An Outline of the History of the Borzoi
The Present Status of the Borzoi Abroad and
Here in Russia
The long-haired dog as we understand it in Russia
no longer exists anywhere other than here. In all other European
countries it is even prohibited by law. It could not be otherwise;
in Russia there is only free space, the vast oen spaces, the Slavic
good humor, which does not forbid us to trample winter crops and
skip through meadows.
Abroad, the dreadful division of real estate,
household ownership rather than public ownership by the peasants,
make this hunting impossible; even game is becoming a rarity there.
The inhabited localities of Russia, such as Poland
and the Ostsee Provinces, come close to the Western states in
terms of coursing, although coursing with borzois is not banned
there, but there is a tax on the dogs of 15 rubles per head per
year, which would come to a pretty penny if one takes into account
the number of borzois that exist on complete hunts in Russia.
In Poland some hunters still keep several borzois each, but only
go afield on horseback, and then only near home, in their own
fields, since there it would be inconceivable to make crossings
of and to course on someone else's land.
In the west there is no coursing, as I stated
previously; if dogs are kept, they are kept as house dogs that
serve only as decoration and whim.
The only place where borzois have a chance to
run free is in England, but that is not hunting, only coursing
of captured hares for betting and presentation of awards and prizes
to the swiftest dogs. There a borzoi may be compared more to a
racehorse than to an animal used for hunting. I repeat, there
is only Russia where a huntsman can still amuse his spirit.
We may note that of late coursing has revived
among us here in Russia in comparison with the 1860s and the early
1870s, when, following the emancipation of the peasantry, the
hunts went down by the hundreds.
The emancipation of the peasantry created an
enormous revolution in regard to coursing and to borzois. Prior
to emancipation, it was the rare landowner who did not have hunting,
and everyone kept borzois - if not the masters, then the people.
After the emancipation of the peasantry, dogs remained only in
the possession of true hunters, for whom it was harder to part
with their beloved pets than it was for ordinary hunters.
Under serfdom, hunts were held more out of vanity
and idleness than out of passion. Dog breeds were managed somehow,
and in most cases the masters gave this activity to their hound-masters.
It may be said positively that at that time, the more elegant
and the larger the hunt, the worse the dogs. Of course, there
also were good dogs, but they were the exception, and the overall
level nonetheless remained poor. The barin (a member of the landowner
gentry) chose the best of them for his pack, but the people went
out with whatever came their way. Full attention in such hunts
was paid to the uniform coloring of the horses and to the riders'
habits. At departure, such a hunt presented a pretty picture to
the eyes indeed. Businesslike, seriou hunts were never distinguished
by the quantity of the dogs but by their quality, and in the field,
of course, they held sway over enormous purebred hunts.
Thus, what did the emancipation of the serfs
bring our coursing - harm or good?
I believe it brought good: in that it forced
us to view this activity more seriously and to engage in it more
efficiently than we had done before. At the present time, most
hunters engage in hunting out of passion, and not out of vanity
and whim alone. One misfortune is that we can never agree to something
positive in defining the points of a borzoi dog, and perhaps we
never shall. Why is this so?
All the modern literature in this regard errs
in one regard: the desire to push all existing dogs under one
type, one breed. Any of us who has dogs would deflect the question,
treating with an utter lack of tolerance the dogs of other hunters.
From this derives a babel that is hard to imagine.
One fellow recognizes only the thick-haired dog
of old, another the Machevarianov dogs, a third the Kareev dogs,
a fourth recognizes none of them, considering a good dog to be
only one that catches or ferociously takes a wolf, and so forth.
Everyone refers to England and the English, setting them as examples
for our hunters; the rating of dogs at dog shows has been set
up to the English taste.
In the West certain types of borzois have existed
since antiquity, of which only the short-haired borzoi, called
the English wolfhound, now remains. Its type is so firmly set
in the minds of hunters that we would not think of arguing over
the points of dogs, and we would not even dream of disputing the
length of a pastern or more or less barrel-shaped ribs. As early
as in the 15th century the type of dog in the West was defined
quite clearly and firmly; all this occurred solely as a result
of the existence of hunting literature, which we did not have.
In order to free us of the existing confusion,
I must renounce imitation of the English and set to work with
my own mind. Don't we have one, after all? And can we no longer
get along without foreign teachers - we who have such a marvelous
dog as our long-haired borzoi?
Our forebears knew how to maintain and keep this
marvelous breed without the aid of the English point system and
without manuals, but we cannot; we need teachers and manuals.
But why? It all comes from our lack of tolerance
for each other, from our unconcern and carelessness; if three
hunters get together, there will be three views of the points
of a borzoi; each would praise his own dogs and censure the others.
Some of the veteran huntsmen have caused some
harm to young hunters through their praise of the thick-haired
dogs of old, and in general of dogs of the past, and through their
faulting of modern hunts.
