The Hunting Vizsla in New Zealand
By Robert Dodunski

There could have been no better training ground for the development of a hunting dog than the vast Puszta area of Hungary in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Vizsla was developed to hunt, point and retrieve by the hunting nobility of that country, who committed the time and resources and had the game populations to accomplish what they desired in a hunting dog. That they were single minded in their aim in an understatement, having gone to considerable trouble to produce what they wanted in a dog and give us the Vizsla of today.

Due to the relatively recent spread of these dogs to the rest of the world, the breed’s inherent working ability remains, having not yet been bred out. It is this very hunting ability which gives our hunting dogs the most important and desirable of characteristics; an even temperament and intelligence.

In New Zealand at least, there are a lot of Vizslas used for hunting and this trend can only forebode well for the breed for retaining these characteristics.

Known as one of the “versatile” or “hunt, point, retrieve” breeds, the Vizsla is equally at home working the willows of a riverbed retrieving ducks, quartering the tussock high country pointing upland game or cautiously stalking and indicating deer in our native bush. Perhaps the most common use for this breed in NZ is the later activity, capitalising on the breeds inherent, stealth and quietness.

I have used my Vizsla for hunting quail in the morning on open tussock country then stalking deer in the afternoon in dense native bush. The dogs seem to be able to work out for themselves what game is being hunted and work accordingly, extending their range for the quail and restricting it for stalking deer.

Being an intelligent dog the Vizsla needs a training programme from a young age to exercise that overly active brain and control any trouble making tendencies. To get the best out of your Vizsla it is imperative that they are given a thorough “yard training” programme to instill the basics of discipline and establish boundaries. Training is a lot of fun given their often clownish character and such commands as the “whoa”, “come”, “heel” and “sit” command all seem to be accepted readily. Time must be put into developing the dog’s ability as a hunter by regular exposure to the type of situation they will encounter and to the game species they will be hunting.

I have used my Vizslas in Field Trials and consider the controlled situation of Trials and Trial practice days is a good training ground in which to establish and refine the dog’s hunting ability. Too many potentially good hunting dogs are left to develop their own techniques which often turn out indifferent. Discouraging any interest in non-target species, if consistently and continually applied at this stage, is also easily instilled.

While hunting, the Vizsla’s style is to regularly make contact with their handler and to hunt to the gun. I have seen my Vizslas stand on hind legs to look over tall cover in order to maintain contact. Quartering is a natural inclination and with experience they extend their range to cover more gamey areas further out, learning to depend on their superior scenting powers to establish whether game is present.

Vizslas point very intensely from an early age and this instinct can be encouraged and refined to such a degree that they can be left on point for some considerable time, while the hunter readies himself. Training over dizzied and planted pigeons interspersed with working the dog on game, is an ideal method of developing this instinct.

Most Vizslas tend to be natural retrievers which of course also needs refining. In New Zealand the traditional bird hunting has been a retrieving breed, sitting in a mai-mai and retrieving downed waterfowl. The Vizsla will fulfill this function adequately but would rather be on the move having been bred to run and hunt. There are a variety of tolerances to cold amongst individual dogs. One of my dogs feels the cold considerably more than the other, who seems to have no perception of cold at all.

An often heard criticism of the Vizsla is that they are too cautious. This is a very desirable trait considering the types of wild, easily flushed upland game we have here in New Zealand. This is also just the trait which makes them ideal indicator dogs for stalking deer in New Zealand conditions and has contributed to their popularity amongst deer hunters. Easily trained to walk just in front of the hunter, the Vizsla will slow down to a catwalk when in the vicinity of deer, and stop to a point when in close proximity to the animal. Finding shot game in dense bush is then only a matter of following the dog to the downed animal.

The breed standard for the Vizsla states that the tail should be docked by one third. The current opposition to tail docking and dew claw removal is completely misguided when applied to hunting dogs. The original breeders performed these operations for good, logical reasons which still apply today, as anyone who hunts their dogs in gorse, blackberry or matagouri will attest. Terrible damage can be inflicted on tails and dew claws by these plants. Although considered a thin skinned dog, the Vizsla’s overriding hunting instinct soon conditions them to front up to our thorny undergrowth and crawl on their bellies through thick blackberry tangles.

For anyone interested in a pointing breed which is companionable, biddable, intelligent, easily trained and versatile the Vizsla is well worth considering. If prepared to put a bit of time into training, they can be assured of having a hunting companion they’ll enjoy taking with them on every hunting trip.

Having owned and hunted several good breeds of dog in the last 35 years I appreciate the versatility and temperament of the Vizsla, which for my purposes I find ideal.

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