Many breeds hunt rabbits, a particular specialty for some sighthounds, but the way a Cirneco dell’Etna hunts is very specialized. These dogs can locate, flush, follow, and direct a hunter to the prey, and while the dogs rely on scent as their primary sense, their hearing and sight have been highly developed over the millennia the breed has been in existence. An additional aspect to the hunting style of the Cirneco that is truly fascinating is its “hybrid functionality.” As a rule, Cirneco aren’t trained to retrieve or point, but they are able to do both. The breed name, btw, is pronounced “cheer-nay-ko.”
Remember that the natural hunting ground for this breed is the uneven ground and walls of volcanic rock in the shadow of Mount Etna in Sicily. This requires a dog with a light-footed, sprightly pace even as he searches for a scent. Should the Cirneco surprise a rabbit, he will flush the hare and make it run. If the scent is lost or fails to lead to a rabbit, the dog will go back to exploring the terrain. If a scent is found and maintained, however, the dog is “all in,” barking shrilly with urgency the closer he gets to the entrance of the hole into which the rabbit has disappeared. Digging, sniffing, inhaling and whining increase with intensity as the dog is within reach of the rabbit. Historically, however, there comes a point when this fury of activity must stop in order to allow the Cirneco’s traditional hunting partner – a ferret – to take over. The dog must cease his digging and whining, and quietly defer to the ferret who flushes the rabbit from its burrow.
The Cirneco has a Work Standard that is based on documentation supplied by the Italian Kennel Club (ENCI). It can be read here.