The Borzoi, also known as the Russian Wolfhound, the Russian Greyhound, the Siberian Wolfhound, the Borzaya, the Psowaya Barsaya and the Russkaya Psovaya Borzaya, is a large sighthound known for its speed, agility, courage and instinctive prowess at pursuing, overtaking and holding quarry based solely on sight rather than scent. Originally bred for the coursing of wild game in the Russian forests and on open terrain, today these exotic animals are beloved household companions and impressive show dogs, while retaining their field abilities. They are known for their exceptional elegance, glamorous coat, long narrow muzzle, slightly arched back and rounded rump. The Borzoi is dignified, quiet, sensitive and somewhat aloof, and prefers that his human companions behave in a similar fashion. Loyal and affectionate, the Borzoi also can be independent and stubborn. They are highly intelligent, do not tolerate harsh handling and rarely bark. The name "Borzoi" derives from the Russian word borzii or borzyi, which means "swift." The Borzoi standard was approved by the American Kennel Club in 1905, where the breed is a member of the Hound Group.
Borzois need plenty of space to run. Without sufficient exercise, they can develop destructive habits. Mature males should stand at least 28 inches at the withers and weigh between 75 and 105 pounds. Mature bitches should be at least 26 inches in height and weigh 15 to 20 pounds less than males. Dogs below these respective ranges are severely penalized under the American breed standard, while larger animals are not penalized as long as their extra size does not interfere with their symmetry, speed or stamina. The Borzoi's long, silky coat, which can be of any color, should be brushed regularly.
The Borzoi originated centuries ago in Czarist Russia, where they were bred by aristocrats as coursing sighthounds. The Borzoi's predecessors are thought to have come from Egypt and include the long-coated, smooth-faced Russian Bearhound, the coursing hounds of the Tatars, the Owtchar, a tall Russian sheepdog and other ancient sighthound breeds. Whatever the mix, by 1260 the sport of hare coursing was documented in connection with the Court of the Grand Duke of Novgorod. The first Borzoi standard was written in 1650 and apparently did not differ much from the standard today. According to the American Kennel Club, "from the time of Ivan the Terrible in the mid-1500s to the abolition of serfdom in 1861, hunting with Borzoi was the national sport of the aristocracy."
During this period, great rural estates with hundreds of serfs and thousands of acres were devoted to breeding, training and hunting with the Borzoi. The breed was pampered and promoted by Russian royalty on a grand scale unparalleled in the development of any other breed. Guests, horses, dogs, tents, kitchens and carriages came by special trains to attend ceremonial "hunts." More than a hundred Borzoi in matched pairs or trios, with additional foxhound packs and riders on horseback, made up the primary hunting party, with "beaters" on foot to flush out the game - usually a wolf. The Borzoi would pursue the wolf, and the horsemen would pursue the Borzoi, until the dogs captured, pinned and held their quarry. Typically, the huntsmen would leap off their horses, grab, gag and bind the wolf, and then either kill it or set it free. These extravagant affairs involved elaborate attire, feasting and festivity.
Several Borzoi were sent as gifts to Princess Alexandra of Britain in 1842, and the breed was exhibited at the first Crufts World Dog Show in 1891. In 1863, the Imperial Association was formed to protect and promote the old-style Borzoi. Many (if not most) present-day American bloodlines are traceable to the dogs of breeders who were members of this club. Most notable among these were the Grand Duke Nicholas, uncle to the Czar and field marshal of the Russian armies, and Artem Boldareff, a wealthy Russian aristocrat. The first Borzoi to come to America was allegedly brought from England in 1889 by a fancier of the breed living in Pennsylvania. The first American to travel to Russia and directly import Borzois was C. Steadman Hanks, the Massachusetts founder of the Seacroft Kennels in the 1890s. In 1903, Joseph B. Thomas of Valley Farm Kennels made several trips to Russia to obtain specimens of the breed that played a key role in the development of American Borzoi pedigrees, including dogs from the Perchino Kennels owned by the Grand Duke Nicholas and from the Woronzova Kennels owned by Artem Boldareff.
The Borzoi Club of America was formed in November of 1903, then called the "Russian Wolfhound Club of America." The breed standard was approved at a meeting held during the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in February of 1904, and the breed club was elected to membership in the American Kennel Club in May of that year. The official breed standard was formally adopted in 1905 and is essentially the same today, with minor revisions made in 1940 and 1972. The breed's name was changed from Russian Wolfhound to Borzoi in 1936, and the parent club's name was changed to the Borzoi Club of America that same year.
Today, this breed is largely unchanged from its Russian ancestors in both appearance and ability. Borzois are still used by farmers in the Western United States to ward off coyotes. They excel in AKC lure coursing competitions and in the conformation ring. Above all, Borzois are graceful, glamorous, gentle and devoted companions.
The average life expectancy of the Borzoi is between 10 and 14 years. Breed health concerns may include bloat, hip dysplasia, cervical vertebral malformation ("wobbler" syndrome), osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) and progressive retinal atrophy. Other ocular conditions with a suspected breed predisposition include plasma cell infiltration of the nictitating membrane (plasmoma), cataracts, retinopathy of Borzois and other ocular defects.
