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The Borzoi is a breed of domestic dog (canis lupus familiaris) also called the Russian Wolfhound. They have medium-length, slightly curly hair and are similar in shape to Greyhounds. They are a member of the sighthound family.
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.
"Borzaya" ("quick dog") is a Russian term for various types of native sighthound. The Russkaya Psovaya Borzaya (Psovoi - the longhaired borzoi) is the dog we know as Borzoi. The system by which Russians over the ages named their sightdogs was a series of describing terms, not actual names, which makes the use of Borzoi for the Psovaya a mistake made by the first Western exporters of the breed. "Psovaya" means "longhaired", just as "Hortaya" (as in Hortaya Borzaya) means shorthaired. Other Russian sightdog breeds are e.g. "Stepnaya Borzaya" (from the steppe), called "Stepnoi" or "Krimskaya Borzaya" (from the Crimea), called "Krimskoi".
The Borzoi is a large variety of sighthound, with males frequently reaching in excess of 100 pounds (45 kg). Males should stand at least 28 inches (about 70 centimeters) 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.
These are dogs used to pursue, or "course", game and they have a powerful, inbuilt instinct to chase things that run from them. Borzoi are built for speed and endurance, and they can cover incredible 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 they 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 their 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, seizing it by the neck and holding 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 intelligent 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 arhythmia 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 meagre 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 sightdog type evolved between the lower Kazakhstan part of Altai and the Afghan plains, and that the earliest actual sightdog breeds were the plains Afghans and the 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 old Hort. There were also imports of western sightdog 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 sightdogs 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 classical killing 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 triplets, 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 and be cruelly tortured. 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 27th to December 3rd.