The Borzoi is a large Russian breed that belongs to the sighthound group. It was used to hunt wolves and was popular among Russian aristocracy during the 16th century. The Borzoi is strong and brave that possesses great speed. It has a long head, well-filled in below the eyes and a skull that is slightly domed and narrow with a hardly noticeable stop. The forehead and the top line of the muzzle is almost straight. It has a black rounded nose, dark almond-shaped eyes with dark eye rims, small pointed ears set high on the head and folded back along the neck. The jaws and teeth form a regular and complete scissor bite. The dog’s forequarters is slightly arched, long and well-muscled. It has a muscular body but not loaded, narrow oval cut ribs and deep brisket that reaches to the elbow and a very well tucked up belly. It has a long well-feathered tail that is carried low in an elegant curve. The front feet are oval in shape while the back feet are hare-like. The silky coat of the Borzoi is either flat, wavy or a bit curly, short and smooth on the head, ears, and front of legs with longer hair on the body and heavy feathering on the back of the legs and hindquarters, tail and chest. The neck is frilled with large curly hair. Any coat colour is acceptable except merle. Male Borzois have a minimum height of 74 cm while females have a minimum height of 68 cm from withers.
The exact origin of the Borzoi remains shrouded in doubt due to the fact that it is an ancient breed. No written historical records exist regarding its exact bloodline. It has been thought that the breed came from Saluki-type sight hounds brought to Russia during the 9th – 10th century. However, scientific evidence showed that the ancestors of the Borzoi evolved between Kyrgyzstan, the lower part of the Altai Mountains in Kazakhstan and the plains of Afghanistan. These breeds would naturally evolve through millennia and would become the Tazi/Saluki of the South and the Stepnaya, Krimskaya, and Hortaya of the West with the Borzoi (Psovaya Borzaya) branching from the latter. It was recently discovered that in the early 17th century, a Russian duke imported a number of speedy gazelle hounds from Arabia and crossed them with a native Russian breed similar to the Collie but with more powerful physique, longer legs, slightly longer neck and heavily feathered ears. The crossbred resulted in a graceful, elegant and aristocratic breed, well-suited to the harsh weather of the Russian environment which we now call the Borzoi.
The Borzoi is a gentle, quiet and affectionate breed but possesses a great degree of athleticism and hunting dexterity. It is generally very loyal and acquiescent in response to its owner and to the people it knows very well but is typically reserved with strangers. The Borzoi rarely barks and does not have a strong territorial drive, hence, is not a suitable watchdog. It does not have a dominant instinct or a natural aggressive behaviour towards people but like other breeds, it will turn aggressive if not handled properly. The Borzoi is highly sensitive to touch, pain and discomfort and may even scream alarmingly even when only slightly hurt or surprised. It has an extremely good memory and will remember someone even after several years.
The Borzoi is a selective learner and is fairly difficult to train in obedience. Having an independent nature and originally bred to spot and chase hare, fox, and wolf, the natural working environment of the Borzoi is to hunt with little supervision from the hunter. This instinct makes the Borzoi easily bored with repetitive activity and can have a stubborn streak especially if it is not properly stimulated. However, this can be corrected if the dog is trained very early, teaching the dog to “come” and respond to name calls, preferably on a long loose lead. A slight jerk or the lead when the Borzoi fails to respond, followed by praise is a good method. It has a natural instinct to chase small animals which must also be controlled at a very early age and backed with generous praise for good reactions. Training should be done by a consistent, patient and firm handler in order to establish control of the dog.
The long silky coat of the Borzoi should be brushed weekly with a slicker, bristle or steel pin brush to keep it healthy and free from mats. It is a light shedder but will typically shed heavily during spring and fall where it requires more frequent brushing (recommended daily) to help remove loose dead hair. The coat naturally deflects dirt and other foreign materials so bathe the dog only when necessary. The teeth and ears however, require regular check-up and cleaning to keep them from being infected by bacteria.
The Borzoi is basically a very healthy breed with little-known health problems. Relatively few Borzois suffer from Osteochondritis dissecans, hip and elbow dysplasia, hereditary eye and heart diseases. Gastric torsion or bloat is a more common serious health issue, though. However, these health issues were relatively unknown to the breed before the 1970s but modern breeding methods have exposed the Borzoi to these health problems. According to a survey by the Kennel Club, the median lifespan of the Borzoi is 9.1 years with a life expectancy between 10 and 12 years. The oldest dog lived up to 14 years and 3 months.
The Borzoi is a large breed, built for speed and endurance that can cover long distances in a short span of time. However, it is a very adaptable breed and can do well in any home setting provided that it is properly exercised. A yard well-secured with a fence is an ideal playing ground for the Borzoi. An even better home for the breed is somewhere in the countryside where it can run off-leash any time of the day. If raised in an apartment setting, daily long walks for an hour is highly suggested.
The Borzoi is a gentle breed but is typically sensitive when its personal space is invaded so children must be taught to respect and handle the breed properly. It was bred to hunt game independently and this inbred instinct to chase things that run makes it undesirable to live with small animals including cats and small dogs. However, like other breeds of dogs, early exposure to other pets and humans, particularly during puppyhood will typically correct this behaviour.