The sleek and sinewy Cirneco dell’Etna, the ancient coursing hound of Sicily, is an athletic hunter given to quick bursts of speed. As house dogs, Cirnechi is mild, low-maintenance companions cherished for their loyal and gentle nature. Standing under 20 inches, the Cirneco (‘cheer-NEK-o’ irnechi is the plural) is often described as resembling a smaller version of the Pharaoh Hound, its cousin from the island of Malta. This slender but rugged hunter’s coat ranges from light to dark tan or chestnut. The large, upright ears point up to the alert expression of the eyes, whose amber or ochre color smartly complements the coat. In many ways, these lithe and leggy Sicilians are typical sighthounds: sweet-natured, independent, and breathtakingly swift. It is said that Cirnechi is a bit more trainable than the usual sighthound. These living artifacts of antiquity have sprinted into the 21st century relatively unchanged by fads and fancies.
It is thought that ancient Egyptians perfected “sighthounds” or “coursing hounds,” the canine clan of explosively fast hunters struck from the Greyhound template. In antiquity, offshoots of the “Egyptian Hound” were developed and bartered around the Middle East and Mediterranean basin.
A clue to the Cirneco’s origin is in its name: Cirneco is derived from a Greek word meaning “dog of Cyrene (Libya).” It is likely that the breed has existed in Sicily since its ancestors arrived on its craggy shores some 3,000 years ago in the holds of ships piloted by those master traders of the ancient world, the Phoenicians. As far back as 500 b.c., dogs resembling Cirnechi appeared on Sicilian coins.
For thousands of years Cirnechi (sometimes called Sicilian Greyhounds) have been chasing rabbit, hare, and game birds across the rocky slopes of Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. Don’t be fooled by the breed’s delicate appearance; the Cirneco dell’Etna is a tough and durable worker, able to go without food or water for hours on the hunt in the hot climate and rugged terrain of its homeland.
By the early 1930s, the Cirneco was on the verge of oblivion. Dr. Maurizio Migneco, a veterinarian, wrote a passionate article about the breed’s imminent demise. It caught the attention of a Sicilian aristocrat, Baroness Agata Paternó Castello, who spent the next 26 years reviving the breed in Sicily.
Italy’s national kennel club recognized the Cirneco in 1939, and the AKC recognized the breed in 2015.
Temperament:independent / friendly / affectionate
Height: 16.5 to 19.5 inches
Weight: 17-26 pounds
Life Expectancy: 12-14 years
The Cirneco dell’Etna is a very hardy and healthy breed. Given excellent nutrition, regular veterinary care, parasite control, and the mental and physical stimulation he needs, he will be a happy and long-lived companion. Every week the owner should do a quick check of the dog’s ears for any signs of infection, and the Cirneco’s teeth should be brushed often, using a toothpaste designed for dogs.
The Cirneco’s short-haired, smooth coat requires minimal care. Gentle weekly brushing with a soft bristle brush or hound glove should keep him looking his best, with an occasional bath only as needed. His ears should be regularly inspected for dirt or buildup of excess wax and cleaned if needed with soft gauze and an ear-cleaning solution’¿the dog’s breeder or the veterinarian can recommend a good brand to use. The nails should be trimmed often if not worn down naturally, as overly long nails can cause the dog discomfort.
Moderate physical exercise and mental stimulation are essential to satisfy the Cirneco’s intensely intelligent and inquisitive nature. He does best when he has a function, whether that means competing in the show ring or other canine events or being an interactive family member. He enjoys long walks and activities with his people. Because of his strong hunting instincts, he should not be allowed off lead in areas that are not securely enclosed, as he may not be able to resist the urge to run off after perceived prey. He does well with a fenced backyard where he can enjoy playtime with his owner, although he should not be just left alone outside with no attention for long periods, as he would be lonely and unhappy.
The Cirneco has a strong, independent temperament necessary for a hunter but is friendly and affectionate and makes an excellent family pet. They respond well to gentle methods of training and can be successfully trained for obedience, rally, agility, tracking, and of course the breed’s historical reason for existence: hunting. Many Cirnechi especially enjoy lure coursing. Due to the breed’s strong prey drive, care must be exercised when introducing the Cirneco to cats and small animals. Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended and help to ensure that the Cirneco grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.
The Cirneco should be fed a high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) and activity level. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet or the dog’s breeder if you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should always be available.