The first breed standard for the borzoi was written in 1650. Its predecessors are believed to include Arabian greyhounds, Russian bear hounds, Russian sheepdogs and Southern coursing Hounds.
Most borzoi were owned by the Russian aristocracy who kept the dogs for hunting. In the late 19th century hunting parties of over 100 dogs would go out after wolves or other prey. The dogs were expected to pursue and catch the wolf, holding it down till the mounted hunter arrived to finish it off. This inherited 'holding' behaviour can still be seen in the breed today where it may hold down another dog or animal without hurting it. Such behaviour should be seen as an inherited hunting behaviour rather than a domination or territorial action.
The improvement of the breed was dependent on the result of elaborate, ceremonial hunting trials. As time went on, the dogs came to be regarded as status symbols of the aristocracy and thus as symbols of wealth and tyranny. During the 1917 revolution, the breed was destroyed in large numbers because of their connections with the wealthy. When their contribution to the fur industry was eventually recognised, breeding became officially controlled.
The first borzoi arrived in the United States in 1889 and came from England. Very few found their way out of Russia.
Like most sight hounds the borzoi has sound legs and feet and a strong neck and jaws. The breed is extremely fast and inherently wired to chase anything that flees from them – especially anything furry. They are an independent breed and need freedom to exercise themselves as well as being taken for runs (rather than walks). They need supervision once out of their own yard as they have no road sense at all. Provided they get enough exercise they will cope with smaller living spaces.
They are not suited to being watch-dogs although they are aloof and distant with people they don't know. They are highly sensitive and are best brought up with children while they are young. Being sensitive, they do not like people who shout and threaten.
The borzoi is intelligent, courageous and powerful. It is a aristocratic looking dog with streamlined athleticism and strength. While they are intelligent enough to be trained for obedience and agility, they are too intelligent to mindlessly repeat the same actions over and over so they are not always in the winners circle.
The borzoi is tall with males measuring at least 28 inches at the shoulder and females about 26 inches. Depending on age and sex, weight ranges from 55 to 105 pounds. Although some dogs last till 15 years old, the average is more like 9 to 12 years.
In common with other sight hounds, the skull is long and narrow. The nose of the borzoi is convex. The jaws are long and powerful and the nose large and black. The small rose ears lay against the neck when the animal is relaxed and become pricked when the animal is alert. The dark eyes are almond-shaped and set slightly obliquely.
The neck is powerful and clean and blends smoothly into sloping shoulders and a somewhat narrow but very deep chest. The ribs are deep resulting in plenty of room for heart and lungs. The loin is muscular but tucked up. The forelegs are straight and the pasterns strong and springy. The hare-shaped feet have well arched knuckles and thickly padded toes. When in motion, the front legs reach well forward driven by strong hindquarters. The gait is fast, effortless and smooth. The tail is long and carried low in a graceful curve.
The silky coat lies flat and can be wavy or even curly. On the head and front of the legs, the hair is short and smooth. It is longer on the body with heavy feathering on the chest, tail, hindquarters and backs of the legs. Males have a profuse curly frill. Any colour or combinations are acceptable. A double coat in winter provides extra insulation but this is shed in summer. The coat is unique in its texture and distribution. Females moult every six months and males every twelve. The hair on the pads of the feet will need to be trimmed frequently.
Unfortunately the borzoi is subject to a few genetic problems. Borzoi may suffer from borzoi retinopathy. This differs slightly from progressive retinal atrophy. Gastric torsion or bloat strikes some borzoi but can be largely avoided by feeding the dog from a raised surface and restricting activity and excitement for a while after feeding. Hip and elbow dysplasia, cancers and cardiac problems occur more often than they once did.
Young borzois naturally have huge growth spurts and highly concentrated diets do not suit this growth pattern, compounding growth problems and leading to unsoundness, joint problems and injury. Sight hounds should not be allowed to become too weighty as this places too much stress on bones and ligaments.
The borzoi can become too much for some owners. Sometimes they chase and kill too many smaller animals with the result that they may be taken to a pedigree dog rescue centre or a dog rehoming centre.