The Sicilian Hound is known by several other names, including the Sicilian Greyhound, the Cirneco Dell’Etna or just Cirneco. The breed is so rare that it is usually not found outside of Italy or Sicily. There are only about 200 in America. Although not recognized by many national dog breed registrations except the Italian Kennel Club (partially die to the small population) the breed is recognized by the Dog Registry of America, Inc.
There is also a very active Cirneco Dell’Etna Club of America group, which also helps with rescuing members of the breed. It also helps to educate the public about this rare breed so that no one brings home a Sicilian Hound without realizing what they are getting themselves into.
Cirnichi (the plural of Cirneco) look like small, red chestnut greyhounds with large, pointed ears. The Italian breed standard is extremely exact in how much in proportion body parts should be with each other (such as the muzzle should take up 80% of the skull length) but very few dogs actually come close to the breed standard.
Cirnichi only stand an average of 46 to 52 centimeters or about 18 to 20 inches tall at the highest point of their shoulders. They weigh a mere 8 to 12 kilograms or 17.6 to 26.5 pounds. Males have a tendency to be slightly taller and heavier than females.
Cirnichi are almost always shades of tawny reddish-brown, sometimes known as “Isabella.” Their eyes usually are golden or a fawn color that blends in with the coat. Their noses are pink, although some black or grey noses occur but they are penalized in the show ring.
Because of their resemblance to Pharoah Hounds or Tesem, some think that Eqyptians brought hounds to Sicily but this has yet to be proven. The immediate ancestor is thought to be a breed from the much closer region of Malta called the Kelb Tal-Fenek or “rabbit hunting dog.” However, coins from the area dated from the 5th to 3rd centuries BC showed dogs that resemble Cinichi.
Cinichi have been bred to hunt rabbits and other small animals on the slopes of Mount Entna. As a result, they have a very high prey drive and should not be in a home with pet rodents or rabbits.
The breed nearly disappeared during World War II but was saved by a local eccentric, Baroness Agata Paternò Castello. The remaining dogs were bred with the Kelb Tal-Fenek. Although “Donna Agata” died suddenly in 1958, her work was carried on by Italians who began to fall in love with this little dog.
The Cirneco Dell’Etna Club of America notes that this breed possesses several quirks, including chasing any small animals that move – even cats. Although there have been Cinichi that got along with cats, never leave one unsupervised with a cat. They are so driven to chase that they should be in securely fenced in yards or on a leash.
Cincihi can be bossy and want their own way but they respond well to vocal commands, when they’re not chasing something, including “No.” They do like people and like to please, whenever it suits them.
They may not be used to harsh winters and should be kept indoors. They like to sleep in people’s beds.
Cirneco.co.uk “Breed History.” Jane Moore. http://www.cirneco.co.uk/
The Cirneco Dell’Etna Club of America. “Bed Warmer/Primitive Hunter” http://www.cirneco.net/cdeca/Rescue/adoption.htm
Dog Breed Info. “Cirneco Dell’Etna (Sicilian Hound).” http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/cirnecodelletna.htm