Possessed of a quiet dignity and independence, the Borzoi is sometimes compared to a cat.
Once known as the Russian Wolfhound, the Borzoi’s written history can be traced to 1650, when the first standard for the breed was written in his homeland, Russia. Bred for hundreds of years by Russian nobles, the Borzoi is believed to have been developed from the early Russian bearhound, the coursing hounds of the Tatars, and the Owtchar, a tall sheepdog.
The hunts of the nobles were quite the spectacle. They might involve more than one hundred Borzoi, hunted in trios of one female and two males, as well as an equal number of foxhounds, which were used to seek and flush the prey. When the wolf was sighted, the huntsmen released their dogs to capture, pin, and hold it. After they ceremoniously bound and gagged the wolf, the huntsmen sometimes set it free to be hunted again another day. These lavish hunting expeditions were common until 1861, when the serfs were emancipated and the nobles could no longer rely on an unlimited work force.
By 1873, few Borzoi remained, alarming those who admired the breed’s beauty and speed. Russian fanciers created the Imperial Association to protect and promote the breed’s characteristics, and the bloodlines of many Borzoi in America can be traced to dogs from the kennels of Imperial Association members. The association’s members included Grand Duke Nicholas, the uncle of Czar Nicholas II, and Artem Boldareff, a wealthy landowner.
The first Borzoi registered with the American Kennel Club was Princess Irma in 1891. In 1903, Joseph B. Thomas contributed to the establishment of the breed in America by making three trips to Russia to purchase dogs from the Perchino Kennel of Grand Duke Nicholas and the Woronzova Kennel of Artem Boldareff. The Borzoi Club of America, then known as the Russian Wolfhound Club of America, was formed that same year.
In 1936, the breed name was changed from Russian Wolfhound to Borzoi. Today, there is little difference between the Borzoi in your living room and his forebears in Mother Russia. He remains the same tall and glamorous sighthound that was one of the great treasures of Czarist Russia.
The Borzoi is a tall but slender dog and weighs anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds. His distinctive silky coat requires a fair amount of care, and needs to be brushed at least weekly. Many Borzoi owners have their dogs professionally groomed, and those who live in the country or who hunt with their hounds often keep their long “feathering” cut short. At mealtime, you’ll probably want to put his ears up in a snood to keep them from dragging in his food dish.
The Borzoi has a gentle spirit. His personality ranges from serious to silly. As a companion, you can expect him to be clean, quiet, sensible and smart. He’s also stubborn. But don’t let him fool you into thinking he can’t be trained. That might be what he wants you to think, but with the right motivation he’s more than willing to please. You just have to offer him the right inducement — usually food — and let him know that you love him and will never put him in harm’s way. And don’t bore him with repetition. You’ll lose his attention fast.
Off-leash, though, he explodes into a powerful, driving, floating gallop. The space where he is loosed to run must be safe and enclosed, else he will be out of sight in seconds. Breeders say the leading cause of death in Borzoi is being hit by a car.
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