The Greyhound-like Borzoi Can Take Down a Wolf. What Can Your Dog Do?

Prior to 1936, when the AKC accepted "borzoi" as the official breed name, Americans knew this elegant dog as the Russian wolfhound. Peter Timm/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Although the precise origin of the borzoi is unknown, many people believe the introduction of the elegant and graceful breed can be traced back to a 17th century duke in Russia who imported a collection of fleet-footed Arabian greyhounds to serve as hunting dogs. Unfortunately, while the greyhounds met the duke's speed requirements, their thin coats rendered them ill-equipped to contend with the frigid Russian winters and they died.

That's when the duke requested a new batch of Arabian greyhounds and crossed them with thick-coated Russian sheepdogs. The result? Dogs, known also as both Russian wolfhounds and long-haired greyhounds, that not only were better suited to cold temperatures, but were also quick and tough enough to pursue and easily pin their prey, which consisted of foxes, boars, hares and even wolves. In fact, the Russian word "borzoi" translated means "swift."


Designated as a type of sighthound — meaning they hunt prey using their amazing 270-degree field of sight and sprinting ability, rather than their nose to locate and follow a scent (like beagles and basset hounds) — borzois can reach speeds of up to 36 mph (58 kph), which makes them one of the fastest dogs in the world, says Nicole Ellis, a certified professional dog trainer and pet lifestyle expert with, in an email interview.

The borzoi wound up becoming a popular companion dog for royalty across Europe, where they are still common today. In America, however, they're considered a rare breed.

What Does a Borzoi Look Like?

At first sight, the borzoi resembles a typical greyhound, with a lean and narrow body, long and slender head and legs, deep chest, tucked abdomen, arched loin and lengthy tail. The difference is apparent in the dog's larger stature and luxurious silky coat, which can be flat, wavy or curly. Any color or combination of colors is allowed, according to the breed American Kennel Club (AKC) standard.

Considered a giant breed by the AKC, adult male borzois stand about 28 and up to 32 inches (71 to 81 cm) high at the withers (the top of the shoulder), and weigh between 75 and 105 pounds (34 to 48 kilograms). Females are slightly shorter and lighter than males, as well as more feminine and refined.

An owner cuddles his Russian Borzoi on the first day of the Crufts dog show at the National Exhibition Centre on March 5, 2015, in Birmingham, England.
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Do Borzois Make Good Pets?

The short answer is yes. But since they are bred to run and chase, it's important to teach a solid recall, according to Ellis. "Despite their need for speed, they have a very laid back and calm demeanor," she says. "They are generally very sweet and calm (except when outside running), and a loving dog that likes other animals. They don't bark much, so they aren't meant to be guard dogs ... they won't be the dog that goes crazy when someone comes inside."

As for training them: "They are very intelligent," adds Ellis, "but they are also known to be stubborn and independent, which can make training a bit more difficult." According to the AKC, the best course of action is to practice consistency and patience. Training sessions also should be fun, with positive techniques working best for the breed. For example, consider using the borzoi's love of running and chasing a moving object to reinforce good behavior.


Two borzois stand ready to give a child a ride at the closing of the bench show at the Los Angeles Kennel Club, in an undated photo.
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How Do You Best Care for Them?

The borzoi is a calm dog that can adapt to most environments, according to Ellis. "They aren't made to be running all day long and aren't extremely active," she says. "They prefer a quick high-intensity exercise (preferably in a fenced-in area due to their intense instinct to chase) and then lots of relaxation. A game of chase or sprint outdoors will usually be followed by lounging the rest of the day." In addition, because they are sighthounds, small children, cats and anything that moves quickly should be introduced to the dog when it is young. "Otherwise," says Ellis, "the dog may be cautious or nervous of them later on."

Like most long-haired dogs, they are prolific shedders and require frequent brushing every couple of days to keep loose hair under control. Fortunately, mud and dirt don't easily stick to their silky fur, so bathing is not required as often as might be expected. But the hair between the paw pads does need to be trimmed regularly.

Finally, they are prone to tummy aches and bloating because they can't fit much food in their stomachs at once. To avoid this, they should have small meals several times a day instead of one or two large meals.

Where Can I Find One?

They are a bit difficult to find in the U.S. because they aren't a particularly popular breed, so Ellis suggests finding them through a good breeder via the Borzoi Club of America or a breed rescue like the National Borzoi Rescue Foundation (although it might take some time to find one that fits your criteria). If you're interested in a borzoi," she adds, some other breeds to look at include the saluki, silken windhound and Irish wolfhound.