Breeding Hounds for their Intended Purpose


This series is a discussion about the natural tension that exists between how we view show dogs, field/working dogs and dual-purpose (show and work/field) dogs. The dog grouping last discussed was the sight hounds. How does the evolved morphological form relate to past and/or current function? How and why is it that some breeds have developed different types for field/work and show? What are the actual or perceived similarities and differences between the purebred show dog and field/work dog? What have breeders done to breed dogs that can do the job for which they were intended, if it still exists, and if not, what simulations exist that are as close to the original intent as possible?

This month, we will explore those questions for the multi-sense hounds.

Before standards were written for the multi-sense hounds we recognize today, dogs were already being used and selectively bred to perform certain work. Multiple factors impacted the development of these breeds and their continued evolution, including geography, climate and terrain, culture and customs, as well as types of game available. The term “multi-sense” is taken to mean those breeds that hunt by a purposeful combination of sight, scent, and/or hearing.

The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) has interestingly divided this grouping of dogs, all found in the AKC Hound Group, mainly into two distinct groups, that of Sighthounds (FCI Group 10) and that of Spitz and Primitive Types (FCI Group 5). However, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is characterized within FCI Group 6 (Scent hounds and Related Breeds) along with the Dalmatian, both as “related breeds.” FCI’s Group 5 is further sub-divided into sections with the multi-sense hounds falling into three sections. Within FCI Group 5, Section 6 is the primitive type which incorporates the Basenji, Peruvian Inca Orchid (aka Peruvian Hairless Dog), and Pharaoh Hound. Section 7 of FCI Group 5 is the primitive type subsection of hunting dogs encompassing the Cirneco dell’Etna, Ibizan Hound, and Portuguese Podengo (Pequeno, Medio and Grande varieties). The Norwegian Elkhound and Norrbottenspets are > also found within Group 5, but in Section 2 (Nordic Hunting Dogs). Interestingly, these last two breeds require passing working trials to attain breed championships in the Nordic countries. There are other hounds not recognized by either the AKC or FCI that still inhabit and work in various areas of the world, including Europe, the Middle East and the sub-continent of India.

The Basenji has a long history in Africa, especially central Africa. Prehistoric cave paintings as far back as 6000 B.C. depict a pariah-type dog resembling today’s Basenji. Genetic analysis reveals that the progenitor breed branched off early on in dog history and are now indigenous to the heavily forested areas of central Africa. One of the earliest arrivals of the breed to the US (via the UK) was in 1937. From that time on importations continued. However, beginning in 1990 a good number of the living Basenjis imported directly from Africa began to be registered with the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (FSS). This included a 1978 import and, later, 1987 and 1988 imports from trips to Africa by four well-known Basenji enthusiasts/breeders. The Africa Stock Project was started in 1990 by the Basenji Club of America as a result of the 1987 and 1988 imports. Additional imports have continued through 2016 (last publicly available record). These imports have contributed much needed breed-specific heterozygosity to the gene pool, including health benefits and the brindle color pattern.

The Basenji we see in show rings today, as well as on the lure coursing field, hold closely in type to the African stock. There are small differences in style between the two, namely in the degree of curling of the tail and hooding of the ears. Since most of the Basenjis that course in lure field trials are also shown successfully, there is no discernible difference between dogs that show or course. The breed is still used in its native central African areas, hunting by scent and sight, in flushing game out of their hiding places and into the hunters’ waiting nets, and finding caches of eggs. That these same dogs are imported to the US and other countries and used in breeding programs is testament to the fact that the breed is little changed from its African brethren.

The breed is active in AKC and American Sighthound Field Association (ASFA) lure coursing field trials and, to a much lesser extent, in Large Gazehound Racing Association (LGRA) meets of 200 yard straight runs and National Oval Track Racing Association (NOTRA) races.

