Cirneco dell’Etna’s Function

Cirneco dell’Etna's Function


Cirneco dell’Etna’s Function | Is the Cirneco a Sighthound? No. If classified as a “Hound,” the Cirneco is a Scenthound. While employing sight and sound almost equally, its primary sense is scent. It is a hunter that functions independently to locate and flush prey, voicing when prey is found, running rabbit to its burrow, and, yes, pointing—especially when hunting fowl.

The Cirneco is a primitive breed with functional attributes not commonly converging and, in their embodiment, present a challenge given the expectations of the American fancy.


Cirneco dell’Etna's Function
Photo by Inka Luonmanmãki


The expression “form follows function” is often a throw away, almost as common as a “good morning.” But, taken seriously, it is the underpinning of any performance dog of which the Cirneco dell’Etna is no exception. Not all factors described within a breed standard are crucial to the existence of a specific breed through its function. Aesthetics, subject for another time, is the second half of the soul of breed type.

The function of the Cirneco dell’Etna is the hunting of small mammals, primarily rabbit, and fowl.

The terrain upon which the Cirneco survived by virtue of its hunting prowess is not that of open land for as far as the eye can see. A canine that is large or built for speed is not rewarded with sustenance for survival on rocky slopes and small agricultural plots.


Cirneco dell’Etna's Function
Photo by Jane L. Moore


Size is crucial to the Cirneco’s ability to enter and work within tight areas—thickets and rocky crevices. For this reason, the breed standard has well-defined boundaries for size, which include disqualifications. Disqualifications in size, while not common, are not a novelty for breeds where function is affected. The Whippet is the well-known breed within our same Hound Group with a size maximum and minimum.


Cirneco dell’Etna's Function
Photo by L. Prieto


For the Cirneco, the disqualifications arise for dogs outside the range of 18-20 inches and for bitches outside the range of 17-19 inches. This is easy to apply if the time is taken to evaluate the exemplars individually, rather than seeking uniformity, or lack thereof, within the whole of the exhibits in the conformation ring. Unfortunately, this breed suffers more than most from having the least uniform exemplar in the ring be the most compliant to the breed standard. There has been a dearth of the use of a wicket, in both conformation and performance events, with the result of disqualifiable dogs having completed AKC titles.


Cirneco dell’Etna's Function
Photo by Gaetano Toscano


The Cirneco Breed Standard contains a hierarchy of tools for evaluation: “Disqualifications,” “Severely Penalized,” “Undesirable,” and “Less Desirable.” The only trait with the label of “undesirable” (not “disqualification” or “severely penalized”) is “Gait: Tendency to throw feet sideways or hackney action.”

Obviously, movement is important. But what is the movement? A hunting dog that works on rocky terrain, whether rocks along a river, hills and mountains or simply rock walls dividing fields, places where rabbits are likely to reside, is a dog with a short forearm and a lifting motion. “Springy trot” is the expression used to describe the action imposed by this short forearm, necessary for sure-footed climbing and working on rocky slopes. The cultural divide: no reach and drive. The breed standard specifically states: “Springy trot without excessive extension.” To further shock the sensibilities, the traversing of irregular terrain is not severely hampered by the lack of a perfect springy trot. A dog too straight in the shoulder can still perform its function with movement that is hackney or a paddling motion. Hackney action or throwing of feet sideways is not the most efficient of actions and, for this reason, is “undesirable.” But it also is not a characteristic that impedes function, as would size. Size impedes the ability to access prey, eat, and survive.


Cirneco dell’Etna's Function
Photo by Inka Luonmanmãki


“Undesirable.” There are many references within the standard to “fault” and “severe fault” but, again, those terms are not found in reference to movement. Yes, movement is important insofar as the ability to fulfill function. But it is necessary to first correctly envision the function to be accomplished.

The deviations from the Breed Standard for the Cirneco dell’Etna are here summarized in order of severity:


  • Size: Height not within the stated limits.
    Dogs 18-20 inches; Bitches 17-19 inches;
  • Eyes: Walleye, an eye with a whitish iris or blue eye(s);
  • Ears: Totally hanging ears or bat ears;
  • Mouth: Overshot or undershot mouth;
  • Color: Black nails.
    Total depigmentation, self-colored brown or liver, brown patches or hairs, brindle coat: or any presence of black, whether patches, hairs, or pigmentation including of
    mucous membranes.

Severely Penalized:

  • Eyes: Brown or yellow iris;
  • Body: Excessive tuck-up;
  • Tail: Curled over the back.


  • Gait: Tendency to throw feet sideways or hackney action.

Less Desirable:

  • Color: A white collar.


The Broken Record of Form Follows Function
By M. Lucia Prieto

  • M. Lucia Prieto is a member and President of the Cirneco dell'Etna Club of America, and a member of the Società Amatori Cirneco dell'Etna, Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiana, and Cirneco dell'Etna Club (UK), and an AKC Silver Breeder of Merit. In the breed since 1996, she has imported close to 50 Cirnechi, bred 35 litters, founded the Cirneco dell'Etna Club of America in 1997, and mentored the breed through ASFA and AKC recognition.

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