The Pharaoh Hound
is a breed
of dog, a hound
which has been classed as a member of the sighthound
group. It is the national dog of Malta
, where it is called the Kelb tal-Fenek
(plural: Klieb tal-Fenek
), meaning "rabbit hound". It is indigenous to the island and remains rare outside of Malta. It is number 141 out of 154 breeds by dogs registered in 2005 by the AKC.
At first glance, the Pharaoh Hound should appear both graceful/elegant AND powerful/athletic. Its build should be one of strength without bulkiness or excessive musculature. Its head is elegant without being fine or extreme. The skull should resemble a blunt wedge, and is long and chiseled with only a slight stop and a muzzle of good length. Its eyes are oval with a keen, noble, alert, and intelligent expression. It has a long, lean, and muscular neck that is slightly arched. Its body is slightly longer than its height at the withers
. It has a deep chest that extends down to the elbows and a moderate tuck up. Its shoulders are long and well laid back. Its front legs are long and straight. The back legs are moderately angulated, parallel to each other, and must be in balance with the forelegs. It has a long, fine, straight tail that should reach down to a bit below the point of the hocks
. The tail is carried down when relaxed but must not tuck between the legs. When the dog is in motion or is excited, the tail is carried up; either level with, or loosely curled above, the back. Its dewclaws
may be removed.
It stands between 21 to 25 inches at the withers
and weighs between 40 to 60 lbs. Males are typically larger than females.
Coat and colour
The coat is fine and short with no feathering. The texture varies from silky to somewhat hard and it must never be so profuse as to stand away from the dog's skin. The only color accepted by most kennel clubs is red; though the shades of red varies, and accepted shades range from a tan to a deep chestnut and all shades in between. Black Pharoahs can happen rarely, but they are unacceptable and a disqualification. White markings on the chest, toes, tail-tip, center of forehead, and the bridge of the muzzle are accepted, but not required. A white tail-tip is desired by some kennel clubs. In contrast, any white markings on the back of the neck, the sides, or the back of the dog are unacceptable by most standards. Pharaohs' irises are always amber, and should compliment the coat colour. They are born with blue eyes, which change to a light gold or yellow color during early puppyhood and then begin to darken well into adulthood. The nose, whiskers, nails, paw-pads, and eye-rims should also be the same colour as the coat. Pharaohs also have a unique trait of "blushing" when excited or happy, with their ears and nose becoming bright pink.
The Pharaoh Hound is an intelligent, trainable, playful and active breed. It is sociable with other dogs and with people, however it can be aloof/reserved with strangers. It is typically very open and affectionate with its family and those it knows. It is an independent-minded, occasionally stubborn breed, yet can be very trainable when appropriate positive training methods are used. It has a strong hunting instinct, and caution should be observed when it is around small pets such as cats, birds, and rodents
. It is not a demonstrative breed but rather is quietly affectionate. It is a vocal breed without being yappy or barking just for the sake of barking. It makes a good watch dog; however, it is not well suited as guard dog
as it is rarely aggressive with people. This is not a breed suited for kennel situations due to its intelligence and activity level. The breed tends to bond deeply with its people and thrives best when it feels included as a member of the family.
The Pharaoh Hound is independent-minded, highly intelligent, and occasionally stubborn, yet very trainable when positive methods are used. It is a very sensitive breed and responds poorly to compulsionary training methods and to being physically punished. Pharaohs can succeed in competition obedience, but they do not take to it naturally as many breeds that were bred to work alongside Man. Pharaohs were bred to hunt and think for themselves, and they have retained this trait for thousands of years. They tire/bore easily with repetitive commands, therefore it is the trainer's job to ensure that their training remains interesting and positive in nature.
They have sensitive skin, and shampoo (canine or human) may cause allergic reactions; therefore, it is best to wash them with either a human baby shampoo or gentle dog shampoo. Grooming Pharaohs is as easy as a quick rub with a hound glove or a damp cloth. They are clean dogs, shed very little, and have no noticeable odor, even when wet.
They are a very active breed and need more than just a daily walk; a run every day is required. Though they are active, they should not be hyperactive. Because of their strong prey drive and independent nature, this breed should never be allowed off leash unless in a securely fenced area away from road traffic or other dangers. Their prey drive is so strong that if they see something they think is prey, they will chase after it, and no amount of training can stop them.
They are very adept jumpers, and fences meant to contain them must be more than five feet (1.52 metres) high, six feet (1.82 metres) or higher being preferable. Because they are such good jumpers, they are well suited to the sport of dog agility. They are often classified as sighthounds, and thus compete in lure coursing. Because they maintain very little body fat and have short coats, they are sensitive to cold and cannot be left outside for long in cold climates. Dog coats/jackets are a must for this breed in cold climates. However, many Pharaoh Hounds enjoy snow and will keep themselves warm through running, playing and digging.
