An Outline of the History of the Borzoi


The Historical Period in Russia

Now let us turn to written documents on hunting with borzois and hounds in Russia; they are divided into two parts: the first part is reports by foreign writers, and the second includes reports and works on hunting by Russian and Polish writers.

The first written report that we have of hunting in Russia is the will of Vladimir Manonakh to his children. In it he advises them not to ignore hunting, but the will does not contain any mention not only of borzois but also of any dogs whatsoever. As we may note, Vladimir Manomakh focused more on such big game as the bison, elk, bear, and so forth, where borzoi dogs could not be used.

We learn from some recent writers that coursing gained some structure under the great Prince Vasilii IV, but on what basis this is said and which sources were used are not indicated.

Foreign writers on Russia do not delve into any details in any of their works, but say only that hunting was carried out with the aid of borzois, without describing in detail the appearance of these borzois.

For us, of course, there can be no doubt that borzois existed and were used for hunting, but it would be of interest to know what features these dogs had, and the foreign writers do not explain this point.

In old Polish hunting books of the 14th century we find just one statement, namely: it is stated in a description of wolf hunting that to course this animal one must not use short-haired Polish borzois, but "Slovenian dogs," which are noted for their size and strength. The Poles probably abtained these dogs from Russia, with which there were permanent relations. This is all that one can draw from foreign sources.

We have the first detailed work on the long-haired dog in the book Code [Regul] of Coursing. This Book of Hunting Code of the 6th Day of August 1635. A Work of the Riga German the Stolnik10 Krest'yanin (Christian) Al'gerdovish Son of Fonlessin, Delivered to Czar Aleksei Mikhailovich, Autocrat of All Russia.

This book, originally written in German and translated into Russian by Arkadii Stankevich, a Smolensk member of the Polish gentry, is an extremely valuable document for the history of coursing in Russia. We learn from it that at that time coursing and the breeds of borzois were fully defined and clear in the mind of contemporaneous hunters.

Although the book was quite brief, it is fairly clear that the long-haired borzois of that time were the same as now: there were good ones and bad ones; the description of conformation points reads: "I must show you a well-conformed dog, to be selected for the following points: first, a lean, longish head without a bend; the muzzle should be equal to the head in length; no overshot bite, bulgy eyes; the back sloping; forelegs straight, without pretension; the hindlegs the same, but a long, cresent-shaped tail; feathering long and hanging." Later, going into detail, he says that if the dog has a rather small bend in the muzzle, this does not take away, as long as the eyes are bulgy, even with a thickish muzzle that does not, however, have an overshot bite. From this we see what importance hunters of the day attached to a dog's eyes.

Then we read that apart from straightness the forelegs should have elbows turned outward; ribs below the elbows; nails short and thick on both fore- and hindlegs, so that they "tap like a boot"; the forelegs, like the hindlegs, lean; "I shall not describe the back, sloping or tentlike."

In the male the ribs and thigh muscles should be thick, loose-hanging in the loin; lines fine and taut; the female has longish thigh muscles, strong kidneys, round and thick underleg areas, an acute occiput bent somewhat toward the bottom; in the male the occiput should be raised somewhat toward the top; a coarse beard11. The width of the rump is such that four fingers can be laid freely on it; the ribs are low and hanging but thick: "For all these points, the male should have a powerful chest that thrusts forward, while the female should be more powerful in the body. I say not only this because these dogs are fast, but I boldly state that is the aforementioned other dogs do not have these points, they can hardly be called fast dogs or hunters; from them one rarely gets fervid ones, or quick ones; this first point is described as to on what basis stately and dashing ones can be chosen."

Looking into this description of the borzoi, one could say that it would be impossible to depict and describe better the truly remarkable, powerful conformation, whose distinguishing features are a lean head and muzzle, bulgy eyes, thick, dense ribs descending below the elbows, and straight, lean leag with strong thigh muscles.

The respected Pyotr Mikhailovich Machevarianov, in his Zapiski Psovago Okhotnikia Simbirskoi Gubernii [Memoirs of a Huntsman of Simbirsk Province], in a description of the Russian long-haired borzoi, strikingly said the same thing as the book in question, although the deceased, whom I knew personally, did not have it in hand.