Similar in hunting and body styles, use of the senses, and hunting abilities are three AKC-recognized breeds from Mediterranean islands: The Pharaoh Hound (Maltese archipelago); the Cirneco dell’Etna (Sicily); and the Ibizan Hound (Ibiza and Mallorca). None are silent on the hunt, giving their respective distinctive voices at differing times during discovery or pursuit of rabbits. It was thought that the ancestors of these dogs were brought to the islands by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and, eventually, also the Romans. Illustrations of dogs similar in type are found in the graves of the Pharaohs and on objects in museums, so that the existence of this type of dog is recognized as early as 4000-3400 BC. In addition to these three breeds, there are other similar style breeds: the Podenco Canario (from the Canary Islands); and Podenco Andaluz, as well as the larger Portuguese Podengo, Medio (medium) and Grande (large) varieties.

Known as the Kelb tal-Fenek (rabbit dog) in its native Malta and Gozo (part of the Maltese archipelago), the Pharaoh Hound is thought to have had its origin in ancient Egypt. However, a 2004 genome study of dog breeds reveals it to be of more recent development. These hounds are appreciated by Maltese farmers and hunters who preserve the breed so it may continue to hunt rabbits. Hunting is done in the twilight or early night with discovery by scent, barking to announce the find. This leads to a chase by sight until the rabbit holes up in the rocky terrain or rock walls. At that time, a belled-ferret is loosed into the rocks to flush the rabbit. Upon flushing, a Pharaoh Hound is close by to make the catch.

Pharaoh Hounds were first brought to the UK and resulted in the first litter being whelped there in 1963, with later importation to the US in 1967. The formation of the eventual parent club in the US in 1970 led to recognition of the breed as part of the Hound Group in 1984. The breed is active in ASFA and AKC lure coursing field trials, as well as National Open Field Coursing Association (NOFCA) hunts and, to a much lesser extent, LGRA and NOTRA races.

The Pharaoh Hound of today, as seen in the show ring or coursing field, is little changed from its recent and current ancestry in the Maltese archipelago. The Maltese dogs tend to the smaller end of the height range of 21″–25″ and do not display the sometimes-excessive rear angulation of some US and European specimens. It is noted that the Maltese farmers and hunters have little to no interest in exhibiting their Kelb tal-Fenek at shows, even when they are held in Valleta, Malta, several times a year.

The Cirneco dell’Etna (Sicilian hound) has been present in Sicily since ancient times. Evidence of the presence of a Cirneco-type dog on the island is provided by its portrayal on coins, incisions and mosaics dating from several centuries B.C. Cirnechi (plural form of Cirneco) have historically been used as rabbit hunting dogs employing their senses of scent, hearing, and sight. They have a very keen sense of smell and are built for endurance in the harsh volcanic lava terrain surrounding Mount Etna, similar regions of the island of Sicily, and rocky terrains.

In the early part of the 20th century and following the First World War, breed numbers declined precipitously. Beginning in 1932, the dedicated efforts of veterinarian Dr. Maurizio Migneco and Baroness Agata Paterno Castello dei Duchi Carcaci saved the breed from extinction. The first breed standard was accepted by the Italian Kennel Club (ENCI) in 1939. It is obligatory for Cirnechi to have passed a working trial in order to earn their breed championship in Italy.

Cirnechi were first imported to the US in the mid-1990s and to the UK in 2001, with some importations continuing into the present time. The Cirneco dell’Etna entered the AKC Hound Group in 2015. Cirnechi compete in AKC and ASFA lure coursing field trials and, in extremely small numbers, in NOTRA and LGRA racing meets.

The Sicilians have always bred small dogs for hunting purposes, frequently not bothering to register their purebred Cirnechi > with the ENCI. “While some of the most elegant specimens have been successful in global show rings, a number have been noted to be over standard height, particularly outside of Italy. There was a move some years ago to raise the standard height, this was strongly rejected by the breed club. Another essential characteristic, which is vanishing, is the ‘rustic’ coat. In many of the dogs, it is too fine, not at all suitable for the job of searching for prey in thick bushes.”1

The Ibizan Hound (Podenco Ibicenco) comes in two coat varieties, smooth or rough-coated. The breed is mainly used for hunting rabbits, day or night. Ibizan Hounds are well-known for their agility and leaping abilities, as well as for their excellent scenting and hearing abilities. The Ibizan uses these more than sight in discovering rabbits even in the densest and driest of cover. Hunted in small groups, they bark only when they see or hear the game and when they have surrounded it. The breed originates in the Spanish Balearic Islands of Majorca, Ibiza, Minorca and Formentera, where it’s acknowledged by the original name of “Ca Eivissenc,” in the local dialect. It is well-known in the Spanish provinces of Andalucia, Catalunya, Valencia, and the Balearic islands, and is still used throughout Spain by rabbit hunters.

