The Ibizan Hound (pronounced either Eye-Bees-An or Eye-Beeth-An) is native to the Balearic Islands of Spain, where it has long been a hunter of rabbits. Also known as the Podenco Ibicenco, Ibizan Warren Hound, or Beezer, the Ibizan Hound is generally considered to be one of the most ancient of all dog breeds. These dogs existed in virtual isolation on the Balearic Islands for centuries, but are now developing a worldwide following.
Much of what is now said about the history of the Ibizan Hound is almost completely devoid of historical or archaeological evidence. What is known for sure is that the breed developed on the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, and is many centuries old. Common wisdom states that the breed was developed in Ancient Egypt, and was brought to the Balearic Islands by Phoenician traders many centuries before the birth of Christ. The breed remained in isolation on these islands, making it one of the oldest of all dog breeds. There is some evidence to support this theory and also evidence to dispute it.
It is known that the Ancient Egyptians kept dogs, and in fact worshipped them
It is highly likely that the relationship between the Egyptian and their dogs predated the advent of agriculture in the area; however, they may have been introduced later from the neighboring area of Levant (most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq).
Much as they are today, dogs were a part of the culture of ancient Egypt; there are countless depictions of dogs on Egyptian tombs, pottery, and other relics, and many thousands of mummified dogs have also been uncovered. These mummies, created as offerings to the gods were thought to provide companionship in the afterlife. So revered were these early canines by their Egyptian masters that dog cemeteries have also been discovered. It is obvious that the Egyptians cared for their dogs, as archaeologists have been able to translate the names of some individual dogs. Some names imply the dog’s abilities, such as Good-Herdsman. Others describe the dog’s appearance, such as Antelope and Blacky. A few are numerical, such as The Fifth. Many imply great affection, such as Reliable, Brave One, and North-Wind. Finally, a few show us that the Egyptians too had a sense of humor, as at least one dog was named Useless.
Depictions of several different types of dog can be found from Egypt. There are dogs which resemble today’s Mastiffs, and were likely used for similar purposes. Dogs are shown fighting in battle alongside their human masters. Some dogs were obviously herders. One of the most commonly shown dogs was the Egyptian Hunting Dog. Ownership of these dogs may have been restricted to the nobility, but they may have also been possessed by others. The Egyptian Hunting Dog was apparently used primarily to hunt antelope, but may have been used to hunt other game such as rabbit, hyrax, birds, and wolves as well. Working in much the same was as a modern day sighthound, the Egyptian Hunting dog found its prey by using its eyes to detect movement and then used its speed to run it down.
The Egyptian Hunting Dog also closely resembled modern day sighthounds such as the Saluki; save the formers upright, prick ears. It is impossible to deny that the modern day Ibizan Hound closely resembles depictions of the Egyptian Hunting Dog. It is often said that the head of the god Anubis also resembles an Ibizan Hound, but Anubis was a jackal, not a dog. Although the physical similarities and shared hunting style of the two breeds would suggest a relationship between the Ibizan Hound and the Egyptian Hunting Dog, it may simply be a case of coincidence and not relation.
The Egyptian Hound is often said to have been the rootstock from which all other sighthounds were developed, as well as a few other breeds such as the Basenji. However, there is almost no evidence to support this claim. There were many opportunities throughout history when these dogs could have been exported from Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians had close contact with the Phoenicians and Greeks for many thousands of years. Both of these peoples were primarily traders, and were known for their skilled seamanship. Both Greeks and Phoenicians regularly traded with Egyptian ports and may have acquired Egyptian Dogs from them. At various points in history, Egypt conquered and ruled the Phoenicians, and may have brought the Egyptian Hunting Dog with them.
Similarly, the Greeks would eventually conquer Egypt, and may have taken Egyptian Hunting Dogs as booty.
Eventually, the Phoenicians established the colony of Carthage around the 1st millennium BC. (currently a suburb of Tunis, Tunisia), which would become a powerful empire with its own colonies. Once the Greeks, Phoenicians, or Carthaginians acquired these dogs, either could have exported them across the Mediterranean. All of these peoples were known to trade as far west as Spain and possessed colonies throughout the Mediterranean. Dog breeds which are very similar to the Ibizan hound in both appearance and purpose are found in Sicily (Cirneco dell’Etna), Malta (Pharaoh Hound), Portugal (The Podenco Potuguesos); and since Spanish settlement, the Canary Islands as well (Podenco Canario). Sicily, Malta, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Balearic Islands were all settled by Greeks, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians at one point.
