The Vizslas are general purpose gundogs native to Hungary. These dogs are renowned for their hunting prowess and their red coats. The Vizsla is one of the oldest of all European dog breeds, while its descendant the Wirehaired Vizsla is one of the youngest. World War II nearly wiped out both Vizsla breeds, but both have since made remarkable recoveries and are growing in popularity in both Europe and North America. While used as hunting dogs for over a thousand years, Vizslas have also become quite popular as companion animals. The Vizsla is also known as the Hungarian Pointer, the Hungarian Shorthaired Pointer, the Hungarian Shorthaired Pointing Dog, The Rovidszoru Magyar Vizsla, the Magyar Pointer, the Magyar Vizsla, the Shorthaired Vizsla, and the Smooth-Coated Vizsla.
The Vizsla is one of the oldest European dog breeds in existence today, and is well-over 1000 years old. This breed comes from a time when little to nothing was written about dog breeding, so we do not know much about its early development. However, this breed has had a long and close association with the Magyar people, who are also known as the Hungarians. Vizsla is the Magyar word for pointer. Much of ancient Magyar history is also a mystery, such as where the original homeland of this people was. It is generally agreed that these people are related to Finns and Estonians and that they initially lived somewhere on the Eastern European or Western Asian steppes. In 896 A.D. the Magyar people under the leadership of Arpad conquered and settled in a large territory in the Carpathian Basin. It is believed that they brought at least two, and possibly four, breeds of dogs with them: definitely a hunting breed and a large white livestock guardian, and possible another large white livestock guardian and a smaller herding breed. These dogs eventually developed into the Vizsla, the Kuvasz, the Komondor, and the Puli respectively.
The first records of the Vizsla come from around the year 1000. Primitive stone carvings depict Magyar lords with their falcons and hunting dogs. These dogs are very similar to the modern Vizsla. Life was very difficult for the nomadic Magyar tribes, even after they adopted a settled life in Europe. Protein was at a premium and one of the best available sources was wild birds. In order to hunt winged prey, the Magyars used dogs and birds in tandem. The Vizsla would locate the birds using its keen nose and then point to show its master their location. Trained falcons would then be released to kill and bring back the birds. This hunting method would remain relatively unchanged for centuries, that is until the advent of hunting firearms. It is very likely that the Magyar nobility crossed their hunting dogs with local hunting breeds. Although no records exist of this practice, Vizslas do share many similarities with other Central European dogs, especially the Transylvanian Hound. The first known use of the name Vizsla comes from around 1350 as the name of a town along the Danube River, although it is unclear if the dogs were named for the town or vice-versa. The Vienna Chronicle, a compilation of ancient Magyar writings written between 1342 and 1382 includes a chapter on falconry and a depiction of the Vizsla.
Mentions of the breed continue until the Turkish occupation in 1526, although every mention connects the breed to the Hungarian nobility. The Turks brought a new breed to the region known as the Yellow Pointer. The Yellow Pointer was crossed with the Vizsla, likely introducing the breed’s unique color. Descriptions of the breed since the 1500’s almost always mention the dog’s coat, as well as its hunting prowess and pointing ability. Eventually, the long-established connection this breed shared with the nobility was codified, and only those of noble blood were allowed to breed them. This dog became known as the “Gift of Kings,” and only a very small number of foreigners ever acquired the breed, including the Queen of Spain, the Queen of Italy, and Princess Iolanda di Savia of Italy. As a result, the Vizsla remained virtually unknown outside of Hungarian royal lands, areas which comprised modern day Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, and parts of the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, the Ukraine, Serbia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, some experts believe that very similar dogs existed in both Bulgaria and Turkey. Hungarian expeditions to Turkey led by the Vizsla expert Dr. Ferenc supposedly discovered dogs virtually identical to the Hungarian Vizsla in several parts of that country as well.
Unlike many dog breeds of the time, the Vizsla was held in very high regard and was traditionally allowed to sleep inside; this dog served not only as a hunter but as a family companion. While birds have always been the primary quarry of the Vizsla, these dogs were also tasked with hunting any game from rabbit to bear. These dogs were bred to be more thorough than fast in the hunt, but also to be excellent retrievers. While sporting ability was always the most important factor in Vizsla breeding, a much higher emphasis was placed on appearance than it was for many hunting dogs. The result was a highly skilled and versatile hunter that also was very striking and uniform in appearance.
