About the Breed
The Pharaoh Dog - The
(PH) is a happy and friendly breed, a wonderful member of
the family. They are medium sized with clean-cut lines,
their coat is short, rich tan, soft and glossy, they are
beautiful, intelligent, have a very expressive body language
and are fond of communicating by funny short happy sounds
(not to be mixed up with growling).
When happy they can laugh showing their teeth in a wide
grin! They are particularly found of children and are very
careful when being around them. Pharaohs are easy to have
among other dogs as well.
PH is a very tidy dog, cleaning himself like a cat, they
don’t shed much and neither wet nor dry smell ”dog”.
When indoors, the biggest joy is to be on the sofa. Pharaoh
hound is one of the oldest dog breeds. It is believed that
about 6 000 years ago they were living in Egypt and that
they were probably brought to the islands of Malta and Gozo
in the Mediterranean Sea by the Phoenician traders.
The breed became very popular on the island of Malta and
still today is used to herd sheep and goats and to hunt
rabbits together with ferret. The Maltese call the breed
Kelb tal Fenek which means " rabbit dog”.
The breed was declared as Malta’s national breed in 1978 and
they even depicted a PH on a coin.
The Pharaoh Hound, Beloved of the Gods (and Man)
This article was originally written for, and published in
the magazine Ancient Egypt issue March/April 2002, by Brian
Playfair. I would like to thank Brian Playfair for letting
me use his article for my website.
The modern day Pharaoh Hound originated on Malta, but the
breed shares quite remarkable similarities with the hounds
of the ancient Egyptians. This most beautiful and elegant of
hounds is perhaps the oldest domesticated dog in history.
Evidence of hunting dogs in pre-dynastic Egypt indicates a
similar form, but it is after unification that a hunter and
companion dog is shown in tomb reliefs working with the
ancient Egyptians and wearing an elaborate collar as a sign
of its domestication. The drawing from the tomb of Antefa II
at Beni Hassan shows the hound in many respects as he is
today. It is very likely that many forms of wild dogs lived
in Egypt in ancient times and natural selection and
crossbreeding would have eventually produced a combination
of features that appealed to man. As a hunter, the hound
needed to be multi-faceted: fast and powerful, possessing
the stamina to last a long chase, and be able to hunt by
sight, smell and sound. As a companion, he had to be
intelligent and affectionate. When the ancient Egyptian
found these rare qualities all in one dog, he had discovered
a great treasure which he domesticated and trained. Since
the hunting dog played such an important part in the daily
life of the ancient Egyptian, whether farmer, noble or king,
it is not surprising that they were shown on the walls of
their tombs as an animal so close to their hearts. Certainly
images in the tombs of the nobles, who were free to decorate
their tombs with scenes of hunting, farming and feasting,
show the hound at work. One such painted relief from the
tomb of Senbi, the ruler of the 15th nome of upper Egypt
during the reign of Amenemhet I, shows a herdsman followed
by his dog, “Breath of Life of Senbi”, making an attempt to
separate two bulls fighting with their horns piercing one
another’s necks. Another relief shows a hunting scene with
ibex, antelope, lion and jackal and the hound in the center
foreground is distinguished by his collar. If the nobleman
kept the hound as a hunter and companion, it is sure that
the king would also keep this elegant creature for his own
hunting forays. Since this form of sport seems to have been
extremely popular amongst the ruling class, they will have
had their own favourites.
In 1935, the Harvard-Boston Expedition, working under Dr
George Reisner in the great cemetery west of the pyramid of
Khufu at Giza found a 5th Dynasty inscription recording the
burial of a dog named Abuwtiyuw. The burial was to be
carried out with all the ritual ceremonies of a noble of the
land by decree of the ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt,
Pharaoh himself. Translated the inscription reads: The dog
which was the guard of his Majesty, Abywtiyuw is his name.
His Majesty ordered that he be buried ceremonially, that he
be given a coffin from the royal treasury, fine linen in
great quantity, and incense. His Majesty gave perfumed
ointment and ordered that a tomb be built for him by the
masons. His Majesty did this for him in order that the dog
might be honoured before the Great God. In this way, the
king ensured that his favourite hound would enter the
afterlife and be waiting for him to continue his attendance
when the king died. This was a dog of similar size and
characteristics as our present day hound.
