The Russian Wolfhounds or Borzoi

by William S. Johnston

This article is from an early 1900s issue of Dogdom Magazine.

In order that we may get warmed up to our subject, allow me to first tell you of the Borzoi hunt, the favorite pastime of the ancient Russian, and which, if possible today, would delight his heart; for the Russian loves to remain true to his old customs. To be a good huntsman, one had not only to be able to produce and own a pack of excellent Borzoi; but one had to know how to train the dog so as to bring out his hunting qualities; and be capable of excellent horsemanship. The Borzoi hunt was most difficult, for it was made up of a great number of people working harmoniously together.

At the time of serfdom, up to the year 1861, when most of the nobles lived upon their manors; one could hardly find an estate without complete hunts, consisting of trail hounds, parforce hounds, mounts, several teams of Borzoi, men to train and condition the dogs, hunting grounds, stables, kennels, etc. One lord of the manor had a complete hunt consisting of 1,000 dogs; and he proudly signed his name "First huntsman of Russia". In 1861 serfdom was abolished and the position of the landowners was suddenly changed and with it the hunts. Many great kennels could no longer be supported. There was no center for the meeting of the dog owners and hunters. It became difficult to obtain good breeding stock and many undertook inbreeding, with the result that poor and inferior dogs became the rule, and the characteristics of the packs were gradually ruined.

In 1873 a society was organized for the improvement of the hunting dogs, and through it the owners of the Borzoi became acquainted. They exchanged ideas, and with the help of a magazine, dog shows were held. The old time breeders became again interested; and, in turn, foreign fanciers made a market for the breed; and because of this monetary help and moral support, the Borzoi came again to its own. In spite of all this, the breed would not have reached its former glory had it not been for His Imperial Majesty, the Grand Duke Nicholas who purchased Perchina Manor in the Government of Tula and laid the foundation for the Borzoi as it is today, at its best. The Grand Duke kept 100 parforce hounds and from 125 to 150 Borzoi and about 15 English greyhounds. The first Borzoi owned by the Grand Duke was a black and white dog known as Udar; and soon thereafter he obtained Osornoi, who was marked with red; and these two great dogs made up his first team. In 1876 His Imperial Majesty was given a grey-marked dog named Chitschny, and with him his son Atlan. These four dogs all became famous for their work in the field. Later on, the Grand Duke secured Sawladei (wolfkiller), best known because of his fury at the kill. The Grand Duke prized those with marvelous speed and great fierceness in the hunt; and among the best of his pack was Nagradka from whom his greatest dogs were produced. For a while His Imperial Majesty only kept those marked with grey; but later he used every color, including that color now outlawed by the Russian Wolfhound Club of America, solid black. The Americans are wrong in doing this, for black was considered by the Russian breeder as an absolute necessity. The color of the coat has a tendency to fade, and in-as-much as the contrasting marks give beauty, the ancient huntsman found it necessary to keep solid blacks; and I am advised that the late Czar had in his kennels at the time of his loss of power, two solid black stud dogs. Why the American club rules out this color I do not know; and I fear that it is a mistake. The breed is for hunting purposes only and color does not enter into that work. Another reason for color, aside from the beauty, is that during the hunting and coursing contests between dogs, the judges will be the more able to distinguish the dog of merit. You may reply that they can be marked; but to this I can only add that in a fierce contest with a wolf the mark on the collar would soon be destroyed.

