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 dog". The dog is traditionally used by some Maltese men for hunting. Based on DNA analysis, the breed has no link with Ancient Egypt. However, a popular myth holds that the breed is descended from the Tesem, one of the ancient Egyptian hunting dogs. Some believe that there are similarities between the breed and images of dogs found on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs. This myth proposes that the Pharaoh Hound was brought by the Phoenicians to Malta, where it has existed for over 2,000 years. The breed has variously been classified as a member of the sighthound group.
Appearance 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, 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 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, and should be in 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 commonly admired. (Most commonly seen) is any solid white spot on their necks (back)or shoulders. Mainly seen on the back or sides of the dog. 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.
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. 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. Pharaohs also have a unique trait of "blushing" when excited or happy, with their ears and nose becoming bright pink.
Temperament All Pharaoh Hounds may blush at times when they are excited. They do not blush in their cheeks, but they do in their ears and noses.
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". Authors such as Cecil Camilleri have taken this to refer to the Kelb tal-Fenek. 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. There are a number of breeds similar to the Pharaoh Hound in the Mediterranean area, including the Cirneco in Sicily. Others include the Podenco Ibicenco, the Podenco Canario and the Podengo Português. 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 compulsory 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. 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 than 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 odour, except when wet or when they've been outside. But their odour quickly returns to normal. They are a very active breed but, like greyhounds, as indoor dogs they are couch potatoes and need little "real" exercise. 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.
Health 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 and according to the American breed club, Pharaohs are virtually 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 to 14 years.
Hunting 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, and the Maltese word for ferret—"nemes"—may have its roots in the Greek word 'nemesis'. 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.
Competitions and shows Pharaoh Hound, International Champion XO EZ owned by Lori Evans, Joseph Buchanan and Ronald and Desiree Frank, placed 4th in the Hound Group at Crufts 2007. A Pharaoh Hound, GCH Northgate's As You Like It ("Qing"), owned by Ms. J. Hall from Sweden, was Hound Group Winner at Crufts, 2009 and 2010 and was the 2008 World Dog Show Reserve BIS & Group V Winner in addition to the 2009 World Dog Show BIS & Group V Winner. Qing was later shown in the United States and went on to become the top winning Pharaoh Hound in the history of the breed. His American Kennel Club ranking as of December 2011 included placing as the number 8 dog all breeds, the number 2 hound, and the number 1 Pharaoh Hound.
Miscellaneous 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 ("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. Klieb Tal-Fenek were also used in the reconstruction and reconstitution of the Cirneco dell'Etna breed in Sicily.