It is widely believed that the Phoenicians were responsible for bringing the ancestors of the Ibizan Hound to the Balearic Islands, as the islands were primarily associated with Phoenicians. However, some say that the islands were first colonized by Greeks from Rhodes who may have also brought the dogs with them. The Balearic Islands first entered global prominence as part of the Carthaginian Empire, and some believe that it was Carthaginians who first brought the Ibizan Hound. If the Ibizan Hound came to the Balearics with the Greeks, Phoenicians, or Carthaginians, the breed would have been present in the islands no later than 146 B.C. It is most likely that one of these three peoples brought the Ibizan Hound to its new homeland; however, there are other possibilities as well. The Balearic Islands changed hands many times throughout history, and at least five of these conquerors also controlled Malta, Sicily, and parts of the Iberian Peninsula: the Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, and Aragonese/Spanish. Any one of these people could have taken the ancestors of these Mediterranean breeds from one place and brought it to the others. It is interesting to note that the Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs also all ruled Egypt, and may have exported the dogs directly from the Nile Delta. As Aragon (which later became a part of Spain through a royal union) conquered the Balearics in 1239, the latest that the ancestors of the Ibizan Hound would have arrived is the 1200’s.
There are other reasons to believe that the Ibizan Hound is a very ancient breed. These dogs have an appearance very similar to known ancient breeds such as the Basenji and the Saluki. Additionally, their temperament tends to be aloof and independent, a marker of many ancient and primitive breeds. Finally, their hunting style involved both sight and scent, which is a hallmark of primitive breeds that have not been specialized.
Unfortunately, there is no historical or archaeological evidence which details the ancient origin of the Ibizan Hound, nor its links to ancient Egypt. An additional reason to doubt these claims came in 2004 when a controversial study of canine DNA was conducted. Members of 85 mostly AKC recognized breeds of dogs were tested in an attempt to discover which ones were the most closely related to wolves, and by implication the oldest. 14 breeds were identified as being ancient, with a group of 7 being the most ancient. One of the most surprising results was that neither the Ibizan Hound nor the Pharaoh Hound was among the ancient breeds, implying that both had been developed much more recently.
However, both the study and its results have been criticized. As few as five members of each breed were tested, a very small sample. Additionally, the Ibizan Hound could have still been directly descended from ancient Egyptian dogs, and then carefully bred for thousands of years, which would have led to a great deal of genetic divergence. Compounding these problems is that dog experts and kennel clubs disagree on how to classify the Ibizan Hound. Some group the dog in with both sighthounds and scenthounds in one large hound group containing everything from Beagles to Irish Wolfhounds. Others place the dog in a group with sighthounds only, alongside Greyhounds and Afghan Hounds. Finally, some kennel clubs place the dog in a group with dog breeds assumed to be primitive in type, such as the Basenji, Dingo, and New Guinea Singing Dog.
Whenever the Ibizan Hound first arrived in the Balearic Islands, the breed quickly found a purpose; rabbit hunting. All of the large native animals which were initially found on the Balearic Islands had become extinct before the invention of writing. The only species available to hunt was rabbits, which were likely brought to the islands by man. Balearic farmers hunted rabbits for pest reduction, sport, and to provide additional food for their families. Traditionally, hunting has been conducted either by a single dog, known as a brace or a colla, or a pair of dogs which were usually siblings or a mated pair. This is because most farmers could only afford to keep one dog, and even well-off farmers could only afford two. The Ibizan Hound hunts mainly by sight, but will also frequently use scent as well. Ibizan Hounds are multi-purpose hunters who are capable of both catching and killing a rabbit on their own or driving them to burrows or rock crevices for their masters to dispatch.
The poverty and culture of the Balearic Islands led dogs to be kept in different ways than were common elsewhere. Most dog owners could not and did not feed their Ibizan Hounds enough to survive, and many did not feed their dogs at all. These dogs were primarily responsible for their own nutrition. They hunted and scavenged on their own, living on a diet of rabbits, rodents, lizards, birds, and garbage. In many places, dogs which could not be cared for would be euthanized. However, it is considered bad luck to kill one of these dogs. Instead, a dog would be brought to another side of the island and let loose. Hopefully, someone else would adopt the dog, or it would be able to survive on its own.
Ibizan Hounds remained in the Balearic Islands for many hundreds of years in virtual isolation and as a result bred true despite the comparative lack of deliberate breeding by locals. The only other dog breed which is native to these islands is the now very rare Perro De Presa Mallorquin, a fighting and guard dog native descended from Spanish Mastiffs and English Bulldogs which arrived many centuries after the Ibizan Hound. At least two coat varieties developed in the Ibizan Hound, the smooth and the wire. Some believe that there is a very rare third coat variety, the long-haired, but others believe the long-haired dogs are merely unusual wire hairs. The Ibizan Hound was not only found on Ibiza, but on all of the inhabited Balearic Islands, as well as possibly Catalan speaking areas of Spain and France as well. The breed only became known as the Ibizan Hound in the 20th Century.
