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About the Breed

The Pharaoh Dog - The Smiling Dog

Pharaoh Hound (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.

Distinctive colour

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 living colour.

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 accepted.

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 standard.

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.


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 playful.

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 lines.

Forequarters: Shoulders strong, long and well laid back. Forelegs straight and parallel. Elbows well tucked in. Pasterns strong.

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 at withers.

Hindquarters: Strong and muscular. Moderate bend of stifle. Well developed second thigh. Limbs parallel when viewed from behind.

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 undesirable.

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 degree.

Note: Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.



© Farao Anubis