The Color of the Borzoi


The Color of the Borzoi, Artem Boldereff

Chasseet Peche [Fishing and Hunting], 1914

Translated by Jean Vandongen

Of all the points of the borzoi, the color is certainly the one that causes the most controversy among the owners of the breed. Not only abroad, but even in Russia, in the country of birth of the breed; the breeders are far from reaching an agreement in this regard.  Without pretending to settle the matter, I think it is useful to submit to the breeders abroad some considerations which, I hope, will ease the task to clear up this so complicated matter.

Many of our breeders or, as we say, “hunters” [no breeding takes place in Russia without Hunt] consider the color of the borzoi a secondary point. This is not my opinion; on the contrary, I attribute main importance to it, and here is the reason:

Borzoi Inspection

Many years of breeding have furnished me with the conviction that no other point emphasizes as manifestily the heredity of the borzoi. Other than that, it’s the color that, among numerous lines of ancestors designates the dominating blood in the individual, which it will surely transmit to his descendants in its turn. This idea – all personal – is not absolutely new.

Mr. Matchevarianoff, the great theorist in the breeding of borzoi, without being categorical, expresses a similar idea in his chapter about the choice of pups.  Even Mr. Ozeroff, a reputable breeder and fine connoisseur of the borzoi, teaches an analogical opinion.  But, in order to avoid all this confusion, I repeat that this manner at looking at the matter is far from spreading in the world of the hunters.

The reader, taking into consideration the big case I make out of the color of the borzoi, will forgive me a light of incursion because, to explain my point of view well, I see myself forced to talk about the presumed origin of the breed. There is a theory, which I rival, that states that the windhounds of different breeds have one common ancestor. On the contrary, every one of these breeds are only branches of the original dog of the region, developed in the sense of speed.  Also, there is not only ONE parentage in the breeds, but neighbors of the English Greyhound and the Scottish Deerhound, the first one a descendant of the Teuton dog and consequently cousin of the Dane and the bulldog, the second one descendant of the Celtic dog and related to all varieties of the Griffon. Likewise, the borzoi is a direct descendant of the Northern dog, of which the body gradually has been modified through the centuries, to come to the end as the borzoi, so full of nobility, and at the same time, appropriate for the course.

It is interesting to note that we find a dog at the other end of Europe which has kept the transitory form between the Northern dog and the borzoi. This is the Scotch collie.  At least, I have always been taken by their resemblance to bastard borzoi, with which our villagers serve themselves to hunt hare at the beginning of winter.

Once the hypothesis of the origin of the borzoi has been admitted, then the necessity to admit for him all colors inherited in his coat from his ancestors – the Northern dog – which follow. Having multiple colors –white, black, grey, maroon [reddish brown], red, yellow – all these colors including the white markings of these respective colors, must be proper for the borzoi. In effect, this is the case: the coat of the borzoi permits all the aforementioned colors, and only differs from other breeds by its characteristic nuances.


First of all, the borzoi must never be all one color, the hair always has to be lighter at the extremeties of the individual [muzzle, legs, tail, underside of body]. If the dog is white with colored markings, the contour of these spots must not be cut off at the white, but must rather have the tendency to blend in.  I pass the nuances, and here are some considerations for the black. This color, generally less appreciated, must not however be considered in principle, as incompatible with the purity of the breed, but under one condition only: this is if the black in reality represents a condensed grey.

The darkening [excuse the word] of a color, being the result of a selection of the said color, is not an unknown thing. So I have seen lines of white and grey borzoi that, after two or three generations, end up having in each litter pups with black spots. If the black is a condensed grey, this will be easily recognizable by the presence of grey hair at the extremities of the individual, so as to say in the same places where the type of the breed demands that the hair must be lighter.  This is also the case with the two black Perchino dogs Rogdai and Raketa, which do not cease to attract the admiration of owners. One small inspection will discover that these dogs carry grey hair, and I have always been able to affirm that their black coat is really condensed grey.


On the contrary, another black nuance, notably the black and tan, is absolutely inadmissible for the Borzoi, seeing that this color presents only the blood of the Asian Windhound.

