Hungary has made many outstanding contributions to civilization: think Franz List and the Hungarian Rhapsodies, Zsa Gabor, Rubik’s Cube, and Goulash with Paprika, to name a few. Ranking high among those is the vizsla, an outstanding family and hunting dog, beautiful and elegant and aptly honored as the national dog of Hungary.
The vizsla (pronounced Vee-shla) is a good-looking, medium-sized dog with short, russet-gold hair. Originally bred for hunting, they are lean and muscular and are excellent runners and swimmers. Vizslas are also great companion dogs, affectionate and gentle, who love to be part of the family.
Is this the dog for you? Let’s explore aspects of the vizsla, such as appearance and temperament, life expectancy and health, training and grooming, prowess as a hunting/sporting dog, and exercise needs, to see whether or not this wonderful dog will suit your lifestyle.
About The Vizsla Breed
Vizslas were bred to be hunters, to work outdoors, and their lean, muscular build attests to that.
At the same time, they were expected to be “companion” dogs who would be able as hunters to work closely with their humans. They lived in their owners’ homes, being part of the family and sleeping indoors, often with the children. They are loving and affectionate, form a tight bond with their owners, and hate to be left alone.
The vizsla is a highly intelligent dog, eager to please, and can be trained to develop multiple skills.
Appearance Of The Vizsla
The most striking characteristic of the vizsla is the beautiful russet-gold color of its short hair. They are “self-coloring”, meaning their hair is a uniform shade, with no other color except perhaps a little white on the forehead and the toes.
Their eye color blends with the color of their coats, and so does the color of their noses, lips, toenails, and the pads of their feet. In a “conformation trial” in which purebred dogs are judged on how closely they conform to the ideal characteristics of the breed, a vizsla with a partial or completely black nose will be disqualified.
The vizsla’s muzzle is square and doesn’t turn up or down. Their ears are long, silky, and “floppy” and hang down to their cheeks, framing a facial expression that is alert, intelligent, and gentle.
They are medium-sized dogs. A vizslas height measurement is taken from the ground to the highest point of the shoulder blades (the “withers”); an adult male’s height is around 22 to 24 inches (56 to 61 cms), while the female is 1 to 2 inches shorter. Adult males weigh about 50 pounds (23 kg), and females 45 pounds (20 kgs).
Their tails may be “docked” (partially removed), although this is a controversial practice that some veterinary associations advocate banning.
Temperament, Behavior, And Personality Of The Vizsla
Vizslas are “soft” dogs with gentle natures and temperaments and no aggressive tendencies. They are an interesting combination of high energy with a loving heart: they need loads of exercise and stimulation, as well as loads of affection from their owners with whom they bond very closely.
The vizsla will expect to be a member of the family and will be very unhappy if left outside or in a kennel or alone for long periods. They are good-natured and eager to please, but if not socialized correctly as puppies and adequately trained, they can become destructive (to items like furniture). This is because they need physical and mental stimulation.
While the vizsla’s regal bearing is a testament to its history, it has a highly developed sense of play and fun and has been described as an “aristocratic clown”. This YouTube video clearly illustrates this aspect of the vizsla’s personality.
Vizslas like to touch their humans, maybe grabbing them around the legs with their paws, cuddling around their necks, or sitting on their laps. A Hungarian expression states: “If you own a vizsla, it lives on top of your head.” While one might suspect this is a poor translation, it certainly conveys the closeness vizslas seek with their humans.
Vizslas also love soft toys, and one will often see them wandering around the house carrying their teddy bear or other toys with them.
Will Owning A Vizsla Suit Your Lifestyle?
The vizsla was bred for hunting and, as such, is an energetic, athletic dog that needs robust, intense exercise for at least an hour a day. If you enjoy running, jogging, swimming, biking, and the outdoors, the vizsla will be an ideal companion, easily keeping up with you. (Their running speed is up to 40 miles or 60 km per hour.) Their stamina allows them to run for long periods, which they do eagerly and gracefully.
In fact, “according to Runner’s World, this breed excels at speed, endurance, navigating obstacles, and even jumping. Vizslas can be trained fairly easily with positive reinforcement; if you prefer to walk your dog off lead, this will come in handy for recall commands. These dogs won’t exercise themselves if left alone outside, so you’ll need to walk, run, jog, swim or hike each day with your vizsla.
In this YouTube video, two bikers decide to take on a vizsla named Ruby to see who’s the fastest.
Vizsla owners will also need to invest time and energy in training their dogs as puppies and socializing them. As this breed is generally soft-natured, positive training methods are best: being heavy-handed and harsh can ruin them for life.
If their energy and drive are not given an outlet, or they are bored due to little exercise and time with the family, they will become mischievous and even destructive. Vizslas shouldn’t be left unsupervised for long periods, especially not in the early years. They thrive best when living inside their owner’s home, so if you’re looking for a dog that can be left in a kennel or garden all day, the vizsla is not for you.
