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Breed Priorities – Borzoi

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242 – May, 2015

By Nikki Riggsbee


Borzoi, once known as Russian Wolfhounds, are one of the largest sighthound breeds. They aren’t among the biggest entries at dog shows, and they are 99th on AKC’s ranked list of breeds based on registrations. A very beautiful breed, they were often included in art deco pieces, contributing to the elegance and style of the artwork. Today’s Borzoi experts put more emphasis on the form and function of the breed.

With lower numbers than many breeds, I was pleased to find more than fifty breeder-judges to invite to take a survey to identify the most important features of the breed. Forty-three experts agreed to participate, and twenty-nine surveys were received, the last one as I was writing this article.

These experts averaged more than 37 years in Borzoi, and have been judging the breed for nearly fifteen years on average. Most have judged their national specialty and other Borzoi specialties.

Borzoi Virtues

The survey included a list of virtues from the Borzoi standard for the breeder-judges to rank. Below is the list in order of the average of the experts’ ranks, from most important to least important.

1. Sound running gear

2. Back rising a little at the loins in graceful curve

3. Loins extremely muscular, rather tucked up

4. Unmistakable elegance

5. Hindquarters long, very muscular, well-bent stifles, somewhat wider than forequarters

6. Proper condition

7. Neck free from throatiness; slightly arched, very powerful, well set on

8. Foreleg bones straight, somewhat flattened like blades, narrower edge forward

9. Jaws long, powerful, deep

10. Skull slightly domed, long, narrow, scarcely any perceptible stop, Roman-nosed

11. Chest rather narrow, with great depth of brisket

12. Hare-shaped feet

13. Males, masculine without coarseness; bitches, feminine and refined

14. Ears small, fine, lying back on the neck in repose

15. Tail long, set on and carried low in graceful curve

16. Even or scissors bite

The greatest agreement with nearly ninety percent was on “Sound running gear” (1st). The next biggest majority, more than sixty percent, was on “Ears small, fine, lying back on the neck in repose” (14th).

Seventeen experts similarly valued “Back rising a little at the loins in graceful curve” (2nd). A related virtue, “Loins extremely muscular, rather tucked up” (3rd), had almost as many consider it important, but eleven had it a quartile lower, reducing its rank.

“Unmistakable elegance” (4th) was placed first on eleven surveys and a majority valued it highly, but seven surveys had it unimportant, dropping its rank. As with “Elegance,” sixteen breeder-judges agreed on “Skull slightly domed, long, narrow, scarcely any perceptible stop, Roman-nosed” (10th) and “Tail long, set on and carried low in graceful curve” (15th). However, almost a third had “Tail” a quartile more important than the majority opinion.

A small majority agreed on “Hindquarters long, very muscular, well-bent stifles, somewhat wider than forequarters” (5th) and “Hare-shaped feet” (12th). The majority had “Hare feet” placed lower, but eleven put it midpoint, raising the average.

The small majority also concurred on “Loins extremely muscular” (3rd) and “Even or scissors bite” (16th). “Bite” had varied opinions, with seven having it in the second quartile and seven others in the third; even so, it still placed at the bottom of the list.

Many of the virtues had bi-polar opinions. “Neck free from throatiness; slightly arched, very powerful, well set on” (7th) had eleven consider it midpoint, nine quite important, and seven unimportant.

Almost half thought “Foreleg bones straight, somewhat flattened like blades, narrower edge forward” (8th) should be in the middle of the list, while eight had it towards the bottom, and seven nearer the top. “Jaws long, powerful, deep” (9th) had a similar split.

“Chest rather narrow, with great depth of brisket” (11th) was somewhat above average in importance according to twelve experts, while eleven had it much lower. A similar plurality agreed on “Males, masculine without coarseness; bitches, feminine and refined” (13th), but the rest ranked it all over. “Proper condition” (6th) was midpoint on eleven surveys, but the rest had it all over.

Almost two points separated the first and second virtues, emphasizing the importance of “Sound running gear.” The ranks of the fifth and sixth virtues were more than two points apart, verifying the importance of the first five.

Some averages were quite close, and additional input would change the virtues’ relative placements. “Elegance” and “Hindquarters” were less than a tenth of a point apart as were “”Jaws” and “Skull/head” and “Hare feet” and “Masculine/feminine”.

Borzoi Faults

The judges were also asked to prioritize Borzoi faults from the standard, from most serious to least serious. Below are the ranked faults, with 1 being the most serious.

1. Hackneyed motion

2. Lacking noticeable drive with ground-covering stride

3. Mincing gait

4. Back not rising a little at loins

5. Front legs not reaching well out in front (gait)

6. Feet without well-arched knuckles

7. Elbows turned in or out

8. Lacking great depth of brisket

9. Snipy

10. Tail not set on and carried low

11. Mature males not at least 28” at the withers, mature bitches not at least 26” at the withers

12. Ribs more than slightly sprung

13. Eyes round, full, or staring

14. Males masculine but coarse

15. Missing teeth

16 Eyes light in color

Four faults had the most agreement: “Hackneyed motion” (1st), “Lacking noticeable drive with ground-covering stride” (2nd), “Mincing gait” (3rd), and “Eyes light in color” (16th). “Front legs not reaching well out in front (gait)” (5th) was ranked high by nineteen surveys, but seven put it a quartile lower, lowering its average.

Sixteen breeder-judges concurred on “Feet without well-arched knuckles” (6th), “Males masculine but coarse” (14th), and “Missing teeth” (15th). Seven thought the feet less important which resulted in a lower relative placement. “Missing teeth” was thought somewhat more important by eight experts.

A minimum majority agreed on these faults, but in each case, a substantial plurality thought differently. “Back not rising a little at loins” (4th) had the larger group place it in the top quartile, but ten had it in the second quartile. “Lacking great depth of brisket” (8th) was above average with the majority, but ten put it in the third quartile. “Eyes round, full, or staring” (13th) was in the last quartile for fifteen experts, but eight had it closer to midpoint.

“Snipy” (9th) was above average seriousness for forty-five percent, but less so for more than a third. The same sized larger group considered “Ribs more than slightly sprung” (12th) somewhat below middling, but ten ranked it toward the bottom.

Some faults had three groups of opinions. “Elbows turned in or out” (7th) had nearly a majority put it about midpoint, with eight more serious, and seven less serious. “Tail not set on and carried low” (10th) was below average seriousness by more than forty percent, with nine having it somewhat more important, and another nine towards bottom. Over forty percent had “Mature males not at least 28” at the withers, mature bitches not at least 26” at the withers” (11th) as unimportant, but the rest placed it all over.

More than three points separated the ranks of “Poor reach” (5th) and “Feet/toes” (6th) emphasizing the seriousness of the first five. The last two ranks were a point-and-a-half apart, confirming that “Light eyes” is not a major fault.

Some averages were quite close, so that additional input could change the relative placements. “Feet/knuckles” (6th) and “Elbows in/out” (7th) averages were less than a tenth of a point apart, as were “Bad tail” (10th) and “Too short” (11th).


The survey included outlines of six Borzoi dogs and six Borzoi bitches. The breeder-judges placed each set as a class of dogs, first through fourth. They then named Best of Breed.

The outlines were made from photos of real dogs. Only photos of quality dogs were used, no ringers, no faulty outlines to illustrate problems. Outlines are difficult with coated breeds – parts of the dogs are covered by coat that you want to consider in your evaluation. Some individual dogs were more heavily coated than others. Further, some of the dogs were standing in grass that hid part or more of their feet. So don’t focus on the dogs’ feet, for in some cases, I had to estimate what they looked like.

Before reading further, select which outlines you think are the most correct.

Borzoi “E” had the best average placement and the most first placements (ten) among the dogs. Breeder-judges who put him first said he was “most balanced,” “correct proportions front to rear, length of neck compared to length of back and loin,” “very desirable topline that hasn’t a dip behind the shoulders and doesn’t fall away too extremely in croup,” “good bone, well-angled, well let down hocks,” “set under himself, good flow from tip of nose to tip of tail,” “flowing lines, moderate,” “excessive coat,” and “deep chest.”

Second best average placement score and six first placements were for dog “C.” Comments on him included “good outline, depth of chest,” “overall elegance, short back, long gently arched loin, high small ear placement,” “overall balance,” “balanced angles, good head with parallel planes, neck strong and well set-on, well let down hocks,” and “pleasing outline, topline, stifles, front legs underneath, good head.”

