Notes on the Borzoi Head

Figure 6. beautiful head type

Notes on the Borzoi Head

It is said that every breed is a "head breed", as in a proper example of any kind of dog, the head is the one feature that is unique to that breed; sets it apart from all others instantly. By that designation, Borzoi are no exception.

In some breeds such as Collies, Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, etc., a heavy emphasis is put on head qualities in the standard or by the fancy. In these breeds, head faults or qualities will make or break the assessment of the overall dog. The Borzoi is not that kind of dog.

While today we will go into quite some detail concerning the Borzoi head, and I will mention many small points that go into making an ideal head, there is enough left out of the Standard to allow for a somewhat greater range of acceptability than in many other breeds. In addition, 3/4 of the Standard is written around the points that make a Borzoi an efficient, graceful runner. In deciding how to weight the head as part of the overall dog, it is best to keep in mind the exceedingly important final paragraph of the Standard:

The foregoing description is that of the ideal Borzoi. Any deviation from the above described dog must be penalized to the extent of the deviation, keeping in mind the importance of the contribution of the various features toward the basic original purpose of the breed.

That purpose?

Running down and catching game.

So… on to details.

The Standard describes the skull as slightly domed; this description applies to the profile as well as to the skull from the front. While you will seldom see an extremely domed head, the dog in Figure 7c., is getting too far away from "slightly". This kind of top skull combined with the all too common lack of underjaw (Figure 7d) is referred to in the fancy as a light bulb head. On the other hand, a flat top skull with the fore face all in the same plane as the topskull with no suggestion of a stop for relief, is atypical and unsightly. The reverse of slightly domed is slightly concave, and this is frequently seen.

The skull is long and narrow. This is one of the three basic head shapes recognized in dogs according cephalic index, i.e. base width in relation to skull length; Borzoi are in the most extreme category, dolichocephalic, as is a Collie, and are the most extreme among sighthounds, but that does not mean in judging, the narrower the better. Extra narrow heads usually are on extra narrow bodies, as you really can't fool Mother Nature, nor should we want to. The bitch onthe left shows excellent length and sufficient width in the muzzle to balance strength with beauty.

Jaws are to be "long, powerful and deep". The Borzoi is a "catch and hold" dog. He bites for a living so to say, and needs jaws strength as much as a Dobe or an Am Staff, for his classic prey, the Russian wolf, is much heavier and at least as strong. A strong jaw requires a deep head for muscle attachment surface, and this is a feature easily lost in selecting for "pretty". Look at the deep underjaw in the male to the right, and notice the depth and strength of the underjaw, while still maintaining beauty.

"Somewhat finer in bitches but not snipy." The Standard calls for a long narrow SKULL but deep and powerful JAWS. Deep jaws provide a better foundation for teeth. Shallow jaws make for greater chance of tooth loss and smaller teeth.

As for snipy, (Figure 7d) the term comes from the common snipe, the long beaked bird that provides the name for an overly fine and pointed muzzle in basic dog terminology. This is a great sort of jaw for picking bugs out of the mud. It is not the sort of muzzle useful for holding on to a hundred and fifty pound carnivore fighting for its life. In addition, a narrow jaw usually results in crowded incisors.

So in the muzzle, as throughout the whole Borzoi, think of strength and function, and the contribution jaws towards the basic original purpose of the breed.

Figure 7. Head faults
a. dished face; b. Roman head; c. too much dome; d. snipy

Head planes are not specified in the Standard, but "scarcely perceptible stop" indicates that there is some suggestion of a stop. "Inclined to be Roman-nosed" is a slight drop off at the end of the nasal cartilage, and is a finer point of breed type. A slightly domed skull, a Roman nose, and NO stop becomes a point of breed type for ANOTHER BREED; it is called a Roman HEAD, (Figure 7b; Figure 8) and is a freakish anomaly that strays away far away from both elegance and function. Often the Roman headed dog is undershot, as the length of the top jaw is shortened due to the curvature of the head, (Figure 7b) and creates a large space between the jaws which reduces grip. Carried to the extreme, a very Roman headed animal, scarcely looks like a Borzoi.

Figure 8. Roman head

This is not a new problem. In the 20's this kind of head became fashionable, due to the influence of a few English imports. Think of it as a negative to both function and type in the Borzoi, Look for the balanced head with a slightly domed skull, a suggestion of a stop and the Roman finish to the end of the nose.

