Borzoi History

The history of the Borzoi breed begins with the history of the dog and his association with man. Because early man required certain skills in his dogs for various purposes, these skills became highly developed in combining with their natural instincts for survival. One skill that was employed by early man was the sighting and capturing of game. One of the seven distinct breeds* known as sight hounds, the Borzoi is believed to have originated from a cross between a Saluki type dog and a native Russian breed. Their history dates back to 1260 A.D. even though the first written description or standard did not appear until 1650.

A statement from THE COMPLETE DOG BOOK, published by the American
Kennel Club indicates:

Fairly recent research into the much discussed origin of the Borzoi brings to light an interesting discovery, to wit, that in the early seventeenth century a certain Russian duke, who liked very fast dogs for hunting, imported a number of Arabian Greyhounds, probably dogs known as gazelle hounds. These were speedy runners, but it seems that, having thin coats, they were unable to withstand the severe weather and cold winters of Russia and died. Undaunted by his first failure, the duke later sent for more of these hounds and carefully crossed them with a native Russian breed somewhat similar to the Collie of today, but slightly more powerful and different in build, having longer legs, longer grace-fully curved tail, slightly longer neck, very heavily furred ears and a carriage more like the Wolfhound of today.... The result of the crossing was the graceful, elegant and aristocratic dog we know as our own Borzoi.

Mr. Joseph B. Thomas, in OBSERVATIONS ON BORZOI, published by
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912, (and now available as a reprinted book
in its entirety from Hoflin Publications) expresses his belief that all breeds of Russian Borzoi came from one common root: from the crossing of the Asiatic or Eastern Borzoi, which penetrated into Russia some hundreds of years ago, with the Northern wolf-like dogs or even perhaps with the wolf itself. He further expresses the theory of Mr. Artem Boldaroff, owner of one of the most famous kennels, the Woronzova, in Russia, that the several breeds of longhounds have in their origin little or no connection; that the Psovoy Borzoi, the long-haired Russian sight-hound, developed by a process of evolution, swiftness being desired, from the long-
coated, smooth-faced bearhound of early Russia, an animal similar to the modern Laika but larger; and that the rough-coated longhound of the modern Scottish Deerhound type, with its rough coat extending to the face, had an entirely different origin-possibly, in this latter case, from some dog not dissimilar to the Old English Sheepdog.

The Hunter's Calendar and Reference Book, published in Moscow in 1892, divides the Borzoi into four groups: 1, the Russian or Psovoy Borzoi, having more or less long coat; 2, the Asiatic Borzoi, having pendant ears; 3, the Hortoy Borzoi, having a smooth coat; and 4, the Brudastoy Borzoi, having a stiff or wire-haired coat. The Russian, or Psovoy, Borzoi had many varieties, but all conformed to the same general characteristics.

Whatever may have been the exact origin of the Borzoi, the ancient type described by the "standard" of 1650, were certainly bred for speed, having little or no stop to the skull, tremendous depth of chest, rather flat sides, and a great length of tail, the hair frequently trailing the ground. The hair was long and silky and apparently every color from black to pure white was acceptable. It is not surprising that this generally elegant, aristocratic dog, the Borzoi, has lived a precarious life: his existence has been threatened primarily because of his association with the nobility. Shortly after the Napoleonic Wars, with the revival of sporting activity, experiments were instituted in which foreign hounds of the Greyhound type were crossed with the "ancient" type of Borzoi. Various breeds were used for this crossing; so much was this practiced that in 1861, with the emancipation of the serfs and the turmoil in rural Russia, few hounds were left of the "pure" blood. Many of the Russian nobility, paid by the Government for relinquishing their lands and estates to the serfs, turned to the cities. Their kennels were either forgotten or were ruined through the neglect or absenteeism of the lord. Later, when the nobility returned to their estates, they were frequently unable to restore or maintain their kennels. Hounds and hunting which had been the custom throughout Russia, then remained in isolated instances only.

