Information about the Pharaoh Hound

The Pharaoh Hound is a breed of dog and the national hound of the Mediterranean nation of Malta. Its native name is Kelb tal-Fenek (plural: Klieb tal-Fenek) in Maltese, which means “rabbit hound”. The dog is traditionally used by Maltese men for hunting. The breed has no conclusive links with Ancient Egypt and its name in English is a 20th century fabrication. It has variously been classified as a member of the sighthound group, yet its fieldwork description clearly determines it as a hound. It is indigenous to the islands and as such remains rare outside of Malta.

At first glance, the Pharaoh Hound should appear both graceful and elegant as well as powerful and 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 angled, 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.

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 color varies, and accepted shades range from a tan to a deep chestnut and all shades in between. 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. Pharaoh’s eyes are always amber, and should complement 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 or 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 submissive 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 first recorded mention of a Maltese hunting dog, which could have been identical with the modern Kelb tal-Fenek, was issued by Commendatore Fra. G. Fran. Abela (Maltese historian and Vice Chancellor of the Order of St. John) in 1647 who wrote “There are dogs called ‘Cernechi’ esteemed for the hunting of rabbits, and as far as France are in demand primarily for stony, mountainous and steep locations”. The use of the word ‘Cernechi’ to name the breed should be no surprise as Italian was the language of scholars and the courts in Malta from at least 1091 up to WWII.

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 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 (43-51 cm/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.

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 people. 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 a gentle dog shampoo, and not a human shampoo (as humans require a different Ph then dogs). 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.

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. Many Pharaoh Hounds enjoy snow, however, and will keep themselves warm through running, playing, and digging.

Pharaoh hounds, being somewhat uncommon outside of the Maltese Islands of Malta and Gozo, and because they are not profitable for commercial breeding, have not been subjected to as much irresponsible breeding as some more popular breeds. Breeders try hard to prevent hereditary diseases from entering the gene pool. Pharaohs are basically free from genetic diseases. 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. Reputable breeders should be able to show 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 expectancy is about 12-15 years or more