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From barking to cleaning: The culture shocks to expect if you own a dog in Italy

If you adopt a dog in Italy or bring your pet with you, there may be some surprises in store.
If you adopt a dog in Italy or bring your pet with you, there may be some surprises in store. Photo: Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash
Whether you move to Italy with your furry friend or you adopt or buy a canine companion once already here, dog ownership may feel very different compared to other countries. Here are the culture shocks to prepare for.

Italy’s attitude to dogs differs vastly from my experience of owning dogs in England, which can throw you if you thought the man’s-best-friend relationship was universal.

It’s not to say that Italians don’t love dogs or are unkind to them. Aside from the neglected strays found more commonly in the south, such as on islands like Sicily, for the most part, dogs are beloved pets.

Whether they are fully-fledged members of the family, however, is another discussion.

READ ALSO: Moving to Italy with pets? Here’s what you need to know

You certainly won’t see many Italians throwing birthday parties for their pooch, complete with a doggy birthday cake and party hats. Which is a blessed thing, let’s be honest – they are dogs, not children.

However, I have noticed more Italian ice-cream parlours offering dog-friendly gelato to their canine clientele.

In any case, there seems to be a lack of understanding of what dogs need, which has become another source of confusion over my strange, foreign behaviour in the small town where I now live, near Bologna.

Our adopted dog, Pippo. Photo by Karli Drinkwater

Dog walking isn’t necessary or consistent

‘Lo porta sempre fuori!‘ (she’s always taking him out!) an old man shouts as I walk past with my four-legged friend.

Well, yes, you’re supposed to take dogs out on a walk. They need to do their business, they need exercise, time to bond with you as an owner and to smell all those interesting odours.

Walks are fundamental to a dog’s physical and emotional health – but more often than not, people tell me their dog doesn’t need a walk because they have a big garden.

That’s definitely not enough – every dog trainer and expert would tell you that dogs need to explore and be stimulated. They can’t just run around in the same patch of grass.

So I get the quizzical looks and hollering from across the road, questioning what on earth I think I’m doing walking my dog twice a day. Mad woman.

Owners don’t mind if they bark all hours of the day (and night)

It’s probably one of the reasons dogs bark incessantly. Of course, they’re territorial animals, but the barking round the clock is a habit I can’t fathom.

I’m certainly glad we don’t have neighbours with a yapping dog and I know our neighbours are grateful we keep our dog in check.

READ ALSO: 150,000 Italians call for release of dog confiscated for barking too much

He’s not perfect – far from it. We adopted him from the shelter after being stuck there for three years, so he was rough around the edges, to put it mildly.

But he’s a work-in-progress and we do our best to be responsible owners nevertheless.

And that responsibility includes picking up his poo.

Did you say ‘andiamo?’ Photo by gotdaflow on Unsplash

The role of owner as the ‘alpha’

Not bagging and binning their poo is a real bug bear. It’s dirty, it pollutes the streets and it’s not fair to dogs, who may get a bad rap when it’s the owners’ fault in the end.

Are people too lazy to pick up their dog’s ‘cacca‘?

From conversations on my dog walks, there is the notion that if the dog sees you pick up their poop, you will be lowered in his eyes and he won’t see you as the boss.

A sparkling example of nonsense and partly explains why in some places you have to hop around the little piles of dung.

But don’t forget your water bottle

While turd nuggets are okay, if you let your dog pee on a wall, it is at your peril.

This one actually makes sense though, as people want to protect the stone walls, especially in many historic centres.

So you may hear people shout ‘Acqua!’ at you if your dog stops to cock his leg and spray.

READ ALSO: Ten wonderfully quirky Italian animal-related idioms

Don’t pee on that wall, Pippo. Photo by Karli Drinkwater.

They’re not clean

Cleaning is a recurring theme in my experience of living in Italy. Nearly everyone I’ve met treats cleaning like a national sport and Italians are extremely concerned about keeping up appearances.

