9 Facts About the Cirneco Dell’Etna: Sicily’s Ancient Dog Breed

The Cirneco dell'Etna is one of many breeds native to Italy. These sighthounds are known for their independent yet friendly nature, recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2015.

Mar 31, 2024byMichael C.
facts about the cirneco dell etna

Named after the volcanic Mt. Etna, the Cirneco dell’Etna (pronounced “sir-NEK-oh”) is a dog breed hailing from the Italian island of Sicily. This hound was bred to pursue small game, such as rabbits and fowl. Read on to learn more about this canine, bound with lots of energy!

1. The Cirneco Dell’Etna Hails from Sicily

dog outside in yard
Image credit: unknown

The Cirneco dell’Etna hails from the Italian island of Sicily, iconically located just south of the peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea. This elegant canine, as mentioned in the introduction, is named after Mt. Etna, a very prominent dormant volcano located on the eastern part of the island. This part of the breed’s name was only recently added in the 1930s when the Cirneco dell’Etna standard was recognized by the Italian Kennel Club.

The dogs originated near Mt. Etna, making its namesake fitting. The name “cirneco” is derived from the Latin word ‘cyrenaicus’, which originates from the North African region of Cyrenaica (also, the plural term for this breed is Cirnechi). This term is typically used for other breeds of Mediterranean hounds as well, including the Pharaoh hound and the Ibizan hound.

map of sicily
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Though the Cirneco dell’Etna breed itself is considered an ancient breed, this claim itself is debated. The breed itself is likely to have been unchanged for hundreds of years (with some sources even saying around 2,500 years), but the earliest written description of the modern form was only recorded in 1932 by a veterinary surgeon. Like its relatives, the Cirneco dell’Etna’s ancestry may be traced back to dogs brought to the Mediterranean from Phoenician traders.

2. The Cirneco Dell’Etna Has Unclear Origins

dog in green background
Image credit: iStock/Getty Images

The relationships of the Cinerco dell’Etna amongst other breeds have been questioned, being said to be connected to a few similar hounds including both the Ibizan hound and the Pharaoh hound, with possible gene flow to the dissimilar Great Pyrenees. There was also a study that suggested that the Cinerco dell’Etna was genetically close to the Podenco Canario, a similar dog breed that originates from the Canary Islands.

A new study published in 2021 finally confirmed the genetic relationships of this breed; the Pharaoh hound has been determined to be its closest living relative and interestingly, the floppy-eared Segugio Italiano. As the Pharaoh hound hails from nearby Malta (and not Egypt contrary to popular belief) and the Segugio Italiano from Italy, this isn’t much of a surprise.

It is sometimes erroneously called the “Sicilian greyhound,” though it is not closely related to dogs belonging to the greyhound group (greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, whippets, etc.).

3. These Dogs Were Bred for Hunting

dog outside a backyard
Image credit: Spot and Tango

Like other Mediterranean hounds of its type, the Cirneco dell’Etna was bred for hunting small game, mostly rabbits and fowl. Also similar to its relatives, the Cirneco dell’Etna is a coursing hound, chasing after its quarry in fast bursts. This dog utilizes mainly sight and speed to pursue its prey, rather than scent as most other dogs are known to do (though their sense of smell is still keen).

The Cirneco dell’Etna is a high-stamina breed, shaped mainly through natural selection due to the arid and rough environments it originated from. This has created a breed well-adapted to hunt in rugged environments and is renowned for being able to work for hours without food or water (just an important note: overworking your dog like this is highly not recommended).

Today, not much wildlife remains on the island of Sicily, so the Cirneco dell’Etna is now mostly kept as a companion pet.

4. These Were Poor Farmers’ Dogs

dog running through shrubs
Image credit: Vignazzi/Wikimedia Commons

In most parts of Europe, hunting dogs were mostly owned by rich elites; however, the Cirneco dell’Etna was a typical working dog kept by impoverished farmers and not those from aristocratic royalty. This influenced a lot of their physical traits, as utility was primarily focused on physical appearance. For peasants, a dog suited to hunt and bring food to the table was highly valued. These standards, along with the harsh conditions of the Sicilian countryside, fine-tuned the Cirneco dell’Etna’s skills and shaped them further as an ideal hunting dog.

Cinerchi were so highly sought after that Sicilian farmers even refused to offer puppies or even create studbooks to outsiders, treating their beloved dogs as trade secrets. This would eventually create concerns for the future survival of the Cirneco dell’Etna itself, which will be covered in the next section below.

5. This Breed Almost Went Extinct

puppy on rocky area
Image credit: Vignazzi/Wikimedia Commons

By the early 20th century, the Cirneco dell’Etna was on the brink of extinction. As Sicilian farmers wanted to keep their cherished dogs a secret, working with the preservation of the breed was proven difficult. A movement by two individuals in the 1930s was started to save the Cirneco dell’Etna from extinction. An Italian veterinarian by the name of Dr. Maurizio Migneco wrote about his concerns about the future survival of the breed, and this caught the attention of an Italian aristocrat, Donna Agatha.