For those who are looking for a polite, quiet, dignified companion dog, a Borzoi is the perfect choice. Rowdy as puppies, once Borzoi reach adulthood, their personality is often compared to that of a cat. While they love affection, Borzoi can entertain themselves (constructively), and do not require constant supervision. They don't bark much and are so light on their feet that you can't even hear them coming across a wooden floor.
Borzoi need lots of exercise to keep their long, lean bodies healthy. They are excellent running companions, and can even keep up with bikers. Despite their laid-back nature in the home, apartments are not the best living space for a Borzoi. A house with a fenced in back yard for chasing balls is ideal. Small children should be supervised when playing with a Borzoi. Though they like kids, they dislike overly rough behavior and can snap or bite if pushed too far.
Borzoi are hound dogs, and like all hounds, can be a challenge to train. They are independent and don't like being told what to do. A confident, gentle hand is required, and patience is a must. Positive reinforcement and treats work best – discipline only causes this stubborn dog to dig his heels in.
Socialization is important with a Borzoi. They can be wary of strangers, and if not taught to be around new people and accept new situations, they can become anxious or aggressive, though usually the problem with Borzois is timidness.
While Borzoi are polite with people and tolerant of other dogs, they should be kept away from rabbits, cats and small dogs. They are sighthounds, bred to track and chase small game, and if they get their sights on a smaller pet, disaster could ensue. For this reason, Borzoi should never be left off leash in an area that is not fenced. The number one cause of death in the Borzoi is getting hit by a vehicle. Once a Borzoi has a small animal in his sight, he will zero in and take off like a shot, and it is nearly impossible to break the spell.
Borzoi are extremely sensitive creatures and if there is a lot of tension in the home, they will pick up on it and can actually become physically ill. They need a harmonious home to prevent anxiety and sickness.
The Borzoi was originally bred for the coursing of wild game on more or less open terrain, relying on sight rather than scent. To accomplish this purpose, the Borzoi needed particular structural qualities to chase, catch and hold his quarry. Special emphasis is placed on sound running gear, strong neck and jaws, courage and agility, combined with proper condition. The Borzoi should always possess unmistakable elegance, with flowing lines, graceful in motion or repose. Males, masculine without coarseness; bitches, feminine and refined.
Skull slightly domed, long and narrow, with scarcely any perceptible stop, inclined to be Roman-nosed. Jaws long, powerful and deep, somewhat finer in bitches but not snipy. Teeth strong and clean with either an even or a scissors bite. Missing teeth should be penalized. Nose large and black.
Small and fine in quality, lying back on the neck when in repose with the tips when thrown back almost touching behind occiput; raised when at attention.
Set somewhat obliquely, dark in color, intelligent but rather soft in expression; never round, full nor staring, nor light in color; eye rims dark; inner corner midway between tip of nose and occiput.
Clean, free from throatiness; slightly arched, very powerful and well set on.
Sloping, fine at the withers and free from coarseness or lumber.
Rather narrow, with great depth of brisket.
Only slightly sprung, but very deep giving room for heart and lung play.
Rising a little at the loins in a graceful curve.
Extremely muscular, but rather tucked up, owing to the great depth of chest and comparative shortness of back and ribs.
Bones straight and somewhat flattened like blades, with the narrower edge forward. The elbows have free play and are turned neither in nor out. Pasterns strong.
Hare-shaped, with well-arched knuckles, toes close and well padded.
Long, very muscular and powerful with well bent stifles; somewhat wider than the forequarters; strong first and second thighs; hocks clean and well let down; legs parallel when viewed from the rear.
Dewclaws, if any, on the hind legs are generally removed; dewclaws on the forelegs may be removed.
Long, set on and carried low in a graceful curve.
Long, silky (not woolly), either flat, wavy or rather curly. On the head, ears and front of legs it should be short and smooth; on the neck the frill should be profuse and rather curly. Feather on hindquarters and tail, long and profuse, less so on chest and back of forelegs.
Any color, or combination of colors, is acceptable.
Mature males should be at least 28 inches at the withers and mature bitches at least 26 inches at the withers. Dogs and bitches below these respective limits should be severely penalized; dogs and bitches above the respective limits should not be penalized as long as extra size is not acquired at the expense of symmetry, speed and staying quality. Range in weight for males from 75 to 105 pounds and for bitches from 15 to 20 pounds less.
Front legs must reach well out in front with pasterns strong and springy. Hackneyed motion with mincing gait is not desired nor is weaving and crossing. However, while the hind legs are wider apart than the front, the feet tend to move closer to the center line when the dog moves at a fast trot. When viewed from the side there should be a noticeable drive with a ground-covering stride from well-angulated stifles and hocks. The over-all appearance in motion should be that of effortless power, endurance, speed, agility, smoothness and grace.
The foregoing description is that of the ideal Borzoi. Any deviation from the above described dog must be penalized to the extent of the deviation keeping in mind the importance of the contribution of the various features toward the basic original purpose of the breed.
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Sources: American Kennel Club