The Cretan Hound is a breed of hunting dog native to the Greek island of Crete. With a recorded history that is thought to extend back at least 4,000 years, the Cretan Hound is believed to be one of the oldest European dog breeds. Primarily used for hunting rabbits, the Cretan Hound is intermediate in form and function between a scenthound and a sighthound. The Cretan Hound is a very rare breed that is almost never found outside of Crete, and is not yet recognized by any major international kennel clubs. The Cretan Hound is also known as the Kritikos Ichnilatus, Cretan Hunting Dog, Cretan Rabbit Dog, Cretan Tracing Dog, and Cretan Tracer.
The Cretan Hound was developed many centuries before written records were kept of dog breeding, and most of its history has been lost to time. Almost anything said about the breed’s ancestry is little more than pure speculation, although there are several theories which are supported by some evidence. All that is clear is that the Cretan Hound was developed on the island of Crete and that it is an incredibly old breed. Dogs virtually identical to the Cretan Hound appear on the oldest Cretan artifacts, and the breed is almost certainly at least 4,000 years old.
The first artifacts depicting the Cretan Hound begin to show up during the period when Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization, the first major European power. Named after Minos, the legendary first king of Crete, the Minoans were famous across the ancient world for their advanced technology, military might, globe exploring traders, and expert skill as sea farers and sailors. Some of the best evidence to suggest that the Minoans possessed Cretan Hounds comes from the nearby island of Santorini, which was also part of the Minoan civilization. Recent archaeological digs from Santorini under the leadership of Professor S. Marinatos have uncovered a wall mural depicting dogs that are essentially indistinguishable from the modern Cretan Hound. The Minoans almost certainly developed and kept the Cretan Hound for the same reasons that their descendants the Greeks have for millennia, to hunt the rabbits and other small animals found on Crete.
Although the evidence is fairly convincing that the Minoans developed the Cretan Hound, it is unclear how it was developed. There are two major lines of thought regarded the ancestry of the Cretan Hound. The first, and most popular, holds that the breed was descended from ancient Middle Eastern hunting breeds, especially those of Ancient Egypt. Originally, all domestic dogs were all nearly identical in appearance, closely resembling the Dingo of Australia and the modern Pariah Dogs of India and the Middle East. Prehistoric artwork from around the world shows dogs that are remarkably similar in form and function. This first began to change between 7,000 and 14,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia. Artifacts from that time clearly show different types of dogs, including fleet footed sighthounds for hunting and gigantic Mastiff-type dogs for battle and protection. Among the earliest known dog breeds was the Tessem, the preferred hunting dog of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The images of the Tessem that have survived indicate that it was very similar in appearance to the modern day Pharaoh Hound, and to a lesser extent the Cretan Hound. The Ancient Minoans had extensive trade and political contacts throughout the Middle East, and were even possibly mentioned in the Bible (as the island of Caphtor). It is completely possible, and probably very likely, that Minoan traders encountered Middle Eastern hunting dogs while working abroad and brought some back to Crete. Many believe that these dogs were the ancestors of the Cretan Hound, or at least heavily influenced its development.
The other major line of thought regarding the origin of the Cretan Hound holds that it was developed from native Cretan dogs, which were almost certainly very primitive. Although there is a great deal of dispute as to the specific details, most experts now agree that the dog was domesticated from the Wolf (Canis lupus) between 14,000 and 35,000 years ago and that it was the first species of any kind to be domesticated. At the time that the dog was first domesticated, humans had not yet developed agriculture or begun living in settlements, instead wandering the wilderness in small bands of hunter-gatherers. The Dingo-like first dogs served their nomadic masters in many ways, as camp guardians, hunting aides, sources of meat and hides, and as affectionate companions. Dogs proved so useful that they quickly spread across the world, eventually coming to live everywhere that humans settled other than a few remote islands. Some of these dogs found their way to the islands of the Mediterranean, although it is not exactly clear how. It is generally believed that Crete and other Mediterranean islands were first settled approximately 12,000 years ago by mariners from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, that that the dog first arrived at the same time. These dogs would have been similar in appearance to primitive breeds such as the Carolina Dog, and also probably very similar in temperament as well. Like most primitive dogs, these first Cretan dogs would not have been deliberately bred. Once agriculture and animal husbandry were introduced to Crete from the Fertile Crescent, the island’s natives probably had the idea to selectively breed dogs as well. The Cretan Hound would have been the result of many years of deliberate breeding and selection. Because the Cretan Hound is very similar to primitive breeds elsewhere, especially in regards to appearance and temperament, in the opinion of this author it was probably developed indigenously from Crete’s first dogs, although it was probably heavily influenced by Middle Eastern dogs imported to the island as well.
