The History of Dog Breeding: The Pershino Hunt

Submitted by Pam_Wild on Tue, 02/05/2019 - 21:04


Prior to our visit to the village of Pershino in 1992 I was given books and magazines in Moscow as mementos of our historic trip to Russia. I am publishing these articles in The Borzoi Encyclopedia to encourage better understanding of the function of the Borzoi and its development as a breed. They are for all to enjoy reading but no part of my contributions to The Borzoi Encyclopedia may be copied, downloaded, printed or used in any way without my prior express written consent. 

This article is based on the compilations of Boris Markov, a very talented man and well respected Russian huntsman. It is printed in accordance with the original Russian transcript. The name of the village is Pershino (pronounced Pershina with a rolling "r") and not Perchino and the plural of the word " Borzoi" in this article is "Borzois" not as later adopted in the West. Colours of the dogs are quoted as stated in Russian and translated from the original form. 

"Thirty kilometres to the west of Tula, on the banks of the Upa river, was the Pershino country estate, built as long ago as the reign of Catherine the Great by the famous banker Lazarev. At the end of the last century the Estate was acquired by Grand Duke Nicholai and has since become the leading nursery in the country for breeding genuine Russian hunting dogs.

The Pershino Palace:

The splendid house

Pershino was the place where outstanding Russian hunting Borzoi were raised -- Russian and Anglo-Russian hounds which were exceptionally ferocious with their quarry and which had a splendid exterior. Dog breeders came from Germany, Belgium, France and America to watch the hunt and acquire good dogs.

Through the work of cynologists and simple Russian sportsmen--- hunt leaders, handlers and huntsmen--- the traditions of correct breeding of hunting dogs have been preserved. Nowadays pedigree work has reached such heights that it can be called an art, and a lot of attention has been paid to the beauty of the dogs. According to eye-witnesses, it was sheer delight to watch the Pershino Borzois racing or to listen to the rising and falling of the hounds' voices.

The memoirs of a leading huntsman, V D Solntsov, who took part in hunts at Pershino, have survived. This is how he describes this marvellous sight: 

  "The picture was thrilling in its beauty: first of all a pack of red hounds with the leading huntsmen and handlers, flanked on both sides by mounted Borzoi handlers with dark coloured Borzois in pairs (17 pairs), lined up in front of the onlookers, followed by a pack of skewbald hounds and handlers with 18 pairs of skewbald and light-coloured Borzois. It was like an echo of better times long ago when the ringing sounds of the horns called the hunt to order; people and horses stood as if rooted to the ground, and pairs of amateurishly assembled dogs gathered around each of them in various poses. The whole picture, lit up by the rays of the setting sun against the background of the countryside, exuded a kind of extraordinary strength and charm which only a huntsman would understand. We stood there in silence and our imagination was swept away to the autumn fields and woods where the intrepid pairs of hounds would soon descend like a whirlwind, the whole pack baying in unison."

Hunting with Borzois and hounds was organised by peasant sportsmen, the leading huntsmen and the handlers. Michael Mamkin, Efim Aleksanov, Peter Kuleshov and the huntsman Peter Vasiliev were the real magicians of the hunt. Their experience of leading Borzois and hounds is even today of exceptional importance to the huntsmen.

The Pershino hunt consisted of two packs of hounds with 45 in each pack (one pack red with dogs of Russian blood, the other light bay and skewbald of mixed blood), 130 Russian hounds and 15 English Borzois. Every year at Pershino up to 60 Borzoi and 40 hound puppies were weaned.

According to A P Uspensky's description, the leading huntsman and handlers who worked with the hounds were dressed in red half-kaftans belted with black straps. They carried daggers with white bone handles in their sheaths. The leading huntsman's kaftan was usually sewn with gold lace, his white lambskin hat had a red top and behind his shoulders he carried white nickel horns, chosen for their sound, on a black cross strap. 

The Borzoi handlers were dressed in thin kaftans belted with a black strap with a sheathed dagger and black blue-topped lambskin hats, and carried a horn on a cross-strap slung over the shoulder.The grooms had half-kaftans sewn with gold lace.

The Pershino hunt was led by a black-skewbald Russian hunting Borzoi, a dog called Strike from V P Voieikov's hunt mentioned by E E Dryansky in his "Sketches of a Nobody".

In 1876 a pack of hounds was acquired from the Ryazan huntsman Obolyaninov, and from Baron G E Delvig's two brace of harlequins and a sandy-skewbald dog called Snatch who excelled in his ferocity with the quarry. Delvig's hounds were descended from Zapolsky's marble-white harlequins, famous in Tambov province. These hounds had a keen sense of smell and were excellent wolf hunters. Then the famous Borzois of F V Protasev's Ryazan hunt were bought: Single, Dash,Slant, the bitch Roxane and two grey-skewbald dogs, Baryshnikov's Boa and Lodyzhensky's Strike.

