Borzoi, or Russian Wolfhound


Borzoi, or Russian Wolfhound  by Freeman Lloyd

[first published in “Hark to the Hounds”, National Geographic, October 1937]

The Borzoi, or Russian Wolfhound, is not only a hound of great distinction in appearance, but one of the oldest, most carefully purebred of all the European varieties.

Long the pride of Russian rulers, nobles and their ladies, the Borzoi during Imperial times was maintained chiefly for sport coursing the hare, the fox and particularly the wolf. While one dog could easily cope with a fox, at least two strong Borzois were usually needed to hold a wolf by the neck until the chasseur could arrive and deftly muzzle or kill the beast.

About seventy years ago, the then Tsar of Russia presented the Prince of Wales [later Edward VII] with a brace of his favorite hounds, Molodetz and Owdalska [sic], and these were exhibited at English shows.


In 1892, when a highly representative aggregation was exhibited at Crufts show in the Royal Agricultural Hall, London, most of the Borzois were the property of the Grand Duke Nicholas. Others owned by the Tsar included a lovely bitch called Laska and two dogs, Oudar and Blitzray [sic]. Oudar stood 30-1/2 inches at the shoulder and weighed about 105 pounds.

Oudar and Lasca were sold for 200 pounds [$1,000] each and the then Lord Mayor of London was presented with another handsome speciman.  The Duchess of Newcastle purchased some of the Russian exhibits and then added to an already strong kennel of Borzois, provided the leading aggregation of these hounds in Britain, and produced specimens of great size and excellence.

In 1895, when the Princess of Wales was presented with the Borzoi Alex from the Tsar’s kennel, the already rising popularity of the Borzoi was greatly enhanced.  In that same year – 1895 – the Borzoi Club of England was formed at the Albemarle Hotel, Piccadilly, London. The late Duke of Newcastle presided, and to celebrate the event, a prize Borzoi belonging to the Duchess was “christened” with a magnum of champagne. This writer was elected a member of the club’s executive committee.


Many of the finest Russian dogs were imported to America, and some outstanding specimens have been exhibited here. Recently the American Kennel Club changed the breed name from Russian Wolfhound to Borzoi, the classification long ago adopted by the Kennel Club of England. “I am glad to see English sporting papers adopting the Russian name for this breed,” Prince Obelenski wrote. “For the word itself [borzoi, masc., borzaya, fem.] means swift and hot-tempered; and though poets sometimes apply the expression to a high spirited steed, it is, with this exception, applied to greyhounds only. For this reason, the English Greyhound is called in Russia ‘Angliiskaya Borzaya’, or English Borzoi”.

The general appearance, height and elegance of the Borzoi at once command attention. He appears the embodiment of speed and strength, and the silkiness and brilliancy of the profuse coat attract lovers of the beautiful. So it is that he is looked upon not only as a sporting dog, but as an elegant companion or lady’s dog.

The color ought to be white, with blue, gray or fawn markings of different shades, the latter sometimes deep orange, approaching red. Whole colors for show purposes are unsatisfactory. Height, males from 29 inches upwards, females from 27 inches.

[Editor’s note: this essay contains a few misspelled names which I have left to honor the integrity of the article]


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Sue Vasick