Pharaoh Hound

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Pharaoh Hound

If the noble Pharaoh Hound looks familiar, it may be because you’ve been looking at it in ancient Egyptian artwork since your childhood. This ancient breed has a history of at least 3000 years, and may have been domesticated much earlier than this. Having travelled from its original home with seafaring traders, it became the national dog of Malta, where it has long been treasured as a rabbit hunting hound. The breed has a friendly and gentle nature, and loves children. It is generally eager to please, although its origins as an independent hunter mean that it does have a stubborn streak that can sometimes surface. Although it is a keen watch dog and sometimes excessively vocal, it is unlikely to ever show aggression towards strangers, and it is also sociable enough to mix well with other dogs.

Pharaoh Hounds do not tolerate isolation, and are very prone to separation anxiety. When distressed, they will howl and bark incessantly, and nuisance barking is a common complaint. Their thin coat and skin make them susceptible to chill, and they are not suited to outdoor living in temperate climates. The breed’s strong hunting instinct also means that any outdoor spaces must be securely fenced, and the Pharaoh Hound should not be allowed off the lead in open spaces. Health problems are very uncommon in the breed, and most individuals have a life span of 11–14 years.

About & History

The Pharaoh Hound has a long, noble history, and as the name suggests, it descends from the royal dogs of ancient Egypt. Phoenician traders were responsible for disseminating several Middle Eastern breeds around the world; the Maltese and Whippet being other dogs owing their worldwide popularity to these merchants, and with them the Pharaoh Hound found a new home on the island of Malta. The Maltese developed a method of rabbit hunting that is still used today involving teams of hounds and a bell-wearing ferret. The dogs drive the prey into their burrows, before the hunters release the ferret in pursuit, with a dog above ground following the sound of the ferret’s bell and eventually pouncing on the unfortunate rabbits as they attempt to escape.

The Pharoah Hound’s Maltese name is “Kelb tal-Fenek”, meaning “rabbit dog”, and it only gained its current moniker after being exported to the United Kingdom and beyond in the twentieth century. Indeed, this name caused some confusion for a time, as the Ibizan Hound was also known by the name Pharaoh Hound until the 1970s. It was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1974 and by the American Kennel Club in 1984, but remains a rare breed in the western world, with only single-digit registrations with the Kennel Club in many years. It was named the national dog of Malta in 1979.

Appearance

Pharaoh Hound Large Photo

The Pharaoh Hound is a medium-sized dog of regal bearing and elegant lines. Its sleek, lean look is tempered by its obvious power and strength, and it has an easy stride that covers ground very quickly. The muzzle is longer than the skull, and the head is shaped like a blunt wedge, with strong jaws and large teeth that meet in a scissor bite. It has a keen, alert expression conveyed through its amber-coloured oval eyes. The ears are set quite high, and their usual upright and mobile carriage reinforces the breed’s watchful appearance.

The neck is long and muscular with a powerful arch, and the back is lean, as would be expected of a hound, but also surprisingly broad. The length of the back is slightly longer than the height at the withers. The chest is deep, dropping to the level of the elbow, and the ribs are well sprung. The abdomen is tucked, though not so tightly as in other hounds, for example, the Greyhound. The tail is quite thick, although it tapers along its curved length to the tip, which normally sits around the point of the hock when the dog is relaxed.

The limbs are strong and angulated when viewed from the side, but absolutely parallel and upright when viewed from the front or behind. The coat is short and glossy, and its texture ranges from silky and fine to slightly coarse. It is a rich tan colour, with optional white markings on the tip of the tail, the chest, toes, and running along the centre of the face.

Males are usually 56 to 64 cm (22–25 in) tall to the point of the withers; females are 53–61 cm (21–24 in). Weights range from 20 to 25 kg, with males generally being at the upper end of the range.

