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Kelb tal-Fenek
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Frequently asked Questions

What does the name "Kelb tal-Fenek" mean?

It is a Maltese term. Maltese (or "Malti", as the speakers call their language themselves) is a Semitic language. It is the only Semitic language that is spoken in Europe, and the only one that is written in Latin letters. Literally, the term "Kelb tal-Fenek" means "Dog of the Rabbit", but it can also be translated as "Rabbit Hound". "Kelb" means "dog", "tal" is a short form of "ta' il" = "of the" and "Fenek" means "rabbit".

Why can I not find the name "Kelb tal-Fenek" in the breed list of the FCI?

In the breed list of the FCI, the Kelb tal-Fenek is named "Pharaoh Hound". This name was given to the breed by the British Kennel Club in the 1960'ties, and the British breed standard was recognised by the FCI in 1977. In some countries, the name "Pharaoh Hound" is also translated in the national language, e.g. "Faraohund" (Swedish), "Chien du Pharaon" (French), "Faraokoira" (Finnish), "Podenco de los Faraones" (Spanish), "Pies Faraona" (Polish), "Fáraó kutya" (Hungarian) etc.

We do strongly suggest to delete the term "Pharaoh Hound" from the breed list of the FCI and to call the hound world wide by its original name: Kelb tal-Fenek.

Are "Kelb tal-Fenek" and "Pharaoh Hound" different breeds?

No. Both names mean the same breed. "Kelb tal-Fenek" is the name of the breed that is used in Malta since countless generations, whilst "Pharaoh Hound" is the term that was given to the breed in the United Kingdom in the 1960'ties.

Is the "Pharaoh Hound" a Spanish breed?

No. But there are two breeds in Spain that show some similarities with the Kelb tal-Fenek: The Podenco Ibicenco (Ca Eivissenc) and the Podenco Canario. Previous to 1977, it was possible to register all hounds of Mediterranean type as "Pharaonhounds" within the FCI. Since the legacy of this joint breed standard can still be found in some books about dogs, it is not unusual that dogs from Spain are erroneously described as "Pharaoh Hounds", especially if they are brought over by rescue organisations, who are not so familiar with the characteristics of the different breeds.

Where does the Kelb tal-Fenek come from?

The country of origin of the Kelb tal-Fenek is exclusively Malta. The Republic of Malta, a European nation which became independent in 1964, consists of the three islands Malta, Gozo and Comino in the Central Mediterranean. From there, a relatively small number of specimens has been exported since the 1960'ties, first to the UK, then also to other countries, where hobby fanciers started to breed them. This small number of hounds still is the basis for all specimens that can be found in various parts of the world today.

I have a dog that looks like a Pharaoh Hound that I saw in dog books and on the Internet. Is it a Kelb tal-Fenek (Pharaoh Hound)?

Counter-question: Does your dog come from Malta? Has it been bred by a breeder of Pharaoh Hounds, which is recognised by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI)? If you can answer neither one of these questions with a "yes", then it is almost certain that your dog is NOT a Kelb tal-Fenek (Pharaoh Hound). You must realise that there are hound breeds of mediterranean type in many parts of Southern Europe. Some of them are more or less similar to the Kelb tal-Fenek. During the past years, a rising number of these dogs were brought over to the Northern parts of Europe by rescue organisations. Due to the ignorance (but in some cases perhaps also for better promotion) sometimes these dogs are declared to be Pharaoh Hounds. But in fact, they usually belong to the one of the breeds of the Podenco family, or else, they are mongrel Podencos. In most cases, mongrels can easily be identified by the dark colour of the nose.

Often mistaken for a "Pharaoh Hound": The Podenco 
Canario, the Rabbit Hound of the Canary Islands. 

Not withstanding, your efforts to provide the dog with a good home is most commendable.

I have been in Malta during my holidays, but have never seen a Kelb tal-Fenek. Is the breed in danger of extinction in Malta?

No. The Maltese hunters keep their dogs inside their yards, in stables or in dog houses and take them out only for hunting, which usually takes place in the nights during summertime. Similar to other working breeds, the Kelb tal-Fenek is not regarded as a pet, and the hunters do not take them out on the promenade. Most Maltese do also hesitate to show their valuable dogs to strangers. Therefore it is not uncommon to spend several weeks in Malta without seeing one single Kelb tal-Fenek, if you do not know where to look. But they are there, and Malta still has the most specimens in the world and certainly the largest genetic pool of the breed.

