An Outline of the History of the Borzoi


The Prehistoric Period

By this heading I mean that time which we can judge only by the fossilized remains of dog bones.

Everything now known about this time pertains exclusively to Europe, since we do not yet have reports from other countries.

This entire period may be subdivided into two parts: the time before the arrival of the Aryan tribes in Europe, and the time since then.

Before the arrival of the Aryans, all that can be adduced about the existence of the dog reduces to the following.

Fossilized remains have been found everywhere, but in a very limited quantity with respect to individuals. Just four breeds of dog are known to this point:

  1. Canis ferus (the wild dog), with its variations called Canis familiaris;
  2. Two close varieties related to the wolf; Cano europaeus and Cano Edwardsianus (a breed close to them still exists in India and the Himalayas);
  3. The peat dog of the Swiss lakes;
  4. One of the two breeds found during digging of the new Ladoga Canal and called Canis polustris Ladoguensis.

All these dogs existed in Europe before the Arrival of the Aryans, as earlt as during the Stone Age. With the appearance of the Aryan peoples who brought bronzeware with them, one other breed probably bred by the Aryans appears among fossilized dog bones. It differs from local dogs in its larger height and borzoilike exterior.

It cannot be assumed that Canis ferus was indeed a domestic dog as we see it now, and this is because most of the teeth found for this breed were pierced and probably served as decorations for primitive peoples. We know that all decorations, in this sense, were made solely from the teeth of wild animals that were the subject of the hunt. In later and later epochs, where there can be no doubt as to the domestication of the dog, the teeth of these wild animals do not turn up in pierced form, whereas the teeth of the bear, the wild boar, and others continued to serve as decorations.

All that I have said up to this point pertains to Canis ferus, Cano europaeus, and Cano Edwardsianus, but recently, inexcavations during the diggin of the new Ladoga Canal, Mr. Inostrantsev found the remains of dog bones of this locality during the Stone Age.

Everything pertaining to this find can be found in A. A. Inostratsev's work Doistoricheskii Chelovek Kamennago Veka, Poborezh'ya Ladozhskago Ozera [Prehistoric Stone Age Man on the Shores of Lake Ladoga], revised by D. N. Anuchin. The information drawn from this work is as follows: during the digging of the new Ladoga Canal, bones of a prehistoric dog were found that belonged, according to the surmises of Mr. Anuchin, to 15 individuals. It may be assumed that these bones occupy in time a position between the so-called "Danish kitchen remains" and the "Swiss pile dwelling." It turned out that a comparison of the Ladoga dog with the dog bones of the kitchen remains is all but impossible because of the extremely spoiled state of the latter.

The remains of the pile dwellings are superior material for comparison. From comparisons, it turned out in general that the dogs of the pile dwellings and Lake Ladoga have much in common, both in the structure of the skull and in height; they are apparently the same breed.

Rüthimeyer [Ryutimeier] finds that a comparison of the skeleton of the fossil dog of Western Europe with existing breeds forces us to surmise that it was most similar to hounds and sporting dogs.2 In addition to the hound and sporting dog, the fossil dog is close in skull structure to the dog of the Papua Archipelago and New Britain.

In addition to the breed described above, in the prehistoric period there was another type of dog identical to the others, but larger, called the "peat dog," whose appearance incidentally dates to the very late Stone Age.

According to remarks by Mr. Anuchin, one of the dogs of Lake Ladoga, although similar to the dogs for the pile dwellings and the peat dog, is another kind of fossil dog in terms of certain features but had yet to appear in Western Europe. Mr. Anuchin says: "From all the data presented, one may conclude that one breed of dog on the shores of Ladoga during the Stone Age was extremely similar, and in all likelihood was closely related, to the Neolithic breed in Western Europe, and differed from it mainly in having somewhat greater height, a stronger constitution, a less bent profile, a large flare of the skull toward the rear, and a somewhat less pointy muzzle in front."

One may conclude from the available data that in the Stone Age there existed throughout the entire are of Europe basically one breed of dog, with extremely minor variations. The features of this breed were: small height, fairly weak teeth, and, in all likelihood, close similarity to the modern sporting dog and hound.

With the advent of the Bronze Age and the arrival of the Aryans in Europe, an entirely different breed of dog appears. Mr. Anuchin talks about this more in his work: "In the Bronze Age we find another breed of dog, taller that all previous ones, and closely similar in skull structure to the large borzois of today. In general one may say that all hypotheses of scholars are conjectural because they do not have in hand the skulls of today's purbred borzois. In all probability, the large borzoilike dog of the Bronze Age appeared together with the Aryans who appeared in Europe at about this time and who brought it from Central Asia."

But all breeds of Stone Age dogs probably belonged to the indigenous, primitive inhabitants of Europe, who had no need for the large borzoi, since they did not have herds and all the land then occupied was wooded.

In addition to the large dog of the Bronze Age, there is a sort of intermediate form from whose skull we may hypothesize that it descended from crossbreeding of the large breed of borzoilike dog with a small breed that existed before it in Europe, which was similar to modern-day hounds and sporting dogs.

In the bones found at Lake Ladoga, although the same intermediate breed also is present, from the changes in the skull one can note that it retained a great similarity to the large borzoilike breed of the Bronze Age. This forces us to conjecture the greater predominance of the borzoilike dog over the local breed when they were crossbred with each other.

Later Mr. Anuchin says: "At the same time, one may conclude from all the foregoing data that the large ancient Ladoga breed of dog had a well-developed scent, was distinguished by strong gripping muscles, and was superbly adapted to fast running. In other words, this breed combined in itself all the main traits necessary for successful hunting of big game.

"It would be extremely desirable to trace the spread of these ancient Ladoga breeds in local districts of Russia, but the available materials unfortunately remain too meager to arrive at any positive conclusion in this regard.

"It is worth noting that in the Neolithic sediments of Central Russia, such as around the village of Volosov near Murom, all the bones of a domestic dog were found recently, despite the fact that many stone implements and bones of fish, fowl, elk, marten, badger, bear, wild boar, beaver, and other wild animals are found there.

"The bonyeards of Perm' also have failed to yield dog bones, despite the fact that masses of bones of elk, wolverine, bear, northern deer, and small predators were found there, as well as livestock, including cattle, horses, goats, and pigs."

The absence of dog bones at the aforementioned sites also may be explained by the fact that these were sites where sacrifices were brought and the dog was not a sacrificial animal.

All that has been said thus far pertains to the very earliest times of appearance of the dog in Europe; the further we trace the finds of dog bones dating to the most recent epochs, the more universal the occurence of the dogs becomes and the more diverse their breeds.

Mr. Bourguinia [Burginia] in France has found numerous remains of dogs in caves in the Alpes-Maritimes Department; of these bones, he recognized the following breeds:

  1. Dachshunds;
  2. Hounds;
  3. Sporting dogs;
  4. Shepherds;
  5. Two varieties of the borzoi.

In addition to these breeds, Bourguinia believes that the remains of other varieties of Great Danes also were present among the bones.

So this is all that we know thus far about the fossil dog, and all these data reduce to the following: for now we know of two breeds of primitive fossil dog (Bourguinia's find may not be dated to this time): 1) the Stone Age dog, which is similar to the sporting dog or hound, and 2) the dog of the Bronze Age Aryans, large and quite similar to the borzoi.

Since the subject of my outline is the borzoi and since the primitive dog of the Stone Age generally has nothing in common with the borzoi, I shall endeavor exclusively to elaborate the question of the large borzoilike dog of the Bronze Age Aryans, believing it to be a relative of our borzoi.

In working on this question, I of course have no data other than the detailed description of this dog's skull by Mr. Anuchin, and I therefore will have to present only my own conjectures and hypotheses.

We do not know, of course, whence originated the dog that the Aryans brought to Europe, and all the hypotheses of scholars regarding the origin of the dog in general also may apply here.

Recently they have begun to tend toward the view that the domestic dog descended from one or many breeds of wild dogs, but from which? And where are the remains of these dogs? Here indeed is a question! The view of some scholars on the origin of the dog still has not been fully estalished; many continue to adhere to an origin from the wolf, jackal, hyena, and fox; in my view, this notion does not have any basis, and I shall allow myself to repeat here what I have already written on this subject in a brief note published in Issue No. 14 of the magazine Russkii Okhotnik for 1890, under the title "A Few Words on the Origin of the Dog."

I believe that everything that various scholars have had to say on this subject suffers from one-sidedness. Scholars view the dog through the eyes of scholars, and not hunter; it seems to me that herein lies their main error in the desire to learn whence the dog came.

To view this subject from the hunter's standpoint would be more rational, especially since the first dogs could only have been used for hunting; and why this is so I shall say. In the beginning, the entire surface of the earth was in all likelihood covered with dense forests; there are genealogical data to this effect.

Primitive man in those days could not, of course, engage in any activity other than hunting, and the dog was unquestionably his best helper in this undertaking.

The question is: did man train some breed of animal to hunt, or did this breed already exist and man only train it and make use of tis habits and propensities, turning them to his advantage? These questions can be answered by an analysis of the character and propensities of the dog, on the one hand, and of those animals such as the wolf, fox, jackal, and hyena from which, according to some scholars, the dog descended in all its varieties, on the other hand - the scholars' mistake lies precisely in their omitting, in this analysis, the character and propensities of both groups.

Any dog, whatever the breed and whatever size it may be, differs from other animals in its ferocity; it is the only animal that kills other animals solely for pleasure. This trait is more characterisitic than anything else. All other animals kill and attack other animals in just two cases: when they are driven to do so by hunger or self-defense. Furthermore, all other animals of the "dog" genus are distinguished by an extremely base character, and for the most part they are cowardly. The bravest of these, such as the wolf, never attackes alone and openly animals stronger than themselves. I am not speaking of the jackal, fox, and hyena - their cowardive and baseness have found their way into a local saying.

