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Kelb tal-Fenek

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Why breed the Kelb tal-Fenek?

I am often reminded of how much time and effort goes into building a successful breeding program when examining the pedigrees of the top performing dogs at local and Foreign Shows. Here in Malta, hunting ability has been and will always continue to be the place breeders turn to, in order to evaluate and prove their breeding program and bloodlines. Contrary to the Maltese, competent breeders overseas seek to understand the strengths and weaknesses of all the dogs in a four-generation pedigree and carefully evaluate each dog in the pedigree of a potential mating.

1. Breeding Ethics

The goal of any breeding programme should be to the protection and preservation of the breed. Breeders have an ethical responsibility to do everything they can do to ensure that future progeny are free of both physical and performance faults. He or she must also be willing to eliminate breeding stock from his program that exhibits substandard traits. 

A responsible Kelb tal-Fenek breeder should be focused on preservation of the breed and should be knowledgeable about reproduction, nutrition, wellness and care, early behavioral development, and breeding ethics. 

Common Breeding Techniques 

Breeders may seek to improve the qualities of a bloodline by utilizing one of five more common breeding techniques:  

  • outbreeding,

  • linebreeding,

  • inbreeding.

  • Incest breeding

  • Intermediate breeding

Outbreeding is the mating of dogs, which are not at all related to one another. This is the common way of breeding in wild living canides, since each young male will be expelled from his pack when it reaches sexual maturity. 

Linebreeding is the mating between slightly related dogs. In this case dogs are chosen for their special attributes to obtain certain type/s. 

Inbreeding is the mating between dogs, which are related. That means that at least one ancestor is present on the side of both sire and dam. Inbreeding is breeding between relatives of 2nd to 4th grade in straight or side line within the first four generations. e.g. uncle to niece, nephew to aunt, cousin to cousin, grandparents to grandchildren. In essence, this type of breeding is less often practiced in most breeds, however due to circumstances beyond control, this is NOT the case in the Kelb tal-Fenek.  

Incest breeding is probably the lesser know but also, unfortunately, frequently used within the Kelb tal-Fenek breed. It is the mating between parents and children or between brother and sister, i.e. 1st grade relatives. Incest breeding as well as continued inbreeding and linebreeding is quite risky, since it increases the danger of hereditary diseases. For that reason, many national kennel clubs give permission for incest breeding only exceptionally. 

Intermediate breeding is the single introduction of “outside” blood (obviously) of the same breed into a line, which has been established through inbreeding.  

How is the KTF being bred in Malta? 

The Kelb tal-Fenek, as probably everyone knows by now, is a very old breed. It is a known fact that the Kelb tal-Fenek has lived on the Maltese Islands since many centuries. The KTF is used in Malta for the sole purpose of hunting rabbits. It is therefore this hunting strain that the Maltese hunters and farmers were always striving for. It goes without saying that breeding in Malta was therefore never performed on the basis of only beauty but more on the basis of efficiency and hunting prowess. Add to this the fact that only the better performing puppies were kept, and the result is a breed with very strong hunting instincts.  

The Kelb tal-Fenek in Malta is not recognized as a pet dog, but rather as another farm animal, capable of providing meat at the table through hunting. In the past, our Maltese forefathers had obviously no chance to take their dog to a vet in cases of diseases. Therefore, if and when a dog got sick, it had either to pull through on its own strength or else succumb to its infection or disease – survival of the fittest! In the long term, this archaic method, coupled with the breeding system used in Malta, has attributed the breed with a very healthy background and with a deeply rooted hunting instinct. 

How is the KTF being bred out of Malta? 

In order to understand this concept, we will have to learn about the short history of the breed as it was introduced into Britain and then throughout the World. Back in the sixties, some six dogs were exported into the U.K.  In the few years that followed, these dogs were bred and interbred consistently. With the help of its Mythical name “Pharaoh Hound”, it was distributed throughout with relative ease. The “Myth” helped sell the puppies at good profits. It was as though the old Egyptian dog was re-discovered.  

