The Versatile Vizsla
By Jenny Hawthorn

Time and time again I hear it said, “The Hungarian Vizsla is too soft to be a good hunting dog”. And to those who say it, I agree totally. However for those who look beyond the soft front and accept it I am more likely to point out what an awesome hunting dog the Vizsla can be when treated and trained correctly. Paradoxically, the soft dog is also as hard as nails!

The origins of the Hungarian Vizsla date back to the Turkish occupation of the Carpathian Mountain region in the ninth century and are said to be a mixture of several classic pointing dogs with various hounds (including Bloodhound, Balkan Beagle, Greyhound and the ancient Foxhound) giving the aristocracy an all round hunting, scenting, pointing, retrieving and family dog. The dog continued improving in the hands of knowledgeable breeders who were after high performance and excellence in the field. The Vizsla name became common from the sixteenth century onwards.

The Vizsla was kept by the aristocracy of Hungary and was expected to be an important part of the hunt. As with the other Continental Versatile breeds, the Vizsla was expected to do it all: hunt point, retrieve and track feather and fur on land and in water, which to this day it still does spectacularly. The difference between the Vizsla and some of the other Continental breeds is that it was bred to be a close working dog, staying within easy reach when out working. And at the end of a day’s hunt it was expected to be a family member, living in the house, often sleeping with the children. An important part of the historical development of this breed over the years was the culling (killing) of any Vizsla that showed any aggressive tendency to children. Despite this fact they were used successfully for many years in the early 20th century to guard the Crown of Saint Stephen, 1st king of Hungary (crowned 1001) and both crown and dogs have been officially declared to be National treasures.

So, a soft dog? Yes, if you consider one who likes to stay close to its beloved owner soft. Yes, if you consider one that sits on laps and does not understand why it should be out in the yard if you are in the house soft. Yes, if you consider one that will cringe at some historical harsher training methods soft. But not in its ability to go all day; not in its enthusiasm to work; not in its willingness to go through thickest cover or coldest water to find and retrieve game. Once the Vizsla owner comes to understand that they have a companion hunter, a friend with them in the bush, out on the tussock, or by the riverbanks, life just keeps getting better. Those who want a tool they can train and work and put away in kennels when not in use will never want nor appreciate the Vizsla.

The Vizsla has an exceptional nose that has been compared to some of the best tracking abilities across all breeds, which adds to their hunting and sporting abilities. Game such as deer will be tracked from ground and air until it is within range at which time the (trained) Vizsla will lock on point until released by the owner. If the deer breaks the Vizsla will be more likely to chase only for a short distance, whereby he will look back to the owner as if to say Come on, it went this way! This way of hunting is a characteristic of the breed in that anything the Vizsla does is in partnership with the owner as a team. If the deer is wounded and runs, tracking is again invaluable.

The same dog will happily go from deer stalking to upland bird hunting with a change in working style when it realises the change in target but no less dedication to both the hunt and the handler. A morning of duck shooting may not be its favourite type of working as it prefers to be pro-active in the find as well as reactive in the retrieve but it counters the lack of time spent actively hunting with the pleasure of spending time with its owner. Vizslas in New Zealand are also currently used successfully on rabbits, possums and various vermin in our DOC protected lands.

To truly add to their versatility, they are also succeeding in other skills such as obedience, agility and competitive tracking. To date there have been two triple titled champion Vizslas in New Zealand (conformation, obedience and working trials). In the US where the Triple Champion title refers specifically to a dog that has conformation, obedience and field trial champion titles, there are only three dogs with this Triple Champion title and two of these are Vizslas. One of these actually has five champion titles – covering conformation champion, obedience champion, field trial champion, field champion and working champion. She is well on her way to her sixth (agility).

Yes, they are a soft dog - first and foremost the Hungarian Vizsla will expect to be a member of the family. They are good-natured dogs that are very keen to please. They are usually clean and can groom themselves in a similar way to a cat. The breed is elegant and aristocratic in its bearing but has a highly developed sense of play and fun and can correctly be described as an aristocratic clown! The breed is a very 'touchy' dog. By this I mean that your dog will want to be touching you often and this will include with both paws and mouth. The paws are used to grab you around the legs, cuddle round the neck and sometimes just to put one gently on your lap when you are sitting on a chair.

The mouth of the Hungarian Vizsla is an important communication tool. These beautiful and versatile dogs will bark, whine, sing, talk and make a whole range of vocal sounds - this is not to say that the Vizsla is a noisy dog that will keep your neighbours awake, but rather a dog with a host of ways that it uses to 'talk' to you, and in fact is renowned for its silence when hunting. When they are feeling very affectionate the Vizsla will often gently take your hand or arm in their mouth as they walk beside you or sit with (on) you. They also love soft toys and many of them regularly are seen carrying their 'teddy bear' wherever they wander around the house.

So why are these ‘soft dogs’ not in everyone’s house?
Because they certainly do not suit everyone.

Points that many a Vizsla owner see as positives, other potential dog owners understandably see as major negatives.

A well-bred Vizsla is a highly energetic dog with a strong work drive. This shows up in their tenacious and strong hunting ability. It also shows up in a dog you have to live with and it can cause major problems if this drive is frustrated by either not being given an outlet, or by being trained & guided incorrectly. If the Vizsla is bored due to lack of work, exercise and/or time with the family, you are likely to find them thinking up mischief of their own.

While they are intelligent and easy to train, they also have a truly stubborn streak that can frustrate many handlers. Patience and a sense of humour are very important when dealing with a Vizsla. This is not a dog for someone who wants a ‘part time' pet or hunter and is going to kennel them or shut them outside and away from the family for the major part of the day. Often referred to as a Velcro Dog, they expect to be part of the family and will not amuse or exercise themselves if left alone outside. This dog is not normally for the sedentary owner and does prefer lots of owner involved exercise and activities. It is important to keep in mind that a Vizsla's primary need is love first and foremost.

All of these traits make up a very different dog to any that you may be used to. In hunting terms it means a dog that is a total companion, one that you can learn to trust to tell you where game is and one who's nose seems second to none. A Vizsla is a joy to watch working, but also a dog you can take home to the family in the knowledge that spoiling will not upset its working. After all, it can go from under the blankets of the bed to outside in the cold driving sleet in a matter of seconds just to be with you.

So you may think of the Vizsla as soft, but next time you are up in the bush and come across another hunter, check out their dog carefully - you are likely to find it's a Vizsla. Next time you meet up with a number of others after a day pheasant hunting, ask who got the best bag and check out that dog again. The secret of the legendary Vizsla's hunting abilities is getting out – the truly versatile Vizsla!

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