Cirneco dell Etna Dog

Cirneco dell’Etna Dog Breed History, Health And Care

Introduction Of Cirneco dell’Etna Dog

The Cirneco dell’Etna (pronounced “cheer-nay-ko del etna”) is an Italian breed developed on the island of Sicily several thousands of years ago. It has also been called the Sicilian Greyhound, the Sicilian Hound or simply the Cirneco.

The name “Cirneco” is generally thought to be derived from the Greek word “kyrenaikos,” which means “dog from Cyrene,” the area in North Africa now known as Libya. Some authorities suggest that the breed’s name may come from the Latin term “cernere,” which means “to look for attentively.”

The affix “dell’Etna” was only added in 1939, when the first breed standard was formally recognized by the Italian Kennel Club (ENCI). It translates as “from Etna,” referring to Mount Etna, the 10,000-foot active volcano on Sicily’s eastern side, where the highest concentrations of Cirnechi still live.

Originally used to hunt rabbits and other small game on rough ground formed by molten lava, these trim, muscular dogs rely on sight, scent and hearing to track their prey.

They are known for their stamina, swiftness and springy gait, which help them to navigate treacherous terrain with relative ease. Bred to hunt for days in extreme heat without access to food or water, the Cirneco is an extraordinarily hardy and resilient dog.

Its attentive, affectionate, adaptable disposition makes it a good companion for active families. Despite the efforts of breed aficionados, the Cirneco is still rare outside of Sicily and has not achieved the popularity of its larger Pharaoh Hound and Ibizan Hound cousins.

Cirneco dell’Etna Dog Breed Quick Facts

Affection Level4/5
Apartment Friendly3/5
Barking Tendencies3/5
Cat Friendly3/5
Child Friendly2/5
Dog Friendly3/5
Exercise Need4/5
Grooming Needs2/5
Health Issues2/5

Cirneco dell’Etna – Appearance & Grooming

General Appearance

The Cirneco dell’Etna is a small- to medium-sized elegant hunting dog with exaggerated ears, a long pointy muzzle and a stunning coat. The Cirnechi’s tall, triangular ears, which can be up to one-half the length of its head, are set very high and close together.

They must be held erect (“pricked”) and rigid, parallel or almost parallel, when the dog is alert. Droopy ears, or “bat ears,” disqualify the dog from show competition. The Cirneco has a strong, well-arched neck. Its body is lean and elegant, athletic and muscular.

Its ribcage is slightly sprung and fairly narrow, although it should never be flat. The Cirnechi’s thick, long, low-set tail is carried high and curved during motion, and sabre-like when standing still. It should never curl tightly over the back. The feet should be strong and oval, without dewclaws on the hind legs.

Dewclaws on the forelegs should not be removed. The Cirnechi’s paw pads should be brown or flesh colored, with nails of matching color. Black nails or foot pads are a breed disqualification. This is a long-legged breed, with a kind oval eye and an alert expression.

It is often confused with the Pharaoh Hound, to which it bears a striking resemblance. However, the Cirneco is substantially smaller, both in stature and weight, and has a more squared-off profile.

Size and Weight

The ideal male Cirneco dell’Etna measures between 18 and 19¾ inches at the withers, although dogs between 17¼ and 20½ inches in height are tolerated under the AKC breed standard.

Females ideally stand between 16½ and 18 inches tall, with heights from 15¾ to 19¾ inches being allowed in the American show ring. Both males and females typically weigh between 17 and 27 pounds.

Coat and Color

The Cirneco’s coat is short on the head, ears and legs and usually a bit longer but still sleek and close on the body. It can be fine or slightly coarse and should have no feathering.

One of the most striking characteristics of the Cirneco is its beautiful, shiny, solid-colored coat, which preferably ranges from a rich tan to a deep chestnut. It can have a mixture of slightly lighter and darker hairs, with or without white patches on the face, chest, belly, feet and/or tail tip. Dogs that are solid white, white with orange patches, or any color with a white collar are accepted but less desirable under the AKC breed standard.

