Nearly as tall as he is long, the Lagotto Romagnolo's general appearance is well-proportioned, powerful, and rustic. The head is trapezoidal with a moderate stop. The muzzle is broad, wedge-shaped, and slightly shorter than the skull; the nostrils are large and open and can be light to dark brown (depending on coat color). The lips are tight and covered with a long, bristly moustache. Scissors or reverse scissors bites are acceptable. The large, rounded eyes range in color from ochre to dark brown (depending on coat color). The expression should be alert and lively. The medium-sized ears are triangular with a wide base, rounded tips, and looser curls than on the body; they hang when the dog is at rest and rise slightly when the dog is alert.
The neck is strong and lean, and has no dewlap. The body is also strong and should have a roughly square frame, with the back as long as the dog's height at the withers. The back is straight and muscular, with the withers rising slightly above the croup. Both the loin and the croup should be strong. The underline is nearly straight, with a very slight tuck-up.
The tail, which is covered with bristly hair, tapers toward the end and just barely reaches the hocks. It is carried like a scimitar when the dog is at rest; when he is working, he may raise his tail higher, but it should never curl all the way over the back.
The forelegs are vertical and muscular; the hindquarters should be powerful and well- proportioned. The front feet are slightly rounded and compact, with arched, tight toes, and strong, curved nails; the back feet are slightly more oval and the nails less arched.
The Lagotto Romagnolo's distinctive coat is woolly, with tight, ring-shaped curls across the body and tail. On the head and ears, the curls are looser and form bushy eyebrows, whiskers, and a beard. This breed also has a visible undercoat. When properly clipped, the coat should be uniform around the dog's body, and not more than about 1.5 in. long. (The fur on the head can be longer, but shouldn't cover the eyes.) The dog should look natural and rustic; a fluffy show coat, such as that found in poodles, is not appropriate. Acceptable colors include off-white (solid), white with brown or orange patches, brown roan, orange (with or without white), and various shades of brown (with or without white patches). A brown mask and/or tan markings are acceptable.
The Lagotto Romagnolo is an ancient breed that has been used in the Mediterranean area for thousands of years. Small, curly-coated hunting dogs, much like today's Lagotto Romagnolo, are depicted in frescos from the Etruscan necropolis of Spina, dating back to the seventh century, B.C. Written evidence and paintings show that peasants living in the marshlands around Italy's Romagna region bred the Lagotto Romagnolo (meaning "lake dog of Romagna") to be a water retriever at least as early as the fifteenth century. At the same time, they were used to hunt truffles—a rare and delicious mushroom that grows underground. When the peasants drained the marshes to create more farmland in the nineteenth century, duck hunting decreased and the dogs were used more often to find truffles.
Like truffle-searching pigs, the Lagotto Romagnolo has a keen nose. But one advantage of using dogs rather than pigs is that dogs are less likely to eat the truffles. Today, this affectionate, energetic, curly-coated dog is the only breed in the world recognized as a truffle-hunting dog. Due to its early use as a hunting dog, however, the Lagotto Romagnolo, also known as the "Romagna Water Dog," is thought to be the founder of all modern-day water dogs. Its keen sense of smell also makes the dog well-suited to both search and rescue and drug-sniffing work.
The first Lagotti were imported to the United States in 1996. The AKC accepted the dog for Foundation Stock Service in 2001, and they were admitted to the AKC Miscellaneous Class in 2013. They entered the AKC Sporting Group in July 2015.