The Russian Wolfhound

The following is a section from The Dog Book, by James Watson, published in 1920 by Doubleday.

The marked family resemblence between the long-coated greyhounds of Eastern Russia, Persia and that section of Europe and Asia, demonstrates very clearly that there must have been for many ages a well defined type of greyhound or racing hound such as we have known for nearly twenty years as the Russian wolfhound. Being a fast racing hound it naturally is of greyhound formation, but it differs somewhat in general appearance, being leaner as well as taller. It is also apt to be more roached in back and straighter in hind legs. Stonehenge in speaking of the sweep of the hind legs of the greyhound said that without that formation speed would be impossible, yet the wolfhound shows speed. We acknowledge that we have never seen racing between greyhounds and wolfhounds and are quite open to correction as to what we say on this subject. The greyhound is much quicker in action than the wolfhound, the wolfhound's stride being longer and in those we have seen racing the action is higher, possibly from so many being more upright in shoulder than we see in the majority of greyhounds. Quick action is often deceiving when it is not in actual competition with a slower but longer stride, but it will rather surprise us to have it demonstrated that the wolfhound can beat a greyhound, both being good ones. Certainly the better shouldered dog is much the cleverer and quicker in turning and can travel down hill without propping himself, but as the accounts of Russian wolf hunting are to the effect that wolved race straightaway, and do not turn or twist like a hare, and the hunting ground is on level plains, there is not so much necessity for good shoulders in the borzoi as in the hare courser.

The type of the wolfhound or borzoi has been thoroughly established for centuries, undoubtedly. When we go away back as far as we can and yet not be shrouded in "the mists of antiquity" we find representations of racing hounds which may or may not have been meant for illustrations of dogs which were of the family now under discussion. For instance that very old drawing reproduced from the Bronze Dog and to be found in the Great Dane chapter, page 535. That has quite a borzoi look about it and at the same time comes somewhat near to the mastin type.

This illustration was placed in the position it occupies with some mental reservation as to whether it was not more entitled to be put with something of the greyhound order. It bears every look of being a portrait, or modelled from life and not merely a study, but as many of the illustrations of French mastins of about the same date were not unlike this dog in many ways it was put with them, the intention being to draw attention to it as we do now.

The first positive representation of the borzoi we have seen was in a volume of illustrations made of engravings from some French work. There was no title page nor any description of the engravings other than their titles in French. A memorandum in pencil on a front blank page stated they were from a natural history work and many of them bore marked resemblence to many of the Buffon engravings. In our edition of Buffon there is not, however, any particular reference to this dog, although mention is made of the matin being connected with the Russian dog. No engraving of it appears in our edition nor is there any mention of one as in the case of all other dogs illustrated. The fact remains, however, that it was known about 1750 and the illustration is perfect enough to stand duty as representing the breed as seen at our shows. Colonel Hamilton Smith mentions them as part of the greyhounds of the Persian type. What the latter looked like is shown in Jessie's "Anecdotes," 1858 edition. The author stated that several of these hounds had been brought to England from time to time and the one given as an illustration was a bitch bred in England, painted by Hamilton.

It is only within the last twenty years or so that the Russian hound has become known to any extent in England or America, and his career has been a diversified one in this country. In England the borzoi had the advantage of being taken up by royalty and we recall seeing one at Mr. MacDona's kennels when he was rector of Cheadle, near Manchester, in 1879, the dog having been a present from the Prince of Wales, now King Edward, It was not a large dog as we now remember it.

When they were introduced in this country there was a very animated discussion as to their correct name, the late Mr. Huntington leading on the side for the name psovoi, while others held for borzoi, the name accepted in England. As the disputants did not seem able to come to an agreement we suggested using the name Russian Wolfhound, as fully descriptive of what they were, pending some settlement. The name was made use of in that way and has never been changed.

Being a dog of striking character and typical of high breeding it is surprising that it has not been followed up more systematically since its introduction, but the records show that its support has been very spasmodic. Mr. Huntington was very enthusiastic for a year or two and then took more to greyhounds. Mr. Stedman Hanks, of Boston, was the next prominent supported and he secured some good hounds when on one occasion he visited Russia. He kept them for a few years and then stopped exhibiting, his dogs being taken over by his kennel manager, Tom Turner, who was about the only exhibitor for several years, his kennel being at the last made up of dogs bred from Mr. Hanks's dogs. Mr. Turner was still an occasional exhibitor when Mr. J. B. Thomas, Jr., took hold in a very stirring manner. He first bought all the good dogs he could get here, those of the Turner kennel and some from Mr. J. G. Kent, of Toronto, who had the only collection of the breed in the Dominion. Not content with these dogs, Mr. Thomas concluded to visit Europe for something better and after inspecting the English kennels went on to Russia, where he purchased some very good ones, including Bistri and Sorva. His strongest competitor was Mr. E. L. Kraus of Slatington, Pa., who was his predecessor as an exhibitor and had a very good kennel at that time, but with the advent of Mr. Thomas his increasing business demands made it impossible for Mr. Kraus to devote the attention to exhibiting dogs which he had done and he retired.

With the view of putting the breed on a substantial footing Mr. Thomas, with the co-operation of Dr. De Mund, Mr. Kent and others who took more or less interest in the breed, organised the Russian Wolfhound Club and marked improvement was at once apparent in the support given the principal shows. Two years ago at New York the entry was an excellent one and the quality very good throughout. Mr. Thomas's Valley Farm entry won the lion's share of the prizes as it had done the previous year and has done at all shows where he has been a competitor, and we rather fear that there is a likelihood of the breed falling back, as is almost invariably the case where there is one dominating kennel taking the bulk of the prize money. We seem, however, to have got to an end of importations and if exhibitors confine themselves to home or American bred dogs and so put all on a more equitable footing there is no reason to look for decline in the breed, now that we have so much breeding material in the country.

As most wild animals are fought and killed by the dogs which hunt them it is well to state that the Russian wolfhound is not supposed to kill the wolf. When a wolf is driven into the open it is the custom to slip a brace of wolfhounds, unless the dog is a large and powerful one. The dogs slipped are always well matched in speed so as to reach the wolf together if possible. They range up on either side of the fleeing wolf and pin him back of the ears, holding him till the mounted huntsman, who follows, can reach them. The huntsman then muzzles the wolf, which is taken to the kennels for use in teaching the younger dogs their business. Many wolves are killed when not so wanted, but the object of the hunt may be said not to be that of the fox hunt or hare coursing, which is the kill, but the capture of the wolf.

The Russian wolfhound has been styled the aristocrat of the canine family, which is a well-earned name and a very excellent one in illustrating his distinguishing feature, as compared with other breeds. It will be seen that the descriptive particulars of the standard call for a dog on greyhound lines, the differences being a narrower skull, with an indication of angle at the brow, up to which the nasal line is carried without any indication of drop in the outline, in fact it is more often Roman nosed. From the angle at the brow the outline is fairly straight to the occiput; the other differences are the longer coat, sometimes with a curl, and the somewhat straighter hindquarters when the dog is standing.

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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