Throughout these 40 odd years of the Kelb tal-Fenek’s existence in Europe and America, I estimate that yet another 20 to 30 dogs were exported from Malta. Today, the world-count, (excluding Malta) for the KTF is certainly not more than about 4000 dogs. These dogs are the result of breeding within these 30 or so imported dogs. Obviously, inbreeding and incest breeding have taken place to a very large degree. These breeding techniques quickly expose both the virtues and faults of a bloodline. If there are any faults in a breeding program they will be exposed when bred heavily, typically for 3 or more generations. 

A common misconception is that inbreeding causes high strung, nervous and aggressive dogs. This is simply not true. The temperament of a dog is determined by the genetic makeup of the parents plus the way the puppy is reared, and the fact that a line was bred closely will not alter the disposition of the offspring. A breeder who uses dogs with volatile temperaments as breeding stock is likely to have problems in their lines. In contrast, a breeder who uses dogs of sound temperament will produce dogs with sound temperaments, even if bred closely. It is however, also true that these breeding techniques have a devastating effect on the progeny as regards to health. Fortunately the Kelb tal-Fenek is still today recognized as being one of the healthiest breeds around. But for how much longer? I can only attribute this fact to the breeding method of the Kelb tal-Fenek as it was bred in Malta by countless generations.  

I acknowledge the fact that there are a few breeders that are extremely worried about the future health of the breed. These breeders go to great lengths to search for unrelated, fundamentally sound breeding stock and of genetically clean lines. However, due to the very fact that all the Kelb tal-Fenek within Europe (outside Malta) and Northern America are related in some way or another, inbreeding will continue to take place.  

Our way forward

Careful linebreeding has proven to be the best method to perpetuate desirable characteristics in most breeds. However, in the case of the Kelb tal-Fenek, close breeding on a strain for more than four generations will stagnate the line and make dramatic improvements of a strain more difficult because uniformity has been established in the line and the possibility of improvement is no longer possible. The decision to utilize an outcross breeding technique and go to a stud dog from a different bloodline is necessary to mix up the genes that have become uniform through linebreeding. The outcross technique will also help re-instate a certain degree of health qualities within the breed. The only alternative is therefore to go back to fundamentals. Malta has a vast choice of Klieb tal-Fenek. The introduction of new blood lines from Malta can only, but benefit the breed.  

A Final thought 

Remember the goal of any breeding program should be the protection and preservation of the breed. When selecting a puppy from a particular breeding, ask the breeder what he considers the strengths and weaknesses of both the sire and dam. A competent breeder understands the virtues and faults in both the sire and dam and looks to improve his stock through responsible breeding. 

2. The Practical Side

A lot has been written about breeding and rearing a litter of pups. This article has been written to give a little insight into these subjects and is by no means the be all and end all on the subject matter.

Breeding and Rearing a Litter of Puppies

I shall try to give but a brief resume of the major facts - as I know them. If however, you are at any time in doubt as to the well being of your bitch or puppies, I urge you to seek the opinion of your local veterinarian immediately. My advice is only limited to my own personal experience. 

Breeding and homing... 

Breeding a bitch is not a task to be undertaken lightly. It involves a lot of expense, hard work and planning. Due to the relatively small number of Kelb tal-Fenek enthusiasts, my advise to potential future breeders is NOT to breed a bitch unless advance arrangements are in hand for the homing of a substantial number of the demanding puppies. More important is the types of homes that these puppies will eventually end up in. Care must be taken by breeders to find the best possible homes for their pups – after all their well being should take precedence above everything else.  


The gestation period for dogs is between 58 to 65 days, the average being 63 days. The gestation period needs to start on the day of the first breeding not the last, since you cannot be certain when the bitch is actually bred. If the gestation period falls anywhere out of that time frame, your veterinarian should be contacted. If you wish to be certain regarding a pregnancy, an ultrasound scan at around 28-35 days (the latter the better) will usually confirm the situation, and perhaps give some idea of the size of the litter. The bitch usually becomes noticeably distended, and increasingly so, during the last 3 weeks of pregnancy, and during this period she will require increasing amounts of an appropriate high protein diet.  


