An Outline of the History of the Borzoi


The Prehistoric Period

Mr. Anuchin, in describing the dogs of the Bronze Age that Aryans brought to Europe, says: "At the same time, from all the data presented one may conclude 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." Mr. Anuchin does not draw any other conclusions, probably because there is nothing else to add. From the foregoing words of our scholar, we hunters can say, almost with certainty, that the breed in question was closely similar to our borzoi.

Now the question arises: which of the two breeds of fossilized dogs was older? We also find the answer to this question in the words of Mr. Anuchin, who adds that in addition to the bones of the large dog of Lake Ladoga, bones of a sort of intermediate breed were found which is similar to the native European dog of the Stone Age and similar to the sporting dog or hound, but with the difference that the type of large dog of the Aryans with a borzoilike exterior predominates in the intermediate form.

We see from the results of modern dog breeding that a breed, once firmly and long established, always predominates in the descendants of crosses with a native dog, and it is clear from this that the breed of the borzoilike dog of the Aryans, as predominating in the cross with the native dog, unquestionably was older and was more firmly established than the breed of Stone Age dogs in Europe.

And for this reason we may conclude that the borzoi is the oldest of all known breeds of dogs on earth.

Once we reach this conclusion, we also may conclude that all existing breeds of dogs, together with various modifications, descended from the borzoi. We now shall see how accurate this statement is.

The distinguishing features of any borzoi break down into two groups. One group pertains to the physical build of the animal, while the other is entirely moral. From the first glance at any dog we may say that this animal is by nature adapted for running; in the borzoi this adaptation is pronounced much more sharply than in other dogs, by the severely dropped ribs and the so-called "tucked loins." Despite this difference, however, we still can note that tucked loins exist more or less in any dog. Here, of course, I am not taking lapdogs into account. But in fact we see that any dog is indeed very capable of powerful, prolonged running; even the heaviest of them, such as the bulldog, run superbly under certain training conditions.

As for the moral aspect, it is observed unconditionally in any dog, and comprises the proclivity to chase and catch anything that runs; once again, this tendency is developed more strongly in the borzoi than in other dogs.

The features just described, which are more or less inherent in all dogs in general, merely confirm my opinion of the origin of all dogs from one breed of borzois.

How this was accomplished is hard to say, even if it is entirely impossible, but it seems to me that one can establish to some extent a certain hierarchy in the origin of one breed from another.

Before undertaking to do so, let me try to surmise what the dog of borzoilike form that belonged to the Aryans was.

Since at that time a large portion of the earth was covered with forest, one cannot suppose that it had the elegant and light forms that we see in the modern borzoi. The words of Mr. Anuchin to the effect that it had good scent and strongly developed gripping muscles force us to hypothesize a coarse dog capable of tracking an animal through the then dense forests, and of engagin in battle with it; since it had fairly good speed, this was fairly easy for it to do. It should be added that in those days man probably did not hunt fast-running animals such as the hare, but pursued larger game such as elk, deer, bear, and so forth. Consequently, the dog had to have not the speed of the modern borzoi but simply a fast gait, indefatigability, and strength. In general, the type of this dog as the forebear of all existing dogs should not have had any pronounced features of constitution, but more likely was to some extent similar to a large, borzoilike mongrel.

It is a great pity that there are no data as to what kind of ears this breed had: prick or hanging ears? For my part, I am inclined toward the view that the ears were semihanging - and here is why: I spoke previously about the predominance in crossbreeds of the forms of the breed that is older; in the present case one can apply the same principle. We know of a long-existing breed of borzois with hanging ears: these include all the eastern dogs; when these borzois are crossed with borzois and in general with other dogs with prick ears, the hanging shape of the ear is conveyed to the offspring more strongly than any other features; from this one can conclude that the hanging ear of the eastern borzoi is an unquestionable feature of antiquity and of established blood. This hanging ear moreover persists in crossbreeds, which in borzoi breeds with which the blood of the eastern borzoi has been mixed even once, dogs are produced with hanging ears after time intervals of 40 or 50 years, despite the fact that all subsequent studs had prick ears; this persistency of the feature only confirms my opinion of the hanging ears of the primitive dog. How do I imagine the primitive dog? It was probably a very large, mongrellike borzoi, with a coarse, muscular head, a short muzzle, semi-hanging ears, highly developed thick ribs, and not especially large loins.

Having concluded with this, we shall now try to divide existing dog breeds into groups.

While recognizing the dog only as a hunting animal, I believe it possible to subdivide all dogs into two large groups, namely: 1) gazehounds (sighthounds), and 2) scenthounds.

All dogs with poorly developed scent that are capable of taking an animal solely by speed of pursuit or physical strength in battle will belong to the first group.

The second group will include those dogs whose scent is well developed and which can take an animal either by wearing it out or by cunning.

