I am publishing this article in The Borzoi Encyclopedia to encourage better understanding of the function of a Borzoi and its development as a breed. It is for all to enjoy reading but no part of my contributions to The Borzoi Encyclopedia may be copied, downloaded, printed or used in any way without my prior express written consent.
At the time of writing this, the earliest record of the presence of a Borzoi in the UK appears to be 1804 with one owned by John Montagu, 5th Earl of Sandwich. This was more than eighty years before the formation of the Borzoi Club in 1892 and indeed many years even before the first dog show in 1859. Before the outbreak of World War I in 1914, across Europe, it was fashionable to hold hunting parties, sometimes with an international flavour, and fortunately some records have survived. The earliest I have ever read were French and from the twelfth century. Grand Duke Nikolai's Pershino Estate is one known to have hosted international guests. Evolving from the hunting parties had been the gifting of individual specimens of "exotic" breeds to guests and it is now thought this is how the Borzoi breed found its way to the UK.
Books, pamphlets, newspaper and magazine articles began to appear early in Queen Victoria's reign, all dedicated to canine breeds. The author of this book, W. D. Drury, was kennel editor of "The Bazaar" and by the third edition of "British Dogs" had condensed his writings into one volume. In the 1903 publication he has included chapters on the Greyhound, the Irish Wolfhound, the Scotch Deerhound, the Borzoi or Russian Wolfhound, the Barukhzy and Allied Eastern Hound and the Circassian Orloff Wolfhound.
Captain Sidney P. Borman is shown in the 1901 England, Wales and Scotland Census as a Captain of the Royal Irish Rifles (Militia) and resident with his wife, Louie, and two servants in Ramsden Heath, Ramsden Bellhouse, Essex. He was later promoted to Major and is a past Treasurer and a past Secretary of the UK Borzoi Club. Their affix was "Ramsden".
This is what Captain S. P. Borman, in collaboration with W. D. Drury, had to say when they wrote the chapter on the Borzoi in 1902:
"If for nothing else we have at least one thing to be grateful for to Russia---she gave us the Borzoi, one of the most beautiful of the canine race, combining at once strength, symmetry, and grace. The manner in which in recent years the Borzoi has steadily advanced in the public favour, while other foreign breeds, and unfortunately some of our own (e.g. the Mastiff) have gone to the wall, is in itself sufficient evidence that this breed, at all events, has come to stay."
Some fifteen or twenty years ago an occasional specimen was shown in variety classes, but it was then generally catalogued as a Siberian Wolfhound. Nowadays every show worthy of the name provides classes for the breed. In March, 1892, the Borzoi Club was founded-of which more anon-with the Duchess of Newcastle as President. Indeed, in a great measure the Borzoi owes its present position in the English dog world to her Grace, who takes a keen and active interest in the welfare of the breed, and who is acknowledged to be the best judge of the variety we have. Her Grace, between the years of 1889 and 1892, laid the foundations of her now famous kennels, importing, among others, Champion Ooslad, Kaissack, Champion Milka, Oudar, Champion Golub, and others, all pillars of the Stud Book. It was not, however, until the year 1894 that Borzois received a separate classification in the Kennel Club Stud Book (Vol. XXI).
In England, of course, the Borzoi is kept chiefly for companionship and exhibition purposes, although there is no reason why the dog should not be more generally used for coursing. A friend of the writer's owns a bitch which, when ten years old , successfully competed against trained Greyhounds. In their native country they are used for wolf-hunting, and regular meetings (or trials) are also held, much after the style of our own coursing events.
The trials take place in an enclosed place-e.g. with a high fence all the way round-and wolves were brought on to the scene in similar carts to our deer-carts. The hounds are always slipped in couples on a wolf and judging takes place on the performance of the brace let loose on the wolf. The whole merit of the course is where the two hounds can overtake their wolf and pin him down so that the keeper can secure him alive. It means, therefore, that if in a brace one dog should prove faster and stronger than the other, he would not add any more points to the score, as he would be working alone, and alone would be quite incapable of tackling a wolf. In order to win, one has to have two good dogs as equal as possible, but of course at the same time fast and powerful. Of late it is a very, very rare occurrence for any brace of Borzois to succeed in holding a wolf at all.
