(Translated from the Original Article in Hungarian written by Fuzesine Szegvari Zsuzsa.(First Published in "Kutya" January 1997.) This was translated by Ingeborg S. Horvath.)
The most popular of the Hungarian dog breeds is probably the Vizsla. It has many devotees not just in Hungary, but world-wide. The secret of its popularity lies primarily in its personality. It is lively, friendly and even-tempered. One of its fundamental characteristics is its superb trainability. The Hungarian Vizsla's "raison d'etre" is to fulfil his masters every wish. For this reason, even the novice dog owner can make a success of training if he does so with patience, consistence, and love. But the vizsla will not tolerate inconsistent and unfair handling. He cannot understand why his master is angry with him, why he is being punished, becoming unsure of himself, fearful, submissive and basically useless. The Hungarian Vizsla is fundamentally non-aggressive, gets along well with his own kind, in fact, prefers the company of others. This is an important requirement as during a hunt, many dogs must work together. At the same time, the vizsla must never be fearful. Unfortunately, we occasionally meet with nervous and fearful dogs. These are very serious and heritable faults, and such dogs should be excluded from breeding.
It must be emphasised that the vizsla is by nature a working dog, needing plenty of exercise. For this reason, only those individuals who are active and can provide their dogs with plenty of exercise should consider owning a vizsla. Puppies in particular, require plenty of attention, in the absence of which they will find their own amusement, much to the detriment of your home!
The ancestors of our vizslas today likely arrived in the Carpathian Basin with our Hungarian conquering forefathers. The word 'vizsla' has been found in ancient manuscripts dating back to the 14th century, with accompanying illustrations of a vizsla-like dog. There is record of vizsla breeding in the 1500's. In those days, hunting was the prerogative of the nobility, and therefore, these were the vizsla breeders of old. The best known of these were the Batthyany, Nadasdy and Zay families. In the 18th century, with the increase of gun ownership, the hunting of small game and birds became popular and the functional significance of the vizsla grew in proportionate numbers.
Throughout Europe, in the latter-half of the 19th century, the 'sport' of purposeful dog breeding became more popular. It was at this time that English Pointers and German Short-Haired Pointers proliferated in Hungary - to the detriment of the ancestral vizsla. The first hunting trials were in the 1880's modelled on German and Moravian trials. Initially, only English and German Short-Haired Pointers were competing, although some 'unpedigreed yellow vizslas' were also entered.
1917 was an important date in the history of the vizsla. Bela Kerpely, Dr. Kalman Polgar and Karoly Baba began the movement to save the ancient Hungarian Yellow Vizsla. They began their work with great skill and resolve.
They surveyed various individuals throughout Hungary, but only considered those for breeding which the experts of the Vizsla Club of Hungary agreed met the criteria for conformation as well as inherent hunting abilities. It was on this basis that, under the auspices of the Hungarian Kennel Club (MEOE), the breed standard was written, and was accepted by FCI (Federation Cynologique Intenationale) as the 57th recognized breed in 1936 - a relatively early recognition on a world scale.
The specific working/hunting characteristics and requirements were determined by the Hunting test rules. Its natural abilities were described as "...of all the vizsla breeds, the most easily trained...it forms strong attachments...there is hardly a Hungarian Vizsla that has to be taught to retrieve...in tracking, it is a veritable master" (Gyula Csizmadia). The first established kennels were the Vegvari, Kaposi, and Hevizi.
Unfortunately, by the end of World War II, the vizsla population was seriously decimated, with only a few survivors ending up in Western Europe and the United States. The original official studbook registry was burned, and thus, even among the surviving dogs, some had unknown lineage. The VC of H set about re-establishing the stud book registry and the restoration of the breed. In this undertaking the national breeding colony, established in 1947 in Godollo, was of great assistance. Individuals without pedigrees, but meeting the conformation and hunting characteristic requirements were bred with those of known pedigrees.
With economic improvement and political change, the dog sport enjoyed a new and continued awakening. There were also major changes in the Hungarian Vizsla breeding program. At the 1971 World Hunting Expo, an International Vizsla Hunting Trial was also held, which further promoted the sport for vizslas. As a result, interest was now focused on the vizsla, and more and more people began to hunt with the vizsla as a versatile hunting dog. This had a positive influence on breeding as well.
To further demonstrate the excellent hunting capabilities of the Hungarian Vizsla, in 1981, the Hungarian Vizsla Specialty Competition (HPR Competition) was established, which continues, to date, as one of the most important activities of the breed club. The major aim of the specialty competition was to provide the opportunity for the breed to demonstrate those specific abilities which distinguish the vizsla from other pointing breeds, and makes it truly Hungarian. These aptitudes - such as superior intelligence, willingness to work in a group, memory skills, and its particular talent for forming close attachments - are the ones which make the breed ideal for today's constantly changing hunting conditions, big city living, the Hungarian climate and for Hungarian people in particular.
