Dog who fell foul of the Russian Revolution wins Crufts seal of approval after coming back into favour

Patrick Sawer
The Russian Toy breed, popular in pre-Soviet Russia, is now being officially recognised by Crufts  - Credit: Tierfotoagentur / Alamy Stock Photo

Pampered and preened by their privileged owners, these were the dogs to be seen with on the streets of Moscow and Petrograd - the must have pet for the Russian nobility.

But when the Bolsheviks took power during the October Revolution of 1917 the breed fell out of favour almost overnight, its association with the elite suddenly reducing its status to that of canis non grata.

One hundred years on however and the Russian Toy is back in fashion. So much so that the UK Kennel Club has officially recognised it as a new pedigree breed for the first time.

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The breed will make its debut as a pedigree at this year’s Crufts, at the NEC in Birmingham next Friday, when ten of them will take part in a special parade.

The Russian Toy is still rare in this country, with only 75 of the breed currently registered in Britain. But numbers are expected to grow as pet owners look for easily trained dogs who love being around both children and adults.

Amanda Orchard, chairman of the Russian Toy Club UK, who has three of the dogs, said: “They are a very active and cheerful breed who thrive on human companionship. They were bred originally as ratting or watch dogs, but they are a great family dog.”

The Danish Princesses; Alexandra , Dagmar and Thyra, holding a Russian Toy dog

The breed - one of the smallest breeds in the world, measuring between 20 and 28cms - was originally developed from the Manchester Terrier as a companion dog for the Russian nobility in the mid-1800s.

It became fashionable for members of the Russian aristocracy to be painted or photographed holding their beloved Russian Toy dogs, including the likes of Countess Samoilova and Sophia Botkina, the wife of a wealthy merchant whose 1899 portrait by Valentin Serov now hangs in the State Russian Museum, in St. Petersburg.

One photograph of the period, titled The Danish Princesses, shows Alexandra (Queen of the United Kingdom and wife of King Edward VII); Dagmar (Empress of Russia); and Thyra (Duchess of Cumberland) holding a Russian Toy.

Your Ruff Guide to Crufts

But Russian Toys became unfashionable after the 1917 Revolution because of their association with the discredited Tsarist ruling class.

Twice the breed was nearly wiped out twice. First during the early years of the Soviet Union and again in the 1990s, with the influx of foreign breeds which followed the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Until the 1990s, the breed was almost unknown outside of Russia and the first Russian Toys only arrived in Britain in 2008, when two were imported from there.

The Russian Toy - which comes with two different coat types, long haired and short haired - is only the seventh new breed to be recognised in the UK in nearly a decade.

It follows recognition of the already well-known Jack Russell Terrier as an official breed in 2016, and before that the Hungarian Pumi, Griffon Fauve de Bretagne and Picardy Sheepdog in 2014.  

Sophia Botkina holding a Russian Toy, painted in 1899 by Valentin Serov  - Credit: State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg 

Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, said: “The diverse mix of breeds in this country has grown over time and we are now seeing many of the breeds that have originated from foreign countries becoming some of the most popular in the UK, which may well happen with the Russian Toy in years to come.  

“The process of being recognised as a pedigree dog by the Kennel Club takes several generations, but once we recognise a breed it means that we know that it has a reliable lineage that will give people a dog with predictable characteristics in terms of temperament and exercise and grooming needs, which helps dogs to find loving homes with the right owners.”

She added: “The recognition of the lovely Russian Toy breed will bring the number of breeds in the UK up to two hundred and eighteen, which provides even more choice for those researching which breed might be the best one for their lifestyle.

“We are delighted to welcome the breed at Crufts for the very first time this year and the parade they will be taking part in will allow the public to meet them for the first time and speak to experts in the breed who can advise on what they are like to live with.”

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