The Borzoi

The gentle Borzoi is strong, swift and supremely graceful



Introduction

"Sleek and elegant with graceful curves, this model is aerodynamically designed for speed and endurance. Capable of fast starts and quick stops, its double suspension chassis has a tight turning radius. It is quiet, requires low to moderate maintenance, has good fuel-to-mileage ratio, and is available in a range of colors."

A description of a sports car?

No, a Borzoi.

Formerly known as the Russian Wolfhound, the Borzoi was built for speed and stamina to course wolves, hares, and other game on the Russian plains. Today, however, the Borzoi's main task is to be a graceful and gentle companion — a giant lap dog and self-appointed couch potato.

The Borzoi is a sighthound, built for speed and endurance in harsh climates. Beyond this obvious categorizing of breed type, the dog is a mystery. Stories abound as to his origin, but only one thing is sure -- the breed came from Russia and was described in a book of rules for Borzoi hunting published in 1650. Whether he developed from crosses of Saluki-type dogs with boarhounds, from crosses directly with wolves, from a combination of both, or from different combinations of ancient breeds is of little consequence .

The Borzoi came to prominence because he could protect people and livestock from wolf depredation, but he remained in favor as wolf hunting became a sport for royalty, full of pomp and pageantry. The Czar himself maintained a kennel of the dogs and considered them prized possessions never to be sold but sometimes to be given to favored guests or traded for valuable consideration. The sport was so ingrained in czarist history that Tolstoy described a great event involving more than 100 dogs and 20 horsemen in War and Peace, and the elaborate hunts continued until the Russian Revolution in 1917 put an end to the courts, great estates, and hunting kennels.


Appearance

A lot tougher than he looks, the Borzoi is a tall, lean dog -- elegant and graceful in bearing. In overall structure, he resembles a Greyhound with long hair. His head is long and narrow with a barely perceptible "stop" at his eyes and small ears that lay against his head like rosettes. Females measure 27-30 inches at the shoulder and weigh 60-85 pounds; males are considerably larger at 31-34 inches tall and 85-110 pounds. A large Borzoi may look coarse instead of elegant.

The breed is deep-chested with a unique silhouette -- the topline rises gracefully over the loin to provide flexibility for the double suspension gallop characteristic of sighthounds. Leg bones are bladed, not round, another aerodynamic feature to aid speed and endurance. The tail is long and well-feathered and often is tucked between the legs when the dog stands. Feet are long and narrow, like hare-feet, and the pasterns are strong and flexible.

The Borzoi gait is fluid and even but without the appearance of floating. The breed is well-muscled with rear-end drive and good front and rear extension -- a picture of exquisite beauty in action. The front legs should flex at the pasterns to absorb the shock of a full gallop, but there should be no hint of the inefficient hackney or paddling gait.

Agility is critical in the breed; the dog's life depended on his ability to flip his body out of the way of a snarling, slashing wolf.

Borzoi coat can vary from long and silky to coarse and curly. All colors and patterns are acceptable, but white with spots is most common. The male has a longer, plusher coat than the female.

Borzois are slow to mature. Many show dogs do not finish their championships until they are four or five years old, the age at which they become fully mature. Females commonly do not come into their first season before the age of 18 months and may be as old as three years before they cycle. Seasons are commonly eight-to-12 months apart instead of the average six months for many other breeds. Because the breed is so slow to mature, many breeders recommend that males not be neutered before the age of 18 months to allow time for the chest to drop and other adult characters to develop.


Temperament

The Borzoi is a gentle, loving companion and a quiet and well-behaved member of the household. Fond of affection — he fancies himself as a lap dog -- he is not too pesky about demanding attention. Usually he is quite content to recline in a soft dog bed (or on the couch if you're not watchful), occasionally leaving his cozy spot for pats and hugs.

This calm nature can be misleading to those who are accustomed to more energetic and boisterous dogs, but Borzoi are really not aloof. Many individuals think nothing of leaning against someone they have just met. After all, why should they support their own weight when you can do it for them?

The calm demeanor and sweet temperament make Borzoi well-suited for therapy work, and many members of the breed can be found making the rounds at nursing homes and hospitals. Of course, some Borzoi can be shy or aloof, although proper socialization for puppies can help prevent problems.

The breed is good with children if raised with them, although caution is necessary with toddlers who can often hurt a dog unintentionally. However, this is not a dog to run around and play games with kids; the Borzoi prefers "keep-away" and "I've got it, you can't have it" -- and he can run fast enough to win.

The Borzoi is not a watch dog, although the occasional dog will sound an alarm and be protective of his territory. More frequently, the breed's size and propensity to smile (a submissive gesture in which the dog curls back his lips and exposes his teeth) will often keep strangers at a distance.

Borzoi enjoy the company of other dogs, preferably sighthounds, and usually do best if they are not the only dog in the household. The breed is not good with cats and small fluffy dogs unless raised with them, and even then, owners must be diligent. Males tend to be less game-oriented than females and are the best choice if small creatures are around.

Contrary to popular belief, the Borzoi is intelligent, but as one breeder put it, "not necessarily in ways you would like." He can learn to open gates, garbage cans, and even doors. He does well in obedience; he learns the basics quickly but can just as quickly become bored with the repetition it takes to perfect a performance for competition.

Because of his size and speed, the owner must teach his Borzoi basic obedience commands and good manners. Soft in temperament, the dog cannot be corrected harshly -- he won't soon forget it if trained coercively. Motivational play-training is much more appealing to the Borzoi, and he may delight in obedience competition if taught this way.


Care and maintenance

Since the Borzoi is built for running, he must have an area where he can exercise and stretch his legs to satisfy his need to gallop and keep him in good muscle tone. Without this opportunity, a young Borzoi will never develop properly.

When a Borzoi spies something he interprets as game, he is gone, so owners need a large, securely-fenced area. An underground electronic fence will not stop a Borzoi "on game."

The Borzoi sheds his thick undercoat in the spring, followed by a minor shedding each fall. During these periods, a daily brushing helps prevent mats from forming and makes housework more manageable. During the rest of the year, the dog should be brushed two or three times each week with special attention given to the feathering. Brushing time each day is about five minutes, minutes that can prevent tangles and mats that must be dealt with later. The coat needs no special care.

A thin dog with a lot of meat on his bones, a Borzoi needs soft bedding. If he doesn't have something plush of his own to sleep on, he will commandeer the furniture.

The breed enjoys better health than many others. The biggest problem is bloat or torsion, an ailment common to all deep-chested breeds. Bloat* is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Bone cancer is also a problem in the breed, although not as prevalent as bloat. Eye problems (progressive retinal atrophy), heart problems, (cardiomyopathy), and hypothyroidism do occur occasionally. There is a genetic link to these diseases, so always ask breeders about these diseases when looking for a puppy. Hip dysplasia, common in most large breeds, is practically nonexistent in the Borzoi.

Borzoi teeth do seem to collect tartar more than some other breeds, so their teeth should be brushed to prevent gum and tooth problems.

[More on finding a dog]

Gale Snoddy

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