The Russian Wolfhounds or Borzoi

by Freeman Lloyd

This article is from a series titled Dog Breeds of the World; Their Origin, Development and Uses Throughout the Ages. It appeared in the American Kennel Gazette in October of 1931. Pictures from the article have been included.

Fortunately, for forty-five or more years, I have found myself in various positions and places in the world where I have been able to see and take a very great interest in the splendidly proportioned and striking appearances of the wolf dogs of the Muscovites. These are magnificent creatures which seem to possess and radiate a double appeal to all dog lovers. They strike the sportsman as an animal having speed, great strenngth, and killing powers; while his lady is prone to look upon the borzoi as a dog of peculiar and particular magnificence. And, as a matter of fact, both hunter and his consort are right. What they jointly admire, their friends and other appreciate; for the usefulness and glory of the borzoi may not be equaled.

Whence originally came these lords of the canine races? From the loins of which breeds of Asiatic and European dogs arrived these Russians of great heights; girths of bodies; long, deep thighs; particularly narrow skulls; great length before the eyes; small, highly alert ears; and far-visioned tribe of coursing dogs?

Who was it that first began to breed the largest borzoi to a type and superiority greater than had ever been attained in any other breed of coursing or long dogs, save and except those super-greyhounds owned in medieval times, and now extinct so far as I have been able to gather - those huge, yet elegant gazehounds, the figures of which may be seen woven into the tapestries depicting the monthly hunts of Maximilian, Emperor of Germany?

Peterhof of MarlboroTo come to a quick and fine point, it is believed that if the original Russian wolfhounds did not descend from a particularly distinct and long-aged breed, then, more likely they were produced from a cross between the European enormous and short-coated greyhounds, known to exist in the Fifteenth Century, and the long-haired greyhounds of Persia.

As a lad, and even then an exhibitor and constant visitor to the dog shows held in South Wales, as often as not we used to see a small borzoi shown in the variety class, a section similar to the miscellaneous class in this country. Such a dog was erroneously styled a "Persian" greyhound, and it was not for years afterwards that it was learned that a Persian greyhound has setter-like, feathered or fringed ears, while the Russian wolfhound or greyhound possesses the flexible cartilage that forms the ear just as it is to be seen on the head of the pure-bred greyhound.

The shrewd observer may discover a dog's ancestry by the most casual examination of the form, texture, size, shape, and carraige of the flesh of the ear. And without claiming any extraordinary insight into these matters, one would advance the opinion that a cross between one of the Maximilian super-greyhounds and a greyhound from ancient Persia would produce just the large and supremely elegant dog of approximately the Russian model.

The long-coated, frilled, feathered legs and tail of the Russian would have been his birthright from the Persian side of his forebears; while the thinner, smaller, higher placed and flexible ears would belong to the central European greyhounds which possess small, "well-bred", movable, "listening" ears.

It must be borne in mind, there is no desire to question the purity of the Russian borzoi; but he is such a wondrously beautiful dog that we might give some of our time and thoughts to help unravel the mystery of this dog's production. Scientists declare that all our present breeds of domesticated dogs came from a common stock. That, as many say, is hard to believe.

Somewhere I have an old print which shows a Persian greyhound taking part in a medieval hunt, the Eastern long dog being the only one of its breed, among a lot of the super-greyhounds used for running and pulling down the larger ruminants of those times.

So it would seem that the Eastern and Western long dogs did meet in the kennels of the great and powerful, when only kings, their courts, and noblemen were considered the rightful patrons of the chase. So, bearing in mind the traditions connected with Asiatic and European sport, we may rest content that the borzoi has always been recognized in high places.

When the rest of Europe saw the splendid wolf dogs that Russia owned, the Western Kingdoms became "mad" in their enthusiasm, regarding the borzoi, and in the later eighties of the last cycle, the United States followed suit. As quickly as the borzoi craze developed in England, a sympathetic response was heard in America. From then on, and to this day, the Russian wolfhound has been looked upon as one of the greatest treasures kept in the kennels, mansions, and other homes in these United States and Canada.