This praise often was inconsistent in character
in descriptions of the points and qualities of dogs. In general,
in many cases things took a turn such that it was as if, in times
past, there existed no other dogs other than purebred, thick-haired
giants, real beauties that one could come across at practically
every step and in whatever quantity needed. Young hunters, hearing
these stories, became convinced that in times past there were
no poor dogs, without making the effort to reflect and understand
that nothing of the kind could have existed.
Both before and now there were and are undoubtedly
good and bad dogs, there were long-haired, short-haired, Crimean,
and bearded dogs, and they all were interbred by the very same
hunting veterans who cry about the pure-bloodedness and breeding
of the borzois of old. I can confirm my opinion with written evidence
from years past. Our dogs were the same as remained, and only
after satisfying ourselves of this and by trying to improve breeding
will we be able to place what we have on solid footing and properly
conduct the business of Russian dog breeding without giving in
to some ideals that did not exist. We have rich material, and
it is nowise inferior to that which our forebears had. Where one
senses a deficiency is in the abundance of hares, the proving
ground of any borzoi.
Our oldtimers could have tested us better and
improved the speed of their dogs through constant coursing.
Understandably, the more often a borzoi gallops,
the more benefit there is for it, and our forebears coursed in
the fall, in part of the winter, and in the spring. A dog had
constant practice, and what practice! - throught the fall it could
display its speed and strength when it could chase ar least 10
or 15 hares a day. When hunters set out, no one thought about
whether there would be enough game for the dogs: there were as
many hares as one could wish. No manuals and no hunts of captured
game will improve speed if, apart from them, the dog does not
have sufficient practice afield from generation to generation.
Intensified coursing of wolves, ignoring hares,
has drawn modern dog breeders into an enormous mistake in the
breeding of studs, and this mistake has of course resulted in
a loss of the dogs' speed in favor of their ferocity.
Some young hunters err mainly through their impatience
in dog breeding. Maintaining a breed, which anyone would like
to do, is hardly easy an undertaking as many imagine. One needs
a great deal of patience, observation, experience, and mainly
caution in this endeavor. The breeds that we know were bred and
improved for decades. The breeders did their work carefully, sorting
their dogs, and never dreamed of improving the breed in 3 or 4
years, but did their work unhurriedly. Many businesslike hunters
did not take their dogs, especially males, on a long trip before
the age of 2; nor were females put on the leash before reaching
We now have a ferocity prize for males in their
first autumn. In order for a year-old to course for wolf, he must
first be broken in, i.e., he must go afield in the fall when,
strictly speaking, this should not happen in a real, businesslike
Only by strictly observing dogs personally is
it possible to breed something sensible. A female should not be
put on a leash before its full maturity, before it displays its
good field merits and before it has had more than three litters.
The male should not be worked on the hunt in his first fall, so
that it is always wise and happy and does not feel fatigued. Old
and very young males should not be used to produce pups, but should
be released for breeding after they are first well-tested in the
field. Many pups should not be left under the bitch, but only
that number which it can feed without harm to the pups.
Now I shall ask our dog breeders openly to tell
me whether all the foregoing rules are observed on many hunts.
These rules were not invented by me, but by our hunting authorities,
who have demonstrated in fact what a dog breeder can accomplish
if they are observed. If one observes all the above, it is impossible
to do anything at all in a short time interval.
Recently our hunters raised the cry that the
English had outgalloped our long-haired dogs; but who was at fault
here? No one other than ourselves! One ought not to doubt that
the breed of Russian long-haired dogs is faster in principle than
English short-haired wolfhounds, not to mention Scottish deerhounds.
But no one wants to draw attention to the fact that the breeding
stock for our English borzois was conscripted from England and
that these dogs, being shorter, grow up faster than our long-haired
dogs. Moreover, the English do not chase ferocity to the detriment
of speed, but the same cannot be said of us! I am firmly convinced
that a purebred short-haired dog always will outgallop the English
wolfhound and, if we conduct our business unhurriedly and without
being fascinated with ferocity, our dogs always would outgallop
and outcatch the English dogs. Our breeding ability has not yet
been lost, but patience and still more patience are needed, and
nothing can be done straightaway.
Our dog shows always have brought and continue
to bring good to Russian dog breeding, but only to some extent.
For hunters who have the opportunity to visit Moscow, it is of
course pleasant and useful to get acquainted and talk, but for
others little good comes of the shows. Society is not at fault
here, of course, and one could hardly blame the vastness of our
Reading the pages of Russian hunting journals,
one is struck by the attention with which our huntsmen treat everything
related to dog shows, competitions, and various disputes over
the points of the borzoi. One can see how much everyone wants
to achieve something and to agree, but why then have people been
writing for many years, arguing, without reaching any conclusion?