Cirnechi that are solid brown or liver, and those with brown patches, brindle coats or any black patches, hairs, pigmentation or mucous membranes, are disqualified from the show ring. The extremely short hair coat of this breed makes it especially susceptible to the cold.

These dogs should wear a sweater or coat if they are exposed to damp, chilly weather for any length of time. Cirnechi are indoor dogs that are not well-suited to living in cold climates.


The Cirneco dell’Etna is a low-maintenance breed. Its short coat only needs an occasional brushing to keep it tidy and clean. A rubber curry brush or hound glove, or even a warm damp cloth, work well to keep its coat looking shiny and lustrous.

Frequent bathing is not necessary and really should only be done when the dog is obviously smelly or dirty. Other routine maintenance is the same as for most breeds, including dental care to keep teeth clean, reduce plaque build-up and prevent bad breath. Regular nail clipping is also important.

Many sighthounds, including many Cirnechi, are sensitive to having their feet handled. Nail care should start at a very young age, so that it does not become a struggle. Owners should do their best to avoid cutting into the quick of the nail, which is quite painful for the animal.

For those who are not comfortable clipping nails, a quick trip to a professional groomer can be a godsend for both owner and dog.

Cirneco dell’Etna – History and Health


Most experts agree that the Cirneco dell’Etna’s ancestors came from the Nile river valleys of ancient Egypt. Prick-eared dogs apparently arrived in Sicily with Phoenician traders, as they travelled between Northern Africa and ports along the Mediterranean coast long ago.

Some authorities suggest that the Cirneco may actually be an entirely Sicilian breed without roots in Egypt. Either way, Cirnechi held special spiritual, symbolic and religious importance for ancient Sicilians and were depicted in their art and other artifacts.

Towns throughout Sicily used engravings of prick-eared dogs on minted coins between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C.

Over the centuries, the Cirneco dogs adjusted to their harsh environment, becoming smaller and especially well-adapted to the landscape of their volcanic homeland. The Sicilian islanders left their dogs’ development largely to nature.

The absence of human tinkering and the Cirnechi’s geographical isolation are rather unique among modern dog breeds and likely are responsible for this breed’s resilience and good health.

Limited food sources, constant inbreeding and the lack of wide-open spaces to mingle probably account for its gradual reduction in size.

The first record of the Cirneco dell’Etna’s name appeared in the early 1500s, when the Sicilian government imposed sanctions against anyone caught hunting with this dog, because it was considered destructive to local game, but very little was known about the Cirneco outside Sicily until the 20th Century.

In 1932, an Adrano veterinarian, Dr. Maurizio Migneco, published an article in the Italian journal “Il Cacciatore Italiano” (The Italian Hunter), in which he expressed passionate disappointment about the breed’s descent into near-obscurity. After reading this article, a Sicilian aristocrat named the Baroness “Donna Agata” Paternó Castello of the Dukes of Carcaci decided to research and reestablish the ancient breed.

For the next 26 years, she worked tirelessly to learn about the Cirnechi’s origins and track down dogs from all over Sicily that she felt were sound representatives of the breed in terms of both temperament and type.

She used those dogs in a selective breeding program and consulted with a well-known zoologist, Professor Giuseppe Solaro. He wrote the first Cirneco dell’Etna breed standard, which was adopted by the Italian Kennel Club, Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiana (ENCI), in 1939, a mere 7 years after Dr. Migneco’s stirring article.

In 1951, Dr. Migneco was appointed the first president of the Italian Cirneco dell’Etna Breed Club, which was founded that same year. The Baroness became the first club secretary.

The Italian Kennel Club officially recognized that parent breed club in 1956. The first Cirneco to achieve its Italian Championship title was a bitch named Aetnensis Pupa, bred by Donna Agata herself.

The Cirneco dell’Etna eventually spread across Italy and to several other European countries, including France and Finland. In 1989, the ENCI’s Technical Committee revised the breed standard to bring it in line with the format also approved by the Federation Cynologique International (FCI) that year.

Cirnechi have at different times been classified in FCI Group 10 – Sighthound, Group 6 – Scenthound, and most recently as a primitive hunting dog in Group 5 – Spitz and Primitive.

The first Cirnechi arrived in the United States in the 1990s. A group of fanciers established the first colony of purebred Cirnechi in this country in 1996. They formed a breed club in 1997.

The Cirneco dell’Etna was accepted by American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) in 1999. The United Kennel Club (UKC) officially recognized the Cirneco in 2006, as a member of its Sighthound and Pariah Group.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) also recognized the Cirneco dell’Etna in 2006, as a member of the Foundation Stock Service program. The AKC welcomed the Cirneco into its Miscellaneous Class in January 2012, with a Hound Group designation.

The breed is recognized by the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA), but has not yet been recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC).


The average life span of the Cirneco dell’Etna is 12 to 15 years. Because this breed developed in such an unforgiving, isolated environment, with little manipulation by man and constant inbreeding, there are no widely reported breed-specific health concerns.

Cirneco dell’Etna – Temperament & Personality


The Cirneco dell’Etna has a strong, inquisitive, independent temperament, which is important in keen hunting dogs. It is also outgoing, friendly, affectionate and smart. Cirnechi are loyal and loving with their owners and friends.

They are willing and eager to please and love to receive pets and praise. They usually make great family pets, although they can be reserved around strangers. The Cirneco is an extremely adaptable breed that can thrive in a wide variety of environments. However, these are house dogs that definitely need to live indoors due to their short coats, thin skin and absence of body fat.

They like to nestle on warm soft furniture, blankets and bedding, almost as much as they like to snuggle with their favorite people. Cirnechi typically are tolerant of children, although this is not a bomb-proof breed and probably isn’t the best choice for families with very young kids.

Cirnechi are social animals that tend to get along well with other dogs. They rarely cause problems in multiple-pet homes and, unlike most sighthounds, get along remarkably well with familiar cats. Of course, the earlier any dog is exposed to other household pets and small children, the more likely it is to get along with them as they age.

Activity Requirements

Cirnechi are high-energy animals that need quite a bit of regular exercise to keep them physically and mentally fit. They love taking long daily walks and having a chance to stretch their legs in safely-enclosed areas.

It is important for Cirneco owners to have well-fenced yards, so that their dogs can run freely and burn off excess energy, which usually happens in short bursts. While they can be gregarious and playful, Cirnechi usually are calm and quiet, both indoors and out, as long as their exercise needs are met.

They are great fans of toys of all sorts. A Cirneco can play with a single toy for hours, keeping it out of mischief. Cirnechi are active contestants in lure coursing and agility competitions.

Participation in these and other canine sporting events provides a great opportunity to showcase the Cirneco’s athleticism, while at the same time giving him a chance to get physical exercise and canine socialization.


The Cirneco is extremely bright and responds well to gentle, positive training methods. It is considered to be easier to train than many of its sighthound cousins. Because of the breed’s intelligence, it can do well with both long and short training sessions.

However, short sessions seem to be better, since these dogs can become bored and inattentive if training lasts too long. This is a terrific breed for agility and lure coursing competitions, due to its superior speed, nimbleness and “smarts.”

Behavioral Traits

As sighthounds, Cirnechi are extremely observant and instinctively programmed to dart after almost any small thing that moves. Because they are natural chasers, Cirnechi should be kept in safely-enclosed areas, preferably surrounded by a tall solid fence that they cannot climb over, jumpe over or wiggle through.

An underground or above-ground electric fence is not a wise containment option for this breed, as Cirnechi are also keen diggers, going back to their rodent- and rabbit-hunting roots.

The Cirneco dell’Etna can become depressed or destructive if it doesn’t get enough exercise and human attention. If an owner cannot spend lots of time with his Cirneco every day, this breed is not a good choice.

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