The dog, by contrast, often attacks animals much stronger than itself, and what is the main thing, it possesses, if one may use this expression, overt hunting proclivities. It never tries to resort to cleverness and always acts openly and honestly. Someone may say to us in reply that man developed all this in the dog, but I believe that man could hardly create a brave and honest creature from a craven and base animal! If all these traits had been instilled in the dog by man, then the very nature of the animal would have manifested itself somewhere without fail - for instance, in those breeds which have long serves only as a decoration or a whim and in which every effort is made to wipe out the hunting instincts, such as all breeds of lapdogs.

In fact, we often see how a small lapdog whose ancestors and which itself were raised in a room on small sofas, with pleasure smothers some canary or mouse that it has succeeded in catching; I believe that this is a direct sign of its basic character, and that it could not have been instilled in it from without.

The wolf, when sated, will not for any reason chase after another animal, no matter how tasty a morsel it might appear to be. To a dog, on the other hand, whether sated or hungry, it is all the same. Perhaps it cannot catch the pursued animal because its belly is too full, but it will without fail chase after it and, if it can catch it, will stifle it with the same ferocity, regardless whether it is full or hungry. One would hardly suppose that a dog constantly stuffed with coffee, chocolate, and biscuits would smother a canary or a mouse out of hunger; would it not be more likely to postulate in all these cases the hunting instinct rather than hunger?

An important confirmation of my ideas can be found in analysis of the habits of the shepherd dog. According to data available to us, the shepherd has existed almost as long as the original dog itself, but in it we see the same ferocious proclivities as in the hunting dog, although man has changed the dog's character, training it to chase after only certain animals while at the same time guarding others.

In sporting dogs we see the same thing; man has already trained them to point and broken them of chasing and attacking wild game. All these results of training by man are noticeable only in those dogs under man's constant watch; but remove a shepherd or sporting dog from man's influence and leave it to its propensities, and it will undoubtedly revert to its natural, primitive habits. We can trace this easily in those sporting dogs and shepherds who are raised as yard dogs, without any supervision, and who are not given any training; all these dogs begin to chase animals, not only in subsequent generations but even in the first; the shepherd will choke lambs, and the sporting dog will lose its pointing ability and begin to chase wild game. From all my observations of dogs, I have reached the conviction that training has an effect only to a certain degree, and that the fundamental feature of the character of any dog - its ferocity - cannot be extirpated by any training or upbringing whatever.

From the foregoing one may assume that primitive man, who trained the first dogs, in no way bred them from the wolf, fox, jackal, or hyena, but encountered a preformed dog that already possessed hunting abilities to a superior degree. On encountering the dog, man could only turn it to his advantage and develop these abilities, but could not in any sense toy with the idea of creating for himself a hunting assistant in the form of a dog from a wolf or other animal, and of imparting to this animal the traits necessary for hunting. This last situation also could not have been because to create something one must have an idea of the object; how could man have created a dog never having seen one and having no concept of what a dog would be and of for what it would be suited?

As an argument for the descent of the dog from another animal, some scholars adduce the notion that a dog that has gone wild loses its ability to bark, but in reply to this one could say that there are whole breeds of nonbarking dogs, such as the tundra dog of northern Siberia, which never barks; the large Siberian hunting dog, which barks almost not at all; and finally our Russian long-haired borzoi, which also barks almost not at all. A dog does not have to run wild in order not to bark.

What even more strongly refutes the hypothesis that the dog descended from any other animal is the current existence of the very same animals from which it was supposed to have derived.

The wolf, fox, jackal, and hyena often live close to dogs, but they do not freely interbreed with each other and even if mongrels of these animals and dogs occur, under the influence of man and in a hunting sense they are never suitable; there is a loss of bravery, and only a tendency to shred to pieces livestock and poultry is retained.

Finally, if the dog could have derived from one of the animals mentioned in prehistory, why does the same thing not occur now too?

In Algeria, where a great many stray dogs live in full association with packs of hyenas and jackals, mongrels are not seen, although fights between them occur not infrequently.

At the present time, there are still places on earth where dogs live in a near-wild state, and it would be very interesting to obtain fossil remains from these places; unfortunately, excavations conducted thoroughly and skillfully have produced results only in Europe.

What excavations in other countries will give us in this regard we still don't know; it should be assumed that the question of the origin of dogs will become clearer then than it is now; we need only find some fossilized form of an indisputable dog.

In light of all the foregoing, I conclude the modern dog unquestionably descended from the dog, and not from any other animal.


2 Translator's note: The Russian word "lyagavye" ("legavye" in modern Russian) is here translated as "sporting dogs."


The Prehistoric Period II >>>

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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