Westminster in the 1890s - benching areaAs attractions which go to make up the grand exhibitions of hounds and dogs in the country, no dogs have a greater pulling power than the Russian wolfhounds. In other days, when the banners of the Russian Wolfhound Club of America adorned the backs of the benches at the Old Madison Square Garden, the yellow flag, that bore the insignia of the Eagle of Russia, created an atmosphere that suggested pomp and circumstance to the human senses. The back partitions of the stalls were neatly covered with well and properly drawn wheat-thatch. The magnificence of the forms and profuse coats of the borzoi shone like burnished silver. In the southwest end of the old rendezvous, there foregathered the beauty, chivalry, wealth, and fashion of America's greatest dog shows of the first decade of this century.

And here it will be worthy of note that it was Joseph B. Thomas, Jr., of New York; Dr. John E. deMund of Brooklyn, New York, and other of the prominent borzoi owners of those days, who had much to do with the grandeur of the Russian wolfhounds and their bench surroundings. As aggregations, it is thought, the borzoi of that time were taller and generally more robust than they are today. The continually arriving new blood, imported direct from Russia, must have had its influence in the production of the larger specimens in this country.

It was somewhere around the year 1883 that interest became acute anent the borzoi in America. I am proud to think that I had something to do with the publicity that helped to make the Russian breed widely known in this country. The borzoi had "arrived" in England, and as London correspondent to Turf, Field, and Farm, which, at that time, was the chief horse and dog publication, it was a pleasure as well as duty to describe the beauties and usages of the splendid dogs from Russia, which had already captured the hearts, purses, and influences of some of the more notably doggie persons of Britain.

If memory still holds good, it is believed that Paul Hacke was the owner of the first, if not the earliest, of the borzoi - they were not known or designated as Russian wolfhounds at that time - in the United States. Mr. Rousseau appeared to know a good deal about the borzoi, and wrote considerably on subjects having to do with the breed. Rightly, or wrongly, the idea is possessed that it was Percival Rousseau, the famous painter of American wild-life, hounds, dogs and hunting canvasses, who was pleased to give a helping hand that eventually was able to bring the borzoi to these shores.

However, the seeds that the Old Turf - as Col. Leslie Bruce's New York City publication was colloquially known - had sown, soon began to bear fruit, which, in later years, was to give great crops of borzoi which, so far as could be observed, were not only as good, but, very likely, a little better than any seen outside the Imperial, Grand Ducal, and other kennels in Russia.

And, it is further thought that it was Joseph. B. Thomas, the famous hurdler, who, after he graduated from Yale University, in 1903, was principally responsible for introducing into America, the higher, heavier, stronger, deeper-bodied, longer and more powerfully headed and jawed borzoi, not only of the highest lineage, but of the blood rampant in the hunting and show wolfhound kennels of the Czar and the Grand Duke Nicholas, whose hunting quarters were at Perchina.

The first of the Thomas borzoi were purchased, personally, at Perchina, where Mr. Thomas and his brother, the late Ralph Thomas, were guests at the ducal hunting lodge. Subsequently, the brothers traveled in Persia, but only the Russian dogs came to the Valley Farm, near Simsbury, Connecticut. Valley Farm, with its homestead, kennels and stables, was a country home or club owned by a few Yale men who were wont to enjoy the shooting, fishing, and other sporting diversions that the neighborhood afforded. In those days, Mr. Thomas put an old-fashioned stage coach on the road, and tooled his four-in-hand and drag for the conveyance for all who cared to ride from Simsbury to Hartford and other centers of population.

Under the superintendence of Frederick Crangle, now residing near Trenton, New Jersey, the Valley Farm Kennels produced hundreds of high-class borzoi; indeed, twenty-five years ago it would have been difficult to find from one end of the country to the other an American-bred borzoi that wasn't chock-full of Valley Farm blood - a stream of lineage that had its direct source at the fountainhead of all that was good in Russia.

