Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Every time we listen to the news these days, we hear something about Egypt, and this is because a bunch of people in Egypt are mad at their ruler, President Hosni Mubarak.  They say he is mean and awful, and he ought to go away and let somebody else be president for a change.  I think if I were in Egypt, I would just bite President Mubarak firmly on the butt, and that would make him run out of his palace in a hurry.  But nobody has asked me to go over there and do that.  At least not yet.

Anyway, because of all the talk about Egypt, I started thinking about dogs that might have been around back in the days of the Ancient Egyptians.  Basenjis might have been there, and I thought maybe Pharaoh Hounds were, too, because they have a very Egyptian-sounding name.  But when I started doing research on the breed, I was shocked to find out it actually came from Malta, and not from Egypt at all.

Well, then I had to look up Malta because I couldn't remember exactly where it was located, and neither could Mom.  And it turns out to be an island that is close to Sicily, which is close to Italy.  And it's not too far from Tunisia either.  And besides Malta, there is another island right nextdoor named Gozo, but Malta is bigger.

Some people believe that the Pharaoh Hound really did start out in Ancient Egypt, between 4000 and 3000 B.C.  At least we've all seen those carvings of dogs that have pricked ears and curled tails, and maybe these dogs were the ancestors of a lot of dogs that started out in Egypt and then went to other parts of the Middle East or Africa.  Anyway, Phoenician traders might have brought Pharaoh Hounds from Egypt to Malta, and then the breed got preserved by the Maltese people.

The official name of the breed is Kelb tal-Fenek, which means "dog of the rabbit" in the language of Malta.  The dogs were called that because they were used for hunting rabbits.  They hunt using both sight and scent, just like basenjis do, so this makes them good at finding small game in rocky terrain.

The first two kelb tal-fenek dogs were brought to Britain from Malta in the 1920s, but they were not bred.  In the 1960s, more dogs were imported, and the first litter was born in 1963.  The British continued to develop the breed, and it was recognized by The Kennel Club in 1974.

There are several other breeds in the Mediterranean area that are similar to the Pharaoh Hound, and these include the Ibizan Hound, the Cirneco Dell'Etna, the Podenco Canario, and the Podengo Portugues.  Is it just by chance that there are so many dogs in this part of the world who look like those dogs in the Egyptian carvings?  I don't think so, but that is just my personal opinion.  Maybe the scientists who do all the DNA testing stuff can sort it out.

Anyway, when it comes to looks, Pharaohs are handsome dogs with really big ears.  They have short coats that are always some shade of red.  White markings on the chest, toes, tail tip, forehead, and bridge of the muzzle are okay, but white on other parts of the body is not allowed by the breed standard.  The puppies are born with blue eyes that change to an amber color when the dogs grow up.  The nose, whiskers, nails, paw pads, and eye rims of a Pharaoh Hound should be the same color as its coat.  And here's something interesting:  when these dogs get excited, they "blush," and their ears and nose turn bright pink!

Pharaoh Hounds are smart and playful and energetic.  They are sort of aloof with strangers, but they bond deeply with their human family members.  Since they are sighthounds, you have to keep them on a leash when you are not in an enclosed area.  Also you need a fence that is five or six feet tall, so that they don't jump over it.  Pharaohs are good at lure-coursing and agility, but not so good at obedience because they are pretty independent-minded and also sometimes stubborn.  They have a strong prey drive, so they might try to eat your cats or birds or other small pets.

And guess what!  Almost everything I just said about Pharaoh Hounds is true about basenjis, too.  So that's another reason I think we have a distant common ancestor.  Maybe, many thousands of years ago, that ancestor dog hung out with the pharaohs and ate lots of yummy Egyptian food and then got mummified and buried in the pyramids after they all died.  Or not.  Sometimes my imagination starts running away with me!


  1. A Pharaoh Hound was turned in to the shelter when I was with Wayside Waifs years ago. We contacted his breeder in New York. She made arrangements to have him fostered. He was eventually adopted by a doctor at Children's Mercy. The breeder was very upset that one of her puppies ended up at a shelter and that he hadn't been neutered. We fixed that. Any way he is the only Pharaoh Hound I have ever seen in person. Good looking dog!
    Aunt Lynn

  2. Dear Aunt Lynn,
    I have never met a Pharaoh Hound in person, and my mom has only seen them at dog shows. I don't think many of them would show up in shelters, and I'm glad you could find the breeder and also find a new home for the one at Wayside Waifs.
    Your friend, Piper

  3. I've seen some Pharaohs at coursing events. They go BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK!!!!! Really loud. I think it's kind of obnoxious. I mean I'd like MY turn right NOW too, but you don't see me carrying on like that.

    Your Friend,
    Zest! superstar in training

  4. LOL! Zest, you don't carry on like that because you are a basenji and you can't bark! I guess that when I was reading about Pharaoh Hounds, and they said they make good watch dogs, that is why, because they bark in that obnoxious way. I think yodels are ever so much nicer, don't you?

    Your friend, Piper

  5. yodels are much more melodeous than BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK.


  6. Dear Piper,
    Sorry that the last blog I read was Nicky's! That leaves me a lot of commenting to do! Anyway, it's funny that pharaoh dogs "blush" it seems really cute that they do! It seems so funny if you imagine a dog smiling, and I bet they try to. This is what I think: Dogs move around a lot during pictures because they're trying to smile but their cheeks do not function that way so they are walking around trying to stretch their mouths! I don't think dogs have behavior problems, that's just what HUMANS think! Anyway, about the pharahoh dogs being handsome... I guess they look okay, but I think that you are the most wonderfulest kind of dog that a Human eye could lay on!!! I also think about other dogs the same way ( But you are the smartest) Keep on writing!

  7. Dear Tas,
    Now I am blushing because of all the nice things you said about me! LOL
    Your friend, Piper

  8. Hi, I'm from Malta and I really enjoyed reading this article.
    Let me know if you need more information.
    Thank you.
    Facebook: Stanley Cassar Darien

    1. Dear Stanley Cassar Darien,
      Thanks for reading my blog. I'm glad you liked it. I never met anybody from Malta before, so I feel really honored!
      Sincerely, Piper

  9. Hi! Interesting piece. They are definitely all related to what the original domesticated dogs in that region must have looked like. If you look at my dog (who is not a recognized breed but just a local dog from Sudan) she looks a lot like both Pharaoh hounds and Basenjis - which would make sense with Sudan being in between the med and central Africa. Would love to know more about the linkages in genetics with all these dogs! Here are some pics of Tala:

    1. Tala is a very beautiful dog! You are right in saying that it doesn't seem right just to say she is a "pariah hound." I think the Ancient Egyptians must have had some very beautiful dogs, and that is why they included them in their murals and carvings!