Towards the end of the 20th Century, the Balearic Islands, particularly Ibiza, became a popular vacation spot with foreign tourists. This has dramatically increased the wealth and prosperity of the islands’ residents. As a result, Ibizan Hound fanciers have been able to keep more dogs, and also to meet for organized competitions. Now it is common for between 5 and 15 Ibizan Hounds to hunt together. However, in competitions, the Ibizan Hound is strictly judged on its ability to hunt alone or in a pair. While most Ibizan Hounds are now fed regularly, it is still common to allow them to roam freely and supplement their diets with food that they find or catch.
The Ibizan Hound remained essentially unknown outside of its homeland until the mid-20th Century. The first Ibizan Hounds in America were brought to the United States with Colonel and Mrs. Consuelo Seone. The Seones were natives of Ibiza, and the dogs that they brought with them were from the same island. In addition to Ibiza being the best known of the Balearic islands to foreigners, this is how the breed came to be known as the Ibizan Hound to the outside world. Around this time examples of the breed were brought to England and Spain and kennels were founded. These kennels bred more standardized dogs than were found in the Balearics and are the stock from which most of the Ibizan Hounds found in America descend. In 1958, Ibizan Hounds were imported into Egypt, returning to what is believed to have been their homeland after thousands of years of absence. In the mid-1970’s the Ibizan Hound Fanciers and Exhibitors of the US was formed, eventually developing into the Ibizan Hound Club of the United States (IHCUS). The American Kennel Club (AKC) first recognized the Ibizan Hound in 1976, followed by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1979.
Although still commonly used as a hunting dog in the Balearic Islands and to a lesser extent in mainland Spain, the vast majority of Ibizan Hounds in the United States and elsewhere in the world are companions and show dogs. The Ibizan Hound remains quite rare in the United States, and in 2010 ranked 151st in registrations out of the 167 breeds recognized by the AKC; very near the bottom of the list.
The Ibizan Hound is known for its graceful and elegant, yet primitive, appearance, resembling many sighthound breeds such as the Greyhound. These are medium to large dogs, with males typically being between 23½ and 27½ inches tall at the shoulder, and the smaller females typically being between 22½ and 26 inches tall at the shoulder. Male Ibizan Hounds should weigh between 46 and 55 pounds, while females should weigh between 40 and 50 pounds. These dogs are very thin, and much of their skeletal structure should be visible. Upon first seeing these dogs, many believe that they are starved, but this is the breed’s natural appearance. These dogs are slightly longer than they are tall. Ibizan Hounds have a long, tapering tail, which is typically held low.
The Ibizan Hound has a very long and narrow head and muzzle, giving the dog a somewhat severe appearance. In many ways the face, of an Ibizan Hound resembles that of a jackal. The eyes of an Ibizan Hound can be any shade from clear amber to caramel. The Ibizan Hound is immediately distinguishable from most other sighthounds by its ears. The Ibizan Hound’s ears are very large, both in terms of height and width. The ears also stand upright, and when combined with their large size, resemble those of a bat or a rabbit.
The Ibizan Hound comes in at least two-coat varieties, smooth and wire. Some believe that there is a third variety, the long hair, but these dogs are often considered just unusual wire-haired dogs. The smooth coated dogs have extremely short fur, often less than an inch long. The wire coated dogs have somewhat longer fur, but even those dogs which are known as long haired have hair that is only a few inches long. Neither coat variety is preferred in the show ring, although the smooth coated variety is more common.
Ibizan Hounds come in two colors, red and white. This red may come in many shades from a light, yellowish red known as lion to a very deep red. Dogs may be solid red, solid white, or any pattern and mixture of the two. No pattern, color, or shade is preferred in the show ring. The most commonly seen coloration is primarily a darker red, with white markings on the chest and legs.
As one would expect from the ancient lineage of the Ibizan Hound and its long history of having to fend largely for itself, the breed tends to be aloof and independent. If you are looking for a dog that is fawningly affectionate, the Ibizan Hound is probably not the best choice for you. This does not mean that these dogs will not form close bonds with their families or want to snuggle on occasion, just that they tend to be more interested in themselves than you. Most Ibizan Hounds will get along with children if they have been properly socialized with them.
Ibizan Hounds will not usually warmly greet strangers, and tend to be somewhat wary of them. However, well-socialized Ibizan Hounds are usually friendly, and are very rarely aggressive. Although the Ibizan Hound tends to be somewhat protective of its home, the breed is not known for being aggressively territorial. Ibizan Hounds tend to be very sensitive to stress in a home. They will become greatly upset by loud arguments or fights, to the point that they may become physically ill. If you do not live in a harmonious home, this is probably not the breed for you. These dogs are also quite emotive, and will blush when excited. Despite the breed’s independent nature, they cannot be kept as kennel dogs.
