Breed Profile: Cirneco dell’Etna

This is a focused, robust working dog known for hunting rabbits. Interestingly, they have been known to hunt with ferrets.

Cirnechi are playful and curious. By: iz4aks
Cirnechi are playful and curious. By: iz4aks

Breed

Cirneco dell’Etna, a.k.a. Cirneco

(pronounced “cheer-nay-ko” or “cheer-nec-ko,” Cirnechi is the plural form)

Group

Hound

Physical Description

The Cirneco is a medium-sized hunting dog who uses sight, smell and hearing to hunt and is said to be the oldest breed of dog in Italy. The body is slender and covered with a short coat.

The ears stand erect, and the limbs are long on the strong and solid body. Depictions in old paintings and coins show a dog almost identical to the Cirneco we see today, so they are virtually unchanged.

Coat colors include chestnut or tan in varying shades with white markings possible. Orange patches are possible but not desirable. The coat is shorter on the head, ears and legs and can be longer on other parts of the body.

Males are between 18 and 19.5 inches tall. Female height averages are between 16.5 and 19 inches. Weight averages run between 18 and 27 pounds. The life expectancy of this breed is around 14 years.

Origin

The Cirneco dell’Etna dates back 2,500 years in Sicily, Italy. The origin of the Pharaoh hound is said to have ties in common with this breed. The Cirneco hunted small animals, mammals and foul, on a variety of terrains, although they are more commonly known for hunting rabbits. They were able to persist in adverse weather conditions and could sustain on low quantities of food and water when necessary.

The dogs were kept by peasants because of their ability to hunt and provide game to feed families. They were highly treasured because of their hunting abilities. A breed standard did not exist for the dogs, but that would change in the 20th century.

An Italian aristocrat named Baroness Agata Paterno Castello studied the Cirnechi over several decades while breeding them. A zoologist was consulted in 1939; Professor Solaro wrote the breed standard, and the dogs were to be recognized as Cirneco dell’Etna.

The dell’Etna part of the name was added at this time, and it signified the main area where the dogs were located and hunted, Mount Etna in Sicily. The breed standard was updated in 1989 by the Italian Kennel Club.

The rare breed took some time to develop in the United States of America. The Cirneco dell’Etna Club of America was formed in 1997.

The American Kennel Club recognized the breed and added it to its Foundation Stock Service in 2006. The breed was moved to the miscellaneous class in 2011, and on January 2, 2015 the Cirneco dell’Etna was lastly moved to the hound group.

Purpose

Cirnechi are companion pets and small animal hunters (primarily rabbit). They may also participate in conformation, field trials and lure coursing.

Temperament

Versatility is paramount in this breed. They are able to endure harsh weather and rough terrain, even without much food and water if needed. They are strong, independent sighthounds who may give chase after cats and small animals, although they can get along with them if they are raised together.

Despite their focused hunting instincts, Cirnechi are friendly, affectionate, playful and love spending time with their family members. They are best suited to warm climates, and it is not surprising for the breed to want to snuggle under the covers at night.

They are intelligent and curious, and they are easily trained using positive reinforcement methods. If they are bored or are not allowed enough exercise, they can become destructive.

Cirnechi and cats can be friends! This video shows Izzy the Cirneco playing with his housemate, a Bengal cat named Ariel:

Exercise Needs

Daily walks and play are required to fulfill the mental and physical needs of this breed. They need time to exercise and run around to satisfy their curiosity, hunting instincts and intelligence.

Because Cirnechi are excellent jumpers with a high prey drive, a tall, secure fence is needed for the home. Likewise, when going outside, use a leash or a secured area for the dog to exercise or play in to prevent chasing of other animals.

Because of the thin coat on this breed, they should live indoors, preferably in warm climates. They can do well in apartments with daily outings.

Grooming Requirements

Grooming is minimal for this breed. A weekly brushing to remove dead hair is sufficient, and occasional bathing can be done as needed. For Cirnechi who are active hunters, their coat, paws and ears should be checked when they return from outdoors to check for insects and debris.

It is common for this breed to dislike their paws and feet being touched. Start trimming the nails and handling the paws at an early age to lessen this possibility. Regular maintenance of the nails, ears and teeth should be done on an ongoing basis.

Common Health Problems

There are no notable genetic health issues to report at this time.

Is the Cirneco dell’Etna the Right Dog for You?

An energetic working dog known for hunting rabbits with ferrets, the Cirneco also makes a great family companion. They get along with other dogs and can live with cats and smaller dogs if they are raised with them. They do have a high prey drive, so it is likely they will give chase after cats and small animals.

When exercising, Cirnechi should be on a leash or within a secure, fenced area to prevent them from running off after another animal. A tall and secure fence is necessary; Cirnechi are excellent jumpers and diggers, so secure the top and bottom of the fence. They have been known to dig through electronic fence barriers when used with traditional fencing, so chicken wire or another material should be placed at the bottom of the fence to prevent digging and escape.

Because of their high intelligence and high prey drive, they will need regular and consistent mental and physical exercise. A Cirneco with nothing to do can become destructive. Grooming is easy with a weekly brushing, and bathing can be occasional unless it becomes necessary.

They are no genetic illnesses common to the breed, so regular veterinary checkups, a quality diet, exercise and vaccinations are recommended. Although health conditions are not common, breeders should be having their dogs tested for hip and eye conditions.

If you are looking for an energetic, playful dog who can endure the heat and also loves to snuggle under the covers, keep the Cirneco dell’Etna in mind when looking for your next dog.

Adopt, Don’t Buy

Cirnechi are rare dogs, with only around 200 existing in the United States. The Cirneco dell’Etna Club of America’s rescue does not have any dogs available at the time of this publication, and Petfinder does not list any for adoption. Contacting a breeder may be necessary to obtain this breed, although checking for adoptable Cirnechi can be started here.

If you choose to contact a Cirneco breeder, ask for hip and eye clearances on the dog or the breeding parents. Always try to meet the parents of the dog you are interested in and view the breeder’s location to look for red flags.

Additional Resources

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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