Interestingly, Borzoi “F” had the third best placement average, but nine first placements, more than second place “C.” His lower average was the result of lower other placements and being left unplaced seven times, while “C” was out of the ribbons only twice.

Borzoi bitch “U” had the best average placements among the girls, and was selected first on ten of the surveys. Those who liked her best said “equal front and rear, good neck and topline outline,” “nice balance, shoulder set, pretty topline, efficient,” “nothing exaggerated, feminine, elegant, nice, strong head with depth of underjaw, nice pastern slope, nice substance,” “most correct topline,” “good proportions length to height, leg to body, bone, well-angled, well let down hocks, level back with strong loin rise,” “flowing lines,” “good length of back to loin, good depth of body,” “elegant outline, short back and long arched loins, higher smaller ears,” and “good neck set.”

Borzoi bitch “V” had the next best average placement, almost one point behind “U,” but “V” had twelve first placements, two more than “U.” Other placements for “V” lowered her average. Those who liked her best commented “best overall,” “gorgeous balance, outline, and angulation,” “flowing lines, slight rise over loin, length of leg,” “feminine and curvy, front nicely set under, rear nicely angulated, pretty head, lovely neck – well set-on with good length,” “as is often the case, the bitches are better,” “lovely gradual rise, flows from her withers to tail,” “only outline with proper shoulder and upper arm placement,” “love the entire outline, strong rear, shows some forechest,” “elegant with long neck, well-bent stifles,” “pretty head, large ear,” “good underline,” and “nice length of leg with correct length of body.”

Best of Breed had several contenders. Dog “E” and bitch “U” had ten first placements each, while bitch “V” had twelve. Bitch “U” and bitch “V” were both named BOB ten times, by far more than any other. Bitch “U” had the best average placement. So with all these to consider, bitch “U” wins by a nose.

All of the outlines were placed first by at least one breeder-judge except for dog “A” and bitch “X.” Every outline, including the ones liked best, were left out of the ribbons on at least two surveys. The dog unplaced most often was Borzoi “D,” followed by “C” and then “A.” The bitch most often out of the ribbons was bitch “X” followed by bitch “W.”

Essential Characteristics

The breeder-judges listed four to six characteristics that an individual Borzoi must have to be considered a good one. Most often named was movement: reach and drive, smooth and effortless, long and low. Head was next most often listed. Also included were topline, elegance, front assembly, outline, and balance.


The Borzoi experts were generous in offering additional comments for students of their breed.

• Don’t reward long-bodied and short-legged Borzoi.

• There are a variety of toplines in the breed. Don’t remove a young dog with more topline from consideration, but do remove an adult or puppy for lack of topline.

• Any color is acceptable; no penalty for “mismarks,” spots can land anywhere.

• They should always be elegant.

• Select a functional hound – with conformation and stamina to trot for miles beside a horse and then bring down a wolf.

• This is a breed of moderation, not exaggeration. Balance is critical.

• Borzoi have long jaws; spaces between pre-molars don’t equal a missing tooth.

• Underline is equally important to outline as is the topline, and must be felt through the coat.

• Coats can be sculpted to hide or change the appearance of structure, so don’t rely only on your eye.

• Bigger is not better; but it shouldn’t be penalized as long as it isn’t at the expense of symmetry, speed, and staying quality. Don’t penalize smaller dogs if they are athletic and put together well.

• More hair is not better; there are several acceptable coat types: flat, straight, wavy, and even some curls. It is not all about coat.

• We must find balance between function and things that distinguish a Borzoi from other sighthounds. If speed were most important, we would all have greyhounds.

• Check undercoat especially to check the topline and where the rise starts, and also neck length.

• Loins should be long; the standard doesn’t call for short coupling.

• Size has been creeping in; many dogs are too large to be functional.

• Balance, breed type, and elegance define the Borzoi.

• To correctly evaluate where the start of the rise over the loin is, follow your hand from the end of the ribs to the top; that should be the start of the rise.

• Emphasis on sound running gear. Powerful but elegant.

• A Borzoi must have curves, standing and moving.

• Borzoi have a hare foot; cat feet are never correct.

• Heads are so important to distinguish the breed. Narrow, chiseled, good underjaw, obliquely set almond dark eyes, prominent occipital bone, tiny little ears touching behind the head, veining on the face.

Thanks to the Borzoi experts for sharing their knowledge.

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Posted by on May 21 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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