Today’s Ibizan Hound is mainly kept for hunting purposes in Spain. It is found all over the world at shows, as well as lure coursing field trials (AKC, ASFA, and other countries’ coursing clubs), NOFCA hunts and, to a much lesser degree, NOTRA and LGRA races. There is a difference in style between the dogs kept strictly for hunting live game in their native Spain and those that are show/coursing hounds. The Spanish dogs (both show and hunting) are a bit heavier in body, have much more moderate (less) angulation behind, and display a light suspended trot when moving at that gait. Ibizan hounds in countries outside of Spain tend to be finer in substance, display significantly more rear angulation, and often move with an extension and speed at the trotting gait that is not characteristic of the breed.

The Portuguese Podengo exists as three separate varieties of the same breed in Portugal and FCI countries, and two breeds in the US, the Pequeno and the Medio/Grande (Pequeno 8-12in/20-30cm), (Medio 16-22in/40-54cm and Grande 22-28in/55-70cm), each size appearing as wire-longer coat or smooth-short coat. Of note is that neither hair type should have an undercoat. It is also a primitive type dog in the style of the Podencos of the Iberian Peninsula, Balearic and Mediterranean islands. Being influenced by the dogs brought by the Moors in their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, it adapted to the Portuguese terrain and climate.

Functionality impacted the evolution of the breed into the three varieties, with the small variety (Pequeno) being developed from the 15th–17th century as a ratter on the caravels of the Portuguese navigators. Depictions of Podengo-like dogs (Pequeno and Medio/Grande) have been found in Portuguese churches dating to the 10th/11th centuries and 15th/16th centuries, respectively.
The Pequeno is a distinctly rectangular dog (20% longer than tall), while the Medio and Grande are decidedly square. The Pequeno has already entered the AKC Hound Group, while the Medio/Grande are still in the Miscellaneous Group awaiting entry into the Hound Group. Reportedly, both Medio and Grande can be born in the same litters.

Medio and Grande are used as hunters for rabbit and large game (deer and boar). Although, the Grande size are dwindling in number in their native country. Their hunting style is similar to that of the Ibizan Hound. The Pequeno is primarily used to flush rabbits from cover to the hunter’s waiting gun. All sizes hunt in packs, by scent and sight. There are hunters of Portuguese descent here in the US that still hunt rabbit with their Podengos; some imported, others born here. The Medio/Grande and Pequeno is eligible for AKC lure coursing field trials, and the Medio/Grande in the ASFA lure field coursing trials (Limited Class), while the Pequeno has yet to settle into a judged scent-based hunting venue in the US.

Comparisons of live dogs in the US, those in the Iberian Peninsula and other areas of Europe indicate that the breed as used for exhibiting is virtually unchanged from those that are primarily hunted. The Pequeno wire coats of those exhibited in the US tend to be unnecessarily “tidied up,” with some going beyond that into outright sculpting. There are insufficient numbers of Medio/Grande in the US being exhibited to conclude whether the wire coats varieties are being needlessly manipulated.

The Peruvian Inca Orchid (Peruvian Hairless Dog in Peru and the FCI countries, Viringo) appears in the archaeological periods of Pre-Inca times from 300 BC until 1460 AD. Today, the breed is found in coated and hairless varieties and in three sizes: Small (Toy) 9¾-15¾in/25-40cm; Medium (Miniature) 15¾-19¾in/41-50cm; Large (Standard) 19¾-25¾in 51-65cm. Initially to be registered, the coated variety must be the product of two hairless dogs duly registered in a stud book or breeding record. The coated variety can only be mated to a hairless specimen of the breed and subsequently also for generations to come. The mating between coated specimens is banned in its country of origin. The ancient Peruvians thought the hairless dog to have healing properties, and thus was kept as a companion dog. The coated variety was relegated to hunting and carrying messages long distances between mountainous Andean villages. They are eligible to compete in the Limited Class at ASFA lure coursing field trials and regular AKC lure coursing field trials.