His Imperial Majesty first concentrated all his attention to developing the fierce hunting spirit of the Borzoi; and in breeding them, he selected according to that quality, allowing beauty, form, and type to be only minor considerations. Finally after considerable experience, he came to realize that the successful hunt was dependent upon speed also, and to have that, you must have certain anatomical qualities; and he learned that when you have the build for speed, you have a well developed, graceful, racy body. So he gave his attention to these new thoughts of quality; and gave up his grey-spotted notion and built up his breed on certain basic ideas. He, therefore, used the best of his first pack, and purchased new animals after the ideal of the ancient Borzoi. When he found his dogs had the inherited characteristics of the race, he knew that keenness against game would not be lacking. The first dogs bred on this plan had plenty of speed, excellent muscles, were keen after game and did not fail at the kill. He happened to attend an auction about this time and purchased a grey and yellow marked dog on account of his build and breeding. He had a wonderful silky coat of greenish yellow color, typical Borzoi color in Russia. His hair was long and wavy, with excellent frill and feather, being very thick on the tail. His head was narrow, ears small and well back; but his nose was a bit too short and his back was not arched nor were his feet good. He was very speedy and was mated to a bitch with a very long narrow head. She was well built and had a beautiful yellowish white coat. From this mating some very wonderful dogs were produced; and it was proved that the Grand Duke was right in believing that breeding to the old type, the hunting qualities would re-appear of themselves. With this foundation he used a dog of exceptional build (Chocklic), not overly tall, about 31 inches, of black-brown color with white breast and points, white neck frill and a heavy coat. He was wide of shoulder and hindquarters; and had a well arched back, as though ready to jump. This dog gave all that he had to his whelps together with small, long, narrow heads with slightly arched noses. These matings brought to the old Russian huntsmen exactly what they were dreaming of; and it established Perchina as the home of the ideal Borzoi. All of the dogs from Chocklic were dark in color. At about this time there was produced from and by various matings, that grand dog brought to America by Mr. Joseph B. Thomas, World's Champion Bistri of Perchina. He had no rival in America, and from him we Americans get our best stock.

Perchina had the best blood obtainable and became the fountain head for the pure Borzoi of ancient type. Its dogs were distinguished for their beauty, their hunting qualities, their markings and their grand dispositions. They were all of one type; but of various colors, for the Grand Duke kept hounds of all shades, from black and rust color to snow white.

In this preliminary information, I want to direct your attention to the various characteristics which go to make up the correct Borzoi standard; not using my own ideas about the various points; but giving you the information that I have gathered in going over the matter with the best breeders of the old world. I have my own ideas, to be sure; but I desire to call your attention to those things which, to the mind of the Russian huntsmen, who gave the matter much thought, made up the perfect Borzoi. Every part of the Borzoi's body had its reason for existence; every portion was given its part to play in his life; and to have the perfect working dog, you must also have the ideal of the show room. If you have a dog perfect in every point except the feet, you must surely have the imperfect field dog, and the same is true in all points, from the deep black nose to the long graceful tail which he uses as a rudder in the race.

Coursing and Racing Dogs
(Freeman Lloyd)

(not exclusively Borzoi)

Coursing Excerpt from The Beasts of the Prairies

Dog of All the Russias
(W. Haynes)

Dogs of Today - the Russian Wolfhound or Borzoi

Dogs That Hunt Bears and Wolves (Excerpt)
Freeman Lloyd

Excerpt from Hutchinson's Encyclopedia

Excerpt from the Kennel Encyclopaedia

Freeman Lloyd on Borzoi

Hound of the Czars
(Walter Dyer)

Hunting Dogs: Sighthounds and Scenthounds
(L. P. Sabaneev, 1899)

Hunting Large Game Excerpt

J.B. Thomas Says American Borzoi Lead the World
(Micheline de Zutter)

An Outline of the History of the Borzoi
Baron G.D. Rozen, 1891

Ruby de Bolshoy
(Melanie Richards)

Russian Wolfhounds of Yesterday and Today
(Freeman Lloyd)

RWCA's History (1930)

the Borzoi
(H. W. Huntington)

the Borzoi or Russian Wolfhound
(Major Borman)

the Hare and Many Foes

the Russian Borzoi (excerpt from "Dogs From All Angles")

the Russian Wolfhound
(James Watson)

the Russian Wolfhound or Borzoi
(W. Johnston)

Twentieth Century Dog - Borzoi Section

Watson on Borzoi


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