Guesswork does not work here. Feeding by making up your own diets involves either a degree in nutrition, or guessing and taking a chance. I do not suggest this approach. Today we have the possibility of purchasing many different brands of high quality diets, which are available on the market for this specific purpose. They have been scientifically formulated at great expense, and they do what it says on the bag! Use one, forget the guesswork, and get it right. Usually this prepared dog food is the only food needed for both the bitch AND the puppies. Mum lives on it throughout her pregnancy and during the rearing period, and for a few weeks after the pups have gone, in order to regain her normal weight. The pups start on it, soaked and sloppy, as the first food from around 15-20 days of age. I usually use a puppy milk replacer to soak the dog food in, just to get the pups lapping well. A couple of weeks later they can start to take the food dry, and their water intake increases. 

Whelping Box 

I hope you will have a whelping box ready for your bitch. Something around 1.5 metres square, with sides of about 0.3 metre high would be suitable for an average Kelb tal-Fenek. A tip from a breeder friend of mine was found to be very useful. He suggests fixing a baton of approximately 10 centimetres by 6 centimetres the whole length of the sides about 10 centimetres from the bottom of the whelping box. This baton all along the sides prevents the bitch from squashing the pups. The pups have the opportunity to escape for the bitch when she rests against the side of the whelping box. Without this baton, they have no means of escape. I prefer to place thick layers of newspapers on the base of the whelping box and nothing else. These are replaced regularly with fresh newspapers. This approach is a quick & easy one for hygiene. A useful tip is to collect newspapers soon after mating. Neighbours, friends and family would do well to help in the collection. It is amasing how many newspapers are used and disposed of daily. Keep the bitch in the box for whelping, then she'll stay there with her new pups.  

Whelping (giving birth) 

The bitch will become restless as labour commences. Once she starts "pushing" a pup should appear fairly quickly. The "waters" burst and a pup should follow. If there is no pup by 2 hours after any evidence of "pushing", then the bitch should be taken to see the vet. Don't leave it any longer than that or further complications may occur. There are a number of situations, which can necessitate a caesarian section, and you must follow your own vet's guidance at this time. In all fairness the Kelb tal-Fenek is an easy breed and the birth of puppies should not present any problems. The pups are finely built and the actual birth should not prove too difficult for the bitch. However complications sometimes do occur and veterinary assistance should be sought immediately. In the normal course of events however, the puppies will be produced at intervals over a period of several hours. Litter sizes vary enormously from 1 to even 12!! Once the bitch has had the last puppy, she will seem more relaxed, and will probably wish to go outside to "wee". This may occur half way through the litter as well, so beware! To be sure that no pup has remained in the uterus, the bitch should be checked by a vet after the birth process has finished – a remaining dead puppy might cause the death of the bitch through blood-poisoning.


At birth, give the pup a good rub down with a soft towel. This will stimulate the breathing of the pup, besides drying it up, but ensure the pup does not have any slime across its mouth; otherwise it might breath liquid into its lungs. Assuming everything seems to go well, leave mum with puppies at all times, ensure that all pups get a go at sucking, and take mum and pups to the vet for a check up within the next 24 hours. Sucking soon after birth is very important, as this ensures that the pup receives colostrum, which is the first milk of the bitch, containing large amounts of disease preventing antibodies. For the first couple of weeks, mum will suckle the pups. Then supplementary feeding should start around 15-20 days of age.  


Deworming is very important. The bitch should have been dewormed before mating, be wormed during pregnancy and then start worming the pups from the age of 3 weeks. I normally worm at 3,6,9 weeks old & then every 4 weeks until they are 6 months old.  


Weaning is started by introducing specially formulated dog food to the puppies. As puppies grow, so bitches become more fed up with them! But they will continue to suckle until the last puppy has left. Puppies can leave to go to their new homes from 6 to 8 weeks of age. Personally I do not let a puppy go before the ripe age of 12 weeks. In most cases, there will be a period of a few weeks over which the pups will gradually go, but try to make this period as short as possible. Get the new homes lined up & organised. If you're registering the puppies, then get the paper work done as soon as they're born! The processing often takes a few weeks depending on your country's kennel club, and any delay on your part can make things difficult later on for the new owners. 


The bitch should have been up to date with her vaccination booster prior to mating. Puppy vaccinations can start at 8-9 weeks of age, and are usually completed at 12 weeks. Please seek veterinary advise in this regard.

Peter Gatt