverse atmospheric conditions and bad weather. It is not affected by snow-glare. With its keen sense of smell, it is ideally suited to search for missing people or wounded animals. It is therefore an ideal aid for park rangers or game wardens. It can be trained as a police dog and possesses great physical strength and agility. It can also be trained as a flock guard to protect livestock.

The breed is protected by presidential decree stipulating that this 'State' dog can not be commercialized nor bred outside the officially recognized agency, the ETLI or Ente Tutela del Lupo Italiano (Agency for the Protection of the Lupo Italiano).[4] For over 15 years the Italian State Forestry Corps has used this wolf-dog hybrid as their main working dog.


At the time of the breed's creation, nothing was known of the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog, even if it had already existed, and the first Dutch attempt to create a wolf-dog hybrid, the Saarloos Wolfdog, had failed. In effect, the birth of Zorro, the first Lupo Italiano, was seen as a revolutionary achievement.

Mario Messi, the breed's creator, dreamed of superior dogs managed by a specialized body working without profit. The goal was to provide animals for civil defense and the armed forces to save lives. This was an ambitious and expensive project, in which Messi invested his large family fortune, under the illusion that the Italian government would have supported his endeavours. He had some funding (already heavily criticized by his detractors), but an insufficient amount to sustain the costs of this project. Some people mistakenly sent him money aimed to help the Apennine wolf and, when the truth was revealed, accused Messi of scamming.

The Italian wolfdogs have never been sold officially, because the moment of maximum interest for the breed would have been too complicated to try to entrust specimens and sell puppies. In other cases, animals that were passed off as Italian wolfdogs, were simply German Shepherd hybrids.

The original plan was for the dogs to be entrusted exclusively to people who would use them for socially useful purposes and Messi counted on public support.[5]


  1. ^ a b Photos and characteristics of the "Lupo italiano"
  2. ^ a b "Lupo italiano". Archived from the original on 2013-12-16.
  3. ^ Talenti, Andrea; Dreger, Dayna L; Frattini, Stefano; Polli, Michele; Marelli, Stefano; Harris, Alexander C; Liotta, Luigi; Cocco, Raffaella; Hogan, Andrew N; Bigi, Daniele; Caniglia, Romolo; Parker, Heidi G; Pagnacco, Giulio; Ostrander, Elaine A; Crepaldi, Paola (2018). "Studies of modern Italian dog populations reveal multiple patterns for domestic breed evolution". Ecology and Evolution. 8: 2911–2925. doi:10.1002/ece3.3842. PMC 5838073. PMID 29531705.
  4. ^ "Lupo Italiano (Italian Lupo)".
  5. ^ "Farewell to Mario Messi, the creator of the Italian wolf". 18 August 2011. Retrieved 20 April 2016.

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