Indeed, the dog just described must have been both fast and strong in a fight with a wolf.

In order to confirm my opinion of the existence of borzois in that distant time as poor as the ones we see now, I draw the reader's attention to chapters 13, 14, 15, and 16 of the same Code of Coursing.

It is clear from these chapters that the same faults in the points of borzoi dogs were encountered both under Czar Aleksei Mikhailovich and now; some had legs gone askew, some with bent legs, and so forth.

As for management of the breed, at that time, as we learn from the same Code, the same sloppy hunters as now were around. This is clear from Chapter 21, which states in part: "If a hunter knows his own dogs, then he does not mix their breed with others; if yours are fast, you must know their bloodlines, the breeding; keep these, but if there are none of this kind, don't be distressed; if hunters with no common sense see a fast dog somewhere, they will praise it no end; without even learning of what breed it is, they will begin to do their utmost in front of each other to sell their bitch or male, and later will boast among themselves that they acquired fast dogs; but how they will feed a dog of an unknown nature for a whole year [they don't know] and nothing will come of this venture." It is clear from this that at that time we Russian hunters suffered the same fault as now.

To what extent the dog breeds in Russia were pure before is hard to say, but in view of our proximity to the Tatars on the one hand and to Poland on the other, one may say almost with certainty that the hunters who were neighbors to these two nationalities of course bred their long-haired dogs with eastern and short-haired dogs. With distance into the interior of Russia, the long-haired dog was unquestionably more purebred, and there probably were places to which neither the eastern nor the short-haired borzoi penetrated; it seems to me that one cannot say that there were absolutely no interbreedings.

To judge by locale, these interbreedings were even born of necessity in some cases, especially with eastern borzois, since even then there were many hunters who traveled about in steppe localities where a long-haired dog was unsuitable.

Of late, specifically in the reign of Anna Ioannovna, we see vividly that interbreedings in borzoi dogs existed and were carried out with eastern and short-haired dogs.

We have come by the correspondence among Volynskii, Saltykov, and Naumov; these letters were printed in the Zhurnal Okhoty [Hunting Journal], published by Min in December 1859, under the title "Hunting Letters From the Last Century."

These letters are interesting in many regards. For instance, they directly speak of the breeding of bearded dogs, as well as English and Polish smooth-haired dogs.

There is also mention of interbreedings in these letters. For instance, Saltykov asks Volynskii to send him a bearded bitch for mating with the short-haired male of the Polish ambassador Count Zawisz, and Volynskii then writes Saltykov about the bitch "Tatarka," evidently a Crimean.

All these reports still do not mean that the breed of long-haired dogs was interbred at all; nor could it have been interbred in the central forest terrain, where without it coursing was inconceivable. How such hunting was accomplished at that time we can see from two sources: the aforementioned Code of Coursing, and the memoirs of Bolotov.

Chapter 3 of the Code clearly states that hunting was carried out in the woods. [The hunters] lined up with the dogs alongside a small detached forest and tried to drive the animal along roads or clearings, moving behind the hounds. In this kind of hunt, long-haired borzois were needed, of course.

Describing coursing in the forests of Pskov Province, Bolotov says that they hunted in a clearing in the woods where he had nearly hurt himself on a stump. Of course, at that time Russia was in many placed covered with solid forest, and it was impossible to hunt except on roads, in clearings, and in short strips of trees that connect larger forests. What was needed here was a quick long-haired borzoi with its lightning-like bound.

In general, in these sources we see that the long-haired dog predominated in kennels of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The Code, for instance, nowhere mentions any borzois other than the long-haired ones.

Short-haired, Crimean, and bearded dogs and, from them, purebreds can be seen at the start of the 19th century and the end of the 18th.

In addition to the aforementioned 18th-century sources there are two other books that specially interpret coursing: O Poryadochnom Soderzhanii Psovoi Okhoty Borzykh i Bonchikh Sobak 1765-go [Proper Maintenance of Coursing With Borzois and Hounds in 1765] and Psovaya Okhota 1775-go [Coursing in 1775], but they contain nothing special; and the Code is still both better and more valuable as material than these two works.

Then the hunting literature is silent until the late 1840s, when we encounter a number of hunting books, to wit: Kniga Dlya Okhotnikov do Zverinoi, Ptichei i Rynboi Lovli, Takzhe do Ruzheinoi Strel'by [A Book for Hunters of Wild Game, Game Fowl, and Game Fish, and also on Rifle Hunting] (Levshin, Moscow, 1910), Yeger' Psovyi Okhotnik i Strelok [The Hunter, Huntsman, and Rifleman] (Moscow, 1838), Karmannaya Knizhka Russkago Barina Okhotnika [The Pocket Booklet of the Russian Gentleman Hunter] (Moscow, 1840), and Psovaya Okhota [Coursing] (N. Ruett, St. Petersburg, 1846). In all these works we already encounter a division of the borzois used in Russia: long-haired, short-haired, bearded, and purebred; hence, interbreedings were being carried out more and more widely. At this time especially many Polish short-haired dogs came into Russian hunting. Upon returning home, a great many officers who served in Poland brought with them Polish borzois, from which most of our purebred dogs descended.

Around this time officers also began to import eastern dogs from the Caucasus, as Reutt states directly in his Psovaya Okhota. The long-haired dog began to lose its pure breeding more and more. At this time whole hunts of mixed dogs appeared; these are mentioned by Machevarianov in the Zhurnal Okhota, No. 3, March 1875, [and] in Zapiski Starago Okhotnika [Memoirs of an Old Hunter], p. 37, where he says: "I would remind old hunters of the borzoi dogs famous for their mettle, which descended from interbreeding of long-haired borzois with the highland12 borzois and which belongs to Ye. N. Timashev, Aye. Al. Stolypin, A. I. Krivkov, Gg. Zhikharev, and many others."

In general, the 1840s and 1850s brought a great deal of outside blood into Russian hunts.

The Lesnoi Zhurnal i Zhurnal Konnozavodstva i Okhoty [Forest Journal and Journal of Horse Breeding and Hunting] commenced publication in 1841. Here is all that appeared in print over the entire time up until the publication of Min's Zhurnal Okhoty in 1959, which did not last long. None of these sources other than Min's Zhurnal Okhoty is of any particular interest, and none reports anything at all.

At the same time, Driyanskii's Zapiski Melkotravchatago [Memoirs of a Flunky13] came into print - this book is just as remarkable for the details of its description of borzois as the Regul Psovoi Okhoty.

The Zapiski Melkotravchatago gives a detailed description of the long-haired dogs of Aleksei Nikolaevich Kareev, which are known to all; the dogs are known for both their speed and their ferocity. From this description we see once again that the purebred long-haired borzoi was preserved in the same form as described in the Code and that it did not change from 1635 to 1850. For clarity I shall give a description of some dogs of Kareev's breed. Driyanskii, speaking of the male named "Karai," says: "He was a bit breamlike, but with a steep peak and on true legs, a lean head; bulgy eyes; a fine muzzle." That he described Karai as somewhat breamlike does not mean that Kareev's dogs were in general breamlike, as he stipulates straightaway that Karai had not yet matured and was in his first autumn.

Later, though there is no description of the points of the dogs, from their feats one can judge their powerful constitution and their speed, since they were used to course full-grown wolves as a single pack and steppe hare in the Khonerskii steppes. A non-purebred and less-than-powerful dog would never do this, especially since the dogs in question were not distinguished by particularly great size.

At the point in the memoirs where young borzois are described, it is stated that eight-month-old pups were 30 vershoks in size, but from the age of 8 months a dog will not grow much.

One may say in general that the long-haired dogs of old were not distinguished by enormous size, for Volynskii, in one of his previously mentioned letters to Saltykov, speaks of a male owned by Count Zawisz and is surprised at its height - 19 vershoks. This size is truly large, but from the tone with which Volynskii writes we may assume that he was very surprised by this indeed.

This exact definition of height serves as a weighty argument and proves that our borzois of old were the same in regard to height as now, i.e., they were from an arshin to 17 or 17 1/2 vershoks at the point of the shoulder.

A new era for coursing sets in with the establishment of the "Imperial Hunting Society" and its journal. The most valuable contribution at this time was made by the Zapiski Psovago Okhotnika Simbirskoi Gubernii of P. M. Machevarianov.