During the 1800’s, both German and British gundogs were introduced into Hungary, and became quite popular. There was a lessened demand for the Vizsla, and fewer and fewer of these dogs were bred. By the centuries close, there were not many pure-bred Vizslas left in the country. A few dedicated breeders began to breed this dog back, although it is highly likely some English Pointer and German Shorthaired Pointer may have entered Vizsla lines at this time, and possibly some Irish Setter as well. World War I saw dramatic reductions in Vizsla numbers, but the breed had many loyal fanciers and was saved by a number of them including Dr. Polgar Koloman and Dr. Kubes of Southern Czechoslovakia, Dr. Ferenc Korbas, Count Esterhazy, and a number of large landowners of eastern Hungary. It became a traditional practice to dock the tails of this breed sometime after 1920, in order to prevent injury. In the 1930’s a few kennels decided to create a new breed based on the Vizsla, but one that would be better suited to working in rough vegetation and wet terrain. They crossed the Vizsla with German Wirehaired Pointers to create the Wirehaired Vizsla, which has always been treated as a completely separate breed.
During World War II, Hungary was occupied by both Nazi and Soviet forces. The war was very hard of Hungary’s native breeds, most of which were driven to the brink of extinction. The Vizsla was a victim both of starvation, bombings, and an almost complete cessation of breeding. Luckily, the Vizsla did not suffer an outright campaign of extermination, as was the case with the Kuvasz. By the end of the war, there were only a few hundred Vizslas left in the world, and most of these were not in Hungary itself but in neighboring countries such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Communist occupation proved even more difficult for the Vizsla. Communists thought that dog breeding was a worthless fancy of the hated upper classes, and this applied doubly so to the Vizsla, a breed long-associated with the Magyar aristocracy. Soviets also feared that native breeds such as the Vizsla might become symbols of Hungarian nationalism.
The Vizsla may very well have gone extinct by the 1960’s were it not for a handful of Hungarian refugees and a few American soldiers. Many Hungarians decided to flee their homeland, rather than to live under Communist rule. Many had no choice, as the Soviets made jailing or executing Hungarian noblemen and intellectuals rather common practice. Of the few possessions many of these refugees brought along with them were their treasured Vizslas. After escaping communist oppression, these refugees settled across Europe and in the United States, introducing the breed to areas it had never been seen before. Additionally, a few American soldiers came into contact with the breed while serving in Europe, especially Austria and shipped a few of these dogs back to the United States with them. There is a dispute as to which was the first Vizsla to arrive in America, but there is general agreement that it arrived in 1950. Some claim that the first American Vizsla arrived in America with her Hungarian master, who at one time was the leader of the Hungarian Democratic Party. Others claim that the first Vizslas in America were a female named Sari and her pups Shasta and Tito. These dogs were sent to Frank Tallman of Kansas City by a good friend stationed in Italy.
Whether or not they were the first Vizslas in America, Frank Tallman’s dogs were certainly very important to the breed’s foundation there. Tallman was so impressed with the working ability and physical appearance of this breed that within a few months he had another dog imported from Italy, a male named Rex Del Gelsomimo. Other Americans were sent these dogs from servicemen in Europe or met them through Hungarian immigrants. This breed quickly earned admirers, many of whom became importers. Vizslas began to be imported from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, where Marshall Tito; then president of Yugoslavia was supposedly an admirer. One of the most important early importers was Dr. Ivan Osborn, who personally imported over 40 Vizslas, especially from Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, most of the refugees who had escaped with their Vizslas were unable to bring their pedigrees along with them. As most international kennel clubs at the time required at least three generations of pedigrees for a dog to be registered, it took some time for this breed to gain formal recognition in other countries. This is why many Vizsla lines only go back until the 1940’s and 1950’s, even though this dog has been almost entirely pure-bred for over 500 years. This proved a challenge to many foreign breeders, and was made worse by the fact that all official Hungarian studbooks had been destroyed in the War. The oldest studbooks belonged to the Czechoslovakian Kennel Club (SPKP) and dogs registered with this organization became highly valued. The Vizsla Club of America was able to work with some refugees and was able to import a number of these Czech Vizslas from behind the Iron Curtain, albeit with some subterfuge. The first known litter of complete-pedigreed Vizslas to be bred in the United States was born in Minnesota in 1954. By this time, substantial numbers of Vizslas were being born in the United States every year; Magyar immigrants were perhaps responsible for the majority of these breedings. In 1953, the Magyar Vizsla Club of America was founded.