But, I am here reminded that I have earlier recollections - very many of them - regarding the first borzoi to cross the Atlantic. Among them were Vladimar and Princess Irma, American prize winners in or about the year 1890. These borzoi were by the famous English champion, a dog named Krilutt, which, it is said, had been presented by Czar Alexander III to Miss Kate Vaughan, the Gaiety Theatre (London) favorite.

In private life, "the toast of the Strand and rest of the British metropolis" was the wife of the Hon. Fred Wellesley, said to have been connected with the British Embassy in the Russian capital. However, when Krilutt arrived in England and was exhibited at a London show, it is fair to write that the appearance of no other single dog ever created such a sensation among all and sundry, rich and poor, hardened sportman and impressionable "fancier," than did Miss Vaughan's borzoi, the embodiment of speed, power and elegance; a grand dog for the mighty hunter; a beautiful creature to further grace the presence of any lovely woman.

Krilutt was a dog which would be equal to all the requisitions of a wolf hunting party; the palace, terraces, park and play actors' stage. And, as we know, the borzoi has nobly held his place amid all these surroundings.

It was Krilutt which set the Thames on fire - a fire that was to become a conflagration when some of the Czar Alexander's and Imperial borzoi were exhibited at a Cruft's show at the Royal Agricultural Hall, London, a year or so subsequent to the arrival of Mrs. Wellesley's champion.

This was in the year 1892, when my own exhibit, Whirlwind, won the cup presented by the late Sir John Everett Millais, Bart. for the best borzoi bred in Great Britain. Whirlwind was a high quality dog, but he lacked in height, weight, and robustness when compared with the Grand Duke's dogs and the three borzoi, Lasca, Oudar and Blitsay, the property of the Czar.

Whirlwind was one of the litter sired by Krilutt out of Elsie, the property of the late William Wade of Hulton, Pennsylvania, who, of all others, was mainly responsible for the earlier popularization of the breed in America. Elsie, after being served by Krilutt, was shipped for New York. It was winter time, and, in mid-ocean, the steamer broke down, and returned to England. Cable messages were dispatched and it was then decided by Mr. Wade, that it would be better to allow the bitch to whelp in England.

So Elsie came back to London, where she had her puppies in my kennels, in Caledonian Road, that city. I was graciously asked to accept a dog puppu, and chose Whirlwind, which won several first-class prizes including the first cup offered for an English-bred dog or bitch of his breed. The five brothers and sisters duly arrived in this country and were successful in the bench show rings of the nineties.

In connection with the purchasing of Elsie, on Mr. Wade's behalf, there are stories to tell regarding what now appear as experiences that still please and enliven the memory. At that time, Russian wolfhounds, outside of Russia - and then only in the ownership of distinguished personages whose creed demanded that dogs be given as presents rather than made animals of commerce - were difficult to obtain. But having been over at a Brussels show, held under the auspices of St. Hubert Kennel Club, the ruling body of hound and dog loving Belgium, some quite attractive borzoi had been seen. These were owned by Madame Bodinas, who had a garden resort outside King Leopold's capital.

In due course, a description of that lady's borzoi was sent to my New York employer's weekly and sporting publication. Previously, there had been some correspondence about borzoi, between Mr. Wade and the correspondent, and as many "old timers" will recollect, the Pennsylvania steel man was an enthusiast among enthusiasts who would go to the limit in purchasing of dogs he wanted.

One day while attending a Bulldog Club's show at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster, London, a messenger arrived at the famous resort with a cable. It was from Mr. Wade and read something like the following: "Call at Brown, Shipley and Company, bankers, and get what money you require to go to Brussels and purchase a borzoi bitch from Madame Bodinas. Cable your intentions. William Wade."

So I went to the bankers and was told that my credit was good for any reasonable sum, and could have more than I had asked for, if I so wished. So I arranged for further credit should more money be required during my absence from London.

In the course of a few days, Madame Bodinas was seen, but she refused to sell either one of the two bitches thought to be suitable for Mr. Wade's purposes. The lady declined to put a price on her favorites, so there was nothing to do but return to Brussels and consult the advertising columns of Chasse et Peche, an old established hunting and fishing publication. The only borzoi advertised were in Paris, France, so the journey was extended to the French capital.

