Taking the Mystery out of

The Borzoi Topline

Since the topline is the foundation of any dog, and seems to be the most mis-
understood part of the Borzoi, we will start off the practical education about the breed on that subject.

There is much disinformation about Borzoi topline that has become part of the dog world's collective consciousness, as well as that of the casually interested public. This is due to two major factors: first, the mental image from Art Deco times, and secondly, the fact that there are a lot of Borzoi out there with faulty toplines for us to see

Taking the mystery out of

Patti Widick Neale © 1995

The sweeping lines of the Borzoi have been an inspiration to artists and designers over the last century and the exaggeration of the details that make the Borzoi different from a generic dog have been carried to an extreme in both representative and decorative art, particularly in the Deco period. Length of leg and head, fineness of limb and arch of loin are details that separate the sighthound from the less specialized members of Canidae, so deliberate over-accentuation of these details was a design technique that readily fit in with the sleek lines and curves that typified Art Deco.

Unfortunately, these exaggerations have become part of the mental picture that many people have of Borzoi, especially in the area of the topline, depicted so often in decorative art as a hoop-like curve atop an impossibly tall, thin animal. Due to a lack of understanding on the part of some fanciers of the importance of a correct topline to the whole animal, far too often in the show ring life imitates art. It is time to separate art from reality.

The Borzoi standard does not use the word "topline" at all: therefore, we must use the description of "back", further defined by "loins", to describe the united image of topline. The Standard, by itself, is not enough however. The breeder and judge must have a true understanding of the Borzoi's original function.

The Borzoi is, first and foremost, a working sighthound, and as such, its basic structure, of which the topline is the most obvious feature, should not be terribly different from that of other sighthounds whose job it was, or is, to run down and catch large game. The combined requirements of strength and speed demand a muscular, flexible body.

No AKC sighthound standard calls for any features causing the topline to start its rise from the withers, and neither does the Borzoi Standard.

The Standard says "back - rising a little at the loins in a graceful curve." This is a VERY specific description. The key words are "little", "loins", and "graceful". Much of the apparent curve of the topline is caused by the increasing height of the spires on the large, lumbar vertebrae which anchor the large and powerful muscles of the loin, followed by the decreasing height of the spires further back as they descend to the sacrum area of the pelvis. Whereas the "loin" proper is the lumbar area behind the last ribs, the huge muscle mass that holds the front and rear quarters of the dog together is actually anchored to the thoracic vertebrae above the last three ribs, so that the "little rise" actually starts with the muscle mass above the last three ribs, reaching its visual highest point about midway between the last rib and the hipbones.

The "graceful curve" in the topline is not just the rise at the loins, but is continued by a gentle fall-away into the croup, caused by the decreasing height of the lumbar spires and the moderate slope of the pelvis. A low-set tail completes the curve as an extension of the spine.

Croup angle is not specified in the Standard, so we must fall back on a common sense application of anatomy. A very steep croup does not allow the rear to completely extend and follow through at a gallop and restricts rear drive at the trot as well. When the Borzoi is stacked, a steep croup gives the dog a cramped stance. A shallow croup angle interrupts the graceful curve and causes the tail to be set high on a shorter pelvic bone.

Contracted phase of the double suspension gallop. Tremendous flexibility allows hind foot to nearly pass the point of shoulder.

Extended phase of double suspension gallop. The curve of the spine is reversed, allowing mamimum rear drive.

Above all, the loin must be muscular. The loin is the powerhouse of the dog. The muscles of the loin are what allow the Borzoi to increase the effective length of its stride by the flexing and contracting of the whole backline, the key to the double suspension gallop that is the Borzoi's working gait. A muscular loin creates a smooth topline, contributing to the look of "graceful" by unifying front and rear.

The incorrect, nonfunctional topline that rises from the withers is achieved by an extreme tilting of the horizontal axis of the ribcage upward towards the middle of the backline, which flattens out the critical anticline area, the little depression in the back where the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae meet and the vertebral spires change the direction of their slant. This is actually a cramped body stance. As the ribcage is pulled up and back, it causes the chest to appear shallower in relation to the elbow, straightens out the return of upper arm, and causes the area of the chest between the front legs to be "cut up" instead of filled in and the croup is very steep. It is invariably a stiff or rigid topline, an anathema to a running hound and in direct conflict with the clear wording of the Standard.

All the changes caused by a topline that rises from the withers are detrimental to FUNCTION, restricting reach, changing head and neck carriage, and limiting flexibility. The name for a faulty topline that rises from the withers is "wheelback", and dogs with this unfortunate conformation have a bouncy, energy-wasting up and down gait at both the show ring trot and the gallop, all the antithesis of the beautiful, smooth, flowing gait that a properly constructed Borzoi is supposed to

Head carriage in sighthounds is also correlated with arch of loin. The Borzoi is similar in topline to the Scottish Deerhound and the Greyhound, whose standards call for "well arched loins". All three breeds also carry their heads slightly above the level of the topline, but not high. In contrast, the flatter backed Saluki, "muscles slightly arched over the loin" and the "practically level" backed Afghan hound with "loin ... Slightly arched" carry their heads much higher at all gaits than the larger, curvier sighthounds. Conversely, the incorrect wheel-backed Borzoi, unless very animated, will carry its head quite low as an extension of the awkward curve of the spine into the shoulder area and neck.

The correct Borzoi topline is NOT a cosmetic feature of the dog to be changed according to the taste of the breeder or a whim of style. The Borzoi is shaped the way he is for a purpose and the topline is the foundation for the structure that allows the Borzoi to be a superb running hound. It is the combined responsibility of breeders and judges to develop a clear understanding of the ideal in order to produce and reward the dog with a correct, functional topline and leave the
caricature to Deco.