The Vizsla's Use
The vizsla is an all-round hunting dog, ie. it must hunt equally well in the field, woods and water. Major characteristics include excellent scenting ability, steady and elegant pointing, exceptional tracking and retrieving skills and the love of water. Its most fundamental characteristic is its strong attachment to its owner and communication with him.
There are two distinct stages to the work of a vizsla in the field. The first is the stage "Hunting in the field - quartering and searching the live game". It is particularly in the hunt for small birds and game that the vizsla plays a dominant role. It is the dog's responsibility to thoroughly search the designated hunting field and find for his handler all the game that is hidden there, be it pheasant, hare, or partridge. When he senses the game's scent, he locks on point. He leaves the quarry to the hunter, waiting patiently for his next command. After the game has been shot, the dog's next responsibility is to retrieve the dead or wounded game. This is the second stage of its job. Game that is quickly dispatched is usually found close-by and it is easy for the dog to pick up its scent on the wind, find it, and retrieve it to hand. The situation can be quite different if the game has only been wounded. In that event, the dog must track the wounded game - sometimes over a distance of several hundred meters - until he can catch it and retrieve it. It is very important that the game be carried with a soft mouth, without damage. A wounded bird or hare should be delivered alive and undamaged to the hunter. With a good vizsla, there should never be any lost game.
A good dog is indispensable when hunting water-fowl. Among the reeds and sedges in or around a bog or slough, it would be impossible to hunt without a dog to find and flush the birds. Moreover, without a vizsla, a bird that has only been winged could simply swim away and hide in the reeds.
In the hunting of large game - deer, stags or wild boar - a good dog will never interfere with the hunter in his blind or while locating the game. When an animal is only wounded, it must be tracked down and this is where the vizsla again becomes useful. On the average, a vizsla is able to follow a trail for 4-6 hours. On a trail older than this, only the "specialists", like the bloodhounds can be successful in locating the wounded.
While the vizsla was originally a hunting dog, its personality has endeared it to to non-hunters as a companion dog. Its physique and temperament makes it ideal for agility and fly-ball as well, since it is very active and agile. Even older dogs like to play like puppies and are constant happy companions for their masters.
The State of the Current Breeding Program
The vizsla became what it is today due to the requirements of the hunt over the centuries, and this also accounts for its outstanding intrinsic value. There was always high demand for working ability and intelligence, and only those dogs, which possessed these characteristics, were bred.
At the beginning of the 20th century it was our good fortune to have master breeders launch the breed's contemporary, systematic breeding program. These breeders recognized the paramount importance of selective breeding for the purpose of improving and enhancing working ability. In the 1920's and 30's only good working, hunting dogs were allowed to be bred and registered in the stud book.
Today the circumstances are quite the contrary. The vizsla breed is more popular than ever, due to its personality - one of the reasons it stands out from hundreds of other fine breeds. At the same time its current popularity jeopardises the preservation of those very characteristics which make it special! Many puppies are born, the majority of which never hear a gunshot, or scent game. There is nothing wrong with this in itself, however, if over generations we breed without regard to working ability, without weeding out those individuals from the breeding program which do not measure up in this regard, we will jeopardise hundreds of years of systematic breeding and the future of this remarkable hunting dog. Without a systematic and dedicated breeding program, we will dilute those unique characteristics which makes the vizsla such a versatile hunting dog. After a few generations we may notice that we are producing lovely yellow dogs, but they are no longer vizslas!
Unfortunately, today MORE THAN HALF of the litters born are registered as hunting dogs only on paper. Ie. the ancestors have never been evaluated regarding conformation or hunting ability. It is possible that there are some good (working/hunting) dogs among these, but there are no guarantees. Many will say they do not want a hunting dog, only a pet or companion. If we think about it, these dogs will have a more difficult time living up to expectations than what would be required of a hunting dog - they must adapt to the demands of today's modern civilisation - the crowds, dogs, and traffic, etc. They may not touch strangers, since they are constantly surrounded by them - but at the same time, they should be protective of their master or pack. This is just one example. These complex difficulties can only be overcome by intelligent, well-adjusted dogs, and only these will be problem-free, pleasant companions in today's day and age. Therefore, the aim of the breeding program should be the production of just such dogs.
To achieve this aim, the primary prerequisites should be the "breeder's scrutiny", and the hunting ability test. The goal of the Vizsla Club of Hungary is to involve as many individuals in this venture. It would be ideal if only those dogs that passed examination were bred. This goal, in my opinion, could best be achieved through proper marketing. If the 3 purchasers would only buy pups whose parents had proof of working ability (ability and hunting tests), then breeders may be more inclined to put their dogs into field trials/tests to obtain the appropriate documentation of hunting ability, and they may be more selective in choosing stud dogs for their dams. Then we will be more likely to see maximally satisfied dog sport enthusiasts. I am certainly not against conformation shows, as they also have their place. I feel, however, that today, the emphasis has been excessively placed on appearance alone, and we concern ourselves far less with inherent traits.
The breeder's goal could best be defined as: A BEAUTIFUL VIZSLA SHOULD ALSO BE A SMART VIZSLA.