Since there are so few numbers in the US, or globally, it is difficult to discern if there has been any drift in morphology, style or type from the Peruvian stock. Interestingly, the breed bears a strong resemblance to Mexico’s Xoloitzcuintli.

Known as the Norsk Elghund Grå (moose dog-gray) in its native Norway, the Norwegian Elkhound, and its smaller and tighter-coated close cousin, the Norsk Elghund Svart (moose dog-black) are classified as distinct Spitz breeds with the FCI. However, in the US the Norwegian Elkhound is classified within the Hound Group. Elghund-like dogs have existed in the Nordic countries since before the time of Christ and a number of Spitz breeds are used there for hunting or herding.

The Elkhound must be a wily and agile dog in order to track and hold at bay moose, elk, deer, bear, or other large game encountered in the Scandinavian forests. The breed has been likened in agility to a Quarter Horse cutting cattle. It is determined and steady on the search and approach—sometimes over steep and rocky mountainsides—and being super nimble on the move in order to dodge an irate moose. The thick protective and smooth lying outercoat and softer undercoat on the body serve as insulation from the cold in its native Scandinavian hunting regions. This breed is subject to a working trial in order to gain a bench championship in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. It is still used there, as well as in the US to a lesser extent, in the hunt for moose, elk, and deer. The dog works alone or as part of a pair, silently scenting to find the game, then barking while keeping it at bay for the hunter to arrive, then tracking the wounded game if needed. As hunts are hours long, the Elkhound must also be capable of great endurance.

Morphologically, the breed does not exhibit differences between those used for strictly hunting and those used for show. However, stylistically, there is a difference in coat presentation between that seen in the US, outside the US, and with the hunting dog. As one would expect, the hunter’s dog is rugged and grooming is limited to maybe a few brushings to assist in the shedding of coat. In the US, grooming for the show ring has expanded to bathing and blowing out the coat so that it stands away from the body. This presentation demonstrates a coat that is highly unprotective, as it would allow melting snow to penetrate and hasten the loss of body warmth provided by a correct coat. Of note, this grooming technique is not generally employed when the parent club brings over a Norwegian judge to adjudicate the National Specialty!

The Norrbottenspets/Norrbottenspitz (Spitz from the area of North Bothnia) probably originates from small Laika-type Spitz dog. In addition to being an all-around farm dog, hunting for food and fur (sustenance and protection) in the harsh areas of the northernmost adjoining parts of Sweden and Finland was a necessity for the survival of its masters. Ermine, sable, and marten were considered valid currency for hundreds of years and their meat, along with that of hunted grouse, did not go unused. Drastic drops in fur prices following World War II coincided with the drop in interest for the Norrbottenspets. Not having registrations and thinking the breed had vanished, the Swedish Kennel Club (SKK) declared it extinct in 1948. Fortunately, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, some true-to-type specimens were found living as pets and watch dogs on small homesteads in the inland North Bothnia. The exceptionally dedicated work of a few persons allowed this old type hunting Spitz to be saved. In 1967, the Norrbottenspets was re-introduced to the Swedish registry and a new standard was drawn up. The Finnish registry is still open to true-to-type dogs. The Swedish registry, however, is now closed. The breed is subject to a working trial in Sweden, Finland, and Norway in order to attain a show championship.

This keen little breed that hunts by scent, hearing, and sight is a fairly recent arrival to the AKC Miscellaneous Group and will head to the Hound Group once eligible. Norrbottenspets are released to hunt by scent-finding the game. Once game is found, the dog trees, corners, or holds it at bay while barking continuously until the hunter arrives to dispatch it. The dog captivates the game’s attention and distracts it from any noise the oncoming hunter may make.