The Ibizan Hound has long hunted alongside other dogs for many centuries. As a result, they tend to be good with other dogs, and when properly socialized will get along very well. The Ibizan hound does not have a reputation for dominance or bullying. If you are looking for a dog to introduce into a home with existing canine residents, an Ibizan Hound may be a good choice for you. However, it is always advisable to use utmost care and caution when introducing new dogs to each other.
The Ibizan Hound is not a good choice to have around non-canine pets. These dogs were not only bred to hunt small animals such as rabbits, but they often had to do so in order to survive. The Ibizan Hound has one of the strongest prey drives of any breed as a result. This does not mean that an Ibizan Hound which has been raised alongside a cat will not grow to accept it as a member of the pack. It does mean that careful socialization and training are paramount. It is important to remember that even the most well-trained Ibizan Hound will sometimes let its instincts take over, and that an Ibizan Hound which would never chase your own housecat may still pursue and kill your neighbor’s cat.
The Ibizan Hound is an intelligent dog and can learn very quickly. These dogs are considerably more receptive to training than most other hounds, and are able to participate in a variety of obedience and agility competitions. That being said, the Ibizan Hound is most certainly not a Labrador Retriever, and can make training difficult. Their independent nature means that they will not learn to please you; you will have to make it worth their while. Any training regimen with an Ibizan Hound should involve a great number of rewards. Yelling and punishment will only make an Ibizan Hound resent you. Although quite trainable, Ibizan Hounds prefer to do what they want, and even the best trained dogs may decide to ignore their owners’ commands.
The Ibizan Hound is usually very relaxed and calm when indoors, and has a reputation for being a couch potato. However, these are very athletically capable dogs, and need a fair amount of exercise. Ibizan Hounds are one of the fastest of all dog breeds, with surprising stamina. They are also more than capable of leaping six foot fences, and have even been known to climb. An Ibizan Hound will gladly watch television alongside you for hours, but you must get the dog exercise first. The breed needs a long daily walk at least. Ibizan Hounds that do not get thorough daily exercise may develop behavioral or emotional problems. It is very important that Ibizan Hounds be kept on-leash at all times unless in a very secure fenced area as these dogs have very strong prey drives which lead them to chase whatever they see, hear, or smell, and are independent, often choosing to ignore your calls to come back.
Ibizan Hounds are infamous escape artists. For many hundreds of years these dogs were allowed to wander freely in their search for food and still have the urge to roam. Ibizan Hounds also are easily excited about the possibility of a hunt and will pursue whatever small animal that comes into range of their senses. Not only do these dogs often want to escape, they are often more than capable of doing so. They are intelligent problem solvers and can figure out escape routes. If they cannot figure out a way to escape, they will make one themselves, going over six-foot fences by leaping or climbing or under them by digging. It is probably advisable that these dogs not be left alone unsupervised in a yard unless it is very secure.
The Ibizan Hound is a very low maintenance dog. None of the coat varieties requires professional grooming. Unlike many wire-coated dogs, Ibizan Hounds with wiry hair do not require plucking. A regular brushing will suffice. Ibizan Hounds will shed, but are only considered average shedders. Although all Ibizan Hounds shed a similar amount, it will be more noticeable if the dog has primarily white fur.
In general, the Ibizan Hound is a healthy dog breed. Until recently, the dog was not subject to the questionable breeding practices that have led to many canine health problems. In fact, these dogs were primarily responsible for breeding themselves, leading to a good deal of vigor in the population. The average lifespan for the breed is between 11 and 14 years, very high for a dog of this size. However, there are several health problems to which the breed is susceptible.
Most Ibizan Hounds are extremely sensitive to both chemicals and anesthetics. These dogs often suffer severe allergic reactions when being put under from surgery, some of which are fatal. Although many veterinarians are aware of this, if your vet has not previously dealt with this rare breed make sure to alert them. This can greatly complicate otherwise routine medical procedures. Additionally, be very careful when selecting household cleaners, and especially when spraying pesticides. The Ibizan Hound is very sensitive to them, and may have very severe allergic reactions.
One condition that is unique to Ibizan Hounds is known as Axonal Dystrophy. Axonal Dystrophy impacts the muscles and movement of Ibizan Hound puppies. The condition is very rare and appeared in several litters. However, the condition has not been reported in the past decade.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
Other potential health problems which have been known to occur in Ibizan Hounds include: