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The Pharaoh Hound: A Breed Waiting to Be Discovered

This distinctive-looking dog may be the National Dog of Malta, but it's a rare breed in the rest of the world.

Caroline Coile  |  Aug 17th 2015


Before the racehorse American Pharoah, people were misspelling the Pharaoh Hound’s name for years. And even misidentifying the breed. One Pharaoh owner returned to her car to find a crowd ogling the two “deer” looking out the windows. And now even its ancient heritage has been called into question.

Pharaoh Hound by Shutterstock.

Pharaoh Hound by Shutterstock.

Here’s the problem: Everybody has long assumed that the Pharaoh Hound is among the most ancient of breeds. After all, it looks just like depictions of the jackal god Anubis in ancient Egyptian tombs, and descriptions of hunting dogs of the time seem to describe Pharaoh Hounds. However, DNA evidence suggests that the Pharaoh Hound is not an ancient breed at all, but only a few hundred years old. The matter is still unsettled, but here’s what we know:

  • The breed comes from Malta. It’s thought that Phoenician traders may have introduced the dog’s ancestors from North Africa to the Islands of Malta and Gozo, where they were used to hunt rabbits using scent and sight. They were discovered by outsiders in 1960. Could they have been crossed with enough another breeds to make their DNA not conform to the ancient DNA seen in some other ancient breeds? Could they simply be a re-creation, or even an accidental lookalike, of the jackal-like breed from Egypt? Nobody knows — and maybe the mystery is only fitting for such a dog.
  • The Pharaoh Hound may be confused with the Ibizan Hound, which has a similar history but ended up on the island of Ibiza. Compared to the Ibizan Hound, the Pharaoh is always solid red, is smaller and longer bodied, and never has a wire coat.
Pharoa Hound by Shutterstock.

Pharoa Hound by Shutterstock.

  • The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1983. It is a member of the Hound group, and considered a sighthound. It is not the fastest sighthound, but it’s still very fast.
  • It is one of a handful of breeds eligible to compete in AKC lure-coursing trials. When chasing the lure, Pharaohs, unlike the other breeds except Ibizan Hounds, are known for barking the entire time. However, they are otherwise fairly quiet dogs.
  • The Pharaoh Hound is the National Dog of Malta.
Pharoa Hound by Shutterstock.

Pharoa Hound by Shutterstock.

  • The dog is noted for blushing, in which his nose and ears glow with a reddish tinge when excited. An ancient hunting account seems to be describing the Pharaoh Hound: “The red long-tailed dog goes at night … his face glows like a God …”
  • The Pharaoh is the 158th most popular AKC breed. In other words, rare.
  • No Pharaoh Hound has ever placed in the group at the Westminster dog show.
Pharoa Hound by Shutterstock.

Pharoa Hound by Shutterstock.

  • In 2009, a Pharaoh Hound named Champion Northgate’s As You Like It won Best in Show at the World Dog Show over an total show entry of 21,830 dogs. (For comparison, Westminster entries are around 2,500).
  • Despite his star quality, no known celebrities own a Pharaoh. And there are no known Pharaoh Hound celebrities. It is a breed waiting to be discovered.

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.