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Breed Description of the Kelb tal-Fenek

Hunting with the Kelb tal-Fenek has a long tradition on the Maltese Islands.

There are various opinions as to the origin of the breed. The most popular being that he is an old Egyptian 'Pharaoh Hound'. The main reason for this belief is the marked resemblance of early Egyptian depictions and statues with today's Kelb tal-Fenek. It was for this reason - and this reason only - that the British Kennel Club decided to name the Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek - 'Pharaoh Hound'.

We believe - contrary to popular belief abroad, but not in Malta - that the Kelb tal-Fenek is of Maltese origin. The Maltese origin is already recognised by the British and FCI standards. The breed is probably a descendant of the primitive type of prick-eared Mediterranean hounds that was to be found in various cultures around the Mediterranean Sea since ancient times. Specific breeds then developed in their own countries accordingly - for example the Podengo PortuguÍs from Portugal, the Podenco Ibicenco from the Balearic Islands, the Podenco Canario from the Canary Islands, the Podenco Andaluz from Mainland Spain, the Kritikos Lagonikos from the Island of Crete, the Cirneco dell' Etna from Sicily and the Kelb tal-Fenek from the Islands of Malta. The Kelb tal-Fenek is definitely of Maltese origin. In fact, a few decades ago, one could only find this dog in Malta. This can only be attributed to the many generations of Maltese hunters who have bred the Kelb tal-Fenek true to type, recognising the potential of this impeccable hunter thus preserving this beautiful hound throughout the ages.

In honour of its importance Malta declared the Kelb tal-Fenek the National Dog in 1974 and a one Maltese Lira coin was minted in 1977, depicting the Kelb tal-Fenek on the reverse.

Appearance of the Kelb tal-Fenek

The Kelb tal-Fenek's appearance is very similar to most Mediterranean hounds. His built is graceful yet powerful, sleek but not as fine and racy as a Greyhound or Whippet. He is the epitome of endurance. I have known many dogs capable of hunting for five to eight hours over the rough Maltese terrain often covering huge distances. At the end of the hunt, they are still rearing to go. They never seem to have enough.

In built he is somewhat longer than high - i.e. length from the forechest to rear of buttock is slightly more than height from ground to the withers.

Typical to the Kelb tal-Fenek are the large ears, held erect when alert and lying flat to the skull (offering the least wind resistance) when giving chase.

The Kelb tal-Fenek is a short-haired dog, suitably adapted to the hot Maltese summers and mild winters. The coat varies in colour from what the Maltese call Ďisfarí (yellow) to the dark Ďahmarí (red). These various shades of coat blend so well with the typical Maltese limestone that one can say that the dog is actually camouflaged by its surroundings and only the typical white markings at the tip of tail, chest and toes betray the dogís position. This is even more true at night time when the majority of the hunts actually takes place.

The Kelb tal-Fenek carries a long whip like tail, carried high when alert and during the hunt. It is a necessary tool when hunting, often used as a rudder and a balance when chasing its prey.

The houndís eyes and nose should blend with the colour of coat. The eyes are amber in colour, but at the puppy stage, however, the colour is blue turning blue grey and eventually to the amber colour when the dog is about 3 to 4 months old. The nose is flesh coloured.

Character of the Kelb tal-Fenek

The breed character is of utmost importance. The Kelb tal-Fenek is essentially a hunter by nature, capable of hunting solely or in a pack. This deeply rooted hunting instinct is the result of selective breeding by countless generations of Maltese hunters.

The Kelb tal-Fenek is similar to its Mediterranean cousins in its hunting abilities. Similar to other sighthounds, he gives chase and often catches its prey (normally rabbit) on the run. He does however make use of his sense of smell and hearing to a very high degree when hunting. It is necessary for the Kelb tal-Fenek to initially locate its prey by smell. When a prey is located, the Kelb tal-Fenek indicates this by loud barking. A ferret is then let into the rabbit's burrow. The Kelb Tal-Fenek then follows its track below ground or along the thick rubble walls using its very keen sense of hearing. The Kelb tal-Fenek is neither a sighthound nor a scenthound, but rather a mixture of the two.

Peter Gatt