To convince oneself, it is sufficient to consult the genealogy of our dogs. One can see among the ancestors [far distant from the rest] of borzoi of our hunt, the most reputed [particularly all the dogs of Perchino] figures a certain Ataman, of which the coat is white with black and tan spots. The last one was a grandson of Blochka, black and tan bitch, born at Matchevarianof, and direct descendant of Faubles – Asian Windhound – white, black and tan. The Asian Windhound is not well known in Europe, so a short description of this dog is necessary. It could serve Borzoi breeders to recognize and consequently fight all traits of the Asian breed.


The Asian Windhound  or Krymak [Crimean] which is the name generally designated to him in Russia, is much smaller than the average borzoi. He has long, hanging ears, short tail carried high, ending in a hook [1]. The hair is long on the ears, on the tail and on the elbows, and absolutely smooth on other parts of the body. [Saluki] The back is flat with a depression, enough pronounced, behind the shoulder. The loins are short, but excessively barreled, and the feet hard as iron. The colors of these dogs are yellow, red, black and tan or white with spots of these colors. Their yellow and red are of dull shades – I will say even drab – and don’t look at all like the colors of the borzoi. Their most appreciated color is black and tan, characteristic of the Kaukasian Windhound, being considered the most aristocratic of all of those of the Asian Windhound breeds.

I’m going back to the famous Fabulas. The very reknown breeder Mr. Matchevarianof, having reached his goal by giving to his borzoi strength for resistance on the course, wanted to perform a crossing with the Krymak, and chose for this role the Caucasian named Faublas [2] who was, as was said, remarkable for his speed.

Did he have the reason? Alas, in our days it is doubtful, and it is the negative response that he, himself, imposes. It is true that this crossing gave the owner good hunting dogs, skilled in the hunt for hares, the mordent qualities being lost in the whole line. A clever selection permitted him to produce dogs approaching the pure type, but with time the unfortunate hereditary did not cease to feel the effects in a large number of Fabulas’ descendants. The worst was that Matchevarianof was very infatuated with his idea, and, being very eager to propagate it, he found many disciples. As a result, we see the borzoi of this period with strange blood and, what is more, becoming a breed completely dissimilar to our borzoi.

It would have been interesting to compare Matchevarianof’s idea with that of an English breeder of the 18th century, the Duke of York. I have read that he, after he noticed a certain degeneration in the greyhound which was visible in weak muscles and apathetic character, would cure this by using strange blood.  One would certainly expect to hear that he would choose for this role the Deerhound. However, the English Lord preferred the bulldog, as his breeder’s keen nose indicated to him that this dog was much more related to the greyhound [3]. The results were good, so good that the combination would never have to be repeated. The blood of the Bulldog, after having transmitted the muscles and temperament wanted in the greyhound, ended by being completely engulfed by the greyhound. It seems that the big coursing winners in England descended from this crossing are invincible in the field, so they left the greyhound pure blood for honors of prizes in shows.

If the presence – even in a small degree – of the blood of the Krymyks in our borzoi is an undeniable fact, and has been decreed officially, we are much less documented about the circumstances that prove the use of strange blood in greyhounds [4].

However, we still see many borzoi in which the presence of English blood is perfectly recognizable. It reveals itself in the shape of the head, the coat structure and, very obviously, the color.  In effect, the borzoi can very well be grey, maroon, red, and yellow, but these colors are not mixed with other shades as by the greyhound.  Also, the silver-grey, or bordering on fawn, is characteristic for the borzoi. But the blue-grey and opaque certainly belong to the greyhound. The same for maroon [reddish brown].  It is a proper color for borzoi, but if the maroon becomes striped or speckled, we can be sure that this color belongs to greyhound blood. It is more difficult to point out the color yellow of the borzoi and greyhound, and also that of red. In reality, the difference does exist, and an experienced eye will have no trouble seeing it.


I arrive at the color white, which always left an impression on me. For breeding it was necessary that I had dogs of another color in my Hunt, but my personal svora is invariably made up of white dogs. [A svora is a team of three dogs used by the hunter]  I must say, though, that I don’t consider this color to be as typey as others, but I decide to keep on leash ONLY dogs of this color. It is purely a bit of tradition, a lot of taste, and finally habit, because in my Hunt, the white dogs have always been the best “bressoks” [5].