The Minoans were some of the Ancient World’s most skilled sea farers and traders, and had extensive contacts throughout the Mediterranean. It is widely believed that the Cretan Hound was extensively exported across the Mediterranean by the Minoans, and that the breed was highly influential, or possibly ancestral, too many of the dogs found in Mainland Greece, North Africa, the Middle East, the islands of the Mediterranean such as Sicily and Ibiza, and the Iberian Peninsula. It is also sometimes claimed that the breed was exported to other countries as well, such as France and Britain. Among the breeds which are sometimes claimed to have Cretan Hound ancestry are the Pharoah Hound, Ibizan Hound, Cirneco dell’Etna, Podengo Portugueso, Podenco Canario, Grand Bleu de Gascogne, and Greyhound. For reasons not entirely understood (although a major volcanic eruption is now believed to have been at least partly responsible,) the Minoan civilization declined rapidly between approximately 1450 and 1420 B.C. The Minoans were replaced by the Mycenaeans and the Dorians, who eventually became known as the Greeks. The Ancient Greeks were well aware of the Cretan Hound and held it very high regard as a hunting dog. The Cretan Hound was probably highly influential in the development of other Greek breeds. Many references made in Ancient Greek literature and writings to hunting dogs or hounds may have been about the Cretan Hound, although they did not mention it by name. Odysseus, legendary king of Ithaca, sometimes claimed to be a descendant of King Minos and may have possessed Cretan Hounds, including the greatly famed Argos. Local Cretan mythology came to hold that the Great Goddess arrived on the island on a great ship, bringing many goods with her, among them the first Cretan Hound. The Heraklion Museum currently has a display about the Great Goddess’s ship with a Cretan Hound sitting on the bow.
After millennia of being largely independent, the island of Crete was conquered by the Roman Empire in 69 A.D. after a three-year long campaign. Crete was then dominated by a succession of foreign powers until 1898, chief among them the Byzantine Empire, Arab pirates, the Republic of Venice, and the Ottoman Empire. The relationship between the native Cretans and their foreign occupiers was often extremely contentious and often openly hostile and rebellious. Nearly 2,000 years of occupation instilled a deep distrust of outsiders in the Cretan people, a distrust which is still very prevalent on the island today. However, throughout the centuries of domination, the Cretan people continued to breed their much beloved Cretan Hounds, known to the islanders as the Kritikos Ichnilatus. The Cretan people usually refused to transfer their valued dogs to foreigners, and often deliberately hid the best specimens to prevent them from being stolen. The fact that the breed was so jealously guarded throughout history has ensured its survival while so many others have gone extinct or had their quality polluted.
During its 4,000 year history, the Cretan Hound has been used extensively by the island’s human inhabitants. The dog’s primary purpose has always been hunting. Isolated from the mainland, Crete has developed a unique local flora and fauna. There are no animals native to Crete that are dangerous to humans (except for those with severe allergies), and most of the land dwelling mammals on the island are unique species or subspecies. One of the island’s most common and widely eaten animals is the rabbit. Although the Cretan Hound has historically been used to hunt all of the island’s wildlife including the Kri-Kri and Cretan wildcat, the breed has always primarily hunted rabbits. The Cretan Hound hunts rabbits in a very primitive way, using both sight and scent equally in much the same manner as a wolf. While almost all modern hunting breeds heavily specialize in hunting by either sight or sound, the Cretan Hound is so ancient that it possibly predates the division of hounds into sighthounds and scenthounds. Although the Cretan Hound has always been used mainly as a hunting dog, the breed has also served other functions. The Cretan Hound has been used for herding and livestock protection in the past and still possesses some of those instincts. The breed has also been used as a guard dog and personal protection animal with great success.
