This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
There is no dog of modern times that has so rapidly attained a certain degree of popularity as that which is named at the head of this chapter. A dozen years ago it was comparatively unknown in England; now all well-regulated and comprehensive dog shows give a class or classes for him, which are usually well filled, and cause quite as much interest as those for our own varieties. Indeed, the Borzoi is a noble hound, powerful and muscular in appearance, still possessing a pleasant and sweet expression, that tells how kindly his nature is. He is one of the aristocratic varieties of the canine race, and the British public is to be congratulated on its discernment in annexing him from the Russian kennels, where, too, his reputation is of the highest.
In the early days of our dog shows, Borzois, then known as Siberian and Russian wolfhounds, and by other names, too, occasionally appeared on the benches. Most of them were similar in type to those we see now, and no doubt have a common origin with the ordinary Eastern or Circassian greyhounds, occasionally met with in this country. But the latter were usually smaller and less powerful than their Russian relative. According to the "Kennel Club Stud Book' a class for "Russian deerhounds" was provided at the National dog show held at the Crystal Palace in 1871. This was not the case, but a foreign variety class was composed almost entirely of Russian hounds, and one of them, Mr. S. T. Holland's Tom won the first prize. Lady Emily Peel and Mr. Macdona were exhibitors at the same show.
It will be nearly thirty years since the Czar of Russia presented the Prince of Wales with a couple of his favourite hounds, Molodetz and Owdalzka. These his Royal Highness exhibited on more than one occasion, and bred from them likewise, Mr. Macdona having presented to him one of the puppies. History repeated itself when in 1895 H.R.H. the Princess of Wales was presented with a splendid hound called Alex, from the Czar's kennels, which has met with a considerable amount of success at several leading shows. In 1872 Mr. Taprell Holland showed an excellent hound in the variety class at Birmingham, for which he obtained a prize. Even before this, specimens of the Borzoi (sometimes called Siberian Wolfhounds) were met with on the benches at Curzon Hall. In 1867, Mr. J. Wright, of Derby, had one called Nijni; and three years later the same exhibitor benched an excellent example of the race in Cossack, a grandson of Molodetz, already mentioned as having belonged to the Prince of Wales, and being from the Imperial kennels. Perhaps the earliest appearance of all on the bench was in 1863, when the then Duchess of Manchester showed a very big dog of the variety at Islington, and bred by Prince William of Prussia. I have the authority of Captain G. A. Graham for stating that this hound was 31 inches at the shoulders, quite equal in size, as he was in power, to some of the best specimens now on our shores.
Thus, after all, this fine race of dog is not quite such a modern institution in our country as would be imagined, though the earlier strains, I fancy, must have been lost, possibly on account of the inter-breeding consequent on an inability to obtain a change of blood. Communication between the eastern and western divisions of Europe is now much more rapid and easier of accomplishment than in the early days of dog shows.
Advancing a few years, Lady Charles Kerr occasionally sent some of these Russian hounds to the exhibitions, but most of them were small and somewhat light and weedy - far from such powerful animals as the best that are with us to-day, and even they in height do not reach that which belonged to the late Duchess of Manchester, and already alluded to. Of course, long before this, the dog, in all his prime and power, was to be found in most kennels of the Russian nobles. Some of them had strains of their own, treasured in their families for years. Such were mostly used for wolf-hunting, sometimes for the fox and deer, and bred with sufficient strength and speed to cope with the wolf - not, indeed, to worry him and kill him, but, as a rule, to seize and hold him until the hunters came up.
In 1884 a couple of Borzois, which even then we only knew as Russian wolfhounds, were performing on a music-hall stage in London, in company with a leash of Great Danes. The latter were, however, the cleverer "canine artistes," though the former the handsomer and more popular animals. I fancy their disposition is too sedate to make them eminent on the boards, resembling that of the St. Bernard and ordinary Highland deerhound, neither of which we have yet seen attempting to emulate the deeds of trained poodles and terriers in turning somersaults and going backwards up a ladder.
A correspondent, writing to the Field in 1887, gives the following description of the Borzoi, and it is so applicable to him at the present time as to be worth reproducing here. He says this Russian hound "Is one of the noblest of all dogs, and in his own land he is considered the very noblest, and valued accordingly. Like all things noble that are genuine, he is rare; and, like many other highly-bred creatures, the genuine Borzoi is, from in-breeding, becoming rarer every year. By crossing, however, with the deerhound and other suitable breeds, the race will no doubt be kept alive with stained lineage.
"From the earliest times, the great families of Russia have bred the Borzoi jealously against each other for the purpose of wolf hunting, but there are now few really good kennels of the breed. There are, I believe, various kinds of Borzois - the smooth, the short-tailed, etc. - but by far the handsomest, and the only one of which I have personal knowledge, is the rough-haired, long-tailed strain. Of these I have seen but very few good specimens in England, and, in fact, have seen prizes given at shows to very inferior specimens entered in the foreign class under his name. The true Borzoi is shaped like a Scotch deerhound, but is a much more powerful dog. In height he should be from 26m to 32m., with limbs showing great strength, combined with terrific speed power. Indeed, their speed is greater than that of an English greyhound. This quality is clearly shown by the long drooping quarters, hocks well let down close to the ground, and arched loins of such power and breadth as to give the dog almost a hunched appearance. The coat is silky, with a splendid frill round the neck, well-feathered legs, and a tail beautifully fringed on the under side. The carriage of the tail is peculiar, as it is almost tucked between the hind legs, so straight down does it hang until at the end it curls slightly outwards with a graceful sweep; but this, like the bang tail of the thoroughbred racehorse, adds to the beauty of the quarters. The depth of these dogs through the heart is quite extraordinary, giving them, with their enormous strength of loin, a very powerful appearance, and it seems strange that they do not possess more staying powers than they are generally accredited with. The head is very beautiful, being nearly smooth, and with immense length and strength of jaws, armed with teeth which make one feel glad to meet the Borzoi as a friend. The eyes are bright and wild, and have the peculiarity of varying in colour with the colour of the dog. Thus, a white dog marked, with lemon eyes; a mouse-coloured, eyes of the same tinge, and so on.