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Introduction to the Cirneco Dog

cirneco dell'etna


Many people may not have heard of the Cirneco dell’Etna (pronounced cheer-neck-o in Italian). The plural is Cirnechi (cheer-neck-ee). As the name suggests, this compact hunting hound comes from the area around the live volcano Mount Etna, on the eastern coast of the Italian island of Sicily. Dell’Etna translates as ‘of Etna’.

Whilst the Cirneco dell’Etna has become a very familiar sight in Sicily over many centuries, its popularity is still to grow around the world. The breed is particularly notable for its upright pricked ears. With its distinctive ears and liver coloring the Cirneco dell’Etna looks similar to its larger Mediterranean cousins. These close relatives are the Pharaoh Hound from Malta and the Ibizan Hound from the Spanish Balearic Islands.

Breed History

Breed recognition for this neat little hunting hound came as late as the 20th century in Italy. It took until 2015 to achieve this with the American Kennel Club in the United States.

Despite late recognition, the Cirneco dell’Etna hound has been resident in Sicily for millenia. It is generally agreed that the breed originated from ancient prick-eared Egyptian hounds. These Egyptian hounds resembling the Cirneco can be found depicted in stone carvings and antiquities dating back to around 4000 B.C. This gives the Cirneco dell’Etna a long and illustrious ancestry dating back to ancient times along the banks of the river Nile.

Historians think that the Phoenicians, maritime traders based along the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, were responsible for the spread of the Egyptian hounds. The dogs accompanied the Phoenicians as they plied their trade on their routes between Northern Africa and Mediterranean ports, including the island of Sicily.

Sicilian coins minted from 500 B.C. onwards prove the presence of the Cirneco dell’Etna type in Sicily for 2500 years or more, with the Cirneco appearing on the coins. The breed was often portrayed on silver and bronze coins from various Sicilian cities, in over a hundred different types of design.

Used in Sicily as both a hunting and companion hound, the Cirneco dell’Etna was also trained to hunt alongside ferrets. The ferret pursued the rabbit or other small prey, should they go to ground. This avoided the need for the Cirneco to use up its remaining energy for digging – a trait it still has.

Up until the 1930s, the Cirneco dell’Etna was not much heard of, except in Sicily. In 1932, an Italian hunting journal called “Il Cacciatore Italiano” published an article about the breed. The article highlighted the Cirneco obscurity. As a result, a Sicilian aristocrat, the Baroness Agata Paternó Castello started to champion the breed’s plight. The Baroness ended up dedicating over a quarter of a century of her life to promoting the Cirneco dell’Etna to secure its future.


The American Kennel Club breed standard describes the Cirneco dell’Etna as a ‘medium sized hunting dog, elegant, slender build but strong and hardy.’ It adds that he breed is generally long of limb, but of ‘light construction and square outline’. Finally the Cirneco must have ‘upright ears, always alert.’

The breed standards state that a Cirneco dogs should measure between 18 to 19½ inches in height, with bitches 16½ to 19 inches. Generally the dog will weigh from 22 to 36 pounds. Although this is the strict conformation required for show dogs, Cirneco from hunting stock may deviate somewhat from these vital statistics. The Cirneco dell’Etna is the smallest of the Mediterranean hunting hounds, standing shorter than either the Pharaoh or Ibizan hound.

As with the Pharaoh Hound the Cirneco coat coloring ranges from a light tan to chestnut. Eye color is amber to ochre.


Given its history as a hunting hound worked on the unforgiving mountainous volcanic terrain of Mount Etna, the breed has great endurance. Whilst it is not recommended, a Cirneco has great stamina and can hunt for hours without food or water. Primarily used for hunting rabbits, game birds and hare, the Cirneco is, like all sighthounds, extremely quick when in pursuit of prey. Although the Cirneco will first spot its prey by sight, unlike other sighthounds it has developed a keen sense of smell. This sense helps it to track small prey through dense, low-lying vegetation.

As with most sighthounds, the Cirneco has a kind nature but independent spirit. Keen vision for small prey combined with an inbred hunting instinct means an off-leash Cirneco could get itself into trouble. The breed are also good at climbing and make enthusiastic diggers. Cirneci owners will need to have tall fences with sturdy foundations for off-leash exercise, otherwise the dog can escape. Fortunately, Cirneci respond well to training and appear keen to please their owners.

The Cirneco dell’Etna has an even, sociable temperament and makes a suitable pet for families. It will enjoy playing ball games with children. An excellent athlete it may enjoy agility training. Due to its hunting genes, the breed should not be trusted with cats, or left unsupervised outside.

Grooming and Exercise

The Cirneco dell’Etna has a short, easily maintained coat. The coat sheds lightly and has minimal grooming requirements. Weekly brushing with a soft brush and a wipe down with a damp cloth will keep the Cirneco looking its best. As with any pet dog, be sure to take care of teeth by training the Cirneco to accept a regular dental cleaning routine. Daily brushing is advisable as the breed is known for not chewing its food thoroughly, which can lead to tartar and plaque build-up.

The Cirneco originates from a hot climates and does not enjoy the cold or wet.

With an active routine, nails will wear down through exercise and digging. Complete regular nail checks and get them clipped when needed.

As with many sighthounds the Cirneco needs moderate exercise of at least thirty minutes a day. The breed will enjoy free exercise in a safe place on a regular basis. Do ensure that early training establishes a strong recall. Lack of exercise can lead to destructive behaviour, as with any dog.


The Cirneco dell’Etna gene pool has remained untouched for thousands of years. To survive a working life on the arid slopes of Mount Etna, the majority of heritable genetic weaknesses in the Cirneco have been wiped out through survival of the fittest.

The Cirneco is a healthy dog, not known to be susceptible to any heritable conditions. For a purebred, this robust health is unusual. Nevertheless the Cirneco dell’Etna is a highly athletic breed and can sustain muscle and ligament injuries to legs and toes whilst running at high speed. Make sure that the dog is kept at a healthy weight to prolong the life span and good health.

The Cirneco dell’Etna boasts an average life expectancy of between 12 to 14 years old.

What Cirneco Dell’etna owners say

As the breed is still quite rare outside Sicily, there are not a lot of owners out there to sing their pet’s praises. However, the most common words that owners use to describe their Cirneci include:

  • Friendly
  • Lively
  • Curious
  • Inquisitive
  • Loyal
  • Adaptable
  • Intelligent

The Cirneco dell’Etna is also known to like snuggling up close to their owners. Whether this is because they feel the cold, or love their owner, or both, is hard to say! In any event, it’s a sweet trait and one that sums up the experience of owning this lovely rare breed.

As an ancient purebred, the Cirneco dell’Etna is not plagued with common health issues. Yet it is as prone to accidents and disease as any other dog. Good pet health insurance will put any responsible owner’s mind at rest.

Reduce the worry of unexpected veterinary bills and visit Pet Insurance Quotes to compare reputable pet insurance quotes in one place. With the right insurance to cover this ancient hound, life together will be good, or ‘bonu’ as they say in Sicily.


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