By 1960, over 500 Vizslas which had pedigrees extending back at least 3 generations had been born in the United States. In that year, the American Kennel Club (AKC) granted full recognition to the Vizsla as a member of the Sporting Group, although the AKC dropped Magyar from the name. The breed club followed suit and became the Vizsla Club of America (VCA). In 1984, the United Kennel Club (UKC) also granted full recognition to the breed. Since the breed first came to the United States, it has developed a reputation as being one of the most versatile of all working dogs. The Vizsla is capable of hunting almost any game species both birth and mammal in virtually any terrain. This breed is a skilled worker both on open plain and fairly dense forest. However, Vizslas are more known for their overall versatility than their hunting versatility.
In addition to being a skilled gundog, the Vizsla also excels in the show ring, in obedience trials, and running agility courses. Individual Vizslas became the first AKC Triple Champion Title and Quintuple Champion Title winners. This means that one Vizsla won Champion status in three events (i.e. Conformation, field, and agility) and another won Champion status in five. In addition to the breed’s great success in canine competitions this dog has also found great success in other occupations. Both in the United States and abroad, the intelligent and skilled-nosed Vizsla has been used with great success in airport security, drug detection, search and rescue, arson detection, and mold detection. Some of the most important jobs held by Vizslas include being therapy and service dogs.
The Vizsla earns fanciers at a quicker rate than almost any other breed. These dogs are not only excellent workers, but are considered to be some of the most beautiful of all dog breeds. They are also known for being very sweet and quite friendly. This breed’s charms have meant that it has steadily increased in popularity in the United States over the past 50 years. This breed that was at one time in very real danger of extinction is slowly making its way to the top of AKC registration charts. In 2010, the Vizsla ranked 41st out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registration numbers, moving up an average of one place a year for the previous decade. There is now some fear among Vizsla breeders that the popularity and perceived value of this dog will make it a victim of “puppy mills” and other commercial dog breeding operations, although this has not happened to a great extent yet. While a far greater percentage of American Vizslas are working dogs than is common among modern day breeds, a sizable majority are now primarily companion animals, a trend which is only increasing. In the near future, the Vizsla will probably be known more for being a companion animal than anything else.
In America, Vizslas are commonly mistaken for either Redbone Coonhounds or Weimaraners, which are more commonly recognized in this country. However, this is a substantially different breed from either of these two dogs. The Vizsla was designed to be the ultimate versatile hunting dog, and everything about this dog should scream athleticism. The Vizsla was designed to be a medium-sized breed, which is in fact what this dog is. Breed standards call for males to be between 22 and 24 inches tall at the shoulder and females to be between 21 and 23 inches tall at the shoulder. While breed standards do not call for ideal weights, most males weigh between 45 and 66 pounds and most females weigh between 40 and 55 pounds.
The Vizsla is a very thin dog, particularly young ones. Some breed members are so thin than some observers actually feel that they are emaciated, but this is not the case. Although thin, the Vizsla is very well-muscled and athletic. This breed is very-well proportioned, although it is slightly longer than it is tall. The tail of the Vizsla is traditionally docked to about two-thirds length. However, this process is falling out of favor and is actually banned in some countries. Vizslas with natural tails have relatively short tails which taper towards the end. These tails are held high.
