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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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),
"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
"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
"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."