It’s a paradox really, when you come to think of it – there’s the need to keep the house clean on the pain of death and pettegolezzo if you don’t. But then there’s poo lining the streets.

Regardless, many Italians I’ve met were dubious when we said we’d adopted a dog.

“But they’re dirty”, they’d say. “You’ll never get the house clean!” they’d exclaim.

So it makes sense that lots of dogs in Italy live outside when they’re so concerned about cleanliness.

Not Pippo – he lived in a cold and dirty cage for three years. We’ll give him his own squishy bed, safe inside from the storm for the rest of his days, thank you.

READ ALSO: 15 things you’ll probably never get used to about living in Italy

Muzzle wearing

Our adopted fur-buddy is aggressive towards male dogs, unfortunately – after his life, we’re not surprised.

We’re working to socialise him, but he’s a tough case and so we put the muzzle on him everywhere on our walkies. Again, we’ll get ‘Povero!‘ shouted at us along the street, claiming that this is cruelty (not leaving a dog in a garden for its whole life).

Also, there are many instances where a muzzle is essential for dogs, such as on public transport.

It’s a befuddling cultural minefield where it seems I just can’t win.

But times are changing too

You can see a shift around the treatment of dogs and many people want to come up to you and ask about your dog, give them a pet and ask about their story.

Che razza é?’ is a question I’m often asked (what breed is he?). He’s a pretty cool-looking hound and has definitely got some shepherd in there, but we don’t know much more than that.

So also in Italy, dogs are a conversation starter and open up all kinds of intimate chats with strangers. One man I’d never met before was in tears when telling me about the love for his dog and the pain when he lost him.

Italians are also much more understanding when they misbehave. The amount of mishaps we’ve had in our training of Pippo would really have had us ostracised back where I’m from.

But in Italy, other dog owners really expressed a lot of sympathy for his background and the challenge we face.

They also accept that his barking when he sees another male dog is just what males are like. I’m sure there wouldn’t be the same gracious response elsewhere.

You can take them (almost) anywhere

The final surprise I discovered about owning a dog in Italy is that they are allowed in most places, making life easier.

Even though they’re not allowed in lots of parks, or at least have to be kept on a lead, you’ll see dogs in way more shops, bars and corners of restaurants than in other countries.

If they’re the kind of owner to take their dog out, that is – a trend much more likely to be observed in the city from what I’ve seen.

And luckily for Pippo, lots of restaurant owners are suitably impressed to see a sleeping dog by your feet while you dine. So much so, that they’ll spoil him with a slice of meat and say ‘Complimenti!’ when he raises a paw for another tasty morsel.

Bravo, atta boy!

Do you own a dog in Italy? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.


Member comments

  1. Just home to the UK from staying with my sister in Roma Nord and couldn’t believe that dogs are not only allowed in supermarkets but Carrefour provide trollies for your pooch to ride in. No wonder they all look a bit overweight. But the hygiene issues are too many to compute. The lunatics are taking over the asylum methinks!

    1. I have noticed a change in the past 12 years with regards to Italians and dogs. I do see less chained up now outside the houses and more people taking there dogs on walks around our little village of Serramonacesca. A lot of people got dogs during covid so they could walk the extra 250 metres during lockdown. Unfortunately we are now seeing the fallout of that with many dogs being dumped here in the mountains from the towns and cities. This makes me very sad seeing the dogs wandering around in shock wondering what happened. We have saved 4 of them so far two went to New homes and two we have kept. Poo is still a big issue but we are getting poo bins installed now. Barking is a major problem and our only complaint at our campsite. When one dog barks in the valley the rest join in and it echoes around for hours. But there is hope and it is getting better. We do allow dogs here at Kokopelli Camping but they must be well behaved.

  2. Italy is probably the most dog friendly place I have ever come across. However also the most bureaucratic. Be aware that if you come here with your dog and you are not a resident you can’t register it with national association, not can you buy or adopt a dog in Italy UNLESS you are resident ! Kind of crazy, you can own a business, employ people, own a house but you can’t own a dog or a car if you are a non-resident !

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