Such a noble hound as this would attract attention from the
various traders who came to Egypt and it is thought that the
Phoenicians, recognizing the value of such a companion and
hunting dog, took these hounds with them from Egypt to their
own lands. The Phoenician trade route took in the many
Mediterranean islands as well as Italy, the coast of North
Africa and the Iberian peninsula. This is substantiated by
Egyptian finds including some from Minorca, Tarquini (the
main port of Etruria) and a relief at Chiusi in an Etruscan
tomb showing a pointed-eared Egyptian dog. The main ports
used by the Phoenicians were Palermo in Sicily, Valetta
(Malta), Bizertia (now Tunisia), Cagliari (Sardinia),
Senitja (Minorca) and Gades (Spain), so leaving the hounds
with many island civilizations. When they settled on Malta
and the adjacent island of Gozo they kept the hound as their
own. It is on Malta that the hound has existed unchanged for
the last 2000 years and where we find it today, little
changed in perhaps 5000 years.
The Close Relations
Since those early traders much may have happened to the
other hounds they left in various ports. There is a very
close relation that has lived on Sicily, whose only real
difference is size, the Cirneco dell’Etna being slightly
smaller than the Pharaoh Hound. On the Balearic Islands and
the coastal region of Catalonia we have a hound with the
same striking features as the Pharaoh, but here it was bred
with local white dogs to give us the two-coloured Ibizan
Hound (white with tan) and in Portugal and Spain there is
the Podengo in a variety of colours. This suggests similar
breeds in most places where the Phoenicians traded, with the
hound on Malta bearing the closes features in colour, size
and shape to the tomb paintings and mummified dogs in Egypt.
The hound would have continued in Egypt, but later incomers
from Persia, Greece and Rome are likely to have brought
their own breeds. The Arab rulers of Medieval Egypt
certainly had their own hunting dogs and so the
characteristics of the breed that made him such an
individual were lost. However, in Malta the hound continued
to be bred for rabbit hunting and as a watchdog, becoming
known as “Kelb-tal-Fenek” (the rabbit dog). The Pharaoh
Hound is not an aggressive animal, but will warn, by
barking, of the approach of a stranger.
His colour is a distinctive red that is referred to in the
breed standard as tan or rich tan. However, this does not do
justice to the actual colour and sounds “flat”. The coat of
the hound is naturally sleek and glossy and the red shines
through to give a quite unique appearance. The eyes are
amber and the nose is flesh-coloured, making it a truly
“colour coordinated” hound. Reference was made to this red
colour in ancient writings: The red long tailed dog goes at
night into the stalls of the hills: he is better than the
long faced dog. He makes no delay in hunting, his face glows
like a God, and he delights to do his work. Mummified hounds
of similar shape show that their original colour was red
although agents used in the embalming process hid their
The modern hound
The late Major-General Adam Block, Officer Commanding Malta,
and his wife Pauline, both now sadly deceased, entered the
story in 1962. While living on Malta, they fell in love with
the local hound and on returning to England imported an
example to the UK. From this other people soon discovered
this elegant and exceptional hound; in particular, the well
known artist Lionel Hamilton-Renwick who wrote an article,
“Hounds out of the land of Egypt”, in The Field in 1969.
This article contained pictures of the breed and some
recognized “doggy” people were smitten by this “newly
discovered” ancient breed. Such was the effect of these
handsome dogs that many lifes were changed forever as a
result of that article. Gradually the breed gained a
foothold in the UK and in 1964 an attempt was made with the
Kennel Club to register the breed as a Maltese Kelb tal
Fenek. This was refused on the grounds that a foreign name,
translating into “rabbit dog” was unacceptable. Undaunted,
representation was made to the FCI – the canine governing
body for Europe – and they were asked (as were other
countries) what name they used for the hound bred on Malta.
