Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Borzoi

The Borzoi is a large breed of dog that belongs to the hound group of breeds. Originally bred as a sighthound by the Russian aristocracy to hunt a variety of small wild game, only successful Borzoi working dogs were used for breeding. The breed has a quiet, gentle and sensitive character and, unless accustomed from a young age, can often find young children overwhelming. Its hunting instincts also mean that it is prone to chasing small animals and if expected to live alongside cats should be socialised with them from puppyhood.

The Borzoi is intelligent and quick to learn, but also has an independent streak which means if it becomes bored it can also be disobedient. This means training should be varied and a gentle approach is said to be more successful. The breed is not a natural guard dog despite its size and rarely barks. The Borzoi has a medium to long coat which does not require any specialist grooming but needs regular brushing to keep it in good condition.

About & History

The Borzoi, also known as the Russkaya Psovaya Borzaya is a large breed of sighthound that belongs to the hound group of breeds in the UK Kennel Club. The name Borzoi translates to mean ‘fast’. The breed was originally developed in Russia, and was once known as the Russian Wolfhound. It was created by crossing a number of different breeds that are thought to include Greyhound type breeds, Irish Greyhounds, the Russo European Laika, wolf dogs and long-haired sheepdogs. It was popular with the aristocracy, and pairs of dogs were used to accompany riders on horseback to hunt a range of wild game. Before the 20th century, the breed was rarely sold and almost always given as gifts between members of nobility. Working trials were used to select dogs that would be used for breeding.

Due to their association with the aristocracy, the breed saw a large decline in its numbers during the Bolshevik Revolution, however a sufficient number of dogs had been exported to save the breed and establish it in other countries apart from Russia. Today, the Borzoi continues to be used as a sighthound in Russia, but is kept as a companion or for showing in most other countries.


Borzoi Large Photo

The Borzoi only has a huge number of coat colours that are accepted for registration with the UK Kennel Club, including:

  • Black & White
  • Black Brindle
  • Black Sable
  • Blue
  • Blue & White
  • Blue Brindle
  • Blue Sable
  • Cream
  • Cream & White
  • Cream Brindle
  • Cream Sable
  • Fawn & White
  • Fawn Brindle
  • Fawn Sable
  • Gold & White
  • Gold Brindle
  • Gold Sable
  • Grey
  • Grey & White
  • Grey Brindle
  • Grey Sable
  • Lemon
  • Lemon & White
  • Lemon Brindle
  • Mahogany
  • Mahogany & White
  • Mahogany Brindle & White
  • Mahogany Sable
  • Red & White
  • Red Brindle
  • Red Sable
  • Red Sable & White
  • Self Black
  • Self Fawn
  • Self Gold
  • Self Red
  • Silver
  • Silver & White
  • Silver Brindle
  • Silver Sable
  • Tortoiseshell
  • Tortoiseshell & White
  • Tricolour
  • White
  • White & Black
  • White & Blue
  • White & Brindle
  • White & Cream
  • White & Fawn
  • White & Gold
  • White & Grey
  • White & Lemon
  • White & Mahogany
  • White & Red
  • White & Red Sable
  • White & Sable
  • White & Silver
  • White & Silver Sable
  • White & Tortoiseshell
  • Wolf Sable

The Borzoi is a large dog and males should measure no less than 74 cm at the withers and females no less than 68 cm. This height should be approximately equal to the height of the croup and slightly less than that of the length of the body. The neck should be fairly long with a slight arch leading to strong, well-sloped shoulders and elegant withers. The front legs should be straight, and narrow slightly towards the feet. The chest should be narrow and deep, occupying around half of the overall height to the withers. There should be an obvious tuck up towards the abdomen. The back should be strong, reasonably wide and well-muscled. Hips should not be too close together and should be wider than the shoulders. The back legs should be muscular and athletic. The tail is long, low set and carried reasonably low.

The Borzoi has a long, lean distinctive head and the muzzle length should be approximately the same as that of the skull. The head should be proportionate to the dog’s size and female dogs tend to have a finer head than males. The skull has a slightly domed appearance and the jaws should be strong and powerful and narrow towards the end of the nose. Good quality, strong teeth should form a perfect scissor bite. Eyes should be set at an angle and oval shaped with a bright, intelligent expression. The ears should be high set, relatively small and delicate, sometimes standing up when the dog is alert.

The Borzoi should appear elegant despite its large size and should move effortlessly giving the impression of power. Its gait should cover plenty of ground and the back end should provide drive to the movement.

Character & Temperament

The Borzoi has a quiet, sensitive but independent character and is intelligent and gentle. The breed can be reserved around strangers but are very affectionate with their family. Unless accustomed to them from a young age, the Borzoi can find young children overwhelming and is better suited to families without children or where children are older. Their sensitive nature means they can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety, so must be properly accustomed to being left alone for short periods from puppyhood. Despite its size, the Borzoi is not a natural guard dog and rarely barks.


Photo of Borzoi puppy

The Borzoi is said to be intelligent but is also very independent and becomes bored easily which means they may not be the most obedient. Training should be kept varied and a gentle approach seems to produce the best results. Although the Borzoi may quickly learn recall it does have an inbuilt hunting instinct and extremely keen sight, and is prone to becoming overwhelmed by its instinct to chase other small animals.

Therefore if it is expected to live with cats it should be introduced to them from a very young age. House training is not typically a problem, especially when dogs have adequate access to outside space.


The Borzoi has an average life expectancy of 10 to 12 years of age. There are no specific screening or DNA tests relevant to the breed recommended by the UK Kennel Club but it is classed as a Category 2 breed with two points of concern, which all responsible breeders should be aiming to avoid:

  • Misplaced lower canine teeth
  • An overly narrow lower jaw

Although no doubt the Borzoi can be affected by other health problems, there are no common breed specific health problems that are known to affect it.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Borzoi was developed as a sighthound for hunting and is best suited to a country environment, however, if it can be given enough exercise it can adapt to city living. It needs around an hour to an hour and a half of walking a day and can become very excitable if it sees something to chase, but other than this, the Borzoi is generally calm. Ideally, as much of this time as possible should be spent off the lead to allow dogs to run freely and use up any excess energy.


The Borzoi has a medium to long length smooth, silky coat that can be flat, wavy or curly. It is shorter around the head and on the front of the legs and tends to be more abundant on male dogs. It does not require any specialist grooming but does shed and should be brushed at least once a week to keep it free from knots and in good condition.

Famous Borzoi

Some famous examples of the Borzoi include:

  • The Borzoi from the short story, Cousin Theresa, by H. Munro
  • The Borzois from the book, War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Borzoi in the painting, ‘A Borzoi by a Chair’, by George Hare
  • The Borzoi in the painting, ‘Louis Vorow Zborrowski’, by Julian Russell Story
  • The Borzoi was used as the symbol for the publisher Alfred A. Knopf
  • Digger from the film, 102 Dalmations
  • Boris from the film, Lady and the Tramp
  • Nessie, who appears in the television show, Wings
  • The pair of pink Borzois who appear in the film, The Hunger Games
  • Rocket, Missile and Jet from the Japanese manga series, Ginga Legend Weed


There are few Borzoi crossbreeds, but one which proves to be quite popular and is truly a breed of its own rite is the Silken Windhound, which is a cross between a Borzoi and a Whippet.

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