While talking about the white borzoi, it is ‘so called’ white which I should write, as the borzoi never, or almost never, are completely white. When we give this qualification to a borzoi, we want to say that he has the ‘affect’ of being white because in reality, he will always have a spot of very pale yellow [cream]. With the whitest dog, a detailed examination will always discover a bit of yellow at the ears and often at the start of the tail. These spots will generally become paler and paler with age.

The color white is proper, if not only for the borzoi, but for even the greyhound and Krymak; at first view it seems that they present themselves as a heritage, becoming indisputable from the ancestor borzoi. In theory, we may very well admit the following cases: a hunter of years gone by had the fantasy to introduce to a family of dark colored borzoi the blood of a white Krymak. Naturally, the products of such a selection and their descendants of white color must have gotten this color from their Asian ancestors. I could say in that line of borzoi that it is the white that is the wrong color. I repeat that theoretically in an indentical case it would not be impossible.

Luckily for the owners of white borzoi, however, this scenario, admissible in theory, can be a rare reality. Also the white greyhound is very rare, and the white Krymaks are almost unfindable [6], and since the white borzoi are always very numerous, there are a thousand chances to one that when a borzoi is white, it is to an ancestor of his breed that he must thank his beautiful color.

Since owners abroad have asked me the question ‘which is the most appreciated color in the borzoi?’, I would have to answer very categorically that it is really only a matter of fashion, and that fashion varies.  The most persistent fashion is certainly for the whites, or the whites with light yellow markings, or varieties of that sort. The white with grey spots [azure tint or silver tint] – the color most loved by the most reknown Hunter, His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Nickolai Nickolaievitch, are always much appreciated, and they are not subject to fashion because, seeing the extreme rareness of that color, fashion or being in style does not influence.

The white with spots of red with black tips have had their days of fashion as well. The same with the grey fawn and the red. When it comes to yellow – or gold – they are still waiting for their day, and the blacks also have to wait their turn. At the present, it is the color white that seems to dominate the other colors.

But, I repeat that choice of color is purely a matter of fashion or preference and should not play a single role in serious breeding, providing that the nuances of the different colors conform well to the type of the borzoi.

To end this article, I set aside some advice from logic. It is to the breeders that I address myself, not to the judges, because it will certainly be difficult to base a standard on more or less borrowed theories, and therefore even disputable.  You don’t have to be more Russian than the Russians in the appreciation of the colors of the borzoi at shows. If the breeders keep in mind as a goal the production of dogs of a good type, they don’t have to be too circumspect.

black tan no

Here is my advice: a black and tan borzoi [or white, black and tan] should be strongly rejected as carrying too much conspiciousness [sic] of the stigma of the bastards of the breed. For the other colors, it is necessary first to study well the shades of the greyhound and second, every time a shade appears in the borzoi, pay good attention.  I don’t speak of rejecting that individual – that would be proof of too much severeness – but just the same … you must be on guard.

It is a nuance, to be sure, but I may as well end this article where it is ONLY a matter of nuances.

Artem Boldareff.




[1] The Russian saber has the form of the scimitar.

[2] The swindler was, it seems, well known in Russia, because his name is given very often to Krymaks and in England. Our old traditional names are reserved for the borzoi.

[3] We should not forget that in this period, the bulldog was well moved away concerning his exterior from his fundamental ancestors, and common with the greyhound at the time – not what he is like nowadays. More than 100 years of breeding to reach the goal to develop the bulldog’s specific features have modified his for considerably.

[4] I would have been able to permit some conjectures here, but since they are only conjectures, I prefer to bypass them.

[5] We call ‘brassok’ the final enthusiasm for the beast, fast as lightning, ending with the capture while tumbling. He arrives when the hare rests in the field, killed suddenly with a shock. This manner is considered as being of supreme elegance and has become rare. It remains still the attitude of the borzoi, totally not seen in other breeds.

[6] I have never seen nor heard of a white Krymyk but for one exception. Notably, there exists at Perchino an oil painting of a white Krymak bitch by the name of Aloupka. She belonged to His Imperial Highness, the Grand Duke Nickolai Nickolaievitch, SR, father of the owner of Perchino.


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