In establishing these two groups, I do not take into account lapdogs and mongrels without any definite breeding.

Lapdogs are not taken into consideration because they do not constitute any separate breed but are simply caricatures or miniatures of all large breeds.

Mongrels cannot be taken into consideration because they constitute a mixture of all possible breeds.

I include among gazehounds of the first group:

  1. Borzois in all their varieties;
  2. Mastiffs;
  3. All varieties of Great Danes;
  4. Bulldogs;
  5. Shepherds;
  6. All varieties of huskies and working dogs of the northern countries;
  7. Danes and Dalmatians;
  8. Terriers of all kinds.

The second group will include:

  1. Scenthounds of all varieties;
  2. Sporting dogs of all kinds;
  3. Saint Bernards;
  4. Newfoundlands;
  5. Mountain dogs.

If one examines closely the division that I propose, all existing breeds will find a place in one of these two groups.

There are also a number of breeds that descended from a crossbreeding of members of one group with members of the other; but this nonetheless cannot destroy the basic types described above.

At first blush it may seem strange that I have placed in the same category two such opposed dogs as the borzoi and the mastiff or bulldog, but I believe that there can be no doubt as to the kinship of these dogs. Of course, one cannot suppose that the mastiff descended from the borzoi in a short time interval and is not the product of the very recent existence of man as the creator of the breed.

During the hunt for large game, the first people probably were struck by the ability of the borzoi, which by chance was born with a shorter muzzle, to hold an animal more strongly and for a longer period of time. As a result, in skirmishes with larger animals that could not run fast, they began to try to breed dogs with a shorter and more powerful muzzle. By selecting more and more massive dogs with stronger jaws as studs and bitces, they arrived at the mastiff, and from it they produced the bulldog.

Someone might object to me that primitive man was hardly so developed that he could conduct breeding; I do not postulate this, but think that breeding was done without any preconceived notion of breeding some variety or breed of dog; it all took place of its own accord, stemming solely from the hunter's experience and pressing need, and no theory was at work there.

It should be noted here that in general primitive man, a closely similar type to which we see in existing savages, was a fairly refined expert in the training and breeding of varieties of various animals; nearly all current livestock arrived in this state not in recent times but in the prehistoric period of man's existence.

As I base my hypotheses on this, the selection of studs and bitches in the breeding of dogs with various features that are fairly well suited for hunting such diverse animals as the deer or bear does not seem strange; a lighter dog was required for the former and a more massive and powerful one for the latter.

To what extent the ancients were more capable than we are in the domestication of wild animals, we see in the existence of domesticated lions, which are used in war and even in hunting, as many writers attest.

How the hound was formed from the borzoi is, in my view of the subject, perfectly clear. Among primitive dogs, dogs both large and small probably were expressed, and among these latter, dogs less fast and faster occurred. Out of these latter, both smaller and not so fast, the hound formed with time. The hound, having no possibility of catching an animal, began to bay out of meanness, and little by little conferred on itself this habit during the hunt. Originally, it probably bayed only in the case where the animal was stopping or moving in view.

With time, its scent developed more and more and the ability to hunt by voice along a trail took root.

One should not think that the primitive hunter overlooked this phenomenon without noticing it and turning it to his advantage in tracking down a wounded, hiding animal. Hence the ability to smell and speak in a dog, albeit not a hound, but a dog that was already turning in a sense into a hound, grew stronger in each generation and finally yielded the Russian hound of old, then the Kostroma hound, and finally all other hounds, from the ancient, now fossilized badger hound (dachshund) and the modern French hounds with their enormous ears.

If one takes two extremes from the second group of dogs, they will seem less strange, as the origin of the other breeds from the hound is obvious, and there would be no point in going on about this.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about the extreme ability of the whole race of dogs to be altered with extraordinary facility. One could hardly find another animal that adapts so easily to climate, way of life, and food as the dog, from the dog of the northern countries, covered with a thick and warm coat, to the Chinese hairless.

Since, for instance, adaptation to climate occurs quickly, I have had occasion to observe it for myself on long-haired borzois that I took to the Caucasus, to the banks of the Kuban' River; the hair on the dogs became much thinner in the very first year, and in the very first generation of progeny it lost its thickness even more. If this could happen in the short time interval of 2 years, one can easily imagine what a difference centuries would make in this regard.

The question that needs to be clarified is the more or less prick-type ear of different dogs, despite the fact that according to all data one may hypothesize the primitive dog with semihanging ears, as I endeavored to prove above.

We unquestionably see the prick ear only in one kind of dog, namely dogs of the Far North. In general, the prick ear demonstrates alertness and attention; any dog whose attention is roused pricks up its ears, from which we may conclude that the more often and constantly a dog must listen attentively, the more its ears must prick up; the extreme limit will permanently and completely be a prick ear.

In addition to hearing, we may note in the dog other abilities that serve to recognize terrain, such as scent and recognition of places already known to the dog.

In the Far North, where the terrain is all but impassable and utterly uniform, the severe cold hinders recognition by scent, one ability remains for a dog to orient itself - and that is hearing. This is why it seems to me that an entirely prick ear appeared in this breed; to what extent my hypothesis is correct I don't know, but it seems to me that it is the only possible one in this case, and this phenomenon can hardly be explained in any other way.

In describing the appearance of the primitive dog and postulating for it a semihanging ear, I do not think that it was so characteristic as the ear of the hound, the sporting dog, and the eastern borzoi. The ear, like any other organ, is capable of change, and in the primitive breed it probably was more a hanging ear than a prick ear, and differed greatly from the ear of the modern eastern borzoi, which, as I stated above, so strongly passes on this feature to its offspring, in crossbreeds with other breeds of dogs that have a semiprick ear.

A fact that somewhat clouds the picture is the appearance of prick ears in some breeds of wild dogs in warm countries, such as the Dingo of New Zealand, but in this case the Dingo may not, I believe, be considered a domestic animal but only an animal that belongs to the "dog" genus on a par with the wild dog of the Cape of Good Hope and the dogs of the American plains.

The wolf, jackal, hyena, and fox all belong to the "dog" genus and all have prick ears.

Some modern breeds have the same prick ear, but in this case one must strictly apprehend the time of appearance of a known breed of dogs. There are breeds developed of late and there are breeds that undoubtedly date to deep antiquity which do not have prick ears.

Dog breeding has not reached a level of development and skill such that new breeds arise not of necessity or application to some practical purpose, but simply as a whim of idle fantasy, which creates in its own image a known type, often unsuitable for anything, and then from this type the dog breeder begins to work in a known direction and with forethought creates an animal conforming to the envisioned type.

I cannot look on the subject from this standpoint, and must first ask myself, which breeds of dog do I recognize as the oldest? The find by Mr. Bourguinia gives us the answer. In France, at a place called Clapier, 3 kilometers north of Saint Césaire, near Grasse, in an unknown cave that Bourguinia called "Grotte Camatte," he found a complete collection of Canis. Out of the pile of bones, he was able to identify dogs of the following breeds:

  1. The badger hound (dachshund) Canis vertagus;
  2. The hound Canis gallicus;
  3. The sporting dog Canis avicularis;
  4. The sheepdog Canis domesticus;
  5. Two types of borzois, one of which was Canis graius and the other, a taller kind, for which he could not make a comparison (probably the large borzoi of Lake Ladoga, which was still unknown at that time).

Finally, he also gathered at the same place bones of the chien-loup (wolfhound), as it is called in France (Canis pomeranus); that these bones belonged to Canis pomeranus is doubtful. In addition to the breeds mentioned, he also found there numerous bones that belonged to various kinds of Great Danes (mastiffs).

One can see in what we have just said that the breeds of dogs in the final period of prehistory were not distinguished by their numbers, and that the breeds found by Bourguinia may be considered the oldest, if not on earth then at least in Europe. The following order emerges:

  1. The borzoi, mastiff, and sheepdog;
  2. The hound, dachshund, and sporting dog.

I have changed the order somewhat, because Bourguinia arranged them in the order in which the bones were found and not by the hierarchical seniority of the breeds.

Analyzing the ears of these breeds, we see that the borzoi, sheepdog, and mastiff, which I place in the first group, all have a semihanging ear, or at least an ear capable of pricking up sharply while listening, and that these breeds may be considered the oldest of the breeds of dog.

I would add one thought to my various notions about the origin of the different breeds of dog from the borzoi. In the improvement or modification of various traits of the hunting dog, the number and variety of animal chased by them play an enormous role; in this case practice has an enormous influence.

Primitive man lived in a constant war with the various large animals around him; this struggle was obviously a daily affair, developed hunting abilities in dogs, and at the same time strongly affected the alteration of the external forms of dogs and their hunting abilities and techniques in the chase of wild animals.

To judge by the present status of hunting dogs among native peoples, they must have belonged not to individuals but to whole villages. In this regard, the status of the hunting dog among the natives in Cambodia is quite characteristic. There, dogs do not have nicknames and in response to a traveler's question of a native, "What is your dog's name?," he replied with surprise, "He's called 'dog'." They all live in the human community, and accompany the first native on the hunt; it should be assumed that in the days of the primitive inhabitant of the land, in exactly the same way the dog was only an assistant and not a servant to the hunter. In recent times, hunting dogs in Sparta by law could not belong to individuals but belonged to a whole city or settlement, and everyone had the right to use them.


The Historical Period I >>>

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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