Guest Author - Debra Kelly
The elegant, graceful appearance of the Borzoi can strike people with the impression of a long-haired greyhound. Originally known as Russian wolfhounds, the breed was developed in the 17th century with the standard defined in 1650. Popular with Russian aristocracy, the Borzoi was once used primarily to hunt prey from rabbits to wolves. Now, these friendly and intelligent dogs are more commonly known as making excellent family pets.
The Borzoi's resemblance to the greyhound isn't accidental; the breed was created by crossing Arabian greyhounds, desired for their swift, graceful athletic ability, with Russian sheepdogs. The resulting breed was carefully groomed to create a dog capable of covering long distances extremely quickly while being protected from Russian winters with their long, thick coats.
Even though the Borzoi is more frequently a family pet than a wolf hunter, these dogs still have an extremely strong prey drive. Even when exposed to small animals from the time they are puppies the instinct to chase and catch is so strong in these dogs that it is highly inadvisable for them to be allowed off-leash when there is not other way to contain or control them.
The Borzoi is included in a group of dogs called sighthounds, meaning that they hunt by sight rather than smell like many other breeds. Also in the group are similarly graceful, delicately built dogs like Italian greyhounds, the Saluki and the Ibizan hound.
While renowned for their coursing abilities and the capability to bring down large game, this is a breed of rather delicate sensibilities. Prone to stomach and digestive issues, the Borzoi will thrive when kept on a strict, often soy-free diet. These dogs are particularly susceptible to bloat, which occurs when gas backs up into the stomach and gastric torsion, which is a twist in the stomach tubes. Their reserved dispositions and quiet natures (Borzoi rarely bark) make them excellent family and apartment dogs, but their delicacy makes them a less than ideal dog for families that have young children or other animals whose play involves rough-housing.
Their delicacy in spite of their size -- up to 105 pounds for males -- is obvious to those who spend any time with them. They are catlike dogs in their grace and their fastidious nature, and their awareness of their surroundings not only allow them to navigate easily through close quarters but improve on their attractiveness as apartment-dwellers. Regular exercise is a necessity, but on average when these dogs are kept in a peaceful environment they will respond in a similar fashion.
For years, the only way to get a Borzoi was to have one given as a gift from the Russian tsar. Much later, the breed's popularity spread outside of Russia in large part due to both Queen Victoria's love of the hounds and a single, first Borzoi brought to the United States from England. In fact, one of the most famous -- or infamous -- owners of a Borzoi was E.J. Smith, the captain of the Titanic. The dog, named Ben, was not on board when the ship sank.