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The Cirneco dell’Etna

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190 – June, 2015

Moderate and Monochrome

by Lucia Prieto

The Cheer-neck-o dell’Etna, yes, Etna, Mount Etna, the Volcano, yes, Sicily, Italy…

And so goes the introduction of this ancient breed into America.

The breed’s presence is documented for 2,500 years in Sicily where its ability to survive produced an extremely hardy breed free of inherited health problems. The Cirneco today is affectionate and friendly, a good family dog, and considered easier to train than typically expected of a sighthound.

Italian cynologist and author of Cani di Caccia, Fiorenzo Fiorone, deduced that the absence of a true “hound” in Sicily and the resultant Cirneco is the product of a progressive adaptation of the dogs left by the Phoenicians along the coasts of Sicily. He suggests that the lack of wide-open spaces, the limited food available for the dogs and continuous inbreeding produced a sort of “miniaturizing effect” which is common to all the animals of the Italian islands.

The Cirneco is not the Maltese Kalb-tal-Fenek (Pharaoh Hound) which evolved a mere 90 miles away on a very different terrain allowing for room to run through wide-open spaces. The Cirneco is found throughout the island of Sicily but it’s cradle is the area surrounding the volcano, Mount Etna. As such, although it can excel at sports involving running, the Cirneco’s construction is optimized for irregular terrain and treacherous lava. The Cirneco is in this regard more of a mountain goat as it hunts in the crevices of rocky slopes. Look for a compact square body, not rectangular, and with no excess tuck.

Survival of the breed depended on sure-footed movement on difficult terrain. Long limbed, slender, strong and hardy, light construction are the resultant characteristics of this medium-sized hunting dog which, because of function, has no reach and drive in its movement. The movement is a springy trot which specifically excludes “excessive extension”.

From the tip of the ears to the end of the tail, there are no extremes in the Cirneco. It is moderate in every regard and any particular feature that draws specific attention is most likely a fault or, at best, a deviation from the proportional elegance of the breed.

The proportional elegance of the breed with its moderately angulated square body, no extremes, is a particularly fascinating study of the results of evolution into breed “type” resident in head and expression. The most salient characteristics of what is a Cirneco include:

The Cirneco is described to possess an “alert expression”. This is reflective of the Cirneco’s function as a hunter and the acute awareness of all aspects of its surroundings should be readily apparent in this expression. Typically the focus is on the ears “Set very high and close together, upright and rigid, parallel, or almost parallel when alert. Triangular shape with narrow tip,” but they are not the sole indicator of an alert expression. Along with stance and general body language, the eyes are a very important part of expression – “relatively small, oval in shape, semi-lateral position”. The eyes are described as those of a hunter, specifically eyes akin to a those of a cat such as a tiger.

And, speaking of eyes, off we go on a rabbit trail – monochrome. The monochrome scheme begins with the coat which is familiar from the known Pharaoh Hound as: “Self-colored light to dark shades of tan or chestnut. With a mixture of slightly lighter and darker hairs ,….” And there we split paths because the Cirneco breed standard does not carry the same restrictions on the white markings. The Cirneco standard completes the descriptive sentence: “… or with more or less extensive white.” Then comes the total deviation from the “known” Pharaoh Hound restrictions in stating: “White collar, self-colored white or white with orange patches is less desired.” White markings are allowed anywhere.

Monochrome means one color. Mixture of slightly lighter and darker is consistent with various tones or shades of one color. Monochrome is applied to coat, eyes, nose leather, and nails. Apart from white markings, there should be total consistency across every part of the Cirneco in its color.

The eye is one of the most important of components in the monochrome nature of the breed and is described as: “Amber or ochre blending with coat …. Brown or yellow iris is a fault to be severely penalized.” Specifically, eyes that are in any way contrasting or conspicuous because of incongruence or lack of uniformity with the color of the coat are a severe fault. They are not “striking”, nor simply “undesirable”.

Back from the rabbit trail to the proportional elegance of the breed, the head and neck are an elegant balance with well-defined limitations.

• The correct profile of the head is defined by the planes described as: “Top of skull and foreface parallel or slightly divergent” and a stop which is characterized as “Slight stop”

• The length of the muzzle should be equal to or only slightly less than the length of the skull. The longer muzzle is valued as the ideal although typically it will fall short of being half the length of the head.

• The length of the ear should not exceed half the length of the head. Ideally this would make the ear and the muzzle equal in length. It is very important to note that the limitation applies to the maximum size not a minimum. In other words, ears should not be excessive in length.

• Width of the skull is no more than one half the length of the head. This is a very important limitation in maintaining proper proportions in what is a characteristic head for a Cirneco and, once again, in striving for the ideal, the width of skull would never be greater than the length of the muzzle. And, again, this limitation, akin to the one for the length of ear, is a maximum only, not a minimum, nor an established preference. The goal is not to have skull width equal muzzle length, to the contrary, it is to disallow excessive width and heaviness of skull.

• The symmetry of proportions continues with the neck which is “Length the same as the head. Strong, clean, well-arched and muscular.”

The Cirneco is moderate, monochrome and with a specific standard for size. It is not a “suggested” nor “recommended” nor “desired” component of the standard. It is a disqualification when a Cirneco breaches well-defined height limitations. The range for dogs is 18 to 19.5 inches and for bitches 16.5 to 19 inches. This is the ideal but mitigated by a tolerance before there is a disqualification. The tolerance for dogs allows a span from 17.5 to 20.5 inches and for bitches 16 to 19.5 inches. Cirnechi outside of the standard but within the tolerance should be evaluated as with any other deviation from the ideal but once the tolerance is breached, it is a disqualification. As an aside, it is important to know that the sizes are not exactly equivalent to those established for the breed in its native land nor in Great Britain because there has been a translation from the metric to the English system and then again to our AKC quarter-inch wicket system. The tolerance under our American standard allows a greater range than anyplace else.

The full Breed Standard is resident through the AKC or the Parent club, the Cirneco dell’Etna Club of America, on its website: where you will also find contact information for any Breed query.

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Posted by on Jun 18 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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