Character & Temperament

The Pharaoh Hound is a clever and affectionate dog with a fun-loving personality. Although it can be quite laid back, even aloof at times, it is also very playful, and will never refuse an opportunity to chase a ball or to play Frisbee. It is also a gentle and sensitive breed, and does not cope well with stress within the home – family strife or teenage drama are taken to heart, and individuals exposed to such stresses may become withdrawn and morose. They are very vocal dogs, using whines to communicate when in company, and prone to fits of howling or barking when bored or lonely.

The Pharaoh Hound has no tolerance for separation from its owner, and such vocal protests will often be heard when the dog is simply left outside for a toilet break, not to mind when left alone for extended periods of time. It is a breed that loves children, and is careful and considerate when in the company of the very young, although interactions between any dog and a young child must always be supervised. While it is sociable with other dogs, it is a true hunting breed, and should never be trusted with cats or other small pets.

Trainability

Photo of Pharaoh Hound puppy

The breed scores reasonably highly in assessments of intelligence, and because of its attachment to its owner, is usually reasonably easy to train. However, it also becomes bored very easily, and may lose interest and appear stubborn if owners take a lethargic or repetitive approach to training.

Instead, an upbeat manner and profuse praise should be employed for best results. As might be expected from a dog that dislikes strife, criticism and punishment are very detrimental to the learning process, while positive reinforcement is most likely to yield positive results.

Health

As there are just a small number of extremely devoted Pharaoh Hound breeders, the breed’s health has been carefully managed for many years, and inherited health problems are exceptionally uncommon with the few listed below being seen in few individuals.

  • Addison’s disease – Most common in young adult females, this is a condition of hormone deficiency due to autoimmune destruction of secretory cells within the adrenal glands. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, and excessive thirst and urination, and are usually intermittent in nature, with stressful events precipitating episodes of illness. Life-long treatment with replacement hormone is usually very successful.
  • Atopic dermatitis – Like humans, dogs can suffer from allergies, with those manifesting in the skin being the most common. Allergens are most often inhaled, or may penetrate the skin, and cause signs of irritation, such as scratching, head shaking, or chewing on the extremities.
  • Hypothyroidism – Another hormone deficiency caused by autoimmune disease. In this case, it is the neck’s thyroid glands that are attacked, and the resulting lack of thyroid hormone secretion leads to a slowing of the metabolic rate, weight gain, and lethargy. Signs manifest some time in middle age, and resolve over the course of several weeks with the initiation of hormone replacement therapy.
  • Optic nerve hypoplasia – Rare cases of congenital blindness may be caused by underdevelopment of the nerve conducting signals from the eye to the brain.
  • Thrombocytopaenia – Though this rarely causes clinical symptoms, Pharaoh Hounds, like other sighthounds, may be found to have unusually low levels of platelets, the cells responsible for blood clotting, on routine laboratory tests.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Pharaoh Hounds need a reasonable amount of exercise; ideally, somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes every day. Once they are provided with this outlet, they are quite low-energy dogs at home, and not prone to bouts of hyperactivity. They can adapt to apartment living, but benefit from having access to a securely fenced outdoor space.

Grooming

The short coat is easy to care for, and needs just weekly brushing and to be wiped with a damp cloth at the same time. Baths are needed only if the dog finds something especially unpleasant to roll in, and owners should use a mild shampoo, as the thin skin can be quite sensitive to drying. Daily tooth brushing is important to prevent a build-up of tartar, and the nails may need to be clipped occasionally, depending on the surfaces on which the dog is walked.

Famous Pharaoh Hounds

Though the modern Pharaoh Hounds have not enjoyed the same celebrity, those of Pharaonic Egypt were depicted with their royal owners in artwork decorating their tombs and palaces, depictions that have been reproduced around the world, and making this dog instantly recognisable despite its rare status.

Cross-Breeds

This breed is extremely hard to track down, and any Pharaoh Hound breeder of repute would shudder to think of diluting its royal genes through cross-breeding. For this reason, I am not aware of any designer breeds that have been created from this particular pedigree.

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