6 Ancient Dog Breeds That Originated in Egypt

These breeds are some of the world's oldest

Basenji standing in front of a blurred forest background

Photographs by Maria itina / Getty Images

Some of the oldest dog breeds can be traced back to ancient Egypt. It's often suggested that it was the ancient Egyptians that domesticated dogs. A tomb dating back to 3500 BC shows a painting of a man walking a dog on a leash. These dogs closely resemble the ancient civilization's hieroglyphs and tomb drawings of Egypt's iconic dogs.

Some of these ancient dogs have developed into the native Egyptian dog breeds that we know today. Other neighboring Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and African countries have made these original breeds their own.

Breed Characteristics

The dogs originating from Egypt come primarily from a hot, dry desert or North African Mediterranean climate. Their bodies match well with those climates—not well suited for Arctic climes or humid tropics. These intelligent, high-energy dogs were also bred for an active, working lifestyle as hunters, shepherds, or guard dogs. Today, these breeds follow in the pawprints of their ancient ancestors, requiring plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and a sense of purpose.

When choosing a dog to come to be part of your family, where you live, and the climate can impact a dog's happiness. Big dogs with thick double coats have some difficulty acclimating to hot or tropical climates, while dogs with short, fine hair find harsh or snowy winters too much for their not-so-insulated bodies.

Here are 6 breeds to consider if you're interested in having one of the world's ancient breeds.

  • 01 of 06

    Saluki

    saluki dog

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    The elegant and athletic saluki means "noble" in Arabic and is one of the oldest dog breeds. Their history goes back at least 5,000 years. Ancient Egyptian tombstones and sculptures feature dogs resembling the modern-day saluki. The pharaohs prized these dogs for their regal looks and athletic hunting prowess—as did other prominent leaders through history, like Alexander the Great. The breed spread across the Middle East, Egypt, and Asia over the years, brought by nomadic tribes.

    Like many sighthounds, the saluki is incredibly fast and usually has a high prey drive—not suited to home life with other small furry pets. If they get plenty of exercise, salukis are known for being docile and enjoy curling up in the home. They have an independent, stubborn streak, are sensitive, and require gentle, positive reinforcement for training results. Not known as a cuddly breed, salukis will still form strong bonds with their family and are prone to separation anxiety if left alone for too long.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Hound (AKC)

    Height: 23 to 28 inches

    Weight: 40 to 60 pounds

    Coat and Color: Feathered or smooth coat; softly feathered ears; white or cream, fawn, black and tan or grizzle and tan, and golden coat colors

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 17 years

  • 02 of 06

    Basenji

    Basenji standing in grass with dried leaves

    Ryhor Bruyeu / Getty Images

    The basenji, or in African languages its name translates to mean "dog of the bush, village, or wild," is another old breed. It also bears a striking resemblance to dogs depicted on Egyptian pharoah tombstones. Over the years, tribes in Central Africa valued the breed's excellent hunting skills. The breed has remained relatively untouched by selective breeding. The basenji you see today closely resembles its ancestors from thousands of years ago.

    Basenjis are loyal, gentle and alert, but can be stubborn and require extra patience during training. They tend to be reserved and even aloof with new people but form strong bonds with their families. Don't expect a lapdog with a basenji, though. They will seek attention on their terms, compared often to cats. This breed is an attractive choice for people who live in apartments since it doesn't bark. Still, it requires moderate exercise to prevent problem behaviors from surfacing as a result of boredom.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Hound (AKC)

    Height: 16 to 17 inches

    Weight: 20 to 25 pounds

    Coat and Color: Smooth, short coat in chestnut red, black, brindle, or tricolor (black and red); all have white feet, chest and tail tip; may have white legs, blaze, and collar

    Life Expectancy: 13 to 14 years

  • 03 of 06

    Ibizan Hound

    Ibizan Hound jumping through a meadow

    Kristiinatammik / Getty Images

    Strictly speaking, the Ibizan hound is considered native to the Balearic Islands, off Spain's coast. These elegant sighthounds are another breed that can easily trace their original lineage back to Egypt that made their way to Spain by ancient Phoenician sea traders. Looks alone tell the story of this breed that appears strikingly like dogs seen on various tombstones and historical artifacts in Egypt.

