Fonni’s Dog

An update on a breed we wrote about several years ago is not a cheery one.

Fonni’s Dog is a local breed found only on the Island of Sardinia, and it has been there since ancient times. Indeed, the first archaeological evidence attesting to the presence of similar dogs date to the Bronze Age. A number of these striking bronze objects representing hunting scenes with dogs similar to the Fonni’s Dog are now on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari.

That said, registration numbers of these dogs has fallen in the last few years, and the breed also known as the Sardinian Sheepdog is at serious risk of vanishing for good. Though it was officially recognized by the Italian Kennel Club in 2013, there are fewer than 200 dogs currently living in Italy, and even fewer in the rest of the world. Finding one, then, is the real challenge, and visiting Sardinia is likely necessary to find one; even then, getting a Fonni’s Dog out of Sardinia may be tricky because the island goes to great lengths to protect their breed by keeping them in their place of origin. Admirable, but one wonders if this ultimately helps the breed from becoming extinct.

In 2023, co authors, Matteo Cortellari, Arianna Bionda, Raffaella Cocco, Sara Sechi, Luigi Liotta, and Paola Crepaldi, published an abstract of a study that sought to refocus attention to the breed by analyzing its genomic makeup. Phenotypical and genetic evaluation scores using thirty dogs ranked by their general adherence to breed type, and to the provisional standard by official judges were studied, and you can read their results here.  For a layman, the takeaway of the study is that “little variability” was discovered in the dogs. We take this to mean there was “consistency” among the dogs even though historically, they were selected for their working ability, not their looks. Fonni’s Dogs were typically owned to guard livestock and property, and to hunt hares and boars. The breed’s unique genetic signature created the genomic score, and helped establish the fact that this is a well-distinguished breed. Researchers felt that when shared between the Italian Kennel Club and breeders, and with the support of regional programs, the information could be of value in helping recover breed numbers. 

As for the breed itself, the Fonni is an interesting dog. They manifest a fierce loyalty to their owners, and there is a capacity for ferocity which may be why Sardinian bandits hiding in the woods often had one as a companion. With keen hearing and a strong sense of smell,  these dogs were recruited in the Italian campaign in Libya in 1912 to counter rebel attacks on Italian camps, and to find and unearth weapons hidden in the sand. Sadly, during the Libyan campaign, the dogs were mistreated on purpose by people dressed in Arabic military uniform to induce the Fonni to attack anyone wearing these uniforms, while soldiers dressed in Italian military uniforms gave them treats and belly rubs to induce the opposite.

Read more about the Fonni’s Dog in an earlier post:

Sardinia’s Only Dog Breed?


Image: Fonni’s Dog by Chili The Border Collie is shared from Wikicommons under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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