Back to Basics: A Breed Standard Comparison of the Pharaoh and Ibizan Hounds

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If you want to start a fight among sighthound people you can always bring up the sensitive subject of which breeds are “real” sighthounds and which are not. Greyhounds and Salukis, sure. Not much question about Whippets, Borzoi or Afghan Hounds either, although there you already have an influx of foreign blood — in small doses and long ago, but still. When you get to, for example, Irish Wolfhounds and Italian Greyhounds, even those of us who are used to seeing these breeds compete in the same group at foreign FCI shows have to admit it’s a stretch: they don’t seem to have much in common. To accept any number of breeds as part of a related “group” you obviously need a certain elasticity of mind — and nowhere is this more clear than when discussing Ibizan and Pharaoh Hounds.

These two breeds are unquestionably sighthounds in many important respects, but although they are classified as Hounds in the U.S. and compete in lure coursing with the aforementioned and other sighthound breeds, they are not in the same group in most other countries. Based on the prevailing views in their countries of origin, FCI puts them in Group 5, Section 7: “Primitive type — Hunting dogs.” Their streamlined body shape tells you immediately that Ibizan and Pharaoh Hounds are sighthounds, but they hunt using not only their vision but also scent and even hearing, and their large, upright ears and high tail carriage also distinguish them from other sighthounds. It has even been suggested that one reason FCI does not classify Ibizan and Pharaoh Hounds as sighthounds might be the simple fact that as “hunting dogs” they apparently qualify for a dog license exemption in their native countries, but I have not been able to verify that suggestion.

The history of the two breeds runs along parallel lines, although it goes so far back that at least some of it must inevitably be conjecture. Ancient Greyhound-like hunting hounds have existed for many thousands of years in the Mediterranean area, and dogs that look identical to the present-day hounds are portrayed in royal Egyptian tombs from as early as 2300 B.C. The maritime trading culture of the Phoenicians is believed to have helped spread these dogs far and wide in the last millennium B.C. The Phoenicians settled trading posts on both the island of Malta (located between the southern tip of Italy and the north coast of Africa) around 600 B.C., and on the Balearic islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Minorca outside the Eastern coast of Spain. It is easy to imagine that during centuries of almost no outside influence, distinct breeds would have been established and remained essentially unchanged in these isolated outposts. There is little real evidence of the dogs’ existence on the islands over the centuries, however, although as early as in 1647 the Vice Chancellor of the Order of St. John, Commendatore Fra. G. Fran. Abela, wrote from Malta that “There are dogs called ‘Cernechi’ esteemed for the hunting of rabbits ...in demand primarily for stony, mountainous and steep locations.” The other breeds classified by the FCI in the same group and section as Ibizan and Pharaoh Hounds, by the way, are the Cirneco dell’Etna, the Podenco Canario/Canarian Warren Hound, and the Podengo Portugues/Portuguese Warren Hound; the last-named comes in three sizes and two coat varieties. All show similarities to the Ibizan and Pharaoh Hounds  — the Cirneco dell’Etna basically looks like a miniature Pharaoh Hound. Both the Cirneco and the Podengo Portugues are currently in AKC’s Foundation Stock Service.

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