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 full development.

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 hunt.

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 homeland.

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 without benefit.

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 lost."

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 shows.

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 breeding.

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 fail.

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 railroads.

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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