Some of the first specimens imported were not all that could be desired as regards temper, and people fought shy of the breed as "vicious". "One swallow does not make a summer," neither do two or three ill-tempered dogs constitute a breed a "vicious" one. That idea is now, however, happily exploded and it may truthfully be said that the writer has never possessed a "vicious" Borzoi, and he can only remember seeing two that could fairly be described as such. On the contrary, a Borzoi properly reared---not dragged up, chained to a kennel, a method of procedure warranted to spoil the temper of any dog---invariably turns out an affectionate and intelligent dog, devoted to those he knows. At the same time, the nervous system in a Borzoi appears (whether from inbreeding or other causes it is impossible to say) to be very highly developed, and a puppy's temper may easily be ruined by any undue harshness.A highly bred Borzoi puppy is a mass of nerves, and if beaten , either becomes a miserable, cowed brute or a snappy, bad tempered one, and the same applies in a lesser degree to the adult hound. There is probably no breed of dog less quarrelsome than the Borzoi. In the writer's kennel there are invariably a large number running loose together, both dogs and bitches, and kennel fights are few and far between. If attacked, however, their strength of jaw and rapidity of movement make them very unpleasant antagonists. Bitches, as a rule, are more inclined to quarrel than dogs.
The Borzoi makes an excellent house-dog, taking up little room, in spite of his size. He is a thorough aristocrat, quiet and dignified in his manner, never rushing about to the detriment of the "house-hold gods," and seldom given to unnecessary barking. In fact he is, as the advertisements say, "an ornament fit for any nobleman's drawing-room."
In constitution the Borzoi is hardy, and may safely be kept in any good outdoor kennel or stable, provided his quarters are dry, and a plentiful supply of straw be allowed in winter. The colder the weather, the better the dogs seem to like it. Damp, of course, must be avoided.
Mrs. Borman with Champion Statesman
The accompanying illustration of Champion Statesman - although the photograph from which it was made was taken when he was dead out of coat - together with the appended list of points, as laid down by the Borzoi Club, and the following measurements of some of the leading dogs of the present day (1902) may be useful as a guide.
Mr Gardener, head kennelman to her Grace the Duchess of Newcastle, kindly furnishes particulars of the following dogs, the property of her Grace:-
1. Champion Velsk (dog). Height at the shoulder, 31 3/4in. Length of head, 12 1/2in. Girth of chest 35 1/2in.
2. Champion Velasquez (dog). Height at the shoulder, 32 1/2in. Length of head, 12 1/2in. Girth of chest 36in.
3. Champion Tsaretsa (bitch). Height at the shoulder, 31 1/2in. Length of head, 12 1/4in. Girth of chest 35 1/2in.
4. Champion Tatiana (bitch). Height at the shoulder, 30 1/4in. Length of head, 12in. Girth of chest 35 1/2in.
To Mr. P. Farrer Baynes, owner of the late Champion Caspian, I am indebted for the following measurements:-
5. Champion Caspian. Height (when standing smartly), 34 1/2in. Length of head, 12 3/4in. Girth of chest 37 1/2in. Heaviest weight, 128lb.
6. Champion Statesman's (owned by Mrs. Borman) measurements are as follows: Height, 31 3/4in. Head, 12 1/4in. Girth of chest, 35 1/4in.
Besides the above there are at the time of writing five other Borzois living entitled to the coveted title of Champion - viz. H.M. the Queen's Alex (dog), her Grace of Newcastle's Velsk Votrio (dog), Theodora (bitch), and Vikhra (bitch), and Miss Kilvert's Knoeas (bitch).
It will be noticed that the Borzoi Club list of points give the height of dogs as from "28in. upwards". At the present day dogs of 28in. would hardly be looked at by the majority of our judges; indeed, few of our best bitches are less than 29in. to 29 1/2in. at shoulder. Mere height is not everything, and breeders nowadays, it is feared, are sacrificing many other points to obtain height, and great height is only too often accompanied by coarseness. In the case of Champion Caspian (whose death last year was certainly a loss to the breed) this was not the case - he combined quality with quantity. What was a record price for a dog of this breed -viz.- £700 (2019 equivalent £60,154) was offered for Caspian.
Another fault which is unfortunately gaining ground is light eyes. These are not mentioned among the Club's list of faults, but they certainly are a fault, and a bad one. One of the Borzoi's greatest charms is his expression-and a light-eyed Borzoi cannot have this desired expression to any great degree!
The predominating colour is white, with or without fawn, lemon, grey, brindle, blue, or black markings, too much of the last colour being considered a detriment. There are also self-, or whole-coloured dogs; but these, unless specially good in other points, generally find themselves handicapped in the show-ring. There are, of course, exceptions, Champion Velasquez, for instance, being a handsome whole-coloured brindle.
To the intending purchaser, if a novice, the following hints on purchasing may be useful. Do not be satisfied with particulars of measurement sent to you in writing; one person may, according to his own ideas, make a dog's head one or two inches longer than it actually is, and three inches difference between the actual and reputed height at shoulder is no uncommon thing. The writer has often had particulars sent of measurements that put the dimensions of the champion dogs of the day to shame; but when the dog itself arrived, there was always a difficulty in getting the measurements to agree with those of the vendor. If you have no friend who understands the breed, place yourself in the hands of a breeder of repute, pay a fair price, and you will get fair value.