Since there are so few numbers in the US and globally, it is difficult to detect if there has been any drift in morphology, style or type from the dogs used strictly for hunting.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is a breed indigenous to the southeastern areas of Southern Africa, particularly Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). Its ancestors were the native ridge-backed dogs of the Hottentots and various Portuguese, Dutch and German Sporting and Working breeds brought to the Cape by early Boer settlers. The first written standard of the breed was in 1922 by the country of origin parent club which is an affiliate of what is now called the Zimbabwe Kennel Club.

The original function of the Ridgeback was to track game, especially lions, by hunting in pairs or trios. It’s strength, agility, courage, endurance, barking, and instinct keep the game at bay until the arrival of the hunter; therefore, allowing a shot at closer range. It has worked as a hunting dog, retriever, and property guardian and is still used in various parts of the world to track and hunt game. It can also put up and retrieve birds as well.

The breed competes in ASFA and AKC lure coursing field trials and, to a much lesser degree, in NOTRA and LGRA races.

Photographs of Ridgebacks from the 1920s, 30s, and early 40s depict a breed with a more pronounced forechest and greater substance, as well as truly moderate rear end angulation with depth through the upper and second thighs.

There is a definite departure seen between Ridgebacks used almost exclusively for lure coursing and racing, and those that are shown. The coursing/racing dogs display a racier appearance, exhibiting a greater tuck up of abdomen and flank and less overall substance. They are a far cry from the sturdy game hunters developed in southern Africa. That being said, there are a number of show dogs, including champions, that also hold lure coursing field trial championships. Within that group there are those that tend toward the more substantial side of the bell curve and those that tend toward the racier side. Somewhere in the mid-section of that bell curve is the strong, agile, endurance hunter.

Are we paying attention to the original intent of the breed when observing it? How conscious are we of these real and perceived differences when we make our judging decisions, be they in the show ring, field trial, hunt test, or in breeding? Is there a divergence in type or morphology? What are we doing, as breeders and judges, to close the gap?

I’ll look forward to your commentary and questions on this article, as well as the ones that follow in this series. Feel free to send your comments to or to me at

1 Jane Moore & Domenico Tricomi, Hadranensis Kennel, Bergamo, Italy. Mr. Tricomi is a native Sicilian, although living in northern Italy for many years. He has always been surrounded by Cirnechi as his father hunted with them. He has bred Cirnechi for many years, combining type and working ability. He is an FCI show and Cirneco dell’Etna hunting trial judge and has served on numerous committees of the Italian Kennel Club (ENCI).

The Ibizan Hound (Podenco Ibicenco) comes in two coat varieties, smooth or rough-coated. The breed is mainly used for hunting rabbits, day or night. Ibizan Hounds are well-known for their agility and leaping abilities, as well as for their excellent scenting and hearing abilities.

  • Celeste M. Gonzalez is a graduate of the University of Florida, majoring in Animal Science and is also a Registered Quality Assurance Professional - Good Clinical Practices, Certified Clinical Research Professional, and a Certified Veterinary Technician. She works in the medical device field in clinical research and development after a long period of service in animal health, both in clinic and research. Celeste began showing dogs in 1975, while still in college, with the purchase of her first Basset Hound and began coursing and showing sight hounds with the purchase of her first Saluki the same year. She finished her first champion, a Saluki, in 1976. Participation in lure field coursing during the infancy and development of ASFA garnered her Salukis their ASFA FCh. One of her owner-trained-handled Salukis also obtained a C.D. in obedience. Salukis remained a part of her life until 1989 and she continues to be active in Basset Hounds to this day as an owner, breeder, and exhibitor. She continued to show her Bassets through her college career and began to breed in 1980. Her Jolly Time Hounds kennel has produced numerous Basset champions from a very small breeding program, including Best In Show dogs. Celeste has dabbled in tracking and field work with her Bassets and is proud of the accomplishments of her dogs that have gone to hunting and field trial homes. She is also very involved in Basset Hound health and her dogs are genetically tested for hereditary familial thrombopathia, MPS1, and primary open angle glaucoma. Celeste has judged Basset Hound and other Hound and Terrier breed specialties across the United States, including the BHCA National Specialty, and judged the Basset Hound Club of Spain national specialty in 2009. She is approved to judge the Hound and Terrier Groups.

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