The Russian Wolfhound


The Russian wolfhound and its history

Editor, Rudolf Wolff

Sport im Bid No 33, 1918.


Translation from the German original by Marina Cornaglia

Much has already been discussed on the origins of our dogs. Our knowledge limits itself largely to assumptions that require an exact explanation.

Science has given us clarifications to these questions only in two ways, though both are still flawed: the historical and naturalistic approach.

Since ancient times, the sighthound already held an important role between all dog breeds. The first historical appearance of sighthounds can be traced back to the last century before Christ. The Roman author Gracius Falicius, a contemporary of Ovid, describes twelve dog types, and he occupies himself with a hunting tale focusing on the sighthound, whose hunting characteristics he greatly admired. Though long before him already Xenophon, Aristotle and many other authors wrote about dog breeds and their geographical distribution, but while we can still recognize it from their descriptions, the sighthound is not yet known by its present name.

A comparison of the various dog breeds of the time is possible almost only by means of imagery on coinage, paintings, mosaics, sculptures, etc. Ancient Egyptian monuments dated between the 23rd – 17th centuries BC reveal at least 8 dog breeds, two of them recognizable as sighthounds. According to the available artwork, the dogs of the ancient Romans and Greeks were classified in fourteen


different breeds, 4 of which are sighthounds.

Dam and dog

The pictorial representations of the pre-classical and classical antiquity provide us with the conclusion that among the sighthounds there was a difference between a pure bloodline and bastards.

The “great Sighthound” is undoubtedly seen as the archetype. Bloodline mixes with wild canines, wolves and jackals, were very common in other breeds.

In medieval works we can often find information on the hunting use of sighthounds.

In the times of Charlemagne (880 ca.) the sighthound is found between the four breeds suitable for hunting. [1] The German hunting law “Geoponica” calls it “Wind-” or “Harehound”.

Between the 9th and the 15th century in Germany eighteen different dog breeds were identified, among them is the sighthound, canis veltrahus, in German “Welter”. The French called it vaultre, the Italians veltro, and the Anglo-Saxons greyhound.

By more accurate examinations of historical documentation, we reach the conclusion that the sighthound is an ancestral type of canine.

The difference between today’s sighthound breeds is determined on the one hand by the geographical distribution and the resulting climatic and cultural influences, on the other hand the different types developed also due to their actual purpose, using them as hunting and chasing hounds.


The ancestral types then developed in: great, Spartan, tiger, Persian, Indian, Greek, Turkish, Russian, Irish, Scottish, Highland, English and Arabian Sighthound.

The most appealing and vastly bred sighthound breed in our country is the Russian longhaired sighthound or Borzoi. It is Russia’s national breed.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth century the invading Tatar hordes from Mongolia to Russia introduced for the first time sighthounds and pointer   dogs [5] in the Russian territories though their hunting expeditions and raids.

They drove the game out of the marshy forests with the aid of large pointer packs and then chased it with the sighthounds held ready.

The native Slavic aristocracy appreciated greatly this new hunting method, and crossed many of their own Nordic hunting dogs or Lajkas with the Tatars’ drop-eared sighthounds. The three types were naturally crossed often to find a kind that could wholly fulfill all hunting requirements. Thus the wavy and heavily coated Borzoi developed gradually over the course of the centuries.

There is once again a multitude of Borzoi types, considering the vast expanse of the Russian territories and the circumstances in which Russia was closed off to other more culturally developed countries. Every breeder bred the type, color and qualities which in his opinion fit their purpose at best. The Borzoi was mainly used as chasing hound for hare, fox and wolf.


Since the middle ages the purpose of sighthounds was still the same as in today’s Russian steppes. The game would be found and pursued by loud hunting dogs while the sighthounds lied in wait under cover for the moment when the game would gain open land and they could overtake it in a blink of an eye with much dexterity and speed. Before the war wolf hunting was practiced with much pleasure in inner Russia with pointer dogs and Borzoi.

One of the biggest enthusiasts of these exceptionally costly hunts was the duke Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch, who in Perchino, in the province of Tula, owned vast kennel facilities with hundreds of the finest Borzoi.