Since Borzoi have large, over-reaching noses, the impression of a longer top jaw is notable, particularly for a dog with a good Roman finish to the nose. (Figure 6, Figure 12c) This is a classic point of type, not function.

Upper and lower jaws are inherited separately in dogs, so it is a wonder with the tremendous variation in head lengths in Borzoi, that as many dogs have good bites as they do. "Even or scissors bite" assumes level from side to side, in other words, not wry.

Though it is certainly faulty, the "reverse scissors" slight undershot is still a serviceable bite, as the canine can still mesh properly, but the badly overshot "parrot" mouth" is increasing in prevalence and is actually a deformity. Sometimes a parrot mouthed puppy bite will correct somewhat but canines will be reversed or out of line which throws the dog back into the category of non-functional, since the canines prevent the mouth from closing tightly and usually cuts into the upper hard palate.

Teeth - "strong and clean." Large teeth are good, but are becoming rarer. Smaller teeth tend to be shallower rooted and more prone to be pulled out, along with the obvious disadvantage of less holding power.

The Borzoi standard is the ONLY hound standard to specify dentition (full) by saying "missing teeth shall be penalized." Borzoi should have 42 teeth like most dogs, and any missing teeth are generally premolars, rarely molars, and many Borzoi have extra premolars. Long jaws mean big spaces between teeth. With such large spaces compared to tooth size, interdigitation is not as much of a factor as in a shorter muzzled dog so extra teeth don't cause a problem.

Figure 9. dentition

Big spaces mean you must know the count, not assume that the long spacing means a missing tooth. An easy count for premolars is three on the top, four on the bottom, between the canine and the first large tooth, which is actually the 4th premolar on the top and is a proper molar on the bottom. Since the fourth premolar on the top is so different looking than the others due to its huge size, it is easier in the counting process not to call it a premolar.

Large numbers of missing teeth became a problem in the 60's. The standard was changed to try and correct that in 1972. Unfortunately the wording "missing teeth shall be penalized," gives an undue emphasis to teeth over other parts of the dog and puts one in the position of fault judging. Missing teeth are not a significant problem now, as breeders tend to take care of things on the breeding end. Think of it as one point in a whole dog. The Borzoi has to get to the wolf FIRST! If you watch the breed regularly, you will see that there is a much greater need for improvement in the "getting to the wolf" department than there is in holding the wolf.

Ears are "small and fine". Fine means thin ear leather. "Lying back on the neck in repose" means a rose ear when relaxed, not hanging like a flap. "Tips almost touching behind occiput when thrown back" is usually only when the dog is panting or posturing. "Raised when at attention" does not specify how the ears are to be raised. A semi-pricked ear off to the side is typical at mild attention, but ALL Borzoi will raised their ears to full prick when very excited. The most correct, high set, small and fine ears will prick the easiest but heavier, lower set ones will do so as well. So to ask a dog to make ears really tells you nothing that you can judge on according to the Standard, and a breeder-judge never asks for it.

Eyes are to be "set obliquely" which means at an angle to the sides of the head. "Dark" means dark brown, not dark blue, gray or green. Borzoi eyes should be large and almond shaped, (Figure 6) NEVER small and piggy. But by the same token, they should not be round, full or staring. A Borzoi is neither a Collie nor a Spaniel. Prominent haws are very undesirable. Black haws would be great, but only one dog in a hundred will have two black haws and it is very difficult to get dark haws in a breed that carries so much white.

Figure 10.
a. light eyes; b. prominent haws

The head is evenly balanced with the inner corner of the eye halfway between the nose and the occiput. A longer muzzle is usually a weak muzzle. Eye rims dark presumes black to match the nose, but there is some variation in depth of pigment. Missing eye pigment is certainly not desirable, but you must determine if it affects express much. Since it is cosmetic, once again think of it as one point in a whole dog. The Standard is silent on the subject of lip pigment. Breeders all prefer full lip pigment but it is not mentioned in the Standard and once more it is a minor cosmetic item.

figure 11. dark haws, black pigment

So now you have a lot of notes about details of head. Even the worst Borzoi head is not going to be mistaken for another breed, but we do not want to aim for the lowest common denominator. In judging the head, just be careful not to make it the primary focus of type.

Figure 12. A variety of pleasing heads