Their need for love and affection is very strong, which means requiring plenty of interaction with their humans. If your work involves long hours away from home, or a great deal of travel or you are out socializing much of the time, the vizsla may not be a good choice of breed for you.
Is The Vizsla A Family Dog And Good With Children?
The vizsla is, at heart, a family dog and very good with children. On a continuum of 1 to 5 for “good with children”, where five is excellent, the American Kennel Club rates the vizsla a 5 out of 5. Compare that to their rankings of the Border Collie and Pekingese, which rank 3 out of 5.
A clue about why vizslas are so good with children is found in their history: according to historian Jenny Hawthorne: “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 towards children.”
However, vizsla owners have reported that some dogs are too boisterous and energetic to be around toddlers whom they accidentally knock over when playing with them.
Vizslas have a strong need to be part of the family, require a great deal of interaction with their humans, and will be very affectionate towards those they love. They suffer separation anxiety if left alone for too long. Sometimes they’re referred to as the “Velcro” dog because they need to be close to the family with whom they quickly form strong bonds of loyalty and love.
They will also get along well with other dogs and cats in the home if they are socialized correctly as puppies, but it may be risky to have them around rodents and birds, given their heritage of hunting those animals.
Is The Vizsla A Good Hunting/Gun Dog?
For centuries vizslas have been the pride of Hungarian hunters. They are a mixture of several classic pointing dogs and were bred to hunt, scent, point, and retrieve. Breeding for high performance and excellence in the field improved in successive generations. They have an exceptional nose compared to some of the best tracking abilities across all breeds.
The vizsla holds a well-known position among sporting dogs that hunt “upland game” and birds. Upland game refers to upland birds such as quail, pheasant, grouse, woodcock, prairie chicken, grey partridge, etc. It also includes squirrels, rabbits, and fur-bearing mammals.
In terms of their categorization as hunting dogs, vizslas belong to:
- FCI (the Federation Cynologique Internationale) group 7 (Pointing Dogs)
- AKC (the American Kennel Club) (Sporting Group)
- CKC (the Canadian Kennel Club) group 1 (Sporting group)
In addition to being great pointers, vizslas are excellent retrievers. They are “gentle-mouthed”, carrying their prey back to their owners without killing or damaging it. Some hunting dogs, by contrast, are bred to shake and kill game.
They successfully retrieve large, 10-pound European hares living on the edge of the plains and wetlands of Eastern Hungary. Rabbits and various vermin are hunted successfully in New Zealand.
An interesting observation by hunters is that everything vizslas do is in partnership with their owners. For example, after tracking game such as deer, they will lock on point, one leg lifted, their bodies still as statues, pointing in the direction of the prey. Should the deer run away, the vizsla is likely to chase for only a short distance and then awaits a further command from the owner.
Hunters maintain that vizslas have unusual stamina and courage, no matter the conditions for hunting. They will, for example, brave rough and icy water to retrieve waterfowl.
Grooming The Vizsla
An appealing characteristic of the Visla is its short, smooth hair with no undercoat. They require relatively little grooming, resulting in their sometimes being referred to as a “wash and wear” breed. As they do shed hair, a rubdown with a rubber grooming brush is helpful.
Vizslas rarely need to be bathed and are quite good at licking themselves clean, similar to cats. Should they become dirty, a bath in luke-warm water, using a quality dog shampoo, followed by thorough rinsing, will be all that’s required.
It’s important that the vizsla’s toenails are kept short with clippers or a grinding tool. A regular ear-check for signs of dirt, wax build-up, and inflammation is recommended. One can use a mild product to clean their ears to prevent potential problems. Their teeth and gums should also be cleaned regularly with a product specially formulated for dogs.
Training The Vizsla
This breed has been dubbed “The Versatile vizsla” because they can be trained successfully as hunting dogs and also in obedience, agility, competitive tracking, rally, dock diving, barn hunts, scent work, and lure coursing.
In addition, vizslas are trained by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to sniff drugs and explosives in the US. (They’re one of the top three breeds used for this work.) Some are taught to handle Search and Rescue operations: vizslas were among the dogs of 9/11 who worked tirelessly at Ground Zero after that catastrophe. Vizslas also make successful contributions to Seeing Eye programs.
Irrespective of whether you plan on training your vizsla for various sports, it’s essential that the dog receives basic, consistent training, starting from puppyhood, on the fundamentals such as walking well on a leash without pulling you. Each person in the family must be prepared to follow a consistent and positive dog training routine
If not properly trained, vizslas can find ways to get into trouble. They are highly intelligent and curious, but owners report a stubborn streak in them that can frustrate some people. They are also easily bored. Patience, good communication with the dog, and a sense of humor are necessary. An enthusiastic trainer who remains calm, positive, and inventive will be rewarded with a well-behaved canine.
Fortunately, vizslas typically love training, thriving on the attention it provides to them. As they are soft-natured, early and ongoing socialization is essential to develop the confidence needed to try various activities. Their sensitive natures will create problems if harsh training techniques are used: the vizsla may shut down, resist instructions, and refuse to obey you.
Early, consistent, positive training will also prevent problems such as barking unnecessarily or jumping up on people. If your vizsla is well-behaved, with good manners, you can enjoy their company almost anywhere. You could contact a local training club to assist in this regard.
Competitive Activities And Events For Vizslas
If you’re not a hunter but would like to participate in some activities and sporting events with your vizsla, here are some options. Preparing for these events provides mental stimulation for your dog, and teamwork strengthens the bonds between you, giving you a fun activity to share.
- Obedience trials: dogs must demonstrate abilities such as walking correctly with their owners, responding to commands like “stay,” etc. And it must be apparent that they enjoy the work!
- Rallies: these are similar to obedience heelwork, but there are various exercises you and your dog must perform that are not part of competitive obedience events. Dog and owner teams navigate a course – like an “obedience obstacle course” – with signs indicating the exercises to be performed.
- Agility: in this sport, you direct your dog through an obstacle course within a specific time limit. The courses usually have between 14 and 20 hurdles such as tunnels, seesaws, weave poles, and tires and bars to jump through and over. This is an exhilarating sport, exciting to watch and participate in.
- Dock diving: here, dogs jump from a dock or landing in water, with the winner being the canine who can jump the highest or furthest
Noteworthy Competitive Training Achievements Of Vizslas
The first American Kennel Club (AKC) Triple Champion was a vizsla, who is also the first Quintuple Champion in AKC history. A “Triple Title Champion” in the US is a dog that has won titles in conformation, obedience, and field trial championships. A vizsla named Chartay also won the working companion and field champion competitions, making her the champion in five divisions.
In 2007, Chartay was honored in The Vizsla Club of America’s Hall of Fame, and a painting of her hangs in the foyer of the AKC headquarters.
In the US, there are only three Triple Titled dogs, and two of them are vizslas.
Health And Life Expectancy Of The Vizsla
The life expectancy of the vizsla is about 12 to 14 years. A survey conducted by the vizsla Club of America in 2008 found the average lifespan to be 9.15 years.
Vizslas are generally a healthy breed; however, some of them may suffer from skin and food allergies. As with all breeds, cancers are a concern: the main risk is lymphosarcoma (cancer of certain blood cells and lymphoid tissues). Epilepsy is another risk factor.
In 2011 the British photographer and filmmaker Sean Ellis’ photography book Kubrick the Dog was published. He began compiling the book in 2010 as a way to deal with his grief over his dog Kubrick’s death from canine lymphoma at the age of twelve. One of the famous models Kubrick often posed with was Stella McCartney, who wrote a moving eulogy for her departed companion published in the book.
Kubrick proved to be a relaxed and elegant photo model, as photos of him posing with some of the world’s most famous models prove. The Hungarian dog breeders in medieval times would never have guessed that the versatility of the vizsla would extend to high-fashion modeling for the world’s most prestigious fashion magazines!
Another famous vizsla belonged to Dana Perino, who was White House Press Secretary during the Bush administration and later co-hosted TV shows on cable news, with over two million followers on social media. She says the real star in her family was Jasper, her beloved vizsla, who became known as “America’s Dog”.
Her book called Let Me Tell You About Jasper has been well-received by the American public, who came to know Jasper over the course of part of Dana’s career. The book has stories about life with Jasper and compelling examples showing how Americans’ love for the fun and fabulous Jasper brought political opponents together.
And just like Kubrick, Jasper was photogenic and a great model. Dana says: “He always wore a tie for television. He had a good sense of the cameras, having been over-photographed his entire life.”
History Of The Vizsla
Although the vizsla may be relatively new to the UK and USA, this breed is centuries old. Primitive carvings in stone from about 1000 years ago in the Carpathian regions (which spans the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, and Ukraine) show the Magyar hunters with their falcons and vizslas.
Those early Hungarian herdsmen and hunters were the first to breed their vizsla as companion hunting dogs. By the thirteenth century, the vizsla was recognized as a distinct breed. Vizslas became the favorite companion dogs of the early barons and warlords, and later they were the specific domain of the nobility and wealthy landowners in Hungary.
Vizslas faced near-extinction after the second World War but started arriving in the USA, where interest in the breed grew again, with the vizsla now ranked as the 35th most popular dog out of 195 breeds.
If you’re looking for a great hunting/sporting dog or a dog that will be your companion for jogging, running, cycling, and other outdoor activities, then the muscular, athletic, energetic vizsla will suit you well. And if you enjoy a close relationship with a gentle, affectionate dog who will bond with you and be your loyal, forever friend, the beautiful vizsla will be a great choice.
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