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The Pharaoh Hound is a Maltese breed of dog and the national dog of Malta. In Maltese it is called Kelb tal-Fenek, which means "dog of the rabbit". It is traditionally used for hunting rabbit in the rocky terrain of the Maltese Islands.[1]

Pharaoh Hound
Pies faraona e34.jpg
Other namesKelb tal-Fenek in Maltese language
PatronageGreat Britain
Classification / standards
FCI Group 5 Spitz and Primitive dogs, Section 6 Primitive type #248 standard
AKC Hound standard
ANKC Group 4 (Hounds) standard
CKC Group 2 (Hounds) standard
KC (UK) Hound standard
NZKC Hounds standard
UKC Sighthound & Pariah standard
NotesNational dog of Malta
Domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

From DNA analysis based solely on the genes of the Gray Wolf,[2] a recent theory arose that the breed may have been recreated in more recent times from combinations of other breeds. However, popular belief holds that this breed is descended from the Tesem, one of the ancient Egyptian hunting dogs based on the similarities between the breed and well documented images of dogs and descriptive writings found on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs. This line of thought hinges on the supposition that the Tesem, as the progenitor of the Kelb tal Fenek, was brought by the Phoenicians to Malta, where it has been carefully bred for over 2,000 years.[3] Dogs quite similar to the Pharaoh Hound and other possible Tesem descended dog breeds are found scattered around the Mediterranean where the Phoenicians traded, namely the Cirneco dell'Etna, Podenco Ibicenco, Podenco Canario, Podenco andaluz and the Portuguese Podengo. It remains unproven whether these breeds have descended from the same ancestral lines, or whether their similarities have developed due to similar environmental conditions. They all exhibit the recessive traits of liver noses and self-colored eye rims with similar coat coloration, however in the Pharaoh Hound there are limitations explained by the various registries/kennel club standards regarding on the amount of white allowed and where those markings may appear.

The breed has variously been classified as a sighthound or gazehound. [4] While in the U.S., outside of conformation dog shows and typical sighthound events such as lure coursing (AKC & ASFA) coursing (NOFCA) and amateur racing (LGRA & NOTRA), Pharaoh Hounds have proven themselves quite capable in agility and obedience competition while some individuals even exhibit proficiency in tracking and herding as well.


Pharaoh Hound

At first glance, the Pharaoh Hound appears both graceful and elegant as well as powerful and athletic. Its build is one of strength without bulkiness or excessive musculature. Its head is elegant without being fine or extreme. The skull resembles a blunt wedge, and is long and chiseled with only a slight stop and a snout of good length. Its eyes are oval with a keen, alert, and intelligent expression. Their eyes are commonly amber-colored. It has a long, lean, and muscular neck that is slightly arched. 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 balanced with the forelegs. It has a long, fine, straight tail that reaches down to a bit below the point of the hocks, and has a whip-like shape. The tail is carried down when relaxed. 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. The Pharaoh Hound's ears are very large and point upward when alert. They usually come in tan or chestnut colors. A white tail-tip is admired. Most commonly seen is any solid white spot on their neck, back, or shoulders. Mainly seen on the back or sides of the dog.[5]

Pharaoh Hounds tend to weigh up to 45-55 pounds on average. Weight depends on the sex of the dog, or its eating habits. Male Pharaoh Hounds are normally considered larger than the females. Males usually are 23-25", while females are 21-24". Size and weight also relate to the amount of exercise it receives.[6]

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 coat can also be glossy and short in most cases.[5] The only colour accepted by most kennel clubs is red; though the shades of red colour 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, centre of forehead, and the bridge of the muzzle are accepted, but not required. 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 colour 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. Pharaoh Hounds also have a unique trait of "blushing" when excited or happy, with their ears and noses becoming bright pink.[7][5]


In 1647 Giovanni Francesco Abela, in his Della Descrittione di Malta isola nel Mare Siciliano: con le sue antichità, ed altre notizie, wrote "... we have the dogs called Cernechi, much valued for rabbit-hunting, which are often in demand as far away as France, mainly for [use in] steep and stony mountain terrain".[8] Authors such as Cecil Camilleri have taken this to refer to the Kelb tal-Fenek.[9] The modern Cirneco is a Sicilian breed, very similar in structure and appearance, but somewhat smaller (43–51 cm (17–20 in)) than the Kelb tal-Fenek.

In Britain, the first two specimens of the breed were brought from Malta in the 1920s, but 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.[10]

Hunting in a rubble stone wall in Malta. The dogs are indicating; enabling the hunter to put a ferret there


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.[citation needed] Breeders try hard to prevent hereditary diseases from entering the gene pool and according to the American breed club, Pharaohs are virtually free from genetic diseases.[11] 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 to 14 years.[11][12]


Pharaoh Hound

The Kelb tal-Fenek is usually taken out to hunt at night when there are fewer 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 dogs will then search out their prey using scent. When 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 emit a high pitched bark, 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 over all of the likely escape holes of the rabbit. Finally the hunter will take a ferret (with a small bell attached) from a round wicker basket, and places it into the last entrance to the rabbit's burrow. The Kelb tal-Fenek can hear the little bell up to 3 meters down under the rocky terrain. When the ferret flushes the rabbit out a hole, one free dog swoops down upon it. This style of hunting is mentioned by Strabo about hunting in the Balearic Islands under Roman rule,[13] and the Maltese word for ferret—"nemes"—may have its roots in the Greek word 'nemesis'.[14][15][16]

The Kelb Tal-Fenek has a very unusual hunting style especially on its own. When its prey either rabbit or vermin is in a mound, the Kelb tal-Fenek will bounce in the air and land on all 4 legs in an attempt to have its prey come out in the open or move.


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 ("hunting dog", a breed used for bird hunting), and lastly a type of Mastiff which is now extinct (Kelb tal-Ġlied, sometimes called the Maltese Bulldog or Maltese Mastiff). It is number 141 out of 154 breeds by dogs registered in 2005 by the AKC.[17]

In recognition of its status as the National Dog of Malta, a commemorative coin featuring the Kelb tal-Fenek was minted in 1977 and postage stamps were issued depicting the breed.


  1. ^ "Kelb tal-Fenek - National Hound of Malta". Retrieved 2011-11-16.
  2. ^ Parker, Heidi. et al. 2004 “Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog”. Science 304, 1160
  3. ^ "About the Breed". Pharaoh Hound Club of America. 2013.
  4. ^ "Fieldwork Description". Kelb tal-Fenek. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
  5. ^ a b c Coile, Caroline (2005). Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds (second ed.). Barrons. p. 352. ISBN 0-7641-5700-0.
  6. ^ Coile, Caroline (2005). Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds (second ed.). p. 352. ISBN 0-7641-5700-0.
  7. ^ Frequently Asked Questions
  8. ^ Giovanni Francesco Abela (1647). Della Descrittione di Malta isola nel Mare Siciliano: con le sue antichità, ed altre notizie. Malta: Paolo Bonacota. pp. 129–30. "... habbiamo i cani chiamati Cernechi[,] molto stimati per la caccia al coniglio, che in fin dalla Francia sono richiesti ben spesso con molta istanza massimamente per i luoghi sassosi alpestri, e scoscesi"
  9. ^ Cecil S. Camilleri (1995). "A Study of the Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek". Valletta, Malta: Progress Press.
  10. ^ Kelb tal-Fenek - Where does the name "Pharaoh Hound" come from?
  11. ^ a b "FAQ". Pharaoh Hound Club of America. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  12. ^ "Summary results of the Purebred Dog Health Survey for Pharoah Hounds" (PDF). The Kennel Club. The Kennel Club/BSAVA. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  13. ^ The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals By Peter Ucko, G. Dimbleby, 2007 - p. 489
  14. ^ A Study of the Maltese Kelb-tal-Fenek, Cecil Camilleri, Progress Press Co Ltd (June 30, 1995)
  15. ^ Rabbit Hunting with the Kelb tal-Fenek in Malta
  16. ^ Il-Kelb tal-Fenek - A Fieldwork Description
  17. ^ "AKC Dog Registration Statistics". Archived from the original on 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2006-12-10.

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