In 1887 red coloured hounds were acquired from P F Durasov which were descended from A I Arapov's dogs, famous in Penza province. The blood of Anglo-Russian dogs from I I Sokolov's hunt was mixed with Delvig's harlequins via the light bay-skewbald dog Batyr, who was descended  from old Glebov dogs from Rakhmaninov's hunt and hounds from France and England. A light bay-skewbald pack which excelled in its keen scent and marvellous voice was bred from these dogs. At the same time , in 1887, nine red-coated dogs, descendants of the Arapov pack, were bought from N A Panchulidzev. Their blood was mixed with that of the famous hounds of P N Belousov, N V Mazharov and A A Lebedev."

A typical hunting scene by the artist Kivshenko:

Typical hunting scene



"Photograph of Prince D B Golitsyn, Head of the Imperial Hunt:

Prince D B Golitsyn


In breeding Borzois all attention is given to the ferocity and friskiness of the dogs. Pairs were chosen for these qualities.

In 1880 a sandy-skewbald dog, Fling, was acquired from the famous Boldarev Russian hunting borzois and in 1891 the pack was supplemented with the sandy-skewbald dog Gladden which was superbly frisky and marvellously built. Mating Gladden and Glory produced some faultlessly frisky Borzois.

In the autumn of 1891 the sandy grey hunting dog Tender, unrivalled in character and friskiness, was bought from B A Vasilchikov.  From Tender and the sandy-grey bitch Blizzard some very good litters were obtained, dogs such as Falcon, Fierce, Tender II, Lady, Madcap,Arrow, Rout, Shoot, Antelope and Orphan. Falcon was especially outstanding and won a gold medal at the Moscow Show, coming second after V N Chebyshev's  famous Reward. Rout was extraordinarily frisky and would catch wolf over rough ground. In Blizzard's pedigree were the famous Borzois of P M Machevarianov and N V Nazarev.

A big influence on the development of pedigree Pershino Borzois was Tufty II, bought from P F Durasov. Tufty and Blizzard produced dogs of the same type: Lout, Barbarian, Witch and Blizzard, primarily dark-coloured dogs.

In 1885  the red-skewbald dog Sorcerer, remarkably thin with a steep-rising back and thin little ears , was acquired from B A Vasilchikov. Mating him with Dove produced the famous Borzois Proud, Ruffian, Storm and Terror. In 1897, using blood pairing, Sorcerer's offspring were paired with Tender's and Tufty's offspring. The result was splendid and gave dogs exclusively of one type. Sorcerer's son Diamond - an outstandingly beautiful dog- won a gold medal at the Moscow Show as well as the prize for the best hunting dog. Diamond's son, the grey- skewbald dog Quick, was sold to America.

Excellent results were also given by mating Pershino Borzois with those of N P Ermolov. The blood of Pershino Borzois went into many pedigrees both in our country and abroad. 

Russian breeders as far back as the last century (sic:19th Century) proved the need for type III- III blood pairing, which is when an outstanding common ancestor is found in the third generation of both the dog's and the bitch's pedigree. Dogs were chosen strictly according to patterns.

The famous expert and author of a book about the Pershino hunt D P Valtsov wrote: "....ancestors of dogs which became part of the Pershino kennels were from the same root, which is how I personally explain the appearance in the Pershino kennels of dogs of the old type."

Pershino Borzois

Unfortunately not in colour but the above photograph demonstrates colours in the breed, red on the left and black on the right-hand side. 

"The famous expert and author of a book about the Pershino hunt , D P Valtsov, wrote:" ...ancestors of dogs which became part of the Pershino hunt were from the same root, which is how I personally explain the appearance in the Pershino kennels of dogs of the old type. "

All the best blood of the time, from the hunts of P M Machevarianov, N P Ermolov, F V Protasev, S S Kareev, A V Nazimov, S V Ozerov and N A Boldarev, entered the Pershino Borzois pedigrees.

D P Valtsov, the former hunt steward, wrote a book "Hunting with the dogs at Pershino" which gave some unique descriptions of the Pershino hunt: "... 2nd September 1899.  The Pershino hunt had spent the night in railway wagons at the Dvoriki station, about three miles from the "Bear's forest" which belonged to Count Bobrinsky;  At 10 o'clock in the morning pair after pair emerged in a long column and went through fields to the island, followed by the main pack. They walked in a column because, before the island where the litter of wolves is, there is no hunting allowed due to fears that the wolf might be frightened by the noise, moved and driven to the edge of the wood. The island described a rectangle  with shorter sides to the east and west and longer to the north and south; the eastern side looked out over a deep transverse ravine, on the spur of which in a westerly direction there was abroad strip of young forest of pines and oaks. The hunt stopped before it reached the unwooded ravine; the pairs lined up in two columns and went to occupy the northern and southern sides , the last pairs having closed up the western side. It was a very quiet grey autumn day; dotted around the fields were stooks (sic: group of sheaves of grain stood on end) of corn which had not yet been gathered, and which provided good cover for the pairs of dogs. I stood on a raised hill and could see almost all the pairs: the island seemed from where I was looking to be lying in a gently sloping depression, and to the north the field ascended into a steep hillock at the top of which there were also some pairs standing behind stooks.