The head and face of the Vizsla are quite refined, which is exactly what one would expect from a dog which has been pure-bred for over a millennium. This breed has a face which is generally similar to those of other sporting breeds such as Spaniels and retrievers, but is also considerably narrower and slim than most. The muzzle of this breed is relatively long. The Vizsla’s muzzle is generally square, but does taper gradually towards the end. The lips completely cover the jaws, but are neither loose nor pendulous. The eyes of a Vizsla are medium in size and in depth. Vizslas are known for their brown noses, and any other color is considered a fault or a disqualification. This breed has thin ears, which are relatively long in length. These ears hang close to the cheeks of the dog.
The most striking and well-known aspect of the Vizsla’s appearance is its coat. This dog has a coat which is short, smooth, and dense. The Vizsla is a single-coated breed, meaning that it does not have a dense undercoat. This breed comes in one color, solid golden rust. Although this dog has a solid coat, there are different shades on the body, with the coat being lightest on the underside and darkest on a saddle shaped marking on the back. Small white spots on the chest and a few white hairs on the feet are acceptable but not desirable. Any noticeable trace of black on a Vizsla is completely unacceptable, and dark mahogany dogs are very undesirable.
Both breeds of Vizsla are very similar in terms of temperament, although the Wirehaired Vizsla may be somewhat more of work oriented breed. Although their primary purpose was always as gundogs, Vizslas have always been considered part of the family. As a result, they have been selected for companionship as well as working ability for many centuries. The modern day Vizsla makes an excellent family companion. This is a dog that wants to be with its owners 100% of the time. Although quite active, the average Vizsla is definitely a cuddler and will try to place itself as close as possible to its owner at all times. This can actually cause some problems as the average Vizsla can become an impediment to walking.
This breed also tends to suffer from very severe separation anxiety and should not be left alone for long periods. This breed is known to form extraordinarily close bonds and is known for being one of the most loyal of all sporting breeds. However, most Vizslas are very friendly with strangers. The average Vizsla sees every one it meets as a potential friend, and is eager to make their acquaintance. A Vizsla would make an exceptionally poor guard dog as most breed members would let a robber take everything from a home and then follow them to their truck tail wagging. Some Vizslas can be trained to be watch dogs, although their alert is more to let you know there is someone at the house to play with them than anything else. However, proper socialization is still very important with this breed.
Vizslas are very likely to become inappropriate greeters, meaning that they tend to jump and lick. Vizslas tend to get along very well with children. In fact, many breed members absolutely love them because they are always willing to run around and play. This may not be the best breed around very young children, because they may be a little bit too exuberant and can knock toddlers around unintentionally. However, Vizslas can be quite gentle when properly trained and exercised; those breed members who have found work as therapy dogs prove this. These traits are not limited to companion Vizslas, as the vast majority of breed members which are working gundogs return home from a day in the field and become treasured family members.
Vizslas tend to get along very well with other dogs. Although the Vizsla was bred to work alone, they are quite capable of working alongside other dogs. Although this breed can accept life as a single dog, most breed members would definitely prefer at least one canine housemate to keep them company at all times. This breed is not known to suffer from dominance, possessiveness, or territorial issues. However, Vizslas would not be the best breed to house with very small dogs or dogs with low energy. This high energy and playful breed may accidentally injure or unnecessarily pester such dogs. Both breeds of Vizsla tend to get along relatively well with other animals. Although hunting dogs, they were bred to locate and retrieve, not attack. This breed is more than capable of being socialized to accept cats and other animals. However, Vizslas may pester cats to play, which most felines do not like. Additionally, some Vizslas may not be entirely trustworthy around small creatures such as hamsters or guinea pigs. This is as much to do with their likelihood of injuring them in an attempt to play as anything else.
These breeds are both highly intelligent and highly biddable. Except for a possibly a few very complex herding behaviors and some tasks which require immense strength or ferocity, Vizslas are capable and willing to learn essentially any doggy behavior. This breed regularly wins at the highest levels of agility and obedience competitions, as well as being highly successful in field trials. Vizslas also make excellent service dogs for the handicapped, and have served with distinction at many law enforcement and security positions. While there are some exceptions, the majority of Vizslas live to please, and are eager to do whatever it will take to make their masters happy. This breed does tend to be slightly sensitive, and responds much better to training regimens which involve rewards and positive reinforcement. Vizslas learn simple tricks very quickly, and if owners are willing to take the time, they can end up with a fabulously well-trained animal. The only excuse for a poorly trained Vizsla is an owner who either did not take the time to train the dog, or one who fails to provide this breed with the exercise it needs.
