A female Borzoi
Russkaya Psovaya Borzaya
|Country of origin||Russia|
The Borzoi (/ˈbɔrzɔɪ/) is a breed of domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) also called the Russian Wolfhound and brought to Russia from Middle-Asian countries. Having medium-length and slightly curly hair, it is similar in shape to Greyhounds, and is a member of the sighthound family.
The system by which Russians over the ages named their sighthounds was a series of descriptive terms, not actual names. Thus the word borzoi on its own just stands for "fast" in old Russian. "Borzaya" is a female grammatic form of the word borzoi. Adjective "psovaya" means "apply to dog". The name "Psovaya" Russian Borzois received from the word Psovina that means "wavy, silky coat". Just as "Hortaya" (as in Hortaya Borzaya) means shorthaired. Other Russian sighthound breeds are e.g. "Stepnaya Borzaya" (from the steppe), called "Stepnoi" or "Krimskaya Borzaya" (from the Crimea), called "Krimskoi".
The plural Borzois may be found in dictionaries. However, the Borzoi Club of America asserts Borzoi is the preferred form for both singular and plural. At least one manual of grammatical style rules that the breed name should not be capitalized except at the beginning of a sentence; again, breed fanciers usually differ, and capitalize it wherever found.. In russian criminal argo word Borzoi means "insolent".
Borzoi are large Russian sight hounds which look similar to a number of Middle-Asian breeds such as the Afghan hound and the Kyrgyz Taigan. Their fur is silky and flat, and wavy or slightly curly.
Borzoi can come in almost any color or color combination. As a general approximation, "long-haired greyhound" is a useful description. The long top-coat is silky and quite flat, with varying degrees of waviness or curling. The soft undercoat thickens in winter or cold climates, but is shed in hot weather to prevent overheating. In its texture and distribution over the body, the Borzoi coat is unique.
The Borzoi is a large dog within the variety of sighthound, with males frequently reaching in excess of 100 pounds (45 kg) ~120 pounds. Males should stand at least 30 inches (about 80 centimeters) ~35 inches at the shoulder, while females shouldn't be less than 26 inches (about 66 centimeters). Despite their size, the overall impression is of streamlining and grace, with a curvy shapeliness and compact strength.
The Borzoi is a quiet but athletic and independent dog. Most Borzoi are almost silent, barking only very rarely. They do not have strong territorial drives and cannot be relied on to raise the alarm upon sighting a human intruder. They are gentle and highly sensitive dogs with a natural respect for humans, and as adults they are decorative couch potatoes with remarkably gracious house-manners. Borzois should never display dominance or aggression towards people. Typically however, they are rather reserved and sensitive to invasion of their personal space; this can make them nervous around children unless they are brought up with them from an early age. Despite their size they adapt very well to suburban living, provided they have a spacious yard and regular opportunities for free exercise.
The Borzoi ranks 75th out of 78 in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, being of the lowest breeds in degree of working/obedience intelligence. It took Borzois at least 80-100 repetitions to understand a new command, obeying the first command less than 25% of the time.
These dogs are used to pursue, or "course", game and have a powerful instinct to chase things that run from them. Built for speed and endurance, they can cover long distances in a very short time. A fully-fenced yard is an absolute necessity for keeping any sighthound. They are highly independent and will range far and wide without containment, and have no regard at all for road traffic. For off-lead exercise, a Borzoi needs a very large field or park, either fully fenced or well away from any roads, to ensure its safety.
Generally, Borzoi should not be territorially aggressive to other domestic dogs. Against wolves and other wild canids, they are born with specialized skills, but these are quite different from the dog-fighting instincts seen in some breeds. It is quite common for Borzoi at play to course (run down) another dog, seize it by the neck and hold it immobile. Young pups do this with their littermates, trading off as to who is the prey. It is a specific hunting behavior, not a fighting or territorial domination behavior.
Borzoi can be raised very successfully to live with cats and other small animals provided they are introduced to them at a young age. Some, however, will possess the hunting instinct to such a degree that they find it impossible not to chase a cat that is moving quickly. The hunting instinct is triggered by movement and much depends on how the cat behaves.
Some Borzoi do well in competitive obedience and agility trials with the right kind of training, but it is not an activity that comes naturally to them. They are selective learners who quickly become bored with repetitive, apparently pointless, activity, and they can be very stubborn when they are not properly motivated. Like other sighthounds they cannot understand or tolerate harsh treatment or training based on punishment, and will be extremely unhappy if raised voices and threats are a part of their daily life.
Life expectancy is 7 to 10 years. Exceptional individuals have lived to be more than 14 years of age. Dogs that are physically fit and vigorous in their youth through middle age are more vigorous and healthy as elderly dogs, all other factors being equal. In the UK various cancers, followed by cardiac problems, seem to be the most frequent causes of premature death .
Like its native relative the Hortaya Borzaya, the Borzoi is basically a very sound breed. OCD, hip and elbow dysplasia have remained almost unknown, as were congenital eye and heart diseases before the 1970s. However, in some countries modern breeding practices have unfortunately introduced a few problems.
As with other very deep-chested breeds, gastric torsion is the most common serious health problem in the Borzoi. Also known as bloat, this life-threatening condition is believed to be anatomical rather than strictly genetic in origin. Many Borzoi owners recommend feeding the dog from a raised platform instead of placing the food-dish on the ground, and making sure that the dog rests quietly for several hours after eating, as the most reliable way to prevent bloat.
Less common are cardiac problems including cardiomyopathy and cardiac arrhythmia disorders. A controversy exists as to the presence of progressive retinal atrophy in the breed. A condition identified as Borzoi Retinopathy is seen in some individuals, usually active dogs, which differs from progressive retinal atrophy in several ways. First, it is unilateral, and rarely seen in animals less than 3 years of age; second, a clear cut pattern of inheritance has not been demonstrated; and finally, most affected individuals do not go blind.
Correct nutrition during puppyhood is also debatable for Borzoi. These dogs naturally experience enormous growth surges in the first year or two of their lives. It is now widely accepted that forcing even faster growth by feeding a highly concentrated, high-energy diet is dangerous for skeletal development, causing unsoundness and increased tendency to joint problems and injury. Being built primarily for speed, Borzoi do not carry large amounts of body fat or muscle, and therefore have a rather different physiology to other dogs of similar size (such as the Newfoundland, St. Bernard or Alaskan Malamute). Laboratory-formulated diets designed for a generic "large" or "giant" breed are unlikely to take the needs of the big sighthounds into account.
The issues involved in raw feeding may be particularly relevant to tall, streamlined breeds such as the Borzoi. It is interesting to note that the Hortaya Borzaya, undoubtedly a very close relative, is traditionally raised on a meager diet of oats and table scraps. The Hortaya is also said to be intolerant of highly concentrated kibble feeds. Basically, a lean body weight in itself is nothing to be concerned about, and force-feeding of healthy young Borzoi is definitely not recommended.
It was long thought that Saluki type sighthounds were originally brought to Russia from Byzantium in the South about the 9th and 10th centuries and again later by the Mongol invaders from the East. However, now that the archeological archives and research results of the former USSR are open to scientists, it has become quite clear that the primal sighthound type evolved between the Kyrgyzstan, the lower Kazakhstan part of Altai and the Afghan plains, and that the earliest actual sighthound breeds were the plains Afghan hounds and the Kyrgyz Taigan.
These ancient breeds then migrated South (founding the Tazi/Saluki branch) and West (founding the Stepnaya, Krimskaya and Hortaya branches) to develop into breeds adapted to those regions. This was a slow process which happened naturally through normal spreading of trade, with the silk and spice trade via the Silk Road being the prime vector.
The more modern Psovaya Borzaya was founded on Stepnaya, Hortaya and the Ukrainian-Polish version of the old Hort. There were also imports of Western sighthound breeds to add to the height and weight. It was crossed as well with the Russian Laika specifically and singularly to add resistance against Northern cold and a longer and thicker coat than the Southern sighthounds were equipped with.
All of these foundation types - Tazi, Hortaya, Stepnaya, Krimskaya and Hort - already possessed the instincts and agility necessary for hunting and bringing down wolves.
The Psovoi was popular with the Tsars before the 1917 revolution. For centuries, Psovoi could not be purchased but only given as gifts from the Tsar. The most famous breeder was Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievich of Russia, who bred countless Psovoi at Perchino, his private estate.
The Russian concept of hunting trials was instituted during the era of the Tsars. As well as providing exciting sport, the tests were used for selecting borzoi breeding stock; only the quickest and most intelligent hunting dogs went on to produce progeny. For the aristocracy these trials were a well-organized ceremony, sometimes going on for days, with the borzoi accompanied by mounted hunters and Foxhounds on the Russian steppe. Hares and other small game were by far the most numerous kills, but the hunters especially loved to test their dogs on wolf. If a wolf was sighted, the hunter would release a team of two or three borzoi. The dogs would pursue the wolf, attack its neck from both sides, and hold it until the hunter arrived. The classic kill was by the human hunter with a knife. Wolf trials are still a regular part of the hunting diploma for all Russian sightdog breeds of the relevant type, either singly or in pairs or trios, in their native country.
In the 1917 Revolution, large numbers of native Psovoi were destroyed by the revolutionaries. The Tsars had turned them into a symbol of affluence and tyranny, and they were not welcomed into the new world of the Soviet Union. Some noblemen took it upon themselves to shoot their own dogs rather than allow them to fall into the hands of militants. However, the Psovoi survived along with the other borzaya variants in the Russian countryside.
In the late 1940s a Soviet soldier named Constantin Esmont made detailed records of the various types of borzoi dogs he found in the Cossack villages. Esmont's amazing pictures were recently published and can be viewed by clicking on the link below.
Esmont was concerned that the distinct types of borzaya were in danger of degenerating without a controlled system of breeding. He convinced the Soviet government that borzoi were a valuable asset to the hunters who supported the fur industry and henceforth, their breeding was officially regulated. To this day short-haired Hortaya Borzaya are highly valued hunting dogs on the steppes, while the long-haired Psovaya Borzaya, still carrying some of the stigma of its association with the old White Russia, has become more common as a decorative companion.
Exports of Borzoi to other countries were extremely rare during the Soviet era. However enough had been taken to England, Scandinavia, Western Europe and America in the late 19th century for the breed to establish itself outside its native country.
In 2004, the UK Kennel Club held its 4th temporary exhibition entitled 'The Borzoi in Art'. The exhibition offered a unique insight into the Borzoi and how the breed has been depicted in art throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. The exhibition included paintings, bronzes and porcelain which had previously never before been available for the public viewing. The exhibition ran from September 27 to December 3. The Borzoi may frequently be found in art deco period works.
This type (or breed) of dog was brought to the United States in 1889. It was approved by the American Kennel Club one year later. The breed is beautiful and has a gentle personality. It makes it a great companion dog.
The breed was approved and the descriptive standard was written in 1650. It has not changed much since then. Borzoi have a long coat. It is about 30 - 32 inches (75-80cm) tall at the withers (its back near the shoulders). It weighs between 75 and 85 pounds (35 to 40kg). They can be any color from solid white to brown and white, gray and white or brindle. They can also be all black. People who look after Borzois have done an good job of stopping health problem. Borzois do not have many of the problems other breeds have.
In Russia, they were well liked by the royalty. It was illegal to sell them. They were given to those who did something special for the Tzars. They feature in Russian novels e.g. in Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina". During the Russian revolution, most of the breed were killed because they were a symbol of royalty. A few were taken from the country.