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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The tall and regal Borzoi with his flowing coat looks as if he’s never set paw outside a fashion shoot. If the Borzoi were to write a personals ad, he would say he likes “long walks and plenty of attention.” His favorite sport is lure coursing.
The Borzoi was bred in Russia to course wolves and other game across open fields and, if necessary, to capture and hold it until the arrival of the huntsman. Leo Tolstoy’s novel “War and Peace” has a scene describing such a hunt.
The undisputed glamour queens and kings of the sighthound world, these cousins of the Greyhound are tall, curvy and elegant. Their distinctive heads and flowing coats are featured in art and fashion photography, and they've been the favored pets of the aristocracy and royalty for even longer.
Despite their fashion-magazine present and recent past, the Borzoi was developed to hunt hare and wolves in the harsh Russian climate. Like most sighthounds -- dogs related to the Greyhound -- the Borzoi loves to run, and his desire to chase things is extremely powerful. That impulse is very likely to override any amount of training your young dog has had, so safely fenced areas to run and play are essential for the puppy or young Borzoi.
Borzoi are typically quiet, clean, and well-mannered, although challenging to train beyond the level of simple good house behavior. Puppies need the same training all young dogs need -- housebreaking, no jumping, don't chase the cat or eat the couch.
The Borzoi is a tall but slender dog and weighs anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds. His distinctive silky coat requires a fair amount of care, and needs to be brushed at least weekly. Many Borzoi owners have their dogs professionally groomed, and those who live in the country or who hunt with their hounds often keep their long "feathering" cut short. At mealtime, you’ll probably want to put his ears up in a snood to keep them from dragging in his food dish.
Borzoi tend to be very good with children, but their large size can make them somewhat hazardous playmates. Never let your Borzoi develop a habit of jumping on people, no matter how cute it is when he's a puppy.
Most important, the Borzoi is a house dog. It’s an unhappy Borzoi who is relegated to the backyard with little attention from his family.
The Borzoi, originally called the Russian Wolfhound, can be traced to 1650 Russia, when the first standard for the breed was written. The breed standard of today is not much different from that long-ago description of the perfect Borzoi.
The elegant, aristocratic dogs were bred by Russian nobles to hunt wolves. The dogs used to develop the Borzoi are thought to have been Russian bearhounds, coursing hounds from Tartary, and the Owtchar, a tall sheepdog. Another theory is that Arabian Greyhounds were crossed with heavy-coated Russian dogs.
Until 1861, it was common for Russian nobles to stage hunting expeditions that were lavish spectacles, often with more than 100 dogs taking part, but by 1873 political and economic uncertainty meant that few Borzoi remained. The Imperial Association was formed to protect and promote the breed, and the bloodlines of many Borzoi in the United States can be traced to dogs from the kennels of Imperial Association members. Unkind fate took a hand in the breed’s progress, though, and many of the dogs were slaughtered after the Russian Revolution because of their association with the aristocracy.
Fortunately, some Borzoi had been exported to the United States prior to the revolution, in 1889. Other Borzoi were brought to the U.S. in the 1890s and the early 20th century. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1891, and the name was changed from Russian Wolfhound to Borzoi in 1936. The Borzoi currently ranks 96th among the breeds registered by the AKC, down from 87th a decade ago.
The Borzoi has a gentle spirit. His personality ranges from serious to silly. As a companion, you can expect him to be clean, quiet, sensible and smart. He’s also stubborn. But don’t let him fool you into thinking he can’t be trained. That might be what he wants you to think, but with the right motivation he’s more than willing to please. You just have to offer him the right inducement -- usually food -- and let him know that you love him and will never put him in harm’s way. And don’t bore him with repetition. You’ll lose his attention fast.
A Borzoi is large and may appear menacing to those who don’t know him, but he is not much of a watchdog. His attitude toward strangers varies from aloof to friendly, but in general he’s trusting toward people, not suspicious. He might let you know that a stranger is in the vicinity, but it’s unlikely he would attack someone.
This is not a high-energy dog, although activity levels vary. The typical Borzoi prefers a quick sprint to long-distance running, and afterward he will be ready to recline on your most comfortable sofa. If you want to spend the day in bed reading and eating bon-bons, the Borzoi is happy to join you there.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from a Borzoi, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
Borzoi are typically healthy, but they have the potential to develop some genetic health conditions, including a neck condition called wobbler syndrome, heart disease, hypothyroidism, and eye problems, such as cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). Some Borzoi may have an abnormal response to certain anesthetic drugs, or to the stress of hospitalization. If you are concerned about an upcoming procedure involving anesthesia, discuss it with your veterinarian.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and prevent any new ones from emerging, the Borzoi Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). To obtain CHIC certification for a Borzoi, breeders must submit heart and thyroid evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, an OFA/University of Missouri DNA test for degenerative myelopathy, and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation that the eyes are healthy. Optional test results that can be submitted are OFA hip and elbow evaluations.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines and her dogs have been "vet checked," then you should go find a breeder who is more rigorous about genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every Borzoi visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. Borzoi are more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach expands with air. This can become the more serious condition, gastric torsion, if the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Gastric torsion, also known as gastric dilatation volvulus, strikes suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, trying to throw up but without bringing anything up, and signs of pain. Gastric torsion requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it’s wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.
Hip dysplasia can occur in Borzoi, so if your dog is limping, painful, stiff or reluctant to get up or move around, be thorough in determining the cause. There are a number of neck and spinal problems that can cause those symptoms, and in some cases, your veterinarian may refer your Borzoi to a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.
Borzoi who compete in lure coursing can break a toe or leg in the course of the run.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Borzoi at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Borzoi’s long, silky coat can be flat, wavy or even a little curly. Although it looks glamorous, it’s not especially difficult to care for. It’s resistant to dirt and mud, which just drops off when the coat dries. Brush the coat weekly with a pin brush. Be sure to check for mats behind the ears and in the area where the legs meet the body. Bathe the Borzoi only as needed.
Borzoi shed heavily. Regular brushing will help keep those hairs off your furniture, floors and clothing.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails every few weeks. Like most dogs, and sighthounds in particular, Borzoi are sensitive about having their feet touched, so practice this early and often with a puppy. Keep the ears clean and dry to prevent bacterial or yeast infections from developing. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as is possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than in making big bucks.
Finding a good breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. He or she is most interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Borzoi and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Borzoi Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the BCA’s guidelines for breeders, which prohibit the sale of puppies to or through pet stores.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical and should be reported to the BCA and the American Kennel Club. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Many reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Borzoi puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Borzoi might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Borzoi in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Borzois available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Borzoi. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Borzoi rescues in your area. Most people who love Borzois love all Borzois. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The BCA’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Borzoi rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Borzoi home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Borzoi, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Borzoi to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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