Again the expedition was a fruitless one, for the advertised borzoi were of a wholly deep-red color which, in those days, was said to be in disfavor for exhibition purposes among Russians. Rightly or wrongly, self-colored borzoi were looked upon as "working dogs." In other words, the red, brindle, black-and-tan borzoi were off colors, when compared with the mostly all-white with orange, slate-blue, and black and tan marked dogs and bitches. These gayer colored borzoi would pass muster at bench shows in and outside of Russia. So the Paris kennel failed to supply the borzoi that America required.

Naturally the commissioner felt despondent. For, believe it or not, it is more distressing to be spending other people's money than one's own when engaged on a fruitless errand undertaken at the behest of a generous and all-trusting patron. Besides, the quest was an important affair. It had to do with the introduction into the United States of borzoi on which might be builded a worthy strain of Russian wolfhounds.

A service or services to Krilutt, the best dog in Western Europe, had already been arranged; but the task was to find one or two bitches which, when bred to the champion, could be shipped across the Atlantic. So crestfallen, the stranger made his way to Calais. Having a few hours to spare before embarking for England, a stroll was taken around the quiet streets. A great surprise was experienced when I was addressed by name and the full of meaning ejaculation: "What's the Sporting Mirror doing in Calais?"

The questioner was a circus friend then performing with his show in the French seaport. My Mirror work took me to all sorts and sizes of entertainments and sporting events; and, because of these intimate connections, it was good fortune to have numerous and interesting acquaintances throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.

As there surely would be a Mirror story connected with an English circus touring France, the invitation to go and see other old friends was at once accepted; and lunch was taken with the traveling show folk!

Asked, specifically, why I had crossed the Straits, the story of my unsuccessful search, was being told, when my listener cried: "Why the, Brothers have the very Siberian dogs you want. One of 'em has gone off his head, and the troupe is busted. The dogs are in London, where you came from!"

The troupe was distinguished for its aerial flights, its members were trapezists and lofty tumblers. The name of the "Siberian" wolfhounds had been given to a performing or leaping lot of borzoi, the property of Felix, an animal trainer, well-known in London and European capitals; indeed, the early popularization of the Russian wolfhounds among the English public, may, to a great extent, be put down to Felix and his Siberians, which appeared on the London stage in the late seventies and early eighties.

So it was that Elsie, a nice 27-inch white bitch with dark blue markings and a little tan about the cheeks and over the eyes, was purchased for Mr. Wade, and kept in London until she became in season. Then Elsi was bred to Mrs. Wellesley's Krilutt which measured 30 inches from the top of the withers to the ground, and weighed about 100 pounds.

Krilutt was far and away the best Russian wolfhound we had seen in England up to that time. Krilutt's make and shape created a tremendous impression among those interested in his particularly beautiful and useful breed in which "build" counts for so much - both from the points of beauty and utility.

It was surely interesting coincidence that the Wellesleys lived in the same house, at Merton Abbey, Surrey, where the great British naval hero, Lord Nelson, had long resided with his friend, Lady Hamilton. The Hon. Fred Wellesley's brother had succeeded to the proud title of Duke of Wellington - that borne by the great British general. So, here, as it seemed, was a navy and army combination of names that, in British eyes, would be hard to equal.

But more remarkable still was the information gathered, that the placid little brook that lazily flowed through the grounds at the back of the Abbey, was known as "The Nile" and so named by Lady Hamilton in honor of Lord Nelson's great victory over his country's enemies, at the Battle of Nile (August 1, 1798), the achievement being rewarded with the title Baron Nelson of the Nile.

"The Nile," at Merton Abbey, must be as unknown to the average Englishman as Aboukir Bay, where the engagement was fought. But even the enquiring kennel reported may happen on interesting scenes that bear the atmosphere of Romance and the never fading glories connected with Victory.

And so what was to bring about the production of some of the first of the most notable of the winning borzoi in America (Vladimar and Princess Irma) took place at Merton Abbey, Surrey, England.