    Food could be scarce on the Mediterranean islands, and these agile, leaping, high-speed dogs were determined hunters that navigated the rugged terrain to bring back rabbits for their people. High-energy, strong prey drive, great-stamina dogs, Ibizan hounds are best suited to living in active homes with no small animals. With plenty of exercise, they are calm, gentle, and relatively quiet around the home.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Hound (AKC)

    Height: 22 to 28 inches

    Weight: 45 to 50 pounds

    Coat and Color: Coarse hair that can be smooth or wiry; comes in solid red, solid white, or white and red patterns

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 04 of 06

    Pharaoh Hound

    Pharaoh Hound standing in snow in a forest

     Eudyptula / Getty Images

    Like the Ibizan hound, the pharaoh hound is another ancient breed that can trace its origins back to the land of the Nile; its name is a nod to its ancient Egyptian heritage. It made its way to Europe from Phoenician traders and developed further on the Mediterranean island of Malta.

    The breed shares similar traits with the Ibizan hound in terms of looks and temperament. It was also primarily used for hunting rabbits; in Maltese, this energetic breed is called "kelb tal-fenek," meaning "rabbit dog." They're less reserved than the Ibizan hound with a friendly, playful nature, making them good companions for respectful children. Born to run and hunt, this dog is best suited for an active home—one that doesn't have small, furry animals.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Hound (AKC)

    Height: 21 to 25 inches

    Weight: 45 to 55 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short, smooth glossy coat that only comes in shades of tan; noble and athletic in appearance with large, pricked ears

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Baladi Street Dog

    Baladi Street Dog

    Ewelina Kol / Getty Images

    While Baladi dogs are not a pure breed, this dog is the most common in Egypt. It descended from a mixture of salukis, pharaoh hounds, and Israeli Canaan dogs. These native stray dogs are prolific on the streets and across the rural countryside of the country. They share similar characteristics with some of their purebred relatives, including large pricked ears and a slim physique. They look less refined but are full of character and make good companion dogs.

    Over the years, these dogs have grown in numbers, becoming a nuisance. Many locals grew to revile and even abuse them, although an international outcry shined a light on this issue. Several successful spay and neuter campaigns have helped curbed overpopulation, and Baladi dogs are being rescued overseas and within Egypt through local adoption programs.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Not a recognized group; mixed breed

    Height: No particular size, described as "medium-sized"

    Weight: Medium-sized generally means between 20 and 60 pounds

    Coat and Color: Brown, beige, black, and white

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 06 of 06

    Armant (Egyptian Sheepdog)

    Armant

    National Purebred Dog Day

    The Armant is a farm and herding breed that may have originally descended from the French Briard herding dog. It is thought to have been brought to Egypt by Napoleon's armies. This breed was developed by mixing with local dogs. The dog's name originates from the town of Armant in Egypt, its supposed place of origin in the early 1900s. The breed is not known much outside of Egypt but is used extensively within Egypt as a herding dog and a livestock guard dog. This breed is highly loyal, bonds closely with its owner, and acclimates well to life with children in the home.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Not in a recognized group

    Height: 21 to 23 inches

    Weight: 50 to 65 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length, coarse, rough, shaggy coat; comes in black, tan, gray, and yellow

    Life Expectancy: 14 to 15 years

Breeds to Avoid

Egyptian breeds proliferated over time and more than 1,000 miles for their energetic drive and skill as hunters, herders, and protection. If you value these breeds' high-energy, intelligence, and determination to get a job done, then some dogs that might disappoint are dogs known for their lounging, lapdog tendencies. These lower-energy dogs also look nothing like Egyptian breeds: mastiffs, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and Chihuahuas.