Why is this? God alone knows. Many hunters want the Imperial Society
to separate dog breeds for dog shows into thick-haired, long-haired,
and purebred long-haired dogs, but I know not whether that division
would lead to anything in dog breeding. Hardly!
From my hunting practice and frequent listening
to various conversations and arguments, I have drawn the conclusion
that our hunters say one thing but do something else in their
hunts. That is, anyone manages a breed of dogs without holding
to one of the types mentioned above, and does so however circumstances
allow and however he likes. Of course, there are exceptions where
the dog breeders holds to precisely what he propounds. But where
are they not? Therefore, I think that dividing the breeds would
hardly lead us anywhere.
Hunters must not be ordered to hold to various
points in a borzoi dog, and anyone will continue to do what he
always has done heretofore. There is time for everything. Previously,
our fathers became fascinated with speed and some of them shrank
dogs down to miniature size. We by contrast have become fascinated
with ferocity and have bred giants with a death grip but we have
damaged their speed. It is very hard indeed to combine these two
traits in one, and it is impossible to say how long it will take
to do so.
The organization of speed competitions and the
fact that the English have outgalloped our long-haired dogs have
sobered us, with respect to ferocity, and the very fact of the
victory of the English will force our dog breeders to match ferocity
to speed in future generations. This lesson will not pass us by
I do not want to say thereby that a borzoi does
not need ferocity, but in my view it is more pleasant to take
a full-grown wolf from under six fast dogs than from under one
dull one, no matter what its dashing ferocity, especially since
the ferocity of borzois can be developed very quickly, at least
more quickly than speed. The whole matter lies in constant practice
and, what is the main thing, in the hunters - the dogs of a venturesome,
bold borzoi keeper are more and more ferocious with each go.
Ultimately one still can say that coursing is
flourishing here in Russia compared with what we had 20 years
ago. Huntsmen, thanks to the "Imperial Society for Breeding
of Hunting and Working Animals," have ceased to skulk, to
be ashamed, as it were, of their passion. They have understood
that there are still a good many of them in Russia, and that they
may openly and directly declare that they belong to the ranks
of huntsmen, that all the previous reprimands of huntsmen as rowdies,
drunks, and in general restless people have no place. I remember
what joy and what festive people hunters encountered and met at
the first dog shows in Moscow; everyone was saying: "Oh yes,
there are still many of us and our line is still not entirely
Arguments over the points of dogs began at the
very first shows. But despite these disputes and conversations,
frankly speaking, which have no basis, the cause of coursing is
moving increasingly to solid ground with every passing year. Of
course, a great deal more time will be needed for us to come up
with something general, sensible, and integral; but a start has
been made, and thanks for that. Coursing has become one of our
rights, and with each year the number of hunts increases.
Many young hunters have appeared who are passionately
devoted to their avocation and who treat the subject seriously.
Although the economic situation of our landholders
in recent years has prevented them from making big outlays on
their passion, this situation is temporary, and when it passes
the field will expand even more; the number of dogs bought serves
as a good yardstick in this regard. About 7 or 8 years ago the
trade in borzoi dogs was moving along quite msartly; this proves
that there was ademand for the dogs, which incidentally exists
even now, but it has decreased only because of the aforementioned
economic difficulty. In general, the quality of our borzoi in
its external forms has improved most recently, despite all the
blunders in showing. This is easy to prove in that most dogs at
dog shows are good dogs, despite the fact that nearly all of them
sell; hence they are not in themselves the best exemplars, as
those remain at home and hunters do not bring them to the dog
I believe that it is an important sign of the
improvement of dog breeding when the rejects of our hunts are
so good that they receive awards and win over buyers.
Recently many new hunts with dogs have started
up, and in nearly every province we can find two or three hunting
businesses; of course, not all of them have flawless dogs, but
what can you do? - you can't achieve anything right out of the
box. One must hope that the passion for this noble amusement will
not die out among us, as long as Russia still has our vast fields
and hares, foxes, and wolves bound across them.
One thing that we might yet wish for our young
hunters is that they not become overly interested in anything
foreign, that they strictly adhere to things Russian, and that
they improve our marvelous breed of Russian borzois, like which
there is no other on earth and never will be, only through rigorous
The passion for coursing isinnate in every Russian
and is passed along in the blood from generation to generation.
Ask any hunter and huntsmen will be found in his forebears without
The present generation of comparatively young
hunters, no matter what they may say, must convey constant profound
gratitude to those veterans of coursing who, despite the general
devastation after the destruction of serfdom, have preserved for
us our fast and ferocious beauties.
Honor and glory to these hunters who, sitting
in their corners, in different parts of Russia, have patiently
weathered the storm and not parted with their beloved animals.
The work of true hunters is only to continue and improve that
which they have inherited from the oldtimers. It is now easier
to do this since we have had hunting literature, dog shows, and