The first two specimens of the breed were brought to Britain from Malta in the 1920s, but at that time, no litter was bred. Again, some dogs were imported to the UK in the early 1960s, and the first litter was born in 1963. The breed standard was recognised by the The Kennel Club in 1974. The breed was called the Pharaoh Hound although this name was already used by the FCI as an alternative name for the Ibizan Hound at that time. When the FCI abolished this name in 1977 and decided to call the Ibizan Hound exclusively by its original Spanish name Podenco Ibicenco, the term Pharaoh Hound was transferred to the Kelb tal-Fenek, whose breed standard had been recognised by the FCI at the same time .
A number of other breeds that are similar to the Pharaoh Hound exist in different regions of the Mediterranean. One is the Cirneco dell'Etna from neighbouring Sicily, which is very similar in structure and appearance, but somewhat smaller (43-51cm/17-20in). Other similar breeds include the Ibizan Hound, Podenco Canario, Podengo Português and other local breeds from the Mediterranean—each breed is slightly different with physical characteristics that match the terrain the dogs hunt on. It is not clear whether those breeds have descended from the same ancestral lines, or whether their similarities have developed due to similar environmental conditions.
It should be noted that the Kelb tal-Fenek is not the only breed of dog specific to the tiny islands of Malta. There is also the Kelb tal-but ("pocket dog", a toy breed), Kelb tal-kaċċa ("gun dog", a breed used for bird hunting), and lastly a type of Mastiff which is now extinct (Kelb tal-Gliet, sometimes called the Maltese Bulldog or Maltese Mastiff).
Debunking the Egyptian Myth
For many years, the Pharaoh Hound was considered one of the oldest dog breeds
, because it is thought by some to resemble paintings of dogs featured on the walls of ancient Egyptian pyramids
and tombs. Recent DNA analysis
reveals, however, that this breed is actually a more recent construction, developed out of different lines of European hunting dogs. This DNA data now puts to rest the "Egyptian Myth" and proves the breed did not originate from Egypt
. Another study found no evidence of connection between Iberian dogs and those of North Africa; showing again, no connection between Mediterranean hounds and dogs of North Africa. It is often called a sighthound, particularly in North America, but also hunts by scent and hearing.
While the "Egyptian Myth" has been thoroughly disproved—both historically and genetically—many breeders and breed clubs still promote this breed as "the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Hound." In addition, little is done by the breed clubs to reeducate the public. In fact, yearly in the U.S. at nationally televised dog shows the breed is introduced as "the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Hound," the description provided by the national breed club. This raises a number of major ethical question: are puppy buyers being mislead thinking they are buying an ancient Egyptian breed when they are really purchasing a rabbit hunting dog from Malta; do these actions subvert a national treasure and symbol belonging to the Maltese people. Also, Malta's namesake dog, the white Maltese, originated from the islands.
The Kelb tal-Fenek is usually taken out to hunt at night, when there are less distractions. Generally, the hunters will take their dogs into the countryside and release pairs of a male and a female dog in each compass direction. The pair is called a "Mizzewgin". The hunters will carry ‘bastun’ or long walking sticks to help keep from falling on the rocky terrain which can be difficult to walk in especially at night. The dogs will then search out their prey— ‘fenek’ or rabbit—at first using scent. One a rabbit is found, the hounds will give chase, the small and more agile female in the lead with the male keeping the rabbit from darting too far to the sides. At this point the dogs giving chase will bark in a high pitched bark called the ‘kurriera’, attracting the other dogs and the hunters, all of whom will come running. By the time the hunters and other dogs arrive the rabbit will almost always have taken to the ground. The hunters will then gather and leash all but one dog, then place nets called ‘xbiek’ (pronounced shbeek) over all of the likely escape holes of the rabbit. Finally the hunter will take a ferret from a round basket made locally out of wicker that he carries called a ‘garzella’, the ferret called a "nemes" in Maltese wears a bell and is placed into last entrance to the rabbit's burrow. The Kelb tal-Fenek can hear the little bell—a ‘gongoll’—up to 3 meters down under the rocky terrain. When the ferret flushes the rabbit out a whole, one free dog swoops down upon it. This style of hunting is mentioned in Roman texts and the name "nemes" may have its roots in the Greek word nemesis.
Pharaoh hounds, being somewhat uncommon outside of the Maltese Islands of Malta and Gozo, have not been subjected to as much irresponsible breeding as some more popular breeds, because they are not profitable for commercial breeding, thus those who breed them do it for the love of the breed and to have a good show, performance, and/or hunting dog. They try hard to prevent hereditary diseases from entering the gene pool. Thus, Pharaohs are basically free from genetic diseases at this point in time. However, reputable breeders continue to test their breeding stock for genetic conditions such as hip dysplasia
, luxating patellas, and myriad eye conditions just to ensure that these disorders do not become a problem in the future. Reputable breeders should be able to show you documentation of health screening performed on their breeding dogs. Note that Pharaohs, like most sighthounds, are sensitive to barbiturate anaesthetics
. Their ears are thin and prone to frostbite
when in cold climates.
Life span is about 12 years.
The Pharaoh Hound is the only breed from the Hound Group
to never place in the group level at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
, due primarily to a lack of hounds outside Malta.