Some thoughts to ponder before owning a Borzoi

(courtesy of The Borzoi Club)

DO NOT own or contemplate owning a Borzoi unless you appreciate an animal of great sensitivity, physically and mentally which is normally gentle, quiet and affectionate within the home and yet capable of great athleticism and hunting prowess given the right situation.

DO NOT own a Borzoi if you lack a sense of romance, a hint of nostalgia for the passing of an aristocratic age and an eye for classical beauty. If you possess these qualities then the Borzoi will thrill you daily and you will forgive him his few “sins.”

DO note that the aloofness mentioned in the standard applies to strangers, and that the Borzoi is generally very affectionate, loyal and amenable in response to its owners and those he knows well.

DO NOT demand the fast response to commands and willingness to perform from a Borzoi that you would expect from a herding breed such as a Border Collie or German Shepherd. The latter have inherited different instincts, including the instinct to perform actively for a dominant pack leader. The Borzoi’s instinct is that of a Sight-hound and to demand “obedience test” sharpness to commands, is possibly to expect more than the dog is normally capable of.

DO NOT make the mistake that Borzois are untrainable. Whilst they may not have inherited the strong willingness, even subservience of other breeds, the Borzoi should be one of the more pliable and obedient of the gaze hounds. It lacks the sheer arrogance of its Afghan cousin or the Eastern distant temperament of the Saluki. He is sensitive to rebuke and does not like displeasing his owner

DO understand that the temperament of any dog and its resulting behaviour is roughly 50% genetic in origin and 50% a result of its environment, handling and the training it receives.

DO accept the fact that the 50% inherited or genetic temperament we can do little to alter, therefore when breeding, select your potential parents for their temperamental soundness with as much care as you would for their physical attributes. When buying a Borzoi, visit the breeder, study the adult hounds behaviour carefully before you buy . Nearly all puppies appear to have delightful natures, these may change to their adult characteristics at puberty. The study of the adults is almost more important than their offspring.

DO remember that the Borzoi, for all his charms as an affectionate companion, and he has many charms, has been bred for centuries as a fast, efficient Sight-hound to hunt hare, fox and wolf, therefore his strongest instinct and love is that of the chase.

DO however note that as a breed he is generally highly sensitive and generally easy to handle, pliable to rebuke and therefore with sensible handling his hunting instincts can be kept within reasonable bounds. If you do not wish to hunt your hound, it is essential that he is discouraged from chasing at an early age.

DO understand his natural instinct to chase is inbred and not his way of annoying you. When on a leash, if he shows interest in chasing, correct him verbally and back it up with a sharp leash jerk. This applies to any moving object. It is no use with a puppy encouraging him to chase the sea-gulls on the sands and then objecting later on when he chases away every small dog in the park. Do be consistent and discourage all chasing behaviour.

DO remember instincts are strong, inherited responses and may never be eliminated, only controlled.

DO back every correction with lavish praise for good responses.

DO try as a breeder to follow the breed standard which is a guide to preserving the true characteristics and type of the breed. This will enable us to preserve a wonderful breed with the physical construction to enable him to hunt and at the same time to maintain the mental aptitude and courage to do so.

Many Borzoi breeders like to keep their puppies beyond the age of 8 weeks in order to give them a good physical start to life. This is admirable as long as they are given lots of human company and handling.

DO be aware that the period between 6 and 12 weeks is considered to be the most influential period in the formation of the puppies attitude to life. A puppy which receives little socializing at this stage, is kept secluded receives the minimum of human handling and exposure to everyday sights and sounds has a limited chance of becoming a truly confidant, and outgoing adult dog. This is particularly important in the case of a sensitive natured breed like the Borzoi. If a Borzoi is to be primarily kept as a companion, then the age of 7 to 8 weeks is quite ideal for leaving the nest and becoming established in its new home. If a puppy is to socially integrate with other dogs in later life it does require the rough play which takes
place between siblings until at least that age. To remove it earlier, the puppy may well integrate well with its human pack leaders but without very careful social integration with other puppies and adult dogs it may well remain a dog who prefers human company to that of its own species.

DO remember that the Borzoi is a very fast growing breed and therefore should not be over-exercised when young. He will however benefit from short outings to socialise, meet traffic, people and other animals etc. Generally speaking an outing of 10-20 minutes is quite long enough for a growing puppy.

DO remember that fast growing puppies need long periods of deep rest. Some noisy, busy household make this impossible. In such a situation, to give the puppy his own kennel where he can sleep between periods of play is valuable.

DO try to introduce your Borzoi puppy to whatever he may regularly meet as an adult while he is young and his mind is developing. Try to introduce puppies to small children while they are young and enjoy each other. Adult Borzoi should then have no concern for the quick movements and high pitched voices of children because they associate them with puppyhood games.

DO remember that the Borzoi has an unusually long memory. He rarely forgets a human he has known well even after several months or years.

DO remember, therefore that as a puppy the Borzoi’s first impressions are very important. The first time he meets children, goes into crowds or heavy traffic, travelling a car or to a dog show. Take care that these are happy occasions, give him confidence, and that will remain with him. Neglect what his feelings are , ignore his worry or subject him to fear on the first time he makes a new encounter and the unfavourable memory will remain for a long time.

DO lead train your Borzoi puppy early and with great care. Some object most strongly and what should be a natural progression in a puppy’s education becomes a real problem. Place the lead on the puppy initially where it is totally relaxed and confident. i.e. its own run or garden.

DO NOT try to walk with the puppy, let it move around you and gradually acclimatise itself to the pressure and tension. Sound cheerful and confidant but do not over reward for hysterical behaviour. Only when the puppy is quite happy with the lead and pressure should you ask him to walk with you. A case of being very patient will speed progress.

DO NOT leave a Borzoi tied up for any length of time. Whilst to chain up any dog is undesirable, for a Borzoi it is unforgivable. The breed does not adapt to such conditions and its affect long term would destroy him emotionally.
If he must be left for long periods alone, he will settle much more happily free of restraint from rope or chain within the confines of a small run.

DO teach the command “come” and the response to name very early, preferably on a long loose lead. Failure on the part of the Borzoi to show response can be quickly and effectively corrected by a suitably adequate flick or jerk, followed by praise. Do this very consistently so that it becomes a conditioned reflex on the part of the dog to respond.

DO expect teenage Borzoi, like their human counterparts to go through a rebellious phase, especially on response to recall. This is normal, however frustrating, and needs patience and firmness to establish control.

DO try to understand body sensitivity. The Borzoi as a breed generally has a high body sensitivity. He is very aware of touch, sensitive to pain and discomfort and will irritatingly appear to be unduly hurt if trodden on or knocked, and may scream alarmingly when only slightly hurt. On the credit side this makes him easy to control on a lead, he can be corrected by the lightest jerk, he is physically in tune with a handler of minimum strength. (Apart that is when exited by the hunt) The Borzoi will rarely therefore be clumsy in the home and for a large dog is extraordinarily careful of knocking himself on the furniture etc. which makes him highly civilized in the house.

A dog with low body sensitivity is much more tolerant of pain and knocks and bumps. It is also physically much more difficult to control. The dog with low body sensitivity will need to be corrected with great physical strength on the part of the handler.

Body sensitivity is inherited but can be slightly modified by handling. A Borzoi with too high body sensitivity can be slightly desensitised by gradually increasing rough play, giving plenty of patting and this gradually getting heartier as the dog can cope. While the dog is being walked, keep gently and playfully pushing him away from you which should have the effect of the dog resisting and pushing back.

If you have the more unusual experience of a Borzoi with low body sensitivity then this dog needs to be made physically more sensitive. Keep physical corrections to the minimum in number but maximum in effectiveness. ‘Nagging’ on a choke chain will only toughen him up . Normally a Borzoi with low body sensitivity is very rare and not a problem we need to dwell upon.

DO understand the difference between correction and punishment.

Correction is the giving of a quick negative response to what the human thinks is undesirable behaviour on the part of the dog. It should be given as immediate to the dog’s action as is possible. i.e. within seconds. The negative response ceases as soon as the dog responds to the human. All correction should be followed by praise if and when the dog responds and stops his misdeed.

Punishment is an act of correction given after the dogs misdeed in the vain hope that the dog will understand why the violence from its master has occurred. This may work with humans as we have the imagination to reflect on our past misdeeds and can ponder on why and what we did wrong. To punish any dog is wrong and counterproductive, to punish a Borzoi is an act of savagery.

Correction, however, for a Borzoi is comparatively easy as the Borzoi’s sensitivity to harsh voice and/or physical correction make it simple to let him know what displeases us without great physical effort on the part of the handler. A normal leash jerk is the hardest physical correction the average Borzoi would require.

DO NOT ever be guilty of giving harsh physical correction to the Borzoi. With his high body sensitivity the physical correction which may be necessary in some breeds will cause a Borzoi great mental suffering. Normally if a vocal rebuke is not sufficient, then a quick leash jerk is the most physical correction normally necessary.

DO NOT under normal circumstances grab the Borzoi by the scruff of the neck. What may be useful for some breeds will cause undue stress to the Borzoi. The Borzoi generally resents mishandling and heavy-handedness. The joy of the breed for the sensitive in approach is his easy response to gentle handling. For those who are used to a breed with low body sensitivity, a fresh approach will be called for.

DO remember that all the effort is worth it. A well trained Borzoi is both beautiful in appearance and a companion of unequalled delight.