In the 1930s, it was common to see Hollywood starlets emerging from their Rolls Royces with a brace of Russian Wolfhounds (also known as Borzoi) — the ultimate status symbol of dogdom in the day. Now they are seldom seen, but they still exude an air of glamorous days gone by. Unless, of course, they see a mud pit and decide to wallow in it, because for all the aristocratic looks, they tend to be clowns at heart.
The Borzoi may be confused with the Afghan Hound, but the Borzoi is taller and more narrow, with a more arched back, wavier coat, and heavily plumed tail. The dogs also have small folded ears.
The Borzoi originated in the Middle Ages, when Russian nobility crossed coursing hounds with long-coated flock-guardian dogs to create one who could run down and hold wolves in the cold climate. They also hunted foxes and hare.
The first standard was written in the 1600s.
In the 19th century, wolf hunts were elaborate affairs, with hundreds of Borzoi arriving by train. They chased the wolf in pairs or trios, and held it down until the hunters arrived.
In the 1917 Russian Revolution, many Borzoi were killed, as they symbolized the aristocracy.
Queen Victoria of England popularized Borzoi outside of Russia.
The Borzoi is a member of the AKC Hound group. It is in the Sighthound family of dogs.
Until 1936 the breed was known in America as the Russian Wolfhound. “Borzoi” comes from a Russian word meaning “swift.” Nobody can seem to agree on whether the plural form is “Borzoi” or “Borzois.”
In the 1920s through 1940s, the breed was the ultimate glamour dog in America. They were seen with movie stars and were popular as Art Deco models.
Although Borzois have competed in the Westminster dog show since 1891, none has yet won Best in Show there. Three have won the Hound group there, most recently in 1993.
In the 1930s, a Borzoi named Champion Vigow of Romanoff amassed an incredible show record: Shown 77 times, he was Best of Breed 77 times, first in the Hound group 67 times, and Best in Show 21 times. He was the top-winning American-bred dog of all breeds for 1935 and 1936.
The Borzoi is the 99th most popular AKC breed, down from 93rd a decade ago.
A Borzoi is the symbol of the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, founded in 1915.
The United States 27th Infantry regiment is nicknamed “The Wolfhounds” and has a Borzoi mascot named Kolchak.
Two large circuses have had all-Borzoi trained-dog troupes.
In the 1970s and ’80s, Borzois were used in a series of Wolfschmidt vodka ads.
The Captain of the Titanic owned a Borzoi named Ben, who was not on board the ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage.
Borzois appear in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned.
A Borzoi supplied the vocals for a Pink Floyd song titled Seamus, named after the dog. It was recreated in a live performance and renamed Mademoiselle Nobs with a different Borzoi, named Nobs.
Borzois briefly appear in The Hunger Games.
Owners include Liberace, Bo Derek, Michael Douglas, Don Johnson, Nick Nolte, and Rod Stewart.
Do you own a Borzoi? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.