Donna had immense difficulty with obtaining the dogs due to the stubbornness of the farmers, as they weren’t willing to give up their precious hounds. She continued raising awareness of the dog and worked hard to increase the breed’s population until she died in 1958.

Though still rare today, the Cirneco dell’Etna is held in high regard in Italy and was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2015. This dog is still very rare outside of Italy, though; there are around 200 Cirnechi known living in the United States.

6. Legend Says These Dogs Guarded a Temple

dog in show
Image credit: Svenska Mässan/Wikimedia Commons

There is an ancient legend that says that the Greek god Dionysus created a temple near the southwestern part of Mt. Etna to honor the local fire god, Adranos.

To keep the place safe, Dionysus summoned around a thousand Cirnechi to guard the place. It was believed that the Cirneco dell’Etna had the supernatural ability to recognize and attack criminals, such as thieves and non-believers, who could approach temple grounds. Meanwhile, those who wanted to pay their respects to Adranos were guided and helped by the dogs, especially those who were intoxicated (after all, Dionysus was the god of wine).

Locally, the Cirneco dell’Etna held a huge cultural significance in Sicily back then as it does today. Ancient artifacts discovered throughout the Mediterranean (spanning from Greece to Rome), such as coins and pottery (dating back as far as 4,000 B.C.E.) depict dogs with traits similar to this breed.

7. The Cirneco Dell’Etna is Very Healthy Overall

two dogs on a leash
Image credit: Pleple2000/Wikimedia Commons

Like other similar hounds, the Cirneco dell’Etna is a very healthy dog breed. This is mainly in part due to environmental pressures in terms of existing in a rugged environment. Currently, there aren’t any breed-specific concerns in this dog, though more general issues, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, may be prevalent. The Cirneco dell’Etna is also prone to obesity; keeping an eye on your dog’s diet and exercise is crucial to combat this.

As this breed loves to run, toe and muscle injuries around the feet can be relatively common in the Cirnechi. Some Cirnechi may also be affected by luxating patella (slipping kneecaps) or eye issues such as cataracts and retinal problems. Obtaining your dog from a responsible breeder can help prevent these issues in the long run, as they’ll often screen the dogs that they’re trying to breed.

As always, your dog should be examined by a veterinarian annually to prevent and/or catch early signs of illness.

8. Grooming These Short-Haired Dogs Is Simple

portrait of dog on couch
Image credit: AgataNYE/Wikimedia Commons

Grooming the Cirneco dell’Etna is relatively simple, as they sport a short sleek coat that requires very little brushing. Weekly brush with a rubber curry brush suitable for removing dead hairs from your dog’s fur. Due to having short coats and little body fat, Cirnechi are very susceptible to temperature extremes and risk hypothermia when temperatures dip.

Just like with any other dog breed, Cirnechi requires regular nail maintenance as overgrown nails can cause pain and discomfort to your dog. Trimming your dog’s nails once every few weeks or so should suffice in preventing overgrowth. Keeping their ears clean is also crucial in preventing infections that could potentially develop.

Your dog’s teeth should be brushed around two to three times a week. Dental chews should be given as supplementary enrichment items (they should be offered as treats only. Chews should NOT substitute teeth brushing).

9. These Dogs Are Great for Experienced Owners

dog outside in lawn
Image credit: unknown

The Cirneco dell’Etna sports traits typical of other Mediterranean sighthound breeds, including independence and high energy. Yet, they’re not for faint-of-heart dog owners. While these dogs are not unintelligent, they view commands as suggestions. It takes a lot of patience and consistency to teach these hounds basic tricks, like “sit” and “stay.”

Furthermore, these high-energy dogs need plenty of exercise to remain both physically and mentally healthy. While Cirnechi can be fine living in an apartment, you’ll have to walk them frequently to prevent destructive behaviors.

The Cirneco dell’Etna is a remarkable breed that can form close bonds with immediate family members. However, their independence and stubbornness are not for everyone. If you’re looking for a similar-looking dog that’s easier to handle, consider an ex-racer greyhound or an apartment-loving whippet.


Q: What specific training methods work best for the Cirneco dell’Etna’s independent nature?

A:Positive reinforcement and consistency are key to training a Cirneco dell’Etna, as they respond well to rewards but may ignore commands they find irrelevant.


Q: How do Cirneco dell’Etna dogs interact with children and other pets?

A:Cirneco dell’Etna dogs are generally good with children and can coexist peacefully with other pets if properly socialized from a young age.


Q: What activities or exercises are recommended to fulfill the high energy levels of the Cirneco dell’Etna?

A:Regular walks, playtime in a secured area, and mentally stimulating activities like agility or coursing are great for meeting the Cirneco dell’Etna’s exercise needs.

Michael C.
byMichael C.

Michael holds a BS degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from Michigan State University. He formerly worked at a pet store as an animal care associate and is the former president of the MSU Herpetological Society. Michael currently owns three snakes (a corn snake, a Kenyan sand boa, and a checkered garter snake) and a leopard gecko. Interests include almost anything animal-related. Michael enjoys drawing, gaming, and having fun in his free time.