The Borzoi: A Complete Guide on This Russian Gazehound

Agile in the field and a couch potato in the home, the athletic, whimsical, ancient Borzoi is a breed to behold. But this breed is not for everyone!

Feb 23, 2024By Chelsea Pinkham
the borzoi complete guide on this russian gazehound

Roughly ten years ago, “Borzoi” was a breed name unlikely to conjure up familiarity in the average dog owner. But like many breeds do over time, this breed is finally beginning to weasel its way into pop culture.

Adored for their majestic nature, tall, slender bodies, and comically long noses, these dogs have gained massive traction on social media in the last few years. Does that mean everyone should own one? Let’s discover why - or why not - this breed could be for you.

What Are Borzois like?

exhausted borzois
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For dog enthusiasts, the sight of a Borzoi is not easily mistakable. These unique canines command attention wherever they go with their unique structure and striking features. As some of the tallest sighthounds, Borzois stand at least 28 inches at the shoulder. Tall, lean, yet strong and well-muscled, the Borzoi is a powerful runner.

In fact, a Borzoi in a sprint can reach up to 40 miles per hour––that’s almost as fast as a thoroughbred racehorse! For context, the Greyhound, which is the world’s fastest dog, can reach 45 miles per hour. Borzois are some of the fastest dogs on Earth.

These dogs are long-haired dogs, with silken, feathery hair that hangs down off their sleek bodies and long tails. These dogs do shed excessively and need regular brushing, preferably with a pin brush.

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Borzois are quite heavy for sighthounds, with males weighing between 75 and 105 pounds. Females are shorter and lighter than their male counterparts.

Borzois in pop culture have gained traction due to their most notable characteristic: their long and arched snout. This seemingly endless territory between the Borzoi’s eyes and nose comes from their Greyhound ancestors, built for perfect aerodynamic function. Everything about a Borzoi is sleek, lean, and long, perfect for racing into the wind at impressive speeds. Their elongated snout is a perfect example.

The breed comes in a variety of colorations, including blacks, whites, reds, golds, sables, brindles, and more.

History of the Russian Wolfhound

charging intent borzoi
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Many working-type dogs were bred to assist working-class people; whether that be in hunting for sustenance, herding farmed animals, or protecting the land. This history, held by many breeds, is not that of the Borzoi. Borzois were dogs of the wealthy, ruling class.

Simultaneously graceful, beautiful, and enormously efficient hunters, these dogs were the leisurely hunting companions of the bourgeoisie. To delve into their rich history, we must back in time to 17th-century Russia. This was a time of desolate poverty, bitter cold winters, and utter chaos for the working-class Russians. Yet, it was a time of luxury for the ruling class.

The Borzoi was created by crossing Arabian Greyhounds with thicker coated dog breeds. This way, the tremendous speed, endurance, and prey drive of the Greyhound could be preserved, while enabling the dogs to embrace cold Russian winters. In these days, the Borzoi was known as the Russian Wolfhound.

These Dogs Were Celebrated Hunting Companions

beige and white borzoi
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When the Romanov dynasty took the Russian throne in 1613, they took to the opulent pastime of wolf hunting. This activity would last for days, accompanied by great feasts, music, and much celebration. Wolves would be pursued on horseback with dozens of Borzois leading the way.

Being outrageously tall, fast, and lean, Borzois were more than capable of flushing, chasing down, and battling the wolves. The goal was for the dogs to force the wolves onto the ground, pinning them in their teeth until hunters arrived to make the kill. The Borzoi is one of the only sighthound breeds capable of the strength needed to perform such a feat.

beautiful cream and white borzois
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While the Russian elites loved such sports, the working class saw a great waste of resources that went into such extravagant events. In their outrage against the conditions they were forced to endure while the Romanovs lived in the lap of luxury, revolutionaries overthrew and killed the Romanov family in 1917. Sadly, this included their dogs, many hundreds of Borzois. These elegant creatures had come to symbolize the Romanov’s excessive wealth and hoarding of resources, though this was no fault of the dogs’.

Borzois Are a Relatively Uncommon Breed

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Foreign dog breed enthusiasts had taken an interest in the sighthounds, and many Borzois were exported to surrounding countries before the Russian Revolution. Reputable preservation breeders throughout Europe took the initiative to continue the dogs’ bloodline, and while the dogs made a comeback from the brink of extinction, they never gained much popularity as a breed anywhere in the world.

The American Kennel Club did not recognize the Borzoi until 1891. Borzoi registrations remain at 101th place out of 201 club-recognized breeds, placing them right smack in the middle of the popularity charts. While these dogs aren’t especially common, they are certainly not a widespread breed.