What does the term "Klieb tal-Fenek" mean?

"Klieb" is the plural form of "Kelb" = "dog": One Kelb tal-Fenek, two Klieb tal-Fenek.

How old is the breed?

The answer is simple: We do not know. The existence of prick eared, slim hounds in many ancient cultures in the Mediterranean basin (not only in Egypt, but also in Crete, Greece and in the Roman Empire) is a proven fact, but nobody has ever delivered any scientifically founded proof for a connection of the modern Kelb tal-Fenek with these ancient type of dogs. A study about the genetic origins of purebred dogs, which has been carried out by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle (USA) with support of the American Kennel Club and which has been published in May 2004, does even indicate that the Kelb tal-Fenek has been developed in more recent times out of dogs of different origins.

The first written mentioning of a Maltese hunting dog, which could have been identical with the modern Kelb tal-Fenek, has been issued by Commendatore Fra. G. Fran. Abela (Maltese historian and Vice Chancellor of the Order of St. John) in 1647: ‘There are dogs called 'Cernechi' esteemed for the hunting of rabbits , and as far as France are in demand primarily for stony, mountainous and steep locations' (Fra. Abela, ‘Della Descrittione di Malta isola nel Mare Siciliano con le sue antichita ed altre notitie’, Malta, 1647. Translated from Cecil S. Camilleri, ' A Study of the Maltese Kelb tal-Fenek, Valletta/Malta 1995). 

There is a gap of about 2500 years between the decline of the pharaonic empire in Egypt and this first hint to the existence of the modern Kelb tal-Fenek in Malta. Therefore, the popular belief of an Egyptian connection of the Kelb tal-Fenek can rather be called wishful thinking, but it is certainly not based on proven facts.

Are there many Klieb tal-Fenek in Maltese animal shelters?

No. Different from the situation in other parts of Southern Europe, the Maltese hunters do highly estimate their dogs and do well care for them, although the common keeping in stables and yards does not always meet the humanizing ideas that some Central European dog lovers might have about keeping dogs. Therefore, it is very seldom that a Kelb tal-Fenek finds itself in a local animal shelter.

Is the Kelb tal-Fenek a sighthound?

The Kelb tal-Fenek basically works by scent and by using its ears. Only in sight of a prey, it chases it like a real sighthound. However, the anatomy of the Kelb tal-Fenek (as well as of other Mediterranean Hounds) shows marked sighthound characteristics. As a compromise, the FCI placed the Mediterranean Hounds (Kelb tal-Fenek, Podenco Ibicenco, Podenco Canario, Cirneco dell' Etna and Podengo Português) in the Group 5 (Spitz and primitive type) instead of the Groups 10 (Sighthounds) or 6 (Scenthounds).

However, in most countries the breed is governed by the national sighthound clubs and can participate in sighthound sports such as lure coursing and track racing.

What kind of prey is hunted with the Kelb tal-Fenek?

In Malta, the Kelb tal-Fenek is basically used for hunting rabbits, hence the breed name. Usually, rabbit hunting takes place in combination with the use of a ferret. Some hunters do also use the breed for hunting quail and woodcock. The Kelb tal-Fenek searches and flushes the birds so that the hunter can shoot them down. Although it is not common, a few hunters also train their dogs for retrieving the shot down birds or the killed rabbits.

A natural liking of the Kelb tal-Fenek is to hunt hidden mice or rats.

Is hunting with the Kelb tal-Fenek permitted abroad?

In most countries in Central and Northern Europe, live chase is not permitted. Since this is one element of the Kelb tal-Fenek's working style, it would be necessary to train the dog according to the local rules and regulations for hunting. Until now, we have never heard about any Kelb tal-Fenek owner who has done this, but since there are a few Podenco Ibicenco owners in Germany who have successfully passed the hunting exam with their dogs, we have no reason not to believe that the Kelb tal-Fenek would not be able to do the same work.