After the Revolution, many of the Borzoi were slaughtered because of the association with the Czars; and, again, the Borzoi was left only in isolated kennels. Thus, from the mixing of the breed, the later depopulation, and finally, their slaughter, the "ancient" type became nearly extinct. When the first exportations of Borzoi were made from Russia, none of these ancient types left the country. There is no specific date associated with the introduction of Borzoi into England, but accounts seem to indicate that it was during the early nineteenth century. Mrs. Winifred Chadwick, author of THE BORZOI HANDBOOK, published by Nicholson and Watson, London, in 1952, writes:

These early arrivals resulted mostly from the amiable custom of the Czar of presenting specimens from the imperial Kennels to such noble persons as he was pleased to honour, and it seems likely that the first of these were a pair presented to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward Vll, was also given a pair called `'Molodetz' and "Oudalzka." These were reported to have been exhibited to the public in London and we also find records of their offspring being exhibited at shows. This association of Borzoi with our Royal Family was a singularly happy one and extended over a period of more than fifty years, mainly owing to the great interest taken in them by Queen Alexandra, both before and after her accession to the throne. Her Majesty both bred and exhibited Borzoi and had them as her constant companions for many years, one of her gifts from the Czar, known as 'Alex', being particularly well known on that account. About 1890 saw the beginning of a new era of Borzoi in England . . . for this, most of the credit must be accorded to Her Grace the Duchess of Newcastle. The Duchess founded her great 'of Notts' kennels and devoted herself to pro-ducing the finest possible Borzoi.

The AKC stud book from 1892 records only two Russian Wolfhounds registered; littermates out of an English bitch of recent Russian ancestry and a Russian sire, imported into England.

The first Borzoi to come directly from Russia to the United States were imported by Seacroft kennels in 1890, at least seven dogs, from the kennels of the Grand Duke Peter Nicholas and Prince Boris Galitizin. A close friend of Mr. Hanks was Mr. Joseph B. Thomas who soon joined them in trying to further interest in this wonderful breed. It was Mr. Thomas who recognized that the Borzoi of the Imperial Kennels were somewhat weedy and did not have the individual stamina and strength which were so needed in the hunting field. Mr. Hanks also realized this and:

. . . after a few years stopped exhibiting his dogs and turned many of them over to his Kennel Manager, then Mr. Tom Turner. It was, however, very fortunate that Mr. Joseph B. Thomas stepped into the picture with great enthusiasm, and purchased what good dogs he could in America as well as taking from Mr. Turner many of the best Borzoi of Seacroft Kennels in order to form his O'Vallev Farm Kennels.With the hope of improving the strain, Mr. Thomas visited Canada and England in search of the high standard of Borzoi he hoped to find. The quality
there was no better. In August of 1903 he visited the Imperial Kennels of the Czar at Gatchina, near the capital, and was most discouraged at what he found as there seemed to be no distinct type. Then, by accident, Mr. Thomas learned from the editor of a little sporting paper that Mr. Artem Boldaroff had an excellent kennel, and that His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Nicholas also had some hounds. Mr. Thomas writes:

Little did I realize at that time what my fortune was to be, for had I not seen either of these kennels, I should have been little the wiser for my trip. I sent telegraphic requests to visit them which brought favourable replies, in one case from Mr. Boldaroff himself, in the other from M. Dmitri Walzoff, who is 'chef du comptoir' to the Grand Duke.

The visit to both kennels was most hospitable and charming, and Mr. Thomas was able to secure that outstanding specimen, Bistri of Perchina, from the Perchina Kennels of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolai-vitch, and three bitches, Sorva, Atamanka, and Raskida, from the Woronzova Kennels of M. and Mme. Boldaroff. Bistri and Raskida were to produce Ch. Rasboi O'Valley Farm who was to win Best of Breed at Westminster four years in succession.

Jumping ahead to the 1920's….. Another famous kennel of this era was the Romanoff Kennels of the United States which has been owned at various times by the following: Mrs. F. C. McAllister, Leroy Pelletier, Norman A. Pabst, and Louis J. Murr, one of our best remembered all-breed judges. Mr. Murr will be remembered as the breeder and exhibitor of Ch. Vigow of Romanoff; Vigow was unde-feated in breed competition, and his record includes 21 best-in-show awards. Vigow was destined to set a record as Best American Bred dog-all breeds in AKC member shows in both 1935 and 1936.

The name change from Russian Wolfhound to Borzoi came in late 1936, to conform with the name used for the breed in the rest of the world.

From the "The Borzoi". Blue book published by Borzoi Club of America in

*This history was written in 1972, when we only had 7 sighthounds in the U.S. The Pharaoh and Ibizan Hound were not recognized at that time.