In 1965 the reply was received that the race of dog bred on
Malta was recognized as the “Pharaoh Hound”. However, they
grouped together all the various prick-eared breeds from
around the Mediterranean. It took a lot of perseverance by
early stalwarts to keep going back until the breed was
recognized in its own right. Once this had been achieved,
application was again made to the Kennel Club and this time
Next came more imports from Malta, and the start of UK
breeding. As with all breeds registered with the Kennel
Club, the Breed Standard is all-important as the benchmark
against which all dogs of the breed are measured. It is
clear that those early devotees were very responsible people
in ensuring that the breed continued as it had done for 5000
years without man’s wish to “improve” it and so ruin natural
evolution. They ensured that the breed standard was agreed
with Malta as one that would be used all over the world.
Full agreement was reached by all parties in 1974 so that
the hound would continue to be bred true to type in its pure
and original form.
Eventually hounds were exported from the UK to the USA,
Sweden, Norway, Canada, Australia, Finland, Denmark,
Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany: each country taking
the same attitude to breeding the same international
The Breed Club in UK
The Pharaoh Hound breed club was formed in the UK in 1968 by
those early lovers of the breed to ensure the preservation
of the hound in its present form and work for full
acceptance. For their emblem they took the image of the
hound as depicted in the tomb of Antefa II. Today the club
acts as a means for members to meet socially, holds Open and
Championship level shows each year, publishes an annual
magazine, Pharaoh, for members, keeps a register of all
hounds bred in the UK and continues to ensure the
maintenance of the breed standard.
Those of us who are privileged to own Pharaoh Hounds have
the daily joy of living with these captivating animals. They
are highly intelligent, affectionate, elegant, powerful and
quite the most beautiful of hounds. Is it surprising that
this dog can evoke such strong feelings sustained over
perhaps 5000 years? It is NOT surprising if you know them.
PHARAOH HOUND BREED STANDARD
General Appearance: Medium sized, of noble bearing with
clean-cut lines. Graceful yet powerful. Very fast with free
easy movement and alert expression.
Characteristics: An alert keen hunter, hunting by sent and
sight using it's ears to a marked degree when working close.
Temperament: Alert, intelligent, friendly, affectionate and
Head and Skull: Skull long, lean and well chiselled.
Foreface slightly longer than skull. Only slight stop. Top
of skull parallel with foreface, whole head representing a
blunt wedge when viewed in profile and from above.
Eyes: Amber coloured, blending with coat, oval, moderately
deep set with keen, intelligent expression.
Ears: Medium high set, carried erect when alert but very
mobile, broad at base, fine and large.
Mouth: Powerful jaws with strong teeth. Scissor bite, i.e.
the upper teeth closely overlapping the lower teeth and set
square to the jaws.
Nose: Flesh coloured ONLY, blending with coat.
Neck: Long, lean, muscular and slightly arched. Clean throat
Forequarters: Shoulders strong, long and well laid back.
Forelegs straight and parallel. Elbows well tucked in.
Body: Lithe with almost straight topline. Slight slope down
from croup to root of tail. Deep brisket extending down to
point of elbow. Ribs well sprung. Moderate cut up. Length of
body from breast to haunch bone slightly longer than height
Hindquarters: Strong and muscular. Moderate bend of stifle.
Well developed second thigh. Limbs parallel when viewed from
Feet: Strong, well knuckled and firm, turning neither in nor
out. Paws well padded. Dewclaws may be removed.
Tail: Medium set-fairly thick at base and tapering
(whip-like), reaching just below point of hock in repose.
Carried high and curved when dog is in action. Tail should
not be tucked between legs. A screw tail undesirable.
Gait/Movement: Free and flowing, head held fairly high and
dog should cover ground well without any apparent effort.
Legs and feet should move in line with body, any tendancy to
throw feet sideways or high stepping 'hackney' action highly
Coat: Short and glossy, ranging from fine and close to
slightly harsh, no feathering.
Colour: Tan or rich tan with white markings allowed as
follows; White tip to tail strongly desired. White on chest
(called 'The star'). White on toes. Slim white blaze on
centre line of face permissible. Flecking or white other
than above undesirable.
Height: Dogs: ideally 22-25 inches, (56-63 cm) Bitches;
ideally 21-24 inches, (53-61 cm).
Faults: Any departure from the foregoing points should be
considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault
should be regarded should be in exact proportion to it's
Note: Male animals should have two apparently normal
testicles fully descended into the scrotum.