Another method to satisfy the Kelb tal-Fenek's desire for work is lure coursing, the hunt for an artificial prey. Lure coursing is offered by many local sighthound clubs, and in most countries the Kelb tal-Fenek is allowed to participate, notwithstanding the fact that the FCI does not recognise the breed as a sighthound. Ask your national sighthound club for dates and places of lure coursing competitions!

For which kinds of dog sports is the Kelb tal-Fenek eligible?

Many Kelb tal-Fenek owners outside Malta enjoy participation in lure coursing and amateur track racing, and most Klieb tal-Fenek are very enthusiastic about it.

It is also possible to participate in any other kinds of popular dog sports, such as agility and obedience training. The Kelb tal-Fenek is highly intelligent. However, like most hounds he does have a mind of his own, so training needs much more patience and time than in other breeds. One should always use a positive method which encourages the right action and rewards it; correction and punishment will certainly not cause any desirable result in training a Kelb tal-Fenek.

Many Klieb tal-Fenek do also enjoy to accompany their owner during cycling tours. Some dog sports clubs do also offer the possibility to pass endurance tests, where the dog has to run a certain distance by the side of the bicycle under permanent observation of a performance judge.

Is it difficult to keep a Kelb tal-Fenek?

Future owners should be aware that the Kelb tal-Fenek, like other hound breeds, is one of the more demanding breeds. The hunting instincts of the Kelb tal-Fenek are very strong indeed. So a safe area for free exercise as well as early obedience training makes life much easier. The Kelb tal-Fenek is a very sociable breed and consequently require a lot of companionship - be it that of humans or other dogs. The Kelb tal-Fenek is not a breed suited to someone who has little time. They also require a fair amount of exercise, and even a large well fenced area does not exempt owners from taking out their dog for long walks and offer him the opportunity for off-lead exercise as often as possible.

On the plus side, the Kelb tal-Fenek is affectionate companion who evokes attention, and loves his owner to death. The Kelb tal-Fenek is very friendly with children. The Kelb tal-Fenek has a short coat, which does not require too much attention. A light weekly brushing will suffice. He also does not shed too much hair, and therefore is not a nuisance in the home.

Is the Kelb tal-Fenek a healthy breed?

Generally speaking, the Kelb tal-Fenek is a healthy breed. As a medium sized, light dog, they are not very prone to diseases and they have a good chance to get very old. However, there is no guarantee against diseases, as in any living organism. Each responsible owner should watch its dog and consult the vet if the dog shows symptoms of indisposition.

Especially since the breeding stock outside Malta has a very small genetic basis, breeders should be careful to avoid any risk of hereditary diseases.

In Malta, the Leishmaniosis (locally also called "sandfly disease") is a serious threat, although there are indications for the fact that the Kelb tal-Fenek has a certain rate of immunity against this disease. To avoid an infection, the owner should care for that his dogs are not exposed to the bite of the sandfly (phlebotomen), which carries the disease; this insect lives from May until October, and it is active from one hour before sunset until one hour after sunrise. It does usually not fly higher than about two meters over ground and it is only able to bite its victim when it does not move. Therefore one should care that the dog does not sleep outside the house during summertime; since the sandfly does not fly very high, the traditional keeping of the Kelb tal-Fenek on the flat roofs of the Maltese houses is also a good protection against the risk of Leishmaniosis.

Where do I find a Kelb tal-Fenek breeder?

In Malta, the Kelb tal-Fenek is usually bred by farmers and hunters, who sell puppies to close friends, relatives and neighbours. Nearly none of those dog owners is a member in one of the local canine organisations, since those clubs represent a totally different, urban kind of dog lovers, who are only interested in dog shows. Abroad, Kelb tal-Fenek breeders are often organised in the national sighthound clubs or in separate "Pharaoh Hound Clubs". The Kennel Club of your country will be able to provide you with the necessary addresses. Each responsible breeder will not sell a puppy before he/she is absolutely sure that the new owner will be able to provide a good home to the dog. Therefore you should be prepared to answer a number of thorough questions; you should also seriously consider all the pros and cons of keeping such a dog in advance and eventually decide not to purchase a Kelb tal-Fenek, if you are not absolutely sure that you are able to fulfill the requirements for keeping such a dog.

Jan Scotland