The Hound of the Czars
Article by Walter Dyer, originally published in the October
1916 issue of Country Life in America magazine.
My friend Charles Livingston Bull, the animal
artist, is, as the boys say, "nutty" over the Russian
wolfhound, and it is to him that I owe largely my appreciation
of that breed. At the Westminster show he delights in pointing
out to me the wonderful beauty of the Borzoi's lines, and I
have come at last to view the matter somewhat with his eyes.
I suppose it is natural for us to like some breeds better than
others, and I confes that I never warmed up very much to this
Russian, but I can see now how the Borzoi must appeal to an
artist, and I am quite willing to admit that he has other good
points as well. Leaving out all question of personal preference,
therefore, let us see why this breed has become so popular.
In the first place, the Borzoi is perhaps the
most spectacular of all dogs in appearance, and that goes a
long way with many fanciers and dog owners. He never can fail
to attract attention in the show or on the street, or when sailing
over fences in the open country. When running he is an epic
Major Borman, one of the breed's best friends
in England, says: "The most graceful and elegant of all
breeds, combining symmetry with strength, the wearer of a lovely
silky coat that a toy dog might envy, the length of head, possessed
by no other breed - all go to make the Borzoi the favorite he
has become." Major Borman knows the breed; we will let
his estimate stand.
The Borzoi, or Russian wolfhound as he is more
often called in the United States, is a dog of ancient lineage,
akin to the long-coated Persian greyhound and belonging to the
greyhound family. For centuries, probably, he has been bred
in Russia as the sporting dog of the aristocracy. The rest of
Europe has known him for only a few decades.
It was perhaps forty years ago that the first
Borzois were imported into England. The Czar presented dogs
to the royal family of England, so that his position in English
society was assured from the start. English fanciers took up
the breed about 1880, and the Borzoi Club was founded in England
in 1892. The English, however, made more of a companion than
a hunting of him, wolves being less plentiful in Great Britain
than in Russia, so that our English importations have differed
somewhat in character from those brought direct from Russia.
The first Borzois were brought to this country
in the early '90's, and were called Siberian wolfhounds. Later
we adopted the name Russian wolfhound. Interest here was spasmodic
until Mr. J.B. Thomas, Jr., took hold. He bought dogs in England,
Canada, and the United States, and then imported some fine dogs
from Russia, including the famous Bistri of Perchina and Sorva.
Bistri was a typical example of the breed and his stuffed remains
are preserved at the Museum of Natural History in New York.
Mr. Thomas's continued enthusiasm has had much to do with the
ever increasing popularity of the breed in this country. We
now have plenty of good breeding material here, with several
large kennels doing a good business, and the future of the breed
seems assured. Borzois are becoming more and more common among
dog owners in all parts of the country, and the show entries
are always large. There were thrity-four of them at Madison
Square Garden last February.
Grace, speed, strength, and beauty are the
Borzoi's physical characteristics -if you concede the attribute
of beauty to so narrow a head. The Standard calls for a dog
built on greyhound lines, but taller and somewhat leaner than
the greyhound. The greyhound's action is quicker than that of
the Borzoi, but the latter is a stronger runner, with a longer
stride and greater staying powers.
The Borzoi's chest should be deep and narrow,
the body muscular, neck, back, and loins bespeaking strength,
with the back arched over the loins. Both fore and hind quarters
should be powerful, the thighs well muscled, hind quarters somewhat
straighter than those of the greyhound, hind legs set well forward
and well bent at the hocks.
The Borzoi's head counts fifteen points in
the judging. The skull should be longer and narrower than that
of the greyhound, and there is usually an angle at the brow,
producing a Roman nose. The eyes are dark and set somewhat obliquely.
The ears are small, thin, and carried down.
The coat is long, fine, and silky, sometimes
with a curl. White usually predominates in the coloring, which
may be all white or with markings of tan, fawn, blue-gray, brindle,
lemon, or black. Whole colored specimens of these tints sometimes
The Standard calls for a dog 28 to 31 inches
high at the shoulder. In England the minimum has been raised
to 29 inches. The average weight is 75 to 105 pounds, bitches
15 to 20 pounds lighter. A desirable height is 31 inches; some
dogs have stood 33 inches or more.
Common faults in the Borzoi are shoulders too
heavy, chest too wide, turned-out elbows, splay feet, cow hocks,
head too short or thick, light eyes, and lightness of bone.
The Russians are good breeders, as a rule,
and the puppies are not difficult to rear if proper care is
taken. Fairly high prices are the rule, prize winners being
valued up into the thousands occasionally. Good puppies, eight
or ten weeks old, may be had for $35 to $50. The Borzoi is at
his prime when three or four years of age.
Being a somewhat nervous, restless breed, more
than ordinary care should be exercised in training the puppy.
He should be broken early, if possible, of a tendency to run
away or roam, for the Borzoi is naturally a great ranger and
wants to use his legs. The puppy should be accustomed to the
collar and lead when quite young. It is better, however, not
to try to keep one on a chain. A good sized fenced-in run is
better, and the fence needs to be pretty high. The breed does
not take kindly to close confinement, and some individuals can
never be made into house dogs. In the main, variety of diet,
plenty of exercise, and patience in training are the requisites
in rearing a puppy.
appears to be some difference of opinion as to the Borzoi's
disposition. The breed's staunchest friends claim that he is
naturally affectionate, and a one-man dog. He seldom picks a
quarrel. I am inclined to think that individuals differ rather
widely, some being sweet-tempered and some not. Perhaps they
have been spoiled by their aristocratic training. They are often
snobbish, sometimes wilful.
I knew a Borzoi once that did no end of damage
by breaking loose occasionally and running wild. In almost every
instance the owner heard of chickens killed or some other damage
done, sometimes ten miles from home. This Borzoi seemed unable
to resist the call of the wild when it came, though between
times she was docile and affectionate. It was bred in her to
run and kill.