Here even wolves were bred in great enclosures so that young Borzoi could learn to hunt. The Borzoi were usually divided in groups of three, a so-called Sworra, two males and a female. What one lacked in strength, the other had, and the third possessed incredible cunning and dexterity. One such Sworra had to obviously fit in and train very well together. Then they were off like the wind in rampant flight over the barren steppe until the cumbersome wolf was grasped and overcome. The first dog to arrive would push its prey with its muzzle along the course so that he would fall over while the others attempted to grasp him by the scruff to render him vulnerable. A so called “Solo catcher” is a rarity, a Borzoi who puts in a chokehold adult wolves by himself. The hunters arrive later at a gallop and give the desperately struggling wolf a quick end with the lead head of their knout[6].

The Perchino kennel is the unobtainable ideal for all Borzoi breeders and the Perchino type the most sought after by enthusiasts. Unfortunately only few top quality descendants of the invaluable stud Asmodej-Perchino imported from Perchino still live.

Food shortage during the war mostly decimated the valuable luxury dogs in many major cities.


The first time people showed interest in the Borzoi in Germany was around the 90s of the previous century, when Russian Wolfhounds were imported from their homeland. Borzoi were already present earlier (ca. 1860) in Berlin, as a gift from the Tsar, who had a very luxuriously outfitted kennel in Gatschina near Petersburg, then later to Baden-Baden, Karlsruhe, Constance and Paris, however the establishment of the breed made very slow progress.

Now the breed characteristics. Despite its rich coat, the Borzoi displays the typical sighthound shape in his lines, long, narrow head, arched back, deep, flat chest and tucked-up belly, a racy, sculpted appearance, with a proud bearing and long silky coat. The size ranges between 65 and 85 cm. measured at the withers. The head resembles a wedge seen from the front; from the side the skull is flat, it bends sharply towards the neck, towards the front it merges smoothly with the long flat muzzle. The whole head conformation must reveal the breed’s purity and noble heritage in the sharp outlines of bones, muscles and blood vessels, which appear sculpted. The bite is very strong, in accordance to the utilization of the dog as chasing hound; the incisors are particularly long and sharp. The eyes are mostly very dark, shadowed by black eyelashes. Thereby the expression appears soulful. The nose is black, however it often presents shades, which determine the state of filling of the blood vessels. The ears are small and carried high and lying backwards, though they can be raised when at attention. The neck is long and well muscled, though it appears short due to its abundant frill. The back must be long and arched. The tail comes up to the hocks. The chest is deeply sprung and narrow to allow the highest speed possible and decrease of air resistance, leaving enough space to the forelegs. The ribs are only slightly sprung in order to give the lungs abundant room to expand. The forelegs are placed closer apart than the rear legs and in fast dogs they are turned slightly inwards. The toes are well arched like cat paws. A glorious coat is the Borzoi’s most essential ornament, usually white with black, brown, yellow, gray and even rose-colored and red.

Young dog

Since a decade the Borzoi became the most common luxury dog in Germany.

This is not only thanks to his noble appearance, but also his pleasant characteristics that show as if he was made to be a salon or companion dog for elegant ladies.

The breed has met with prejudice for a long time, it was believed that the Borzoi was very sensitive to weather conditions due to its silky coat, demanding in the care and diet; the delicate, elegant movement was proof of low resilience. The Borzoi was seen only as a sleepyhead as he idly laid on an ottoman in the room. And yet the opposite is true. The Borzoi endures severe heat and cold – he particularly loves snow – is tenacious and persevering. A 100 kilometer daily trek is still no outstanding performance. Even his maintenance does not present any particular requirements. The dogs just need to be given many occasions to frolic outdoors. The rearing of puppies is not particularly difficult, if provided with nutritious food and much movement. In contact with his owner the Borzoi expresses a certain restraint; he is no flatterer. He displays an almost superior nature, a certain proud dignity. He shows an affectionate treatment which nevertheless must be appreciated and reciprocated. The Borzoi is an ideal playmate for children.


He lets himself accept calmly the demonstrations of affection shown by small children, which are often rather ungently. I don’t know of no account in which a Borzoi harmed a child. Even old dogs, whose playfulness is generally known to strongly decrease, bear it patiently when a child turns them in his plaything. In the house the Borzoi behaves himself nobly and calmly; he is not a yapper, although, when leashed, he makes a fierce guardian. By contrast he can behave exuberantly outside. Freedom is everything for him. And it allows for a wonderful view, to see a pack of Borzoi hunting at full gallop over meadows and fields.  







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Arvid Andersen