The Cretan Hound has been very carefully bred for centuries, and probably millennia. Because Crete is an island, its dog population has remained almost entirely isolated. This has served to keep the breed relatively pure. The quality of the breed has long been maintained by strict breeding procedures. Male Cretan Hounds which showed little aptitude and skill for hunting were traditionally euthanized at a young age because the island’s inhabitants could not afford to keep dogs which had no purpose. Those dogs which became good but not great hunters as adults were neutered so that only the best hunting dogs could pass their genes on to the next generation. Such rigid practices ensured that the breed remained an excellent hunting dog despite its relatively low numbers.
Because most Cretans are unwilling to sell or give their dogs away to foreigners, the Cretan Hound remains essentially unknown outside of Crete and a few neighboring islands, which is where almost the entire Cretan Hound population resides. Cretan Hound breeders and fanciers care almost exclusively about the working ability and temperament of their dogs, and care very little for appearance and conformation. Cretan Hound fanciers have shown very little interest in dog shows or in getting their breed formally recognized by kennel clubs. The Cretan Hound is currently not recognized by any major kennel clubs, nor does it appear that this recognition will occur in the near future. Every year, a few breed members are exhibited in a major international dog show held in Athens, but mainly just to expose the breed to interested fanciers. In recent years, a very, very small number of breed members have made their way to mainland Greece and other countries, but the breed has not yet been established elsewhere. It is not clear whether any Cretan Hounds have been exported to the United States, but if any have it has been a few isolated individuals. Although a common sight on Crete, where it is probably the most common breed, the Cretan Hound is considered a very rare breed in the world at large.
The vast majority of Cretan Hounds are bred almost exclusively as working dogs, with appearance being a very secondary consideration if it is considered at all. This means that the Cretan Hound is more varied in appearance and less standardized than most modern breeds. However, the breed has been kept pure for centuries, if not millennia, and exhibits a number of common features.
The Cretan Hound is a medium to large breed. This breed is one of the most sexually dimorphic of all dogs, meaning that the males and females differ drastically in size and appearance. Male Cretan Hounds usually stand around 27 inches tall at the shoulder, and females usually stand around 19 inches. This breed is generally well-proportioned, but most breed members are slightly longer than they are tall. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, build, and gender, most breed members weigh between 44 and 66 pounds. The Cretan Hound is a very lightly constructed dog that is very similar in build to most scenthounds. In general, the Cretan Hound is slightly more heavily constructed than most scenthounds and its ribs are not usually clearly visible. The legs of the Cretan Hound are long and slender. The tail of the Cretan Hound is one of the breed’s most important characteristics. The tail is medium to long in length and is carried in an upright circle over the back. It is very important that the tail is neither too tight nor too loose.
The head and face of the Cretan Hound are quite primitive and wolf-like. They are quite long and reminiscent of those of a sighthound, although usually not to that extent. The head and muzzle combine to form a wedge shape. The two are not entirely distinct and blend in very smoothly with each other. The muzzle itself is approximately the same length as the skull and tapers significantly from the base to the tip. The nose of the Cretan Hound may be black, brown, or deep chestnut, depending on the color of the dog. The ears of the Cretan Hound are incredibly expressive and highly mobile. They may be drop down, semi-erect, or backwards facing (rose-shaped). The eyes of the Cretan Hound are medium-sized, almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the ....-in-shape, and dark in color.
The coat of the Cretan Hound is short and smooth. The coat is longest on the tail, buttocks and neck, and shortest on the head, face, ears, belly, and fronts of the legs. Because the Cretan Hound has been bred without regard for appearance, it is quite variable in color. The Cretan Hound is usually a solidly-colored dog, with different shades appearing on different parts of its body. Among the most common are white, sandy, cream, green fawn, and black. Brindle-colored (black-striped) Cretan Hounds are also quite common, and parti-colored and tri-colored dogs are sometimes seen as well.
