Both in heritage and appearance the Borzoi, formerly known as the Russian Wolfhound, is an amazingly gentle, quiet, yet highly athletic and elegant looking dog. They are a true Greyhound in both behavioral traits as well as physical appearance, although there area also some very definite differences between the two breeds in several aspects of temperament.
The history of the Borzoi is one of specialized breeding as a sight hunting dog designed particularly to the rough, cold climate of Russia. To develop the breed Arabian Greyhounds, often known simply as gazelle hounds, were imported by Russian royalty. These dogs were not necessarily a specific breed but rather a mixture of the various sight hounds common in the Middle Eastern area of the world. This first set of imports in the early part of the 17th century were simply not hardy enough to survive the harsh, cold climate of Russia, but they did impress breeders in the area.
The next breeding dogs that were imported to Russia were bred to long legged shepherd type dogs that were used as hunting dogs and general farm dogs in and around the countryside. These dogs may have closely resembled the Wolfhound and Deerhounds found in the United Kingdom and were already fast, durable dogs that were ideal for pack hunting large game.
This cross resulted in litters that were tall, long legged, Greyhound to Wolfhound like in appearance but with a longer, silky and protective coat. In addition this added bone structure to the relatively fine bones of the pure sight hounds, resulting in a heavier, taller and sturdier dog. With continued breeding between the Arabian Greyhounds and the native sight hunting breeds the modern Borzoi was developed.
Although primarily bred as a hunting dog of royalty, the Borzoi was also a companion dog and much prized by the royalty that owned the breed. They were often found in the palaces and residences of royalty and with their calm, quiet demeanor and behavior they were ideal house dogs and companion pets.
Unfortunately for the Borzoi breed the historical and violent political unrest in Russia constantly kept the breed tottering on extinction for many years. A few dedicated breeders managed to maintain small breeding kennels from these dogs of disposed royalty, even taking the dogs out of the country to avoid being slaughtered as symbols of the Czars and their power. One way that the dogs were dispersed out of Russia was as gifts to other foreign political leaders, particularly the Prince of Whales and Queen Victoria. By the mid 1890's the Borzoi were well established in the United Kingdom and their numbers were finally secure with regards to breeding.
Although not commonly used today as a hunting dog the Borzoi is ideal at lure coursing as well as a wonderful show dog. They are naturally very calm and well behaved, not timid or flighty as some of the other sight hounds. The breed is naturally confident of itself and rather aloof towards strangers, but highly affectionate to their family.
Like many of the very tall and large dogs the Borzoi, with males weighing up to 110 pounds and measuring 28 plus inches at the shoulders, still think they are a lapdog. They love to be close to their owners and will happily find a place on the couch to just snuggle up and rest. With their rather lean frames it is important to provide soft bedding for these dogs as hard surfaces will cause lesions and rub areas on the joints.
Amazingly healthy and hardy, most Borzois are generally very fit and easy to maintain throughout their life. They do need a high quality, balanced and nutritional diet as a puppy to fill out properly and to sustain the rather rapid growth they will experience. Some may be prone to bloat as all deep chested dogs can be so several small meals combined with rest for at least an hour after eating is important. One other important consideration with the Borzoi is that, like the Greyhound, they can be sensitive to different types of medications. Even routine flea topical applications can be problematic and any medication should be carefully considered based on breed sensitivity and possible reactions. Working with a vet that has experience with sight hounds and in particular the Borzoi is highly recommended.
Despite the very large size of the dog and his or her natural love of running at top speed, the Borzoi is a wonderful dog in the house. They do need to have a safe, fenced area to run, ideally every day, that should be the size of a very large city lot or more. Jogging with these dogs is a great way to provide exercise, but be aware the Borzoi will lunge after anything they see as game, often dashing in front of the runner or suddenly bolting to the side. Early and consistent training on a leash is highly recommended.
The Borzoi is best when paired with another Borzoi or active breed of dog. They are not good companions for households with other types of pets although some can adjust to living with cats. They should not be considered for households with smaller pets such as ferrets, rabbits or even on farms with poultry as the temptation to chase is simply too great for this natural hunting dogs.
Training the Borzoi has to be done with a positive yet firm method. They do not tolerate yelling or negative treatment and will simply disengage from training routines if the human is not seen as an effective leader. Positive rewards of praise and lots of attention are highly valued by the Borzoi and will help develop a very strong bond. These gentle dogs can also be great companions for older children, although very young children or kids that want to rough play with the dog will not be a good match. Typically the Borzoi loves to play games that include chasing and running, not any type of physical contact or games of tug a war. Children often love watching these graceful dogs as they run full speed after a lure on a course or around the yard.