The Mediterranean sighthounds are a group of primitive dogs found throughout the Mediterranean region. They do not have the appearance of the traditional sighthound, such as a Saluki or Greyhound. Their large, upright ears share a similarity with primitive dogs such as the Basenji and Xoloitzcuintli. Even the term ‘sighthound’ can be misleading as they use sight, scent, and hearing while hunting.
Like the Mediterranean breeds we explored last week, the bichons, the history of how these dogs first arrived in the region is debated. They span across islands and the mainland, from the Canary Islands to Sicily, where they have been present for centuries. Unlike the bichons, there is no timeline to follow as these breeds are all said to have existed since antiquity.
The most accepted theory is that they have descended from the dogs of ancient Egypt, similar to the extinct Tesem. Under this belief they would have spread out from Egypt via the Phoenicians, perhaps aided by the Greeks and Egyptians. However, recent DNA testing has attempted to discredit this long-held theory. A often cited study of 80 breeds highlighted 14 that were closest in relation to the wolf, none from this region. I could not find a list of what breeds were used and whether any of the Mediterraneans were among them. Under this new evidence some suggest that dogs of a similar type have evolved in multiple areas at different periods throughout history due to having the same purpose.
Taking the DNA into account some believe these breeds are a modern attempt to recreate Egypt’s ancient dogs. Meanwhile other authors have dismissed them. They point out dogs have interbred with wolves since domestication, skewing the results. Additionally, they do not take explain how all share the same distinct type, not seen anywhere else. It is possible they may have influenced each other's development, particularly on the mainland - but this seems just as unlikely on the islands. None of this explains the ancient pottery and texts that describe them. Therefore further testing would need to be completed before these results are accepted as fact.
Since we lack a timeline, this article will explore the breeds geographically, starting with the Canary Islands and the Podenco Canario. Although found throughout the Islands, the Podenco Canario is most often found on Gran Canary and Tenerife. Whether or not these dogs were brought by the Phoenicians it is known they were established before their homeland was discovered by Spain in the 15th century. Originally they were kept by the native Guanche and while these natives were eventually absorbed by the Spanish settlers their dogs lived on. The Podenco Canario remains rare and is little seen elsewhere, even on the Spanish mainland.