Solving The Borzoi Puzzle | Allowing the Pieces to Fall into Place. In these days of small entries and the continuing loss of experienced fanciers, the best dog in the ring on a given day may still not be breeding stock. While this phenomenon is not limited to any specific breed, it is particularly frustrating for judges of Hounds. The majority of Hound breeds are rare breeds and, sometimes, even decent-sized entries at an all-breed show can challenge one to find individuals that actually have enough good points to carry on the next generation.
Though Borzoi are not yet on the endangered species list, the number of dogs bred and shown has greatly decreased in the last fifteen years. Specialties still provide a showcase for the breeders’ best, however, so a student of the breed will be well-served to attend the big ones, especially the National. A judge, on an average weekend, is faced with a wide variety of Borzoi and a limited amount of time. He must find the individual pieces and fit them into the class placements to complete the jigsaw puzzle that is a breed entry. When the pieces are all there, it is a very satisfying exercise.
So, which pieces of the puzzle are key?
The Borzoi standard sets immediate priorities for the breeder or judge in the opening paragraph on General Appearance:
“Special emphasis is placed on sound running gear, strong neck and jaws, courage and agility, combined with proper condition… unmistakable elegance, with flowing lines, graceful in motion or repose.”
The correct Borzoi is found in the big picture; that is, the outline that exemplifies a running dog—sound legs, muscular condition, and grace. An athletic, shapely, whole dog is far more important than the prettiest head, biggest coat, the darkest eyes or most perfect teeth.
Nearly every breed can be identified by its head. Head planes are not mentioned in the standard. Although the Borzoi head comes in a number of historically varied styles, none can be mistaken for another breed. So, the head is integral to type, but it is much less defined than the function-driven body.
By itself, the Borzoi’s outline is not exactly unique. It shares the shape of speed with Whippets, Deerhounds, and the classic Greyhound. But, when combined with any of the several acceptable coats, it is quite distinctive and unmistakably Borzoi—like no other breed.
Some of the differences in the overall look of individual Borzoi are allowed by parts of the Standard that are not specifically spelled out. Croup angle and precise proportions of leg length to height to body length are absent. These are areas of interpretation that may account for acceptable differences of body type, but only within a relatively narrow range.
The athletic Borzoi is only slightly longer than tall. Hair on the chest and britches may visually lengthen the dog just a bit, but the coat on the topline gives the dog another inch or two in apparent height that usually balances the picture.
Generic dogs have leg length that equals fifty percent of their height. Sighthounds, and therefore Borzoi, are not generic, but are specialized runners. Like their classic prey, they should have legs that are at least fifty percent of their total height—never less. Long and low is extremely difficult to breed away from once established; and an anathema to breed type.
Standards for generic dogs (or those that require stability and quick lateral movement) call for a short loin. The running dog, however, needs a long loin for extreme flexibility at the double suspension gallop. Within the same overall body length, the generic dog has a long back with a short loin. The sighthound has a short back with a long loin. The Borzoi standard addresses this:
“Loins: Extremely muscular, but rather tucked up, owing to the great depth of chest and comparative shortness of back and ribs.”
The marginally flexible back is short, compared to the very strong and flexible loin required to coil the dog practically into a ball on the contraction phase of the gallop and unleash the power on the extension phase in a split second.
So, the static shape, based on running requirements of the Borzoi, is the first key to the puzzle. Unfortunately, we cannot judge the working gait—the double suspension gallop—in the ring. Since the majority of the Borzoi standard is devoted to describing the kind of structure that makes a strong, agile distance runner, soundness is an integral part of breed type and, therefore, must be rated as a priority item. None of that structure is the least bit at odds with a smooth, long-striding trot as described in the standard:
“When viewed from the side there should be a noticeable drive with a ground-covering stride from well-angulated stifles and hocks. The overall appearance in motion should be that of effortless power, endurance, speed, agility, smoothness and grace.”
We CAN judge that effortless, powerful, smooth, graceful gait in the ring when a Borzoi is moving around the ring in profile on a loose lead. Forward motion with minimal effort is a joy to behold; unmistakable elegance, flowing lines, graceful in motion or repose.
Whereas a flawless down and back is wonderful to have, a straight, untypical Borzoi can achieve that without having the required athleticism of the whole dog. Because of this, it is good to have a ballpark range (albeit a narrow one) of acceptable soundness coming and going. However, to use this as the principal contest will miss the bigger picture.
Showmanship alone is of little import. A dog needs to be trained to the degree that the basic elements for comparison of one Borzoi to the other are visible. This doesn’t mean perfect; just the basics. He must be able to trot in a relatively straight line, stand still for examination, and move along with the handler on a loose lead. Borzoi are willing to please, but few have the “pizazz” of breeds with more excitable temperaments.
Grooming, as it regards trimming, is optional. Most people do some, others carry it to an extreme. Good grooming or trimming should enhance a natural look, not create a caricature. Be careful not to penalize the clean, but less trimmed, dog for flaws that may have been sculpted out of its competition.
So, when judging the Borzoi, first choose the dogs with the shape of speed, sound running gear, power, and grace. The rest of the puzzle will fall into place if you find those key pieces.