All About Sighthounds (or Gazehounds)

goregous long haired borzois
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Sighthounds, sometimes called “gazehounds”, are exactly what their name might suggest: hounds that rely on sight, rather than scent, to pursue prey. While conventional hounds might track an animal for hours, sighthounds will actually pursue, capture, and often kill their prey without any human assistance.

This enormous feat requires tremendous speed, which is why sighthounds are characteristically long-legged and lean. Elongated snouts and aerodynamic, tapering faces are also common. A few notable sighthounds include Greyhounds, Whippets, Irish Wolfhounds, Salukis, Ibizan Hounds, and more.

Though sighthounds are diverse in some aspects––like the show-stopping, long-haired Afghan Hound vs. the no-frills, short-haired Italian Greyhound––they are united by being lean, dolichocephalic breeds.

happy scenic borzoi
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When viewing a dog show, it’s easy to forget that sighthounds are really hounds at all. While their scenthound relatives often have floppy ears, wrinkles, and droopy jowls, sighthounds could not be more opposite in appearance.

Sighthounds are independent dogs who historically didn’t need to take direction from humans; they get the job done on their own! This means they need a great deal of reinforcement to be motivated to learn and cooperate with us. High-value treats and toys that mimic prey, such as flirt poles, are an excellent place to start!

These Dogs Are Known for Their Athleticism

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These dogs are lightning-fast and have a strong prey drive toward small, moving animals. This means that recall skills must be perfected before even considering letting sighthounds off-leash in an unfenced area. While some sighthounds were bred to capture small prey, such as rabbits, Borzois were bred to hunt wolves. Prey animals of any size, including deer and farmed animals, can trigger their chase drive.

Learning more about sighthounds as a group can help prepare you to care for a Borzoi or any of their close relatives.

The Borzoi’s Temperament, Behavior, and Training

playful borzoi
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Like many sighthounds, Borzois are often considered to be a bit “aloof” toward humans. While these dogs make loving and loyal companions, a strong willingness to please humans simply isn’t in their nature.

This intrinsic motivation to listen to and to please humans is known as “biddability” in the dog world, and it’s often mistaken for intelligence. Less biddable breeds like the Borzoi are often deemed unintelligent or “stubborn” because of their lack of this trait.

In reality, it’s simply not in the nature of sighthounds to take direction from humans, as their work stems from instinct. These deeply intelligent animals must be skilled enough to make quick decisions on their own, without a human handler to offer them guidance. This doesn’t mean they lack intelligence; the opposite is true.

couch potato borzoi
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Caregivers of sighthounds and other less biddable breed groups must bear this in mind when training. Of course, any animal can be trained to perform desired behaviors, but breeds like the Borzoi require high-value rewards (such as extremely tasty treats) to pique their interest.

If a Borzoi ignores their caregiver, it’s not an act of intentional malice. They simply need a great deal of motivation and clear, concise communication to learn what’s expected of them. You won’t find one running an agility course or competing in an obedience trial solely for praise and pats!

Borzoi enthusiasts affectionately refer to the dogs as being “cat-like.” In the same way that a cat only offers their attention when they feel like it, a Borzoi’s attentiveness comes and goes throughout the day.

Borzois Thrive With Goal-Oriented Activities

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Borzois are sprinters, so they are bred to perform a single, occasional, exhausting feat, and spend the rest of their time resting. A fenced-in area to allow a Borzoi to sprint some laps can take care of these dogs’ daily exercise needs. When not running, Borzois are excellent snugglers, couch dogs, and living, decorative rugs. When space to exercise is provided, Borzois will spend most of their time quietly relaxing in the home.

These dogs absolutely thrive in the dog sports of Fast CAT and lure coursing, both of which involve sprinting after a moving target. Games that mimic chasing prey, such as playing with a flirt pole, are great for these dogs’ minds and bodies. A flirt pole can even be used as a positive reinforcer (instead of treats), and teaching Borzois trick behaviors with access to the toy as a reward can be a blast for both the handler and the dog.

Borzois Make Great Additions for Certain Families

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Prospective Borzoi owners must have a sense of humor around training and behavior. Setting realistic goals is crucial to a Borzoi owner’s happiness. A Borzoi likely isn’t going to become a service dog, search and rescue dog, or world agility champion. But mastering recall, teaching a simple trick behavior, or achieving a loose-leash walk are all training milestones to be celebrated!

Chelsea Pinkham
By Chelsea Pinkham

Chelsea is an animal advocate, rescuer, and aspiring rewards-based dog trainer. She is a Fear Free Certified Pet Professional with over a decade of animal experience. Chelsea has worked at animal shelters, sanctuaries and with many private dog training clients. She immerses herself in canine behavior education as she pursues her CPDT-KA dog training certification. In her spare time, she trains dozens of fun tricks for her and her partner’s rescued adventure cat, Iggy!