Although very easy to train and incredibly affectionate and good-natured, the Vizsla is absolutely not the right dog for every family. This breed has a very, very high exercise requirement. This breed needs more exercise than almost any other breed, sitting right at the top with some herding breeds, a few other sporting dogs, and possibly a few working terriers and hounds. Vizslas need at least an hour of vigorous exercise every day to stay happy, and almost all breed members would prefer a substantial amount more. Almost all Vizsla behavioral problems are the result of lack of exercise. This dog exhibits seemingly boundless energy, and is capable of working at a high level for very long hours. Vizslas are more than capable of running even the most athletic family to the ground, and then they could still keep going. It would be extremely difficult to keep one of these dogs without a large yard for them to play in.
However, this athleticism is part of the breed’s appeal to many active families. This breed is capable of virtually any physical activity. If you are looking for a dog you can enter in Frisbee competitions, there are few better. If you are a family that likes going for hikes in the mountains, a Vizsla would absolutely love to accompany you. If skiing on a river is more your style, most Vizslas would be more than willing to jump on the boat with you. This breed is highly desirable for such excursions because its medium size makes it easily transportable and its short coat is easily cleaned and dried. Vizslas are very friendly and are better suited to going places with more people than some similar breeds. If you are unable or unwilling to provide at least ten to fifteen hours of vigorous exercise for a dog, you should definitely not get a Vizsla, otherwise there will be problems. If you are looking for a dog that you can go on adventures with, there are few if any breeds more well-suited or willing.
Vizslas do tend to suffer from some behavioral issues, most of which are directly caused by lack of exercise and boredom. This breed was bred to serve a purpose, and without one can become frustrated and bored. Vizslas will pester their owners constantly for something to do. If nothing is provided for them they will find something on their own. Vizslas can become very destructive. This breed is a notorious chewer who can destroy an entire room full of furniture in very little time. They also destroy children’s art projects, family heirlooms, garbage cans, and pretty much anything else they can get their mouths on. Although long walks are nice, this is a dog that is definitely happiest when it has something to do, and owners should seriously consider teaching their dog some task, whether that is running an agility course or becoming a therapy dog. One of the most common problems experienced by Vizslas is fear of storms. Some Vizslas develop almost crippling phobias of storms. As this can be a very difficult problem to correct, it is best to attempt to stop it from developing in the first place.
This breed has very low grooming requirements. A regular brushing is all that this dog needs, and with a coat this short it should take little time. This breed should never require professional grooming. Some special attention must be paid to their ears. Dirt and grime can get stuck in their drooping ears, and must be regularly cleaned to prevent irritation and infection. This breed otherwise requires only what all breeds do, nail clippings, teeth brushings, occasional baths, and the like.
Vizslas are considered average shedders who will leave some hair on your furniture, carpets, and clothes. However, the short hair and color of this breed makes this shedding somewhat less noticeable than is the case with comparable shedders.
The Vizsla is regarded as being of average health. This dog is primarily bred as a working dog, and health defects would not have been tolerated. This breed has a life expectancy of between 10 and 14 years, on the longer end of average for a dog of this size. However, this breed has gone through several genetic bottlenecks in his history, and some breeding lines are descended from a very small number of dogs. As a result some health problems have become problematic in this breed. Luckily for this dog, most Vizsla breeders are incredibly dedicated to improving the breed in every way possible and are using new techniques such as health surveys and genetic tests to help eliminate any potential problems from this breed.
By far the most common serious health defect found in Vizslas is hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is one of the most common maladies among purebred dogs is caused by a malformation of the hip joint. Over time, this malformation will cause the leg to move improperly at the hip joint. Eventually, the dog will develop pain and discomfort in its hip. This pain can become quite severe and may even lead to lameness in severe cases. Hip dysplasia is largely genetic, but the timing and severity of its onset can be impacted by environmental factors. This condition is not curable once it appears, but there are treatment options.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
A full list of health problems of particular concern for Vizslas would have to include: