The most widespread theory on the origin of the Cirneco dell’Etna (pronounced cheer-nay-ko) is that the breed is descended from the hunting dogs of ancient Egypt which were brought to Sicily thousands of years ago by Phoenician traders. There is certainly a strong resemblance to the lithe, prick-eared dogs depicted on Egyptian artefacts dated around 4,000 BC and Cirnechi and Pharaoh Hounds were not considered distinct breeds until the mid 20th century. Recent research however suggests that the Cirneco actually originated in Sicily in the exact region of Etna. Whichever theory may hold true it is indisputable that this is a very ancient breed which, over millennia, has bred true to type with minimal human manipulation and no out-crossing to other breeds. The presence of Cirnechi on Sicily from times immemorial is attested to by depictions of the breed on coins from the 5th and 3rd centuries BC and on art works as early as circa 380 BC and the 2nd century AD. The Cirneco, also known as the Sicilian Greyhound, is a thorough-going hunting hound bred to work, by scent, sight and sound, the inhospitable volcanic terrain around Mount Etna for rabbit going for hours without food and water. In the early part of the 20th century breed numbers declined and it was the dedicated efforts of Baroness Agata Paterno Castello which saved them from extinction. The first breed Standard was accepted by the Italian Kennel Club in 1939. Still regarded in most countries as a rare breed the first Cirneco was imported into Britain in 2001.
The Cirneco is an elegant and active dog with the temperament and all the drive of a hunting hound. He is a very pleasant family companion who is playful and generally good with children, but while affectionate to all his people he does have the tendency to bond closely with one particular person. As all of his very recent ancestors will have been bred to work he is best suited to families that lead active lives in which he is included as much as possible. He is physically unsuited to withstand cold weather and this, plus his need for human companionship, means that he should not be considered as an outside dog who will be content with his own company in a kennel in the yard. He will thrive only if he receives attention and a place in the house - preferably in front of the fire or in a cosy bed on cold days. Unlike some other breeds of hound he tends to be rather wary and suspicious of strangers and may not readily make friends. He will bark to alert to strangers approaching but is otherwise a quiet housedog. It is important to ensure that gardens are very securely fenced as the sight, scent or sound of potential prey will lead to determined escape attempts. This resilient and robust dog is an excellent choice for those who can meet his needs for exercise and company and can appreciate the nature of a hound.
This lively breed needs a considerable amount of exercise. Long daily walks are essential for both his physical and mental well-being. Exercise should always be undertaken on-lead as he is a tireless and enthusiastic hunter with a very strong prey dive. His good sense of smell, his acute hearing and keen eyesight will alert him to potential prey and, being a natural pursuer of anything that runs, he is difficult to recall once embarked on the chase. If a secure area can be found he will enjoy the opportunity to run and explore off-lead but it is always wise to ensure that he cannot possibly escape and come to grief. The sport of lure coursing will satisfy his natural hunger for the chase and will provide an outlet for his abundant energy. Cirnechi also enjoy and can be successful in agility sports.
Basic obedience training is important for all dogs in order that they learn boundaries and are amenable to commands. The Cirneco is not a particularly difficult dog to train and the breed has been known to do very well in obedience competition. He is an intelligent dog and very willing to work for an owner he loves and respects. All training should be based on positive reinforcement with rewards of treats and praise for good efforts and a job well done. Other methods based on harsh discipline and punishment for mistakes have no place in training the Cirneco, or any other dog. Faced with rough handling and an angry voice he will become confused and fearful and his potential will never be realized. Socialization should commence at a young age and should be on-going. By introducing the pup to various people, places, situations, other dogs and animals he will be prepared to face life in a human world which is sometimes confusing for a dog and he will mature into a well-adjusted, well-mannered, sensible adult of whom to be proud.
Cirneco Dell'Etna in main photograph: Reno - Sambuca Adriano. Has a BPISS (Best Puppy in Specialty Show) a RBIS (BIS-2) (Reserve Best in Show), multi group and BOB (Best of Breed), and is Rarities pointed. Owned by Jennifer Holzke, Knoxville, Tennessee, US.
KC, AKC, FCI recognized?