In selecting a puppy, choose the one with the longest head, biggest bone, smallest ears, and longest tail. If you can get these qualities combined, so much the better. As regards coat, it is preferable to be guided by those of the parents, if possible; a puppy may carry a splendid coat, but after casting this, may never grow a good one. Some dogs never grow a long coat, containing, as they do, much of the blood of the wavy and less profuse coated strain.
The colour will not be found to vary much in the puppy and adult dog. Some brindle or mouse-coloured markings change to fawn when the puppy coat is cast; but in this case the hair is generally of the shade it will ultimately attain at the roots. A healthy puppy at three months should measure from 19in. to 21in. at the shoulder, at 6 months about 25in. and at nine months from 27in. to 29in., and should continue to grow up to fifteen or eighteen months old. The above is only intended as a rough guide, and may be exceeded. On the contrary, from many causes-distemper, worms, inattention, etc.- such measurements may never be attained. Generally speaking, a Borzoi is in its prime when three years of age, as he continues to deepen in chest and otherwise fill out until then. On the other hand some get coarse in head after their second or third year.
As regards price, a puppy, say eight weeks old, should be had for £5 to £10 (current 2019 value £3,008 to £6,016). It is unwise to give more, as it is almost impossible to say with any degree of certainty how so young a pup will turn out, and to pay less is to probably buy a "weed".
One of the best methods in starting a kennel in this as in other breeds is to purchase a good bitch, a winner for preference, and mate her to the best dog whose pedigree is suitable. Do not think to breed good stock from a third rate bitch - the dam is quite as important a factor as the sire, perhaps more so. Again do not seek to save a sovereign or so in the stud fee. Like produces like, with certain modifications, therefore do not try to breed champions from a second-rate stud dog, however low the fee.
Having decided on the stud dog, it is always a wise precaution to dose a bitch thoroughly for worms, before having her served. If possible, accompany the bitch and see her properly mated. After her return she will require nothing but a little extra grooming, and if in whelp will probably exhibit an increased appetite, which must of course be satisfied. No jumping or violent exercise should be permitted during the last fortnight, but steady exercise only. Borzois as a rule make excellent mothers, and, if healthy, seldom have any difficulty in whelping. The bitch's food for the first few days after the birth of pups should be sloppy but nutritious.
Unfortunately, Borzoi pups are not the easiest of dogs to rear. They require plenty of room for exercise, and are liable to suffer badly should they contract distemper. Apart from these drawbacks they require no different treatment from other large breeds. Feed little and often: use oatmeal, rice, well-boiled meat, and butchers' offal, with good hound meal as the staple food, and as much new milk as they will drink.
Few breeds require less "preparation" for the show-bench (except the legitimate bath) than the Borzoi, and the "novice" shows on equal terms with the "old hand". For washing nothing is better than rainwater, if procurable, as it tends to soften the coat. If a little ammonia be added, it will greatly assist in removing any dirt or grease. A good brushing and combing after the bath is all that is necessary. A Borzoi should not be shown in too fat a condition, or the symmetry of outline, one of the beauties of the breed, is lost. Some exhibitors go so far as not to feed their dogs before leading them into the ring.
The general management of the adult dog may be summed up in a few words: Regular food-say dry biscuits in the morning and a good feed at night time-plenty of exercise, and grooming, for which purpose an ordinary dandy-brush is perhaps the best. To keep the coat in perfection, the dog should be brushed every day, and the feathering and tail carefully combed out. If this is done, washing will seldom be required, except before shows-a consideration where a number are kept. A Borzoi should never be kept "on chain"; if the dog cannot be allowed entire liberty, or at least a kennel with a run, the prospective owner had better confine his attentions to a smaller breed.
The interest of the breed is well looked after by the Borzoi Club, who support all the leading shows by offering their challenge cups, medals, cash specials, as well as guaranteeing classes. Club shows are also held. The first of these took place at Southport. In 1899 and 1900 specialist shows were held at Ranelagh, and at these collections of animals were brought together that in Russia itself could hardly have been excelled. As before stated, the Club is presided over by her Grace the Duchess of Newcastle, with the Duke as joint-President, ably backed by a committee of twelve ladies and gentlemen elected annually from among the members. The Club is represented on the Kennel Club Council of delegates by Mr W. Blatspiel-Stamp. The Hon Secretary and Hon Treasurer are Mr Hood Wright, Frome, Somerset and Captain Borman, Billericay, Essex, respectively, either of whom will always be pleased to give any information to those desirous of becoming members."
The remainder of the article comprises a description of the breed which was subsequently adopted by the Borzoi Club and equates to the idea of a modern Breed Standard. I will leave this for a later feature on Breed Standards.