Strong, Graceful, and Glamorous
Before changing its name to match its country of origin about 80 years ago, North Americans called the Borzoi the Russian Wolfhound for many years. Bred by Russian aristocracy for hundreds of years, Borzoi means "fast" or "swift" in Russian.
Fun fact: The plural noun for the breed can be either Borzoi or Borzois - Both are correct!
Borzois are believed to have descended from the Persian Greyhound, possibly mixed with coated sheepdog breeds to help them hunt in the cold. In a country overrun with wolves, hunting became a Russian national pastime, with large hunt kennels established by the rich. The Borzoi was the favoured dog to course wolves, as well as hare, fox, and other small animals. The Imperial Kennels of the Tsar date back to 1613, and the first standard for the breed was drawn up in 1650. Fortunately, Borzois were given as gifts and had become well established outside of their homeland before the Russian Revolution in 1917. Sadly, many were slaughtered by the Bolsheviks, who regarded them as a symbol of the aristocracy.
Photo: Neil Trilokekar
The Borzoi is a striking breed to behold. Quite tall, the boys are generally between 71-81 cm at the shoulder and the girls 78-76 cm at the shoulder. Their coat is short and smooth on the head, ears, and forelegs but becomes more profuse on other parts of the body. Males also carry heavier coats than females. The Borzoi's coat is a double coat and can be of any colour or combination.
While the Borzoi is definitely glamorous, this is a breed made for the hunt. From their eye set to their hare foot, wide hindquarters, and deep chests, every part of a Borzoi is built to hunt. These dogs are made to move.
On top of Borzois' noble beauty that may draw one to the breed, their personality is what keeps his fans around. Sensitive, alert, and emotionally in tune with their people, Borzois capture your heart. I've seen dignified Champion Borzois wow in the ring and then immediately become silly and mischievous once around their favourite humans. The contrast is adorable.
To learn more about the Borzoi, I contacted long-time fancier Karen Fasciano. Karen has been involved with the breed since the 1980s. Karen worked in television, and one of the shows she was a part of was called "Circus" out of CFTO-TV. One of the acts was a lady with four white Borzois who performed, riding bikes, among other things. Karen was fascinated by them. Her actual involvement with the breed was in 1983 at the Sportsman Show when she met Barb and Lloyd Allewell of Laba Borzoi, who were there with a couple of their dogs for a "Meet the Breeds" event.
Karen was immediately smitten with the Allewells’ Borzois. She loved how they looked and their gentle nature. Karen, who was looking for a companion for her Afghan Hound at the time, researched more about the breed and felt they were exactly what she was looking for in terms of temperament and suitability to her family’s lifestyle. Karen went on to breed Borzois under the kennel name Quiero and welcomed her first litter in 1990.
Photo: Karen Fasciano
At first glance at a Borzoi, one would know that the breed definitely needs a great deal of exercise, but Karen explained to me that Borzoi are rather unique in the way they go about getting their steps in. Karen lives on 30 acres with several acres fenced in. With multiple dogs together, they tend to exercise themselves by running, playing, and chasing one another. Borzoi generally have the “zoomies” in the morning for a couple of hours, where they go out and zoom around with each other until they get tired. Then they come in and pretty well sleep most of the day until late afternoon/early evening when they go out and have the zoomies again. Borzoi absolutely must be in a fenced area as they are sighthounds, so if they see something moving, they want to chase it. Instinct takes over, and they are gone.
I asked Karen if Borzoi shed. She told me, "Borzoi constantly blow coat. To live with a Borzoi is to live with hair everywhere. The females [sic] are the worst as they blow coat big time about three months after their season, with some girls almost going down to the skin. The hair that is left is quite coarse, but when it comes back in, it is very plush and soft. The boys blow coat twice a year and, after losing their puppy coat, never lose as much. I have been able to show my boys out of coat, whereas it was impossible with my girls. Grooming is a must when they are blowing as the coat will mat up quite easily at this time. When they aren't shedding, you just have to give them a quick brush and make sure they are mat-free behind the ears and between the legs with the boys.”
Photo: Karen Fasciano
Borzoi can participate in conformation, obedience, lure coursing, and agility, and the newer activities open to all breeds, like barn hunt, chase ability, rally, and more. They are not known to be exceptional obedience dogs which stands to reason when one considers that they were bred to run and chase, not come and stay. They will do it - but on their terms.
Even though their breed standard states that Borzoi are reserved with strangers, this isn't the case with Karen's Borzoi. “I guess my dogs have never met a stranger as they are all outgoing and friendly, but they are socialized so much that I believe they have adapted. I wouldn't consider them an ideal children's dog based on size alone. They play very rough, and I have had my share of black eyes and bruises from playing with them. When Borzoi play, they run straight at each other and veer at the last moment. Kind of like a game of chicken. They play the same with people, but our reaction is to jump out of the way, which is the worst thing you can do. Children can easily get knocked over. The breed is also sensitive to pain which could create problems with children unknowingly hurting them.” So it's best to keep Borzoi with older children.
Photo: Karen Fasciano
I also asked Karen how they are with other dogs. "In the past, I have found some of my Borzoi to be rather snobbish with other breeds and tend to be more comfortable with other sighthounds. Being at shows a lot more, though, I have found they can be quite accepting of other breeds if introduced early. I have a friend who regularly visits for extended periods with three Miniature Wire-haired Dachshunds, and my dogs are great with them. At first, I was worried that they might accidentally hurt them when playing, but it is amazing how gentle they are.”
Borzoi are generally quite healthy. Like many other deep-chested large breeds, though, bloat is a concern.
When I asked Karen who an ideal owner for a Borzoi she said, “For me, an ideal owner is one who understands that this is a powerful prey-driven breed that was originally bred by the Russian Tsars for hunting. They are not just a pretty fashionable breed, as one would think based on the Louis Icart paintings of beautiful women and Borzoi. You will have to deal with eating, sleeping, and breathing fur 24 hours a day and ensure that they have adequate grooming and exercise, so a fenced area is necessary. They prefer to be up on a sofa or your bed. The males, in particular, need to know right from the start that you are alpha. If you can deal with that, then you will discover the breed is wonderful to live with. They are clean by nature and are so loving to their owner. I can't imagine my life without one.”
Photo: Karen Fasciano
The Borzoi might be the breed for you if you:
- Like a quiet dog with a relaxed and gentle nature.
- Want a fast dog. Borzoi can reach speeds up to 60 kilometers an hour!
- Have a secure fenced yard.
- Have space in your home, car, and couch for a large breed.
- Understand sighthound behaviour and personality.
The Borzoi might not be the breed for you if you:
- Want a dog you can take off-leash anywhere.
- Are strongly opposed to having dog hair on your clothes and furniture.
- Can’t provide a safe space to let a Borzoi run.
- Don’t want to speak to strangers. (Everywhere you go, everyone will have questions about your Borzoi!)
This blog would not have been possible without help from lifetime CKC member Karen Fasciano. Karen has loved and been loved by Borzoi since 1983. She has formed relationships with breeders across Europe (especially France) and imported Borzoi to Canada, which has helped bring her vision of the breed to life. Thank you for all your help and continued dedication to the Borzoi Karen.
Photos courtesy of Karen Fasciano and Neil Trilokekar.