The Borzoi is an extremely intelligent Russian-bred sighthound (she tracks her prey visually rather than by scent.) Her name, Borzoi, derives from the Russian word for “swift,” a quality that enables her to chase, pass, and finally hold prey (originally over open terrain in Russia). Today’s Borzoi are mostly house pets and show dogs, but they still possess their keen eyesight and ability to pursue.
As with most hunting dogs, a Borzoi needs plenty of exercise and room to run. When not exercised adequately, Borzoi can become destructive.
In Russia, the Borzoi was variously called the Russian Wolfhound, the Russian Greyhound, the Siberian Wolfhound, the Borzaya, the Psowaya Barsaya and the Russkaya Psovaya Borzaya, until Borzoi fanciers finally settled on the present name.
Fun fact: Edward J. Smith, captain of the Titanic, owned a beautiful white male Borzoi named Ben. A photo of the captain and Ben was hung outside his cabin on the ship. Happily for Ben, he was not on the maiden voyage.
The opening of the archives of the former Soviet Union reveals that the the earliest sighthound evolved between the Kyrgyzstan, the lower Kazakhstan part of Altai and the Afghan plains. The earliest actual sighthound breeds were the plains Afghan hounds and the Kyrgyz Taigan.
Fast-forward to the late 19th/early 20th century: The Psovoi, as they were known then, were so highly prized by the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaievich that they could not be purchased, only given as gifts by the duke himself, who bred the hounds at his private estate.
The Russian aristocracy were very careful about breeding Borzoi, going so far as to hold hunting trials for the purpose of selecting breeding stock. Only the fastest and most intelligent Borzoi were chosen for breeding.
Fast-forward to the years following the 1917 Russian revolution: Borzoi are on the ropes. They are seen as an artifact of an overthrown aristocracy, a dog whose purpose (hunting wolves) could be accomplished by more efficient means. The breed might have fallen into extinction had it not been for a Soviet soldier named Constantin Esmont, who during this period traveled through the Cossacks making detailed drawings and descriptions of the different Borzoi he encountered. Esmont’s work convinced the Soviet government that borzois were a valuable asset to the hunters who supported the fur industry, and from that time on their breeding was not only sanctioned, but regulated.
Borzois are large, energetic dogs with a graceful appearance (whether running or standing still) and a showy coat. All colors and marking patterns are found in this breed. The Borzoi tends to have a thick collar of curly hair about her neck.
Male Borzoi stand 30 inches at the shoulder; females are smaller, at around 26 inches. Weight average for females is 70 pounds, and 90 pounds for males; however, it is not uncommon for a male Borzoi to weigh over 100 pounds.
The Borzoi possesses a regal bearing worthy of the Russian tsars of old. One can easily picture her in repose alongside her ruler’s throne. She’s no snob, though. She’s a quiet, observant and sensitive dog that rewards her person with loyalty and affection, yet can keep herself entertained. She rarely barks.
The Borzoi, due again to her breeding as a speedy sighthound, does require exercise with her owner. She is a wonderful companion for a runner, and can also keep up with a bicycle.
A Borzoi should be supervised around young children and introduced slowly to new people of all ages. She loves kids, but not rowdy behavior, and could snap or bite if the play gets too rough or hurts her.
Obedience training is a must, and the trainer must be patient and gentle yet firm. Borzoi belong to the hound group, all of whom are known for their stubbornness.
Finally, a calm, happy home with a large fenced yard is essential. Believe it or not, the breed is emotionally very sensitive, and discord in the home will upset her to the point of illness. No matter what is going on in the home, always make sure your dog knows she is loved.
Like all sighthounds, the Borzoi is ever watchful for small game, and she can be gone in a minute. Most Borzoi have little awareness of traffic and cars, so you must keep your Borzoi secured on a leash when outside her home or yard.
Borzoi have a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. For some reason, cancer and cardiac death among Borzoi are more common in the UK than elsewhere. Gastric torsion, a threat in all deep-chested breeds, is the most common cause of premature death in the Borzoi. Torsion, also called bloat, can turn fatal very quickly. A typical symptom is dry heaving or producing very little vomit despite eating. If this happens to your dog, consult your vet immediately.
The Borzoi has a soft undercoat that grows thick over the winter months, but is shed when the weather turns warm. Regardless of season, the Borzoi should be brushed weekly to keep her elegant coat free of mats and tangles, and to give it lustre. Baths can be given on an as-needed basis, as her coat naturally deflects dirt and debris.
The Borzoi Club of America (http://www.borzoiclubofamerica.org) has a rescue link on its website. Contact them if you wish to adopt or need to rehome a Borzoil.