Because the Cretan Hound is almost always kept as a working dog, there is very little information on its temperament outside of its hunting. This breed is said to be quite affectionate with its family, to whom it is much attached. This breed is usually independent minded and not necessarily fawningly affectionate. The Cretan Hound is also said to be quite gentle and affectionate with children. This is definitely a breed that prefers to spend time with those it knows well to strangers. With proper training and socialization, most breed members will be polite with strangers, although they will almost always remain reserved and aloof with them. Without proper training and socialization, this breed has a tendency to become nervous and even fearful of strangers, which can sometimes lead to aggression. The Cretan Hound is quite alert and makes a capable watchdog. However, most breed members lack the aggression to make effective guard dogs.
When properly trained, most Cretan Hounds are very accepting of other dog. Although dog aggression issues have been known to occur in this breed, they are not common, and most breed members would prefer to share their homes with at least one other canine companion. However, this breed has been bred as a hunting dog for more than 4,000 years and demonstrates an incredibly high level of aggression towards non-canine animals. The Cretan Hound is driven to chase, attack, and kill other animals, and will certainly bring its owner home presents of dead animals when left alone in a yard for any length of time. Most breed members will be fine with individual cats that they have been raised with from a young age, although some are never trustworthy with them. Even the best trained Cretan Hounds will probably still attempt to attack and kill strange cats, such as a neighbor’s.
The Cretan Hound is considered to be quite intelligent and willing to please. Most who have worked with this breed believe that it is significantly easier to train than most hunting hound breeds. In particular, the Cretan Hound takes to hunting very rapidly and with almost no training. That being said the Cretan Hound is not necessarily the easiest breed to train. These dogs are independent minded and certainly do not live to please. While the Cretan Hound takes to basic obedience and manners training quickly and easily, it would probably not be ideally suited to competitive obedience, agility, and related tasks. In particular, this breed can be extremely difficult to call back once it is in pursuit of potential prey, although it generally responds better to such commands than most other hounds.
Traditionally, Cretan Hounds were allowed to run around freely on their island home. This is a very active and energetic breed that requires a substantial amount of daily activity. A Cretan Hound should receive a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous activity every day, although more would be ideal. The Cretan Hound makes an excellent jogging or bicycling companion, but truly craves an opportunity to run around freely in a safely enclosed area. Cretan Hounds that are not provided a sufficient opportunity to exercise will almost certainly develop behavioral issues such as destructiveness, hyperactivity, over excitability, and nervousness. Because of the Cretan Hound’s exercise requirements, this breed adapts very poorly to apartment life. All that being said, once a Cretan Hound receives sufficient exercise, most of these dogs are very calm and relaxed in the house and will lie on a sofa for hours on end. The Cretan Hound also makes an excellent house pet because of its quiet nature. Although this breed does bark, it does so much less frequently than most breeds.
The Cretan Hound is a very low maintenance breed. These dogs should never require professional grooming, only an occasional brushing. Other than that, only those routine maintenance procedures which all breeds require such as nail clipping and an occasional bath are necessary. The Cretan Hound does shed but only minimally.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Cretan Hound, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about the breed’s health. However, most fanciers believe that this breed is in excellent health, and no serious genetically inherited problems have been reported from this breed at high rates. This good health is likely a result of the breeding practices exercised by Cretan breeders. Only the best hunters (usually the healthiest) dogs are allowed to breed, ensuring that only their genes are allowed to pass on to the next generation. This does not mean that the Cretan Hound is immune to genetically inherited health conditions, only that it generally suffers from fewer of them and at lower rates than most modern breeds. Because the population of this breed is so low, it may be at risk of a number of health risks associated with rare breeds.
Although skeletal and visual problems are not thought to occur at high rates in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Although health studies have not been conducted for the Cretan Hound, a number have been on similar and closely related breeds. Some of the problems of greatest concern hound in those breeds include: