Cirneco dell’Etna

AKC Hound Group


Vito Dell'Ovo, “Vito”. Multiple Best of Breed with Multiple Misc Group One wins. Owned by Janise Grey and Nancy Lee Wight, Rockin' Heart Kennels. Bred by Marco Belifore, Sicily, Italy. Photo copyright © Gotcha! Photography.

Vito Dell’Ovo, “Vito”. Multiple Best of Breed with Multiple Misc Group One wins. Owned by Janise Grey and Nancy Lee Wight, Rockin’ Heart Kennels. Bred by Marco Belifore, Sicily, Italy. Photo copyright © Gotcha! Photography.

Named after Sicily’s Mount Etna, which is the largest active volcano in Europe, this medium-sized hunting dog probably dates back to the 5th century B.C. The proof? Archaeologists have found coins imprinted with images of a dog that looks very similar to the contemporary Cirneco dell’Etna (pronounced “cheer-neck-o”). Legend has it, in fact, that 1,000 Cirnechi (“cheer-neck-ee”) guarded a temple devoted to the god Adranos, who was said to live under the mountains. Those Cirnechi, the legend goes, had the divine ability to recognize thieves and disbelievers. For centuries, the square-proportioned, elegant dogs were used for hunting wild rabbit, using mainly scent but also hearing and sight to find prey. Often the Cirneco was partnered with a ferret for hunting. (The dog would find the rabbit and the ferret would flush it out.) This ancient hunting breed wasn’t known outside of Sicily until 1932, when an Italian veterinarian wrote an article decrying its dwindling numbers. A Sicilian baroness then took up the cause of finding good representatives of the breed—mostly owned by peasants—and she began to preserve and strengthen the Cirneco’s breeding lines.

Now designated as a “primitive” hunting breed (meaning it has not been manipulated by humans), the Cirneco dell’Etna has only been in the United States since 1996. The Cirneco dell’Etna became a member of the AKC Miscellaneous Class in January 2012 and of the AKC Hound Group in January 2015.


The Cirneco dell’Etna is a medium-sized slender dog with a very light—but very strong—build. The eyes should be small, oval, and an amber or ochre color, (never yellow or brown) with an alert expression. The color of the eye rims should match the color of the nose. The ears are erect, rigid, and set very high and close together. The head is lean and the nose is large. Only a scissors bite is acceptable.

The neck is strong and well arched. The topline slopes from the withers to the croup. The ribs are narrow and the belly tucks up slightly. The tail, which is set low and reaches to the hock, should be fairly thick for its whole length. The dog carries it high and curved when moving, and in sabre position when resting.

The hindquarters are strong and muscular, with a light bone structure. There should be no dewclaws in the back. The feet are well knuckled, slightly oval, and straight. Pads and nails should be the same color (either brown or flesh colored, never black).

The coat is short on the head, ears, and legs, and longer (to 1.25 in.) on the body. The coat should be sleek and close, and have no feathering. The color should be uniformly light to dark tan or chestnut; a mixture of light and dark hairs, or mostly white, is acceptable. Brown (which is darker than tan), liver (which includes having a liver-colored nose), brindle or black patches, hairs, or pigmentation are disqualifications.

The Cirneco has a springy trot and the hind legs should track the forelegs.

Key Facts

  • Height:  17.5 to 20.5 in. (male); 16 to 19.5 in. (female)
  • Size:  Medium
  • Weight:  23 lbs. (male); 20 lbs. (female)
  • Availability:  Difficult to find
  • Talents:  Hunting, sighting, tracking, therapy, watchdog, agility, lure coursing, obedience, and performing tricks


Front dewclaws are not removed (per the breed standard). The Cirneco dell’Etna is extremely hardy and well adapted to working in the heat. However, the breed is sensitive to cold and can’t be left outside during cold weather.


The Cirneco dell’Etna is compliant and affectionate. Because it tends to be easily offended, it does best with very gentle training methods. Make no mistake, though—this is a lively, active dog that needs exercise, mental stimulation, and human affection to stay balanced, healthy, and constructive. In addition to his skill as a hunter (and lure courser), the Cirneco performs well in obedience and agility and makes a very good watchdog. Inquisitive and intelligent, the Cirneco thrives not only on human attention but also on human partnership. Early socialization is crucial for building the dog’s confidence and tolerance for children, other animals, and all manners of stimuli. Having a dependable recall is especially important, as the dog’s strong prey instinct can make him likely to run.


  • Children:  Best with older, considerate children
  • Friendliness:  Loves everyone
  • Trainability:  Can be slightly difficult to train
  • Independence:  Moderately dependent on people
  • Dominance:  Moderate (not particularly dominant or submissive)
  • Other Pets:  Good with other pets if raised with them from puppyhood
  • Combativeness:  Can be a bit dog-aggressive
  • Noise:  Average barker


  • Grooming:  Very little grooming needed
  • Trimming and Stripping:  No trimming or stripping needed
  • Coat:  Short coat
  • Shedding:  None or very light
  • Docking/Cropping:  None
  • Exercise:  Moderate exercise needed
  • Jogging:  An excellent jogging companion
  • Indoors:  Moderately active indoors
  • Apartments:  Will be OK in an apartment if sufficiently exercised
  • Outdoor Space:  OK without a yard
  • Climate:  Does well in most climates
  • Owner:  Not recommended for novice owners
  • Longevity:  Moderately long-lived (about 12 to 15 years)

Useful Links

AKC® Cirneco dell’Etna Breed Standard

Cirneco dell’Etna Breed Club

Search for a Breeder

Rescue Organizations

Books about the Cirneco dell’Etna

Cirneco dell’Etna Gifts