"Hardly had the pack, which had immediately caught up with the adult female, completed a circle around the island when the adult male ran to the hillock towards the handler Michael Eletsky. Michael had the red-skewbald Zairka, the daughter of Ermolov's Seize, Strike, the son of Pershino Barbarian, and Flutter, the son of Dubrasovsky's Tufty with him. Having waited for the quarry to reach him this experienced huntsman let the dogs loose as soon as the adult male glanced to the side towards D D Osipovsky, who was standing nearby; Michael's frisky dogs immediately got at the adult male wolf and went head over heels with him, having missed seizing hold of him; the wolf jumped up, but Osipovsky's dogs with two of Nazimovsky's breed had arrived with some haste and met him; the wolf trampled one of the dogs but Michael's dogs had regained their feet and again covered him, pinning him to the ground, as another of Osipovsky's dogs went for his throat; just as the people hastened up the wolf suddenly threw off all the dogs, broke out of their circle and, having thus separated himself from his pursuers, ran at full pelt back towards the edge of the wood. The dogs willingly gave chase, but to catch an adult male running to the forest's edge is only a job for ferocious and exceptionally frisky dogs.

"It was now that the Pershino pack showed its worth in this respect; Zairka flew like a bird ahead of all the other dogs, made a dash for the wolf and hung on his haunches, thus shortening his stride; Rout and Flutter seized him by the scruff of the neck and again forced him down, and a moment later, Michael was already lying on him and tying him up. Hardly had I looked away from this scene than further to the left the adult female ran to L A Shakhovskoi's pack, noticed that the dogs were dashing towards her, turned towards V K and ran off so quickly that she managed to turn away from four dogs who were trying to cut across her, but not by very much, so that all the dogs had to set off in pursuit.

"It was fine to see how quickly Diamond, Seize and his brother Whirlwind (a gift to Prince Shakhovskoi) began to move towards her, and they had only a short way to go to gather for the attack when the Grand Duke's groom's sandy dogs Falcon, Antelope and Falcon Hen suddenly rose up before the she-wolf. The latter made a decisive move which often succeeds with timid dogs; she turned to meet them head on, hoping that they would miss each other, but Falcon Hen went at her with such keenness and caught her such a blow shoulder to shoulder that she was knocked over, the dogs covered her and she was tied up. The whole pack led the horses to the hillocks, but the handlers overtook the hounds in the field,, stopped them at once and drove them back to the leading huntsman who was already blowing his horn at the edge of the wood: "Here, here, h-e-r-e!"

"I have seen a lot of hunting by the most ferocious dogs with blood from the Nazimov and Novikovsky kennels and the adult wolves have always got away in such circumstances; once he had torn himself free after two attacks near the edge of the wood the adult male never allowed himself to be caught, especially across a heavy field, and here as well my heart missed a beat:" He'll get away!" But the friskiness of the Pershino dogs again came to the rescue: the red bitch from Golovin's pack, Siren, flew out from the group of dogs, made a spurt awesome to behold and caught the wolf, hanging on the nape of its neck, the dogs covered him and raised him up in the air at Golovin's feet as he jumped down from his sleigh. It was a very large adult she-wolf. A third wolf, fully grown like the first one which had been caught, poked his nose out of Koshelev's sleigh but at once went back into the ravine and got through between his pursuers back to his island."

Breed used to flush the quarry prior to Borzois hunting


Picture of an example from the scent-hound pack at Pershino.

"It would take me too long to describe all the hunts for adult wolves; fifty-six were caught in the Pershino hunt, and some hunts were more beautiful than those described, but I have chosen on purpose various years and various dogs so that the hunters reading my story can be sure that daring and ferocity are characteristics of the breed as a whole rather than one or two dogs chosen at random." 

In conclusion, I am reliably informed by the granddaughter of one of the aforementioned owners of a pack of Borzois that this article represents the situation "absolutely as it was". The same person has previously confirmed that historically there was no mass slaughter of Borzois following the granting of freedom to the Russian serfs in 1861. Not all the serfs left the rural landscape but there was a gradual diminution of labour available for hunting over a period of time. The references above certainly support this fact.      

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