Although Malta is credited with preserving and nurturing the Pharaoh Hound, most cynologists believe that the origins of the breed lie in ancient Egypt. It is from this country that seafaring Phoenicians may have acquired the dogs and disseminated them throughout their unprecedented trade network that went from Cyprus, Rhodes, the Aegean islands, Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, central Italy, France, North Africa, Ibiza, Spain – and of course, Malta, an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast.
Other experts, however, dispute this and say there is virtually no solid evidence to support this theory beyond the breed’s appearance in Egyptian drawings, reliefs found in the tomb chapels of Mereruwka and Senbi, and the breed’s resemblance to the Egyptian god, Anubis. Additionally, art work was found on the tomb of Intef II toward the end of Egypt’s First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BCE), his funerary stele depicting dogs similar to the later Pharaoh Hound more than other known Egyptian breeds. .
And then there is a translation from the tomb describing an native hunting dog as follows: “The red, long-tailed dog goes at night into the stalls of the hills. He is better than the long-faced dog. He makes no delay in hunting. His face glows like a god, and he delights to do his work.” A face that “glows like a god” surely refers to the Pharaoh Hound’s famous ability to blush.
There’s one more thing. Most sighthounds aren’t known as barkers, per se, but the Pharaoh Hound can be an exception. The AKC says that Pharaohs “bark when necessary,” and the national breed club says, “Like all breeds that hunt in packs, the Pharaoh Hound can be quite vocal.” One source we found wrote that Pharaohs can indulge in “bark-a-thons,” typically when their people are away from home. Curiously, ancient Egyptians used an alliterative word for dog, “iwiw”, which was supposed to represent their bark (an alliteration is a repetition of identical initial consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables).
We leave it to experts and historians to sort out, but science may have the final say. A genetic study of 414 dogs from 85 dog breeds conducted by Elaine Ostrander of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and her team found that the Pharaoh Hound wasn’t bred in the first century, but in the 19th. At a time when Egyptology was all the rage in Victorian England, breeders may have been trying to emulate dogs from an ancient era.
Romantics at heart will prefer the breed’s Egyptian heritage, but whatever it’s roots, there is no taking away that the Pharaoh Hound is a stunningly beautiful breed that is playful, independent, and single minded when it comes to the hunt.