In addition to the notes of Machevarianov in the Zhurnal Okhoty Imperatorskago Obshchestva [Hunting Journal of the Imperial Society], a host of articles appeared on the points of the thick-haired and long-haired borzois. All these articles may be divided into two categories: the first includes all descriptions of the dogs of old, long-haired dogs bred by old hunters or by young ones following the words of the oldtimers. These descriptions mostly date to the 1830s and 1840s.

The second category includes all articles of a political character by comparatively young hunters, and there is nothing to analyze in them, since they deal with modern borzois.

In the first category of articles it is noteworthy that in most cases the hunters of old, in describing the points of the long-haired dog, almost agree. Just two of them (Stupishin and Vysheslavtsev) deviate more than the others from the general trend.

All others disagree over such trifles that there is almost no difference; this proves the identical nature of the long-haired dog, with few exceptions, throughout the whole of Russia. This is understandable: any oldtimer knew only his own breed and the breeds of his immediate neighbors. The lack of means of communication, dog shows, and journals prevented them from becoming acquainted with more distant dogs; hence the difference, albeit small, in their statements.

One must not accept that long-haired dogs were similar to one another down to the smallest detail throughout the whole of Russia. Although in those times there were hutches for captured Russian hares in Moscow, distant hunters could not use them for comparison.

This one-sidedness is clearly evident in Machevarianov, a hunter quite remote from Moscow. He mentions dogs in his memoirs: those of Tregubov, Pleshcheev, Sushchev, but says nothing of those of Kareev, Khrapovitskii, Bereznikov, Pavlov, Nazimov, Dubenskii, and others of which he either had not heard at all or had heard vaguely.

In a description of the Russian long-haired dog in general, Machevarianov once again is in disagreement with the Code and with Driyanskii - a fact that is quite significant in determining the points of this breed.

In general, out of the sources I have mentioned, Regul Psovoi Okhoty, Zapiski Melkotravchatgo by Driyanskii, and Zapiski Psovago Okhotnika Simbirskoi Gubernii by P. M. Machevarianov can serve as the cornerstone for describing the points of the Russian long-haired dog.

From these three works we can form some idea of the long-haired borzoi, from 1635 to the first half of the 19th century. The appearance of this dog will be as follows: a height of about 17 vershoks for the male and 16 for the female; long, wavy feathering of various colors; lean head, with a muzzle equal to the head, fine and lean; eyes abulge, dark, with dark eyelashes; small ears, lying flush on the occiput and high-placed; broad back, with a peak in the male and in they body for the female; straight forelegs and hindlegs, with well-developed thigh muscles; thick ribs, dense, below the elbows; long tail in the shape of the crescent moon. That is roughly what all three of these books agree on. All in all, the dog was keen-sighted, powerful, and fast.

Here, it seems to me, I should mention the so-called thick-haired dog, but I hesitate to say anything about it, since we have no direct, historical statements regarding those points that it possessed according to its modern defenders. In this case, I shall refer once again to the Regul Psovoi Okhoty, in which there would be better grounds to search for some information, as the oldest monument of hunting. But the description of the borzoi dog contained therein is nowise similar to that which some modern huntsmen, with Stupishin and Vysheslavtsev at the fore, take as the thick-haired dog.

Nor does the Code contain even a hint of breamlike ribs reminiscnet of a crucian carp, a short pastern, and a hanging tail.

In contrast, it says of the ribs that they should be thick and the tail should be in the shape of the crescent moon, and says nothing about the pastern.

According to the concepts of modern defenders of the thickly long-haired dogs, when could this dog have existed if not in 1635?

All this somehow does not sit well, and would it not be fairer to consider this thick-haired dog to have belonged exclusively to Stupishin and Vysheslavtsev and not to most Russian hunters of old?


10 Translator's note: A "stolnik" was a courtier rank below "boyar" (baron).

11 Translator's note: "Beard" is a speculative translation of the old Russian "voshchechek," which does not appear in any available reference.

12 Translator's note: "Highland" in this context specifically refers to the Caucasus Mountains.

13 Translator's note: In this context, "flunky" may refer to the individual's official position or may be a nickname.

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