As early as 1871 some Russian wolfhounds were exhibited at the Crystal Palace, England. It was at the National Show, where these dogs were catalogued in the foreign variety class. S. G. Holland, Lady Emily Peel and Mr. Macdona were among the owners. Previously, in or around the year 1868, the Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward VII, received a brace of borzoi from the then Czar of Russia; and Rawdon B. Lee says in his "Modern Dogs" (1893) these wolfhounds were exhibited and bred from in England.

And here it may be mentioned that the dog-breeding and exhibiting public of Britain had and have much to be thankful for, because of the great interest that Albert Edward took in the pure-bred dogs of all nations. This prince's dogs were acquired on his travels in foreign countries or sent as presents from other royal courts.

Furthermore, the prince always gave striking names to his new dogs - names that had to do with the lands of their origins. His Newfoundland dog, bred in the oldest of the British colonies, was known and exhibited as Cabot; his white and black-marked Samoyede was called Laika; and his first wolfhounds which arrived from Russia were named Molodetz and Owdalzka.

In the days that were to come, when Alexandra, Princess of Wales, became the owner of a borzoi, she gave the name of Alex to her best dog. This Russian wolfhound had been given to her by her brother-in-law, Czar Alexander. British royalty has always led the way in the public exhibiting of pedigree and prize animals of the domestic kinds. As for Edward VII, his great love for dogs was feelingly demonstrated and respectfully remembered when a led wirehaired foxterrier was among the chief mourners that followed immediately at the rear of the gun carraige that conveyed the beloved monarch's remains to their last resting place.

Lee says that the earliest appearance of a Russian wolfhound in England was in 1863, when the then Duchess of Manchester showed a very big dog of the breed at the Islington show of that year. That borzoi was bred by Prince William of Prussia, who became the first Emperor of Germany. Captain G. A. Graham - to whom must be credited much of the glory connected with the resuscitation of the noble Irish wolfhound breed - told Lee that the Duchess' borzoi stood 31 inches at the shoulder and was quite equal in size and power to the best specimens in England, about the time of the publication of Lee's work (1893).

This great work, "Modern Dogs" (Sporting), was illustrated by another old friend, Arthur Wardle, who, while the borzoi breed was still little known in England, was pleased to accept the before-described Elsie and the white-and-orange marked Vanity as models. Vanity I had pruchased from Lady Charles Innes-Kerr, who had her kennels at the Old Mill, near Uxbridge, England.

Wardle's painting of Elsie and Vanity - a canvas of great merit and value - was sold to a South African magnate of diamond mone renown. I seem to recognize that a glorified or more heroic Elsie - her head, body conformation, coat, feather, and bone - appears in Wardle's picture of a borzoi that is used to illustrate "The Borzoi or Russian Wolfhound" chapter in Lee's opus.

The late Fred Lowe, an eminent English sportsman and owner of field trial dogs, who spent some time in Russia, was the kind of observant person whose later and expressed opinion would always be accepted as highly authoratative. What he saw of sporting and hunting in Russia he wrote about from the point of view of the born and practical sportsman. For Mr. Lowe was one of the best known and respected gun dog breeders that ever lived. And his sportsmanship ran and does run in the veins of all of the Lowe family. When the author Lee asked his friend Lowe about the comparative sizes of the borzoi in Russia and the borzoi in England (circa 1891), Lowe replied:

"Some are 32 inches at the shoulder and enormously deep through the girth and their length and power of jaw are something remarkable. They have a roach back, very long, muscular quarters, and capital legs and feet. In coat they are very profuse, of a soft, silky texture but somewhat open...

"A perfect wolfhound must run up to a wolf, collar him by the neck just under the ear and, with the two animals rolling over, the hound must never leave his hold or the wolf would turn around and snap him through the leg...

"Noble looking fellows they are; and by their immense size and powerful frames...they are admirably adapted to course big game. They look quiet but the least movement excites them...I noticed that even the puppies at play made for the same spot in trying to pull each other down